March 2014

LISDD:2006.110  St Kilda mailboat

St Kilda Mailbox

St Kilda Mailbox

St Kilda mailboats are wooden boxes in the shape of a boat, containing a letter, sometimes sealed into a metal box.  Traditionally, they were attached to a sheep’s bladder as float.  The first was sent out in 1876, as a distress signal, by John Sands, a journalist who was stranded on the island.

Later, they were launched by native islanders during the winter months, in the hope that the finder would forward the letter. In modern times, mailboats have been released by tourists and by work parties on St Kilda – including Freda Drysdale from Lismore.  Around two thirds reach land in Orkney, Shetland or Norway, carried north by the Gulf Steam.

Somehow, this mailboat reached Lismore, passing through or round the Outer Hebrides and round Mull into Loch Linnhe.  It was found at Kilcheran by Neil and John Carmichael in 1995.  The catalogue description reads:

“Sealed wooden box, rectangular (10cm long) with one pointed end, similar to a boat shape.  Length of orange nylon rope through pointed end.  Partly painted red and white, including inscription on top lid (From St Kilda. Please open).  Fixed with metal screws.  Originally contained piece of St Kilda slate and a letter”

A float would have been attached by the nylon rope.

This boat was sent as part of a student survey and the enclosed letter was sent on to the addressee.