It’s not only the jaw dropping scenery and wildlife that make St Kilda so magical, but it’s also the remarkable history behind it. If you begin to delve into St Kilda’s past, so many extraordinary stories come to light. We think that one of the most memorable is that of Rachel Chiesly, or Lady Grange as she became commonly known. A woman whose violent kidnapping and imprisonment in St Kilda for seven years were orchestrated by her very own husband.
Rachel Chiesly was a daughter of a convicted and hung murderer. She married a man named James Erskine in 1707. He shortly after became Lord Grange and Rachel took on the title of Lady Grange (although not strictly entitled to do so). Despite Erskine’s position in the union government he was in fact a Jacobite sympathiser.
The pair had nine children together but led a tumultuous marriage. Erskine was unfaithful and Rachel was described as a stormy woman, prone to fits of rage and madness. When Erskine decided the marriage was over, he sent Rachel to live in the country with her children. But Rachel was an outspoken lady and unhappy with his decision, she threatened to expose his true political allegiance.
In a bid to keep Rachel quiet, Erskine enrolled two of his friends to kidnap her. He planned to send her away to the remote islands of the west of Scotland to never be found again.
She was dragged off and sent to Linlithgow, then Stirling. Then through the Highlands and across the Minch to Heisker off the coast of North Uist. It was then she was sent to St Kilda where she would spend the next seven years.
At the time of the 18thcentury her behaviour was deemed so outrageous for a woman, such as her fondness for drinking and outspoken attitude, that her disappearance went without question. Shortly after her husband held a fake funeral for her in Edinburgh to cover his tracks.
Although it cannot be proven where Lady Grange stayed exactly, it was thought she resided in the Cleit on Hirta. The Cleit is a stone storage hut in the village meadows, which had earthen floors and rain pouring down the inside walls in bad weather. In the winter she had to scoop out the snow with her hands from behind her bed. A far cry from the luxuries she was used to back in Edinburgh.
She spent her time on St Kilda drinking what whisky she could get her hands on and wandering the shores at night bemoaning her fait.
The locals were kind to Rachel during these seven years. Eventually they managed to smuggle one of her letters back to a friend in Edinburgh. A party of men came together to rescue her but by the time they had reached the island she had been moved on.
It was after this that she landed in Trumpan in Waternish, on the Isle of Skye. She was said to have died shortly after in May of 1745 without ever seeing her family or returning to the city again. Lady Grange was buried in the Trumpan Church in Waternish. Her portrait is now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.
This is just one of the incredible stories you can learn about during a trip with Go to St Kilda. Ask one of our expert guides to tell you more about Lady Grange and they can direct you to the Cleit where she was said to have stayed.