The bizarre wedding day of the Queen of St Kilda

Locals leaving the church on Hirta, the main island in the archipelego of St Kilda, at the turn of the 20th Century. PIC: Donald Macleod/TSPL.
Locals leaving the church on Hirta, the main island in the archipelego of St Kilda, at the turn of the 20th Century. PIC: Donald Macleod/TSPL.
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Ann Ferguson was hailed the Queen of St Kilda in the late 19th Century given she was the most handsome woman on the islands yet to marry.

But the 23-year-old sock weaver also became the star of hundreds of inches of newspaper copy across Great Britain when an English travel agent randomly set about organising her wedding with elaborate arrangements made for the occasion from his home in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear.

Donald Ferguson, senior St Kildan, the father of The Queen, is fourth from the left. He reportedly resisted the incomers and their wedding plans although one account claimed he was relaxed about the arrangements. PIC: Contributed.

Donald Ferguson, senior St Kildan, the father of The Queen, is fourth from the left. He reportedly resisted the incomers and their wedding plans although one account claimed he was relaxed about the arrangements. PIC: Contributed.

JG Campbell moored up at Hirta in May 1890 on a steamship loaded with presents and paid passengers, who had also travelled to enjoy the nuptials, just six weeks after sending a letter to St Kilda informing Miss Ferguson of his intentions.

READ MORE: St Kilda viewpoint to bring history of island closer

He had heard from a contact on the island, which he visited the summer before, that the Queen and her love were unable to marry on St Kilda given its probationary Free Church minister was not yet ordained.

Campbell decided to act, although his motives were long questioned. The Scotsman claimed it was a “vulgar advertising” stunt while others queried whether he was just there to make fun of the natives.

The man who planned the wedding of The Queen of the islands brought gifts, including 640 books, for St Kildans. PIC: NTS/Contributed.

The man who planned the wedding of The Queen of the islands brought gifts, including 640 books, for St Kildans. PIC: NTS/Contributed.

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The volume of gifts on board the boat that arrived at Village Bay, many donated by Campbell’s friends after hearing of his plans, was extraordinary.

On board was a wedding dress, gold ring and posies of orange blossoms for The Queen as was a dress suit and a tall hat for the groom, John Gillies.

The cargo also of the Strathclyde also included a library of 640 books, an American organ, a Melton Mowbray pie, a Gaelic bible for ‘The Queen’, a case of Hudson’s dry soap, three dozen pairs of spectacles, six boxes of Vaseline, 24 microscopes, several alarm clocks and bottles of hair restorer.

A supply of fireworks was also on board to round off the celebrations.

“One important detail had, however, been omitted in all the preparations of the marriage,” according to a report in the Glasgow Herald a few days after the party arrived at Hirta.

It added: “The consent of the contracting parties had not been obtained for these proceedings and there had bee no means of communicating with St Kilda from the time the arrangements were first notified.”

There were awkward scenes as Campbell made it ashore after being informed by the bride’s brother, who rowed out to the steamship, that the wedding couldn’t go ahead.

Campbell had brought his own minister, a Reverend Rae, with him to conduct the ceremony but the St Kilda minister, Rev Fiddes, said the wedding could not go ahead given the visiting clergyman did not represent the Free Church.

Rev Fiddes also refused to translate any ceremony for The Queen from English to Gaelic. He also claimed authority would be needed from a minister on Harris for the wedding to proceed.

Campbell persevered and with the help of the school teacher Mr Ross, approached The Queen with a number of gold wedding rings to try on.

The Queen’s father, senior St Kildan Donald Ferguson, was then taken in hand but was irate.

“What business have you to come her to marry people? When we want marriages her we will arrange them for ourselves,” he said, according to one account.

If they wanted a wedding, they would conduct it in their own fashion and in their own language, the Glasgow Herald reported.

The party left that night - but left the library behind,

Campbell always maintained he only wanted to do good on St Kilda but other were sceptical.

He claimed in an interview with the Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette that The Queen was willing to marry that day with her father “as soon see her married that day as any other day”.

The Queen revealed that, because the minister was against the marriage, they did not wish to go ahead, according to Campbell’s account

The paper added: “It grieved me to hear it was not coming off.

“They are very superstitious people, and they look up to the minister like children.”

When asked if he arranged the marriage to take fun out of the natives, Campbell said: “Nobody who would take the trouble and expense to raise a library of 640 volumes would go to make fools of these people.

“It is most absurd. There was not the slightest of intention to joke about the thing. We were simply helping the people out with a difficulty.”

He also claimed the trip was not viewed as a business opportunity but a chance to develop the industries of the island and to increase the knowledge of these people in the ways of the world.”

The Scotsman described Campbell’s trip as “the most inglorious voyage” with Campbell working to making St Kilda - and himself - famous.

It added: “The St Kildan’s reception of the Sunderland deputation and gifts was credible to the islanders.

“They showed a praiseworthy sense of propriety and independence.

“They declined to barter away their birthright and their self respect or to exhibit themselves and their island customs in a false and ridiculous light even when bribed with such useful articles as books and pills and magic cleansers.”

The Queen and John Gillies later married on St Kilda, which was evacuated in August 1930.