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TITLE
'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, circa 1695' (1)
EXTERNAL ID
AB_LL_MARTIN_MARTIN_01
DISTRICT
South Uist
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
INVERNESS: South Uist
DATE OF RECORDING
2008
PERIOD
2000s
CREATOR
Martin Martin
SOURCE
Am Baile
ASSET ID
1403
KEYWORDS
audio
literary landscapes

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This audio extract is from 'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland circa 1695' by Martin Martin, first published in 1703. It is read here by Grant Butchart. The illustration shows Duntulm Castle as it might have looked around 1635

'The island of South Uist lies directly two miles to the south of Benbecula, being in length one and twenty miles, and three in breadth, and in some places four. The east side is mountainous on the coast, and heathy for the most part. The west side is plain arable ground, the soil is generally sandy, yielding a good produce of barley, oats, and rye, in proportion to that of North Uist, and has the same sort of cattle. Both east and west sides of this island abound in freshwater lakes, which afford trouts and eels, besides variety of land and sea-fowls. The arable land is much damnified by the overflowing of these lakes in divers places, which they have not hitherto been able to drain, though the thing be practicable. Several lakes have old forts built upon the small islands in the middle of them. About four miles on the south-east of this island is Loch Eynord. It reaches several miles westward, having a narrow entry, which makes a violent current, and within this entry there is a rock upon which there was staved to pieces a frigate of Cromwell's, which he sent there to subdue the natives. Ambergris hath been found by several of the inhabitants on the west coast of this island and they sold it at Glasgow at a very low rate not knowing the value of it at first; but when they knew it they raised the price to the other extreme. Upon a thaw after a long frost the south-east winds cast many dead fishes on the shore. The inhabitants are generally of the same nature and complexion with those of the next adjacent northern islands. They wear the same habit, and use the same diet. One of the natives is very famous for his great age, being, so it is said, a hundred and thirty years old, and retains his appetite and understanding. He can walk abroad, and did labour with his hands as usually till within these three years, and for anything I know is yet living.'

Martin Martin was probably born in Bealach, near Duntulm Castle, Isle of Skye, into a minor gentry family associated with the MacDonalds of Sleat. After graduating from Edinburgh University in 1681 he tutored the heirs of the MacDonalds of Sleat and MacLeods of Harris before leaving for London in 1695.

Encouraged by fellow Episcopalians and antiquarian colleagues he undertook ethnographic work on his native Western Isles, setting off for a tour of Lewis in 1696, followed by a trip to St Kilda the following year. 'The Late Voyage to St. Kilda' was published in 1698, followed by his most celebrated work, 'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland' in 1703.

Despite being promised financial remuneration for his work, the money remained unpaid and Martin returned to Skye to tutor once more. At the age of 41 he enrolled as a trainee physician at Leiden University in the Netherlands and on his return to England he continued to practice medicine, finally graduating at Rheims in 1716. He died on 9 October, 1718.

Martin Martin's accounts of life in the Hebrides, before the advent of the Union, the 'Forty-Five', Highland Clearance, and Victorian Romanticism, are amongst the first printed works to describe the history, culture and traditions of an area where the old structures of society still prevailed.

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'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, circa 1695' (1)

INVERNESS: South Uist

2000s

audio; literary landscapes

Am Baile

Literary Landscapes: Martin Martin

This audio extract is from 'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland circa 1695' by Martin Martin, first published in 1703. It is read here by Grant Butchart. The illustration shows Duntulm Castle as it might have looked around 1635<br /> <br /> 'The island of South Uist lies directly two miles to the south of Benbecula, being in length one and twenty miles, and three in breadth, and in some places four. The east side is mountainous on the coast, and heathy for the most part. The west side is plain arable ground, the soil is generally sandy, yielding a good produce of barley, oats, and rye, in proportion to that of North Uist, and has the same sort of cattle. Both east and west sides of this island abound in freshwater lakes, which afford trouts and eels, besides variety of land and sea-fowls. The arable land is much damnified by the overflowing of these lakes in divers places, which they have not hitherto been able to drain, though the thing be practicable. Several lakes have old forts built upon the small islands in the middle of them. About four miles on the south-east of this island is Loch Eynord. It reaches several miles westward, having a narrow entry, which makes a violent current, and within this entry there is a rock upon which there was staved to pieces a frigate of Cromwell's, which he sent there to subdue the natives. Ambergris hath been found by several of the inhabitants on the west coast of this island and they sold it at Glasgow at a very low rate not knowing the value of it at first; but when they knew it they raised the price to the other extreme. Upon a thaw after a long frost the south-east winds cast many dead fishes on the shore. The inhabitants are generally of the same nature and complexion with those of the next adjacent northern islands. They wear the same habit, and use the same diet. One of the natives is very famous for his great age, being, so it is said, a hundred and thirty years old, and retains his appetite and understanding. He can walk abroad, and did labour with his hands as usually till within these three years, and for anything I know is yet living.'<br /> <br /> Martin Martin was probably born in Bealach, near Duntulm Castle, Isle of Skye, into a minor gentry family associated with the MacDonalds of Sleat. After graduating from Edinburgh University in 1681 he tutored the heirs of the MacDonalds of Sleat and MacLeods of Harris before leaving for London in 1695. <br /> <br /> Encouraged by fellow Episcopalians and antiquarian colleagues he undertook ethnographic work on his native Western Isles, setting off for a tour of Lewis in 1696, followed by a trip to St Kilda the following year. 'The Late Voyage to St. Kilda' was published in 1698, followed by his most celebrated work, 'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland' in 1703.<br /> <br /> Despite being promised financial remuneration for his work, the money remained unpaid and Martin returned to Skye to tutor once more. At the age of 41 he enrolled as a trainee physician at Leiden University in the Netherlands and on his return to England he continued to practice medicine, finally graduating at Rheims in 1716. He died on 9 October, 1718. <br /> <br /> Martin Martin's accounts of life in the Hebrides, before the advent of the Union, the 'Forty-Five', Highland Clearance, and Victorian Romanticism, are amongst the first printed works to describe the history, culture and traditions of an area where the old structures of society still prevailed.