The earliest book about St Kilda

Martin Martin (d. 1718), the Scottish traveller and celebrated author of ‘Description of the Western Islands of Scotland’ (1703), was also the first to publish an account of the remote Scottish island group of St. Kilda (RB.s.2901). The book was based on his experiences during a trip to the islands made in 1697, and it deals not only with the natural and topographical history of the island, but it also gives an account of the customs and religion of its inhabitants, and of its fauna. And it contains one of the earliest maps of St Kilda!

St Kilda small

The book was published in London in 1698. Although we already have a copy of it, our existing copy is imperfect, whereas this one is complete. It also has a noteworthy provenance. It contains the late 18th-century armorial bookplate of James Whatman, Vinters, Kent, and an inscription on the title page “J. Whatman 1800″, which indicates the book was in the library of the famous paper-making family the Whatmans. It must have been collected either by James Whatman II (1741-1798) or by his son James Whatman III (1777-1843).

Find out more about Martin Martin and James Whatman I and II in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).

Our copy of Martin’s ‘Description of the Western Islands of Scotland’ (H.32.a.31) is believed to have been taken by James Boswell on his journey with Samuel Johnson to the Highlands and Inner Hebrides in 1773.