Destination St Kilda – a magic lantern presentation

Destination St Kilda, edited by Mark ButterworthOn Saturday 4 September 2010 I attended a fantastic event hosted by the Islands Book Trust as part of the Faclan Book Festival at An Lanntair in Stornoway.  Mark Butterworth presented a magic lantern slide show of his images of a Victorian commercial photographers journey from Oban to St Kilda in 1886.  Along the way the photographer took images of the locals sights and people to then sell the images as tourist postcards.  The slides produced were also hired out along with a sometimes rather patronising and insulting script for learned clubs and societies in the UK to put on an evenings lecture.

The images are extraordinary.  Taken in black and white on 12 x 10 inch glass plates, they were then hand coloured in spectacular detail back in the Aberdeen workshop of George Washington Wilson.  The sheer effort in trasporting these plates on the journey, their weight and the cumbersome photographic equipment can’t have been easy. 

Mark talked us through a selection of the slides using his own magic lantern slide and the original 1886 lecture text.  Thankfully the slide machine worked off electricity rather than the original hydrogen and oxygen gas powered limelight that projected the images, or the combustable ether mix that was used later on.   Seeing the images on the large screen was fantastic.

“Destination St Kilda: From Oban to Skye to the Outer Hebrides – The Magic Lantern Lectures & Photographers George Washington Wilson and Norman Macleod” edited by Mark Butterworth has just been published by the Islands Book Trust and is well worth investigating for yourself.

About David Powell

Project Manager and Archivist with Tasglann nan Eilean Siar
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