Clint Buffington, John Sands, Mail Boat, message in a bottle, RIchard Kearton, Scotland, St. Kilda
St. Kilda: The Remotest Scottish Islands & Home of “Mail Boats”
Once upon a time, the remote islands of St. Kilda relied entirely on a unique postal system: Letters destined for the outside world were set adrift in tiny “mail boats”– essentially glorified messages in bottles–that carried them either to the Scottish mainland, or sometimes Norway. Each missive included money for the finder to send the beached message onward to its intended recipient. This system began with an emergency involving a shipwreck near St. Kilda (more on this below) and went on for decades with remarkable success. The original era of the “mail boat” spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, tourists visiting the islands today still make and send both mail boats and messages in bottles successfully. Many of these letters drift east as intended, and reach the mainland just as they did over a century ago.
Here’s what these “mail boats” looked like back in the day: