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A heart-rending petition which is part of the Iolaire Disaster Fund archive held by Tasglann nan Eilean has been selected for a display of ‘Twenty Treasures from Scotland’s Archives' by the Scottish Council on Archives.

The document was one of 20 selected to mark the 20th anniversary of the SCA and was only rediscovered five years ago in a Comhairle nan Eilean store. 

As well as featuring in an online exhibition, the document will also be part of a small exhibition at the Scottish Parliament for the SCA’s anniversary reception tomorrow (Wednesday 23 November) and in a booklet produced for the occasion.

The petition was presented to the Trustees of the Iolaire Disaster Fund by Mrs Julia M. Fraser,Schoolhouse, Sandwickhill, on behalf of the families and dependents of those lost in the disaster in July 1921 and illustrates the longer-lasting impacts of the disaster on the families of those lost. It is a rare example of a document which reflects the voices of the ordinary people affected.

It was in the early hours of 1 January 1919 that HMY Iolaire foundered on rocks at Holm resulting in the loss of 201 of the 280 men on board.

The wider economic problems which hit the islands and the country in the post-War era made it virtually impossible for those affected by the disaster to find alternative long-term sources of income.  The petition eloquently sums up the issues: the high cost of living, unemployment and the failure of the fishing industry, while the pages of signatures starkly illustrate the scale of the disaster.

The document was found by Archivist Seonaid McDonald in 2017 in a Council store amongst various Stornoway Town Council documents and may have been put aside by the Fund Secretary Donald Mackay (who was also the Stornoway Burgh Chamberlain) to prevent it being destroyed.

It is an 8-page document: the petition itself (page 1) followed by 7 pages of signatures. The petition urges the Iolaire Disaster Fund Trustees to increase payments to the families and dependents of those lost in the disaster and presents the reasons why increases were urgently needed.

As part of the Scottish Council on Archives’ 20th anniversary celebration, SCA invited archive services and organisations from across Scotland to nominate a special item from their collections. From the many nominations received, a small panel chose 20 items which were of national or local significance with an interesting story to tell.

As well as the ‘Iolaire’ Petition, the ‘Twenty Treasures’ include an admission card for a young Jewish evacuee; a diary of a Jacobite officer who fought at Culloden; Scotland’s earliest surviving banknote; the first smallpox vaccination register from 200 ago; a brochure for the 1970 Commonwealth Games; and a short film showing Queen Victoria at Balmoral in 1896.