“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please”
Mark Twain – American author and humorist
Many years ago we were staying with some distant relatives in the Orkney Islands. Our visit became a lesson in not taking alleged ‘facts’ at face value.
Over a few drinks we were asked: “Have you heard of the island of St Kilda?”
This sparked our interest as at the time we were living in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St Kilda. The local Australian Rules Football club were called ‘the Saints’ with a saint as their emblem.
Was the suburb named after a Christian saint?
St Kilda is a group of wind swept, isolated and now uninhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The main island of Hirta, until 1930 had been inhabited for hundreds of years and was a breeding ground for millions of seabirds, from gannets, puffins to fulmars.
It appears that the word St Kilda is derived from the Norse or Vikings ‘sunt kelda’ meaning ‘sweet well water’ and was not named after a Christian saint. I could guarantee that very few if any St Kilda Football Club supporters would know that there was never a saint called St Kilda.
Our relatives gave us a book to read about the history of St Kilda. It was a fascinating story about a group of islanders who had a hunter gatherer lifestyle. During the summer and spring months the men gathered sea birds, collecting them for feathers for pillows and bedding, and oil to sell to the occasional passing ship. They clambered up and down the 300 or more metre cliffs in bare feet – assisted by large prehensile toes allowing them to climb on the cliffs more easily.
Was the suburb of St Kilda named after the islands of St Kilda?
In the 1840s a trading ship called ‘The Lady of St Kilda’ was anchored in Melbourne for many months. The area was referred to locally as ‘The St Kilda foreshore.’ Legend has it, that the then Governor La Trobe named the new village St Kilda.
Not from a Saint, or an island but a ship.
However, the ship had a link to the islands of St Kilda. The owner of the ship, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland named the ship to commemorate a visit to the island of St Kilda by his wife, Lydia, in 1810. Acland had named the vessel in honour of Lady Grange, the wife of a Jacobite Noblemen, who in 1734 who was about to reveal her husband’s treachery. She was imprisoned on St Kilda for 17 years. It is hard to imagine how the noblewoman endured years of living alone in extremely primitive conditions in a stone dwelling with an earthen floor, amongst a small local population who spoke no English (the islanders spoke Gaelic) in the island’s harsh climate and lifestyle.
What are the management lessons from the St Kilda story?
As managers we should never accept things at face value as what are believed to be ‘facts’ may not be true. This could affect how we effectively manage the many situations that arise in the course of our managerial responsibilities. Furthermore, it is important to be curious, do your homework and ask questions. Looking back on my career, at times I certainly have been guilty of not heeding this advice.
If you would like read a book about the history of St Kilda (not the Australian Rules Football Club), the book below is recommended.
“Island on the Edge of the World: The Story of St. Kilda,” by Charles Maclean