The Great Auk
Stumidae directed me to birds. My fascination with St Kilda and my love of the Inner and Outer Hebrides brought to the plight of the great Auk.
Once the Great Auk were in their their millions, they were hunted for thousands of years. they provided meat, fat, feathers, oil and eggs. over harvesting by people doomed the species to extinction. easy prey, they were slow on land though agile on the water. They nested off the coast of Newfoundland, Iceland and Scotland.
In 1622 Capain Richard Whitbourne said that sailors harvested the auks “by hundreds at a time as if God had made the innocency of so poor a creature to become the admirable instrument for the sustentation of Man”
In 1775 a petition was drafted to protect the bird with the Nova Scotian Government asking the parliament of Great Britain to ban the killing of auks.
Natural History Museums created a market for Great Auks and successive expeditions to Eldey Island over a fourteen year period killed all remaining birds.
In 1840 three sailors from St Kilda abducted a Great Auk, the last of its kind ever to be seem in the British Isles. they tied its legs together and took it back to their ship. for 3 days they kept the bird alive but on the fourth there was a terrible storm and the supertitous fisherman feared that the Great Auk was responsible describing it as “a maelstrom-conjuring witch” an din their frightened state they stoned the bird to death.
Four years later, on 3rd June 1844, the Great Auk vanished from the world entirely. On the shores of Eldey Island off the coast of Iceland, fishermen hunted down the last pair. The female had been incubating an egg but in the race to catch the adult birds the fisher,an crushed the egg with his boot, stamping out the species for good.
Preserved in brandy, the innards of one of the two birds killed ended up in Copenhagen Museum, their skins were mounted and sold
Collecting for perpetuity.
An exhibition featuring the extraordinary work of Poet Phoebe Coldwell and Artist Philippa Troutman
18th July to 15th September 2019
The folly, Settle