By Eilidh Whiteford
For more than 100 years, a Victorian locket waited to be reunited with someone called Darling in a story that spans three generations and two continents.
“It’s left me with wonderment and a sense of awe and mystery of the universe,” said Stornoway resident Mandy (Amanda) Darling, as a quest, which began long ago on the plains of Patagonia, reached its end when she was given her great-aunt Maggie Darling’s sweetheart keepsake.
Born at Patterton Farm, near Thornliebank, Glasgow, in 1874, Maggie Darling trained as a schoolteacher before travelling to the Isle of Lewis at the turn of the 20th century to take up a post at Dun Carloway School.
Even before she set foot on the Western Isles, Maggie caused ripples in the remote community – a telegram sent to the school’s headmaster reading ‘I’ll be off ferry tonight Darling’, leading to some awkward questions from his wife.
Maggie had a keen interest in politics and the supernatural – she reportedly held séances in her home – as well as being a bagpipe player, enjoying music and the adventure of sailing.
On Lewis, she met and married Calum Macleod; the couple, known locally by the nickname ‘Aird a Bhaigh’, settling first in 13 Kirivik before taking the bold step to leave their homeland to make a life in Patagonia, South America.
“I knew grandpa had a sister called Maggie who was said to be a bit crazy, but that’s all I knew,” said great-niece Mandy, unaware she followed in Maggie’s footsteps when she moved to settle in Lewis a century later.
“She was very opinionated, possibly a little stroppy. She was into politics and became a Lewis councillor in later life, so to me she was obviously a feminist of her time.
“And she loved music and sailing. For people who know me, you could say we’re very similar, well, apart from holding séances,” said Mandy, herself a musician and sailor.
Mandy assumes it was after the Great War that Maggie and Calum returned to Lewis, building a house – called Aird a Bhaigh – in Sandwick, just outside Stornoway.
Calum acted as agent for islanders travelling to Patagonia and beyond, while Maggie continued to sponsor island education and became a local councillor.
Yet, back in Patagonia, a gold and crystal glass locket containing two photo portraits lay lost on the vast grassland plains – until it was spied, glinting in the grass, by a fellow islander on horseback, searching for stray sheep.
“We don’t know who this man was, but the story goes that he got down off his horse, picked up the locket, remarked that it was the ‘Aird a Bhaighs’, and put it in his pocket making up his mind to return it to Maggie,” explained Mandy.
But World War Two, the Darling family believe, long delayed the locket’s return to Lewis.
When it did arrive, both Maggie and Calum had died, leaving no children behind them. Calum’s two sisters had also passed away so the locket, its story and the quest to reunite it with the family was entrusted first to local solicitor and Procurator Fiscal Colin Scott Mackenzie, before being passed to his son, also Colin Scott. Colin Scott said his father ‘thought he would have no difficulty in tracing an heir’, but to his ‘general astonishment’ had no luck.
A bite on the line came in the 1980s when Mandy’s cousin, Gwyn Darling, visited Lewis; but with Colin Scott having advanced to the Bench as Sheriff in Orkney, and Gwyn leaving no contact details, the trail ran cold.
Then Colin Scott returned after retirement and considered giving the locket, and a written version of its story, to Museum nan Eilean in the ‘faintest of faint hope’ a claimant would one day appear.
But a chance meeting of islanders with Patagonian connections at a dinner in the Cabarfeidh Hotel saw a retelling of the story – and Mandy and Colin Scott were put in touch.
“I was told that Colin Scott Mackenzie was looking for me, that he had something for me,” said Mandy.
“He told me of his life-long search for a Darling family member, a search he’d inherited from his father. I went to his house and, after proving who I was to the former Sheriff, he put the locket in my hand.
“That’s what else is remarkable about this; it’s not just the locket that’s survived, but the story has been passed along with it.
“It just makes me wonder, over 100 years ago at least after Maggie lost her locket, is it pure coincidence, is there something in fate that it should end up in my hand a century later? It’s amazing.”
Colin Scott added: “The present locket, being gold and crystal, has, no doubt, a certain intrinsic value, but it is the story attached which makes it so special.
“It is, as Mandy says, truly amazing. All is well at long last!”