Saturday, 4 June 2011

Fearful loss of life on the northwest coast of Scotland

The Hull Pack and East Riding Times of 12 January 1863 reports:

Sad news continues to be received from the north-west coast of Scotland. The following letter from Ullapool, dated on Christmas day, largely increases the calculation of the boats and men lost in the storm of December 18 and 19: "Our shores are literally strewed with wrecks, and day after day adds to the number. From Ullapool to Ru More it is said that the debris of no less than 14 or 15 boats have been washed on shore. In one place, which I have seen, there are the materials of at least three boats, with about 20 oars, broken and whole, four rudders and five cod and ling. In another place, which I have also seen, there are the wrecks of one or two boats, a number of oars, and a mast. A bonnet has been washed ashore in another place. The boats all appear to have come from Lewis, and from one parish in that island. I have been told that two boats with their crews managed to gain land in Assynt, and another further to the north. By their account there were 24 boats including themselves, all out from the parish of Ness in Lewis, fishing with "long lines" on a bank off the Butt of Lewis when they were overtaken by the storm which precipitated so many of them into eternity. They tried hard to gain land in Lewis, but, as the storm was straight ahead, their efforts were futile. They had then no alternative but to run with the wind, and, so far as I have been able to learn, of the 24 these three only managed to gain land. The usual number of men to each of these boats is eight but, taking, the minimum number, six, we have upwards of one hundred and twenty persons consigned to a watery grave. Great as that loss is, it is to be feared that it does not comprehend the total loss of life incurred by the island of Lewis by this terrible dispensation: for be it remembered that the men who escaped spoke only of the 24 boats which were out from their own place; they could say nothing as to the number that were out from other parts of the Lewis. Those that escaped lashed themselves tot he boats and spread their sails across in order to keep out a part of the heavy seas".
A letter of the 24th, from the Gairloch, confirms the above melancholy account of the loss of life by the storm. On Sunday and Monday a great number of boats were cast ashore on various parts of the coast. About a dozen have been found on the coast around Lochewe, most of which have been completely destroyed. The Islesman steamer called at Aultbea on Monday, and stated that two Lewis boats had made into Badcaul, Lochinver, who stated that 24 boats were out fishing on the Lewis coast, and it is believed that the wrecks found in Lochewe are Lewis boats, which had been caught in th estorm, and that the whole of the crews have perished.
[end of article]

The Am Baile website records this tragedy as the Great Ness Drowning of 1862, in which 31 men from the district were drowned. It would appear that the death toll, portrayed in the paper as copied above, were exaggerated.

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