Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Broadbay drownings of January 1881 and December 1874

Glasgow Herald 24 January 1881


Our Stornoway correspondent writes:

A sad boat accident occurred on Friday week in Broadbay, resulting in the drowning of a boat's crew and the swamping of their boat.

Early that morning, a number of fishing boats left Portnaguran and other fishing villages in the Broadbay for cod and ling fishing, and remained out most of the day. In the afternoon the weather became very thick with snow showers, and very squally, and all the boats having drawn their lines set sail for home. In making Portnaguran, a fishing boat, which was prevented from entering Coll on the opposite side of Broadbay owing to the heavy surf, was caught in a squall and upset a few hundred yards from the shore. The sheet of the sail being tied the boat floated, and the crew clung to her until rescued in an exchausted condition by a boat which put off from the shore. One of the crew is still under medical treatment. At night it was found that an open fishing boat from Portnaguran, belonging to and fishing for Angus Macleod, fishcurer, Portvoller, had not arrived, and fears were entertained for her safety, as the boat was seen leaving the fishing ground between four and five o'clock, and had been lost sight of during a heavy snow shower. On Saturday the oars and two baskets with lines belonging to the missing boat having come ashore about 13 miles from here confirmed the worst forebodings, and on Monday nine boats were out with grappling lines searching for the bodies, without success. The boat was found floating full of water with the sheet of the sail tied, and the vest of one of the crew, and the long lines, with some fish, in the boat, which was allowed to drift away. There can thus be no doubt but that the boat was caught, with the sheet tied, in a sudden squall, and filled with water. The names of the unfortunate men, who all resided at Portnaguran, are as follows [highlighted in bold with annotations by the transcriber in italics]:

Donald Macdonald (Norman's son), married, aged 32, leaves a widow and four children. He was skipper of the boat. His mother's name was Catherine, and Donald was four years younger than his brother Colin and eight years old than his sister Catherine. He married Janet Ferguson in 1873. She was the eldest of five children, two of whom also died in this tragedy (see below). Janet's parents were called Peter and Chrissy. 

Malcolm and Norman Ferguson, sons of Peter [and Chrissy, see above], both unmarried, aged 20 and 18. Donald Macdonald was married to their sister, Janet.

Donald Macdonald (Donald's son), married, aged 27, leaves a widow and three children.

Angus Graham (Donald's son), unmarried, aged 20.

John Smith, son of the widow of Donald Smith, unmarried, aged 20. He was the sole  support of his mother, his father and a brother having been drowned six years ago by the swamping of a boat near the same place. Mrs Smith is left quite poor.
The drowning which took Donald Smith occurred on 21 December 1874, when he was 50 years of age. His boat, the Thistle, was swamped by a heavy sea 500 yards off Tiumpan Head. There were at least five other deaths, namely Murdo Macdonald (50) and Murdo Graham (33), Donald Mackay (30), Murdo Macdonald (27), Angus Smith (22). None of their bodies were recovered. Their deaths were recorded for the information of the Procurator Fiscal on 12 January 1875 .

Norman Ferguson and Graham were in the Royal Naval Reserve.

The accident has caused quite a gloom over the fishing villages in the district, and has meantime put a stop to the prosecution of the cod and ling fishing which had just commenced. Every effort is being made for the recovery of the bodies of the deceased.

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