Lossiemouth Fishing Disaster
Following on from a recent post on the Morayshire Family and Local History Facebook page I transcribed two newspaper articles. The two articles, one nearly a full column in a local newspaper goes into great details while the second, smaller article tells the reader a different side.
The Elgin Courant, Tuesday, April 18, 1876
A Lossiemouth Boat Lost.
Nine Men Drowned.
A Terrible Catastrophe, involving the loss of eight men, has occurred to a fishing boat belonging to Lossiemouth. Yesterday week the whole of the fishing fleet numbering about thirty, of Lossiemouth and adjacent villages, put to sea in the afternoon, intending to proceed in an easterly direction to the herring fishing. The weather at the time was threatening. The wind was squally, with frequent showers of blinding drift, occasionally succeeded by a perfect calm, which made sailing slow as well as dangerous, and it was not till night that the fleet arrived at the fishing ground, fifteen miles off Cullen. The crew, who numbered about eight men to a boat began to shoot their nets soon after sunset, and by the time they had finished this work a steady fresh breeze had sprung up from the NN.E, which soon increased to a hurricane, rendered still more terrible to the fishermen in the darkness of the night by the heavy snow showers which now began to fall incessantly. The sea rose very rapidly to a height which the oldest fishermen declare they had never seen paralleled before in their experience. The crews became alarmed at the prospect before them, and prepared to run to a place of safety. But this, in the face of wind and snow and sea was dangerous work. The masts, for instance, had to be lashed to the boats before the fishermen were prepared to use them. Some of them tried to haul in their nets, but the great majority of the boats drifted away from them, and the crews then tried to set sail for their own preservation. Five of them – the Hopeman, the City of Elgin, the Gold Finder, the Catherine, and the Lisunday – rode out the storm, and, when the weather moderated next morning, they proceeded homewards, which they reached in safety. The other boars, except the David Main, which was lost, as described below, reached Invergordon and Cromarty, and by Tuesday and Wednesday news of their safe arrival had reached Lossiemouth. The Anne of Branderburgh, William Campbell (“Dad”), skipper broke away from her nets about the same time as the others, and the mast was got up and the rudder put on preparatory to sailing before the gale. One of the crew, named John Scott, belonging to Branderburgh, who had been forward in the boat, went aft to see if the sheet was properly fastened (fishermen say mistakes are oftener made with the sheet that with any other part of the boat’s gear), and, while standing near the skipper, he called out to his comrades to beware to a tremendous sea which he saw rolling on towards them. Anxious for the safety of other, he forgot his own, and in a moment the sea broke upon the board and washed him overboard. The mainsail, and half a barrel of water which was lying upon the deck, were washed away at the same time, and the boat was laid on her beam ends. In this precarious condition she lay for about a minute, and her crew had little hope of her righting again. Fortunately, however, a smooth sea now succeeded the huge breaker, ad the boat was righted; but Scott was never seen again. He was the son of Mr Scott, bookseller, Branderburgh, and was an expert, affable young man, respected by all who knew him. He was twenty-five years of age, and unmarried.
It would have been fortunate for the locality had the loss of this young man’s life been all the sacrifice the storm had entailed upon the Lossiemouth fishermen, but the melancholy news must be added to crew of the David Main, eight in number, lost their lives, in is supposed, about the same time as Scott. The last time the David Main was seen was about eleven o’clock. She then nearly passed the Anne, so near that her crew called out that Scott had been lost. The David Main was then apparently under sail, and sailing up close to Campbell’s boat. A collision was impending, which induced the former to stow the foresail and set a part of the mizen, and throw the boat’s head to the wind in order that she might go astern. The Ann got righted up at this point, and set sail for Cromarty. But the David Main has not been heard of, and there is now no doubt that her crew have all perished. There are several conjectures as to the cause of the catastrophe. The most probable is that she was caught by a heavy sea and immediately swamped. The crew were all married men, in the prime of their life, ad leave behind them large families to mourn their irreparable loss, The following are their names, ages and number of children:-
William Smith (Wokie), skipper, 38, wife and six children.
William McLeod (Punchy), 32. wife and one child.
John McLeod, 26, wife and three children.
Alexander McLeod, 24, wife and three children.
James Souter, 53, wife and 10 children
Alexander Souter, 50, wife and four children.
William Stuart, 38 (“Manson”), wife and six children.
The deceased men were nearly all connected by blood or marriage. The McLeods were brothers, and Smith was their brother-in-law; the Souters were cousins, and James was uncle to the McLeods. About a year ago one of the Main’s sons was washed overboard off Helmsdale. The appalling disaster has thrown Lossiemouth, Stotfield, and Branderburgh into mourning. Those villages have been singularly free from fatal calamities at sea for many a year. The last memorable one took place in 1806 when twenty-one lives were lost by the swamping of three boats. But the one of last week is more heartrending than that of 1806 from the fact that no fewer than eight wives have been made widows, and 38 children fatherless by it. Four of the bereaved families live under the same root. Alex. McLeod’s youngest child is but eight days old, and the families of the other men are mostly unable to earn their own livelihood, except five of James Souter’s who are grown up. The families have all been left in very destitute circumstances, rendered all the more so from the fact that the past winter has been a most severe one to the fishing population. They call for public sympathy and support, and we doubt not both will be generously given when the circumstances of the disaster become known to the country.
We are very glad to learn that a subscription list was started in Lossiemouth on Saturday night. It was drawn out the Rev. Mr McDonald, and two fishermen, named William and George Stewart, started with it about seven in the evening. They called on about nine gentlemen, who subscribed the sum of £19 3s, a very good beginning, and we hope that a handsome sum will be realised.
The nets of the lost boat, as well as of the others, were recovered on Thursday and Friday, but all of them were so much damaged they will be of little use. The loss to the fishermen in this respect will be over £100. One of the four boats which rode out the storm picked up, on Thursday morning, about four miles from the fishing ground, some floating gear supposed to belong to the David Main, including some of the side hatches, which is always well fastened in a boat, and a piece of a broken string.
Melancholy though the disaster is, the crews who were at sea during the storm state that the wonder is the loss of life was not much greater than it is. They have been often out during a much more tempestuous gale, but a rougher sea, or one that rose more quickly, they have never witnessed before, and that the bulk of the fleet reached ports of safety is more than they could have expected.
Narrative of a Fisherman
One of the fishermen who was with the fleet during the whole of the storm sends us the following narrative:-
“We proceeded to sea on Monday forenoon with the intention of going to the fishing ground know along the coast by the name of the Skate (?) Hole, about seventy miles from this harbour. The wind being light, with an occasional shower, accompanied by strong squalls and succeeded by dead calms during the afternoon, sunset overtook us in the deep water about fifteen miles off Cullen, and there we set our nets. A small (?) breeze was blowing at the time, but during the afternoon some ominous signs were visible about the sun, and a dense black shower in the north-east kept us on the watch lest it should become worse. And we were not left long in suspense, for the shower came, and with it the strongest wind I ever faced. The sea rose very high and sharp, so that with snow, spray, and the rolling of the boat our situation was far from being a pleasant one. Being assured that we could haul our nets, we cleared the deck by placing every encumbrance below, and putting on the hatches, lifting the foremast from its place of fastening at both ends, reversing the bowsprit, putting rigging in it, to be ready, in the event of our net breaking, to get underway as quick as possible. This done, we sat peering through the gloom and saw several of our neighbours breaking adrift and making sail, but still we rode, and, fortunately, the weather began to moderate after four o’clock, and thinking we could manage to haul our nets, we made an attempt, but failed. We broke adrift about two o’clock on Tuesday morning, and we made sail for Cromarty Firth, which, after considerable buffeting, we reached about ten o’clock. We there heard news that will cause us to remember it to the end of our life.”
On Sunday the catastrophe was alluded to in the local pulpits. The Ref. Mr McDonald, U.P. Church, preached from James iv. 14 – “For what is your life? It is but a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” In commending his discourse he remarked. – We have met this day under a cloud, which has spread its dark shadow over us all. In the terrific storm of last Monday night nine men who belong to this community, some in the very prime of their manhood, were consigned to a watery grave. Of these nine men five were adherents of this church, ad two were members. By this great calamity, eight wives have been made widows, and 38\children left fatherless. No such disaster has occurred here since 1853, and the first thing that we are called upon to do is to mourn for the dead. Death, in all its aspects, is a sad and afflicting event. The friends who have been taken away were our fellow worshippers – they sat in the same church, and heard the same Gospel; and it therefore becomes us to mourn over then. We are also called upon to sympathise with those bereaved ones who to-day are so bitterly mourning over the death of their friends, and, in as far as their circumstances require it, it is our duty to aid them. The rev. gentleman went on to say that this disaster was a warning of the uncertainty of life. He discoursed on life as a journey, as a sacred trust, and as momentous probation, concluding by exhorting his bearers to life soberly and righteously during their present brief existence.
The Banffshire Journal, Tuesday, April 18, 1876
Loss of a Lossimouth Boat’s Crew at Sea.
Another melancholy accident to a whole boat’s crew belonging to Lossiemouth took place at sea early on Tuesday morning last, caused by the violent gale and storm. The David Main, belonging to Mr William Reid, ‘Ho’ was one of the fleet of boats that left Lossiemouth during Monday for the cod fishing ground. About twenty of thirty miles east of that place. The storm set in so violently that the boats broke adrift from their nets, and some of them made for home, or to the nearest places of shelter, one crew having run as far as Cromarty. But the David Main did not return, and serious fears began to be entertained for her safety. So soon as the weather settled, the boats returned for their nets, and they were all successful in recovering them, the most of them being in a tattered condition, however. Among the nets that were found were those belonging to the David Main, but no trace of the boat itself were seen. The conjecture that had previously been formed as to her total was thus confirmed. It is supposed that, after having been drive or broken away from their nets, the boat had been upset while the crew had been attempting to set up the mast, the boat meanwhile having, it is thought, got broadside on to the sea, ad so had floundered. She was heavily ballasted, and had a metal keel of about 25cwt., which would have prevented her from floating, even supposing she had been capsized. As it is, no one saw her sink, or beheld her crew of eight fishermen go down to their watery graves. Some of the spars and gear of the boat have since been found, and it was reported on Saturday evening in Lossiemouth that some of the men’s chests had been cast ashore about Buckie. The brave fellows who have lost their lives are – William McLeod, skipper, John McLeod, Alex. McLeod, William Smith,, William Main, William Steward, James Souter, and Alex. Souter. All of them were married, and they leave eight widows and twenty-eight children under 14 years of age to mourn the sad calamity that has overtaken them. It may easily be supposed that a distressing event like this would cause the keenest sorrow among the people of Lossiemouth, familiar as they have unhappily been of late with loss of life at sea. A subscription paper has been started for the behoof of the bereaved, and, as they are all in the very poorest circumstances, it is to be hoped the response will be liberal. One poor woman has to grieve for the loss of three sons, a son-in-law, a brother, and a cousin, in the ill-fated boat.