Dreadful Shipwreck on the Coast of Islay.

Back to Search View Transcript
Document ID 9505007
Date 07-05-1847
Document Type Newspapers (Extracts)
Archive Central Library, Belfast
Citation Dreadful Shipwreck on the Coast of Islay.;The Belfast Newsletter, Friday, May 7, 1847; CMSIED 9505007
     (From the Glasgow Herald)

We  announce with extreme pain, that, during  the storm of
last week, a lamentable shipwreck has occurred on  the shores
of Islay,  being accompanied with the most extensive loss of
life which  has  taken place on  the west coast of  Scotland
within  our  remembrance. The intellegence was  brought  to
Glasgow on Saturday afternoon last,  by three seamen, being
the only  survivors of  the  crew  and  passengers of the
brig, EXMOUTH,  of Newcastle, who had been forwarded from
Islay in the MODERN ATHENS steamer, by Mr Chiene, the factor
for Mr Campbell, of Islay. According to their statement, the
EXMOUTH, of 320 tons, of which Isaac Booth, of Sunderland, was
master, sailed from Londonderry for Quebec between three and
four o'clock, on the morning of Sunday, the 25th ultimo, with
a light south-west breeze. She had a crew of eleven men
(inclusive of the captain) and about 240 emigrants, consisting
chiefly of small farmers and tradesmen, with their families,
who had turned their little all into money, for the purpose of
escaping the famine, and earning for themselves a home in the
western world. Many were  females and children going out to
join their fathers and protectors who had already settled in
Canada, and who had beckoned those who were dear to them
across the Atlantic. There were three cabin passengers, young,
unmarried ladies, of the middle classes, two of them being
sisters, on their way to join their relatives at St. John's,
New Brunswick. The vessel was registered for 165 1/2
passengers, but , as two children count as one adult, and as a
very large proportion were under age there being only about
sixty men amongst the passengers - the survivors of the wreck,
who are out informants , think that the total  number of these
ill-fated emigrants must have amounted to the total stated -
viz., 240.
   The ship lost sight of the loom of the land about four
o'clock , on Sunday afternoon. The  breeze, which had been
light in the morning, increased  to a gale during the day, and
about eleven, p.m., it came in terrific squalls, accompanied
by heavy torrents of rain. They then furied the fore and main
sails. The wind, which had been westward at first, veered
northerly, and the storm increased in violence, which blew the
two  top-sails from  the bolt-ropes. The crew then set the
fore-sail and spanker, and commenced to  bend two other top-
sails , which they furled;  but about three in  the  morning
they were blown from the gaskets. Previous to thes the jib had
been stowed, the larboard tacks on board, and the ship was now
driving to the southward and eastward. The reason of the
master not  standing to the westward, when the wind became
northerly, and where he would have had ample sea room, was for
the purpose attaining some harbour of refuge,  where he might
repair damages and replace the sails.
   Shortly after  this, on Monday forenoon, the long boat was
unshipped from the chocks, by the force of the seas, which
unsuccessfully broke over  the cessel,  and in the course of
the same forenoon, the bulwarks were stove in, and the life-
boat  washed away. The gale continued with the  same violence
during the whole of Monday night and Tuesday; and an
indication of the force of the hurricane may be learned from
the fact, that on the latter day the mainsail, after being
furled, was torn from the gaskets by the storm blast. While
the crew was setting the foresail  it was blown from the  bolt
ropes, and the trysail-mast was  unshipped, and the main  gaff
carried away, which rendered them unable to carry the
spanker. During this dreary time, the vessel pitched
dreadfully - now on the crest of a mountain wave, and in two
seconds afterwards reeling in the trough of the sea;  the
passengers were all below under hatches, many of them
insensitive to external danger from the pains of sea-sickness,
but all were not so. Some  of them had a fearful presentiment
of disaster, and it would be difficult to say whether the
parents suffered the greater agony from the cries of their
children pent  up in  the dark and noisone hold,  or from the
innocent prattle  which was so soon to overtake  them, Cooking
of course, was  out of the question;  but the grown-up people
had no heart to be hungry, and moreover the cooked  provisions
brought from Londonderry were not yet entirely exhausted.
   About eleven o'clock on Tuesday night, land and  a light
were seen on the starboard quarter, which Captain Booth at
first took to be the light on the Island of Tory, off the
northwest coast of Ireland, and  in the belief that he thus
had ample sea-room in the course he was steering, he bore
along. As he drifted near the land, however, and observed that
 the light was a flashing , instead of a stationary one,  he
became conscious of his error and dangerous position, and
made  every effort to repair it by bringing the ship farther
to the northward and westward ; and with the view of "clawing"
her off the land, the maintopsail and the foretopmast  stay
sail were  set, and the jib half hoisted. The effort however,
was and  an ineffectual one; the ship soon  got  amongst the
broken water, and at half-past twelve on  Wednesday morning
was dashed amongst the rocks. If the above be a  correct
version of the impression of the captain's mind as  to his
position - and it is distinctly  spoken to by the two
survivors we have seen - the result shows that he must have
been fully a hundred  miles  out of his reckoning. But perhaps
it could not well be otherwise. The sun was obscured during
all the time of this brief and disastrous voyage by black
driving clouds, which distilled perpetual rains; the moon was
only  seen  through a heavy haxe at fitful intervals,  and
from  these causes  it was impossible that any observation
could be taken. The light seen was that of Oransa, or Oversay,
on  the point of the Rhinns or Runs of Islay, to the north-
west  of the entrance of Lochindaul;  and the land seen,  and
on which the brig eventually struck,  was the western  part of
the iron-bound coast of the island. She went ashore with all
the sails already mentioned fully  distended;  and, after
striking once,  was dashed broadside  on, alongside the rocks,
which rose to  the  height of the mast ahead. She struck
violently  against the rocks three times, and at the fourth
stroke the mainmast  went by the board and fell into a chasm
of  the rock. An hour and a half previously, when Captain
Booth observed his dangerous proximity to the shore, he took
his station in the maintop, that he might personally keep a
look-out and see how the land bore, and from this place he
occasionally gave his orders to the crew. As soon as the brig
struck, John Cleat, the mate, and all the seamen, eighteen in
number, joined the Captain in the maintop, leaving the
captai's son, a youth of about fifteen years of age, asleep in
his cott below. After remaining in the  maintop about three
minutes, five of the crew went down for the purpose of
ascending the foretop, thinking that they would have a better
chance of gaining the shore from that part of the ship. At the
same time, one of the crew, named John Scott, went upon the
mainyard with a life-buoy on his person - thus leaving in the
maintop, the captain and three seamen, whose names are, John
Stevens, Wm. Coulthard, and George Lightford, all  belonging
to South Shields. We have said that the maintop, along with
the wreck of the mast, was thrown into a rift or chasm of the
rock, and immediately afterwards Coulthard, then Lightford,
and finally Stevens,scrambled up the topmast rigging, and
obtained a footing on the crags. As it was pitch dark at this
time, the captain asked his  men their names,  and when they
had informed  him, he said it was their duty  to assist each
other in such a terrible crisis. He was about to follow the
men, when a wild wave dashed over their heads as they clung to
the rock, but they were unable to maintain their position; and
when they looked round, after the sea had retired, they found
that the captain and all  were gone. The main mast had been
broken into splinters by the fourth collision with the rocks,
and this recoiling wave had not only dragged the  ship, but
the fragments of the mast which adhered to her rigging
further into the sea, and thus cut off from the dense mass of
human beings on board every chance of escape.  Had the wreck
remained in the chasm where it was originally thrown, and from
which the three survivors escaped,  ot might have been used as
a bridge by the others; but , unhappily, this last possibility
of relief was taken away. The same wave which effected this
fearful havoc must also have prevented the five seamen from
reaching the fore-top, from  which they might have had a
chance of escaping. A quarter of an hour elapsed from  the
time of the brig first striking  until the three survivors got
upon the rock. At the monent she struck, and a little previous
to  it, about half a dozen of the male passengers were
standing on the dexk, occasionally asking the mate  if there
was, in reality, any danger; but as the latter well knew the
perils of their position, from the broken water seen around,
he answered them not. Of the three young ladies who were cabin
passengers, one of the sisters had been confined to bed by sea-
sickness from the moment of leaving Derry; but at ten o'clock
of Tuesday noght the other two took  their position in  the
companion way, and anxiously gazed on sea and sky till their
agonizing doubts were realised by the fearful catastrophe,  at
half-past twelve. They were seen there when the survivors last
gazed on  the deck. The ship was ground and crunched so
frigtfully amongst the rocks,  that she must have broken up
almost instantaneously. There was no cry of despairing agony
from the multitude of God's creatures, cooped up within the
hull of the ill-fated brig, or at least it was unheard;  for
the commotion of the elements was so furious, that the men on
the top could scarcely heaar each other at the top of their
voices. The great mass of  the emigrants,  therefore, must
have perished  in their berths, as the rocks rapidly  thumped
the bottom out of the vessel; and though there might be one
"universal shriek," within a very  few  minutes " all was
hushed, save the wild  wind, and the remorseless dash of
   The  three  men who  had escaped to the rock, so soon as
the ship entirely disappeared, searched anxiously for some
outlet by which they might reach the mainland; but none such
could be  found, and they finally took shelter in a crevice,
which, however, did not shield them from  the rain,  which
fell heavily all night, and here they remained till grey
daylight. They then discovered an  opening, through  which
they scrambled to the summit, and having  travelled about a
mile, they saw some  cattle on a waste or muir, near which
they  lay down in the  hope that some person would soon come
to look after them and take them away. No one came, however,
and after day had  fairly broken, the men got up  from the
grass, and ascended an elevation  near at hand, from which
they observed a farm-house about half-a-mile  distant. Thither
they proceeded, and were most hospitably nourished and put to
bed. They were thoroughly  worn out by exhaustion, not one of
the crew having been  in bed from  the moment the ship left
Derry. They were, at the  same time,   nearly naked, from
having divested themselves of their heavy clothing  when the
EXMOUTH struck, and lost part of that which remained when
scrambling on  the rigging and amongst the rocks. The
hospitable farmer - whose name we have not learned - and
others who had  been apprised by him,  went to the scene of
the catastrophe, but, of course, too late to help, and only to
gaze on the desolation. Mr. Chiene, Islay's factor,  soon
heard of the event, and  kindly furnished the men with a
passage to Glasgow by the MODERN ATHENS steamer, where, as
already stated, they arrived on Saturday last. Here they were
consigned to the care of Mr. Fildes, of the Naval Rendezvous,
and assistant to  Lieut. Forrest, agent for the Ship-wrecked
Mariner's Society, and  by him they have been clothed and
comfortably boarded  in  the meantime. They  will be franked
to  Newcastle in the course of to-day or to-morrow.
   On  Thursday afternoon, the latest date of  our advices
from Islay, about twenty  of the bodies  had come  ashore.
They  were principally females, with one  little  boy amongst
them;  and as  many of  them were in  their night clothes, the
probability is that they were those who  had rushed upon deck
at the first  alarm, caused by the striking of the ship. They
were fearfully mangled by being dashed amongst the rocks,  and
being jammed within  the crevices, along with pieces  of the
wreck, few of which were above two feet in  length. Other
bodies were seen floating in the surf,  but the sea was still
too high to permit  any boat  venturing out to bring them
in. The belief is, however, that the great mass of the poor
emigrants went down with the "between decks" of the ship, and
that their bodies will not be recovered till this part of the
vessel breaks up.
   The EXMOUTH had nothing on  board but ballast, and the
provisions and little stocks of goods of the  emigrants. She
is the property of  Mr John Eden, of South Shields, and,
though old,  is stated by the survivors to have been well
found in every respect.  All  the crew and  passengers were
perfectly sober during this fearful time, and the three seamen
state that they never saw drink on board at all. The Captain
was in the  prime of life,  and has left  a  widow and
family. All the rest of the  seamen were unmarried, with the
exception of a man, named George Ross, who is  amongst those
who perished. According to  the above estimate, the number who
have been  thus suddenly called to their account amounts to
248; but even  leaving room  for misinformation,  or
exaggeration,  the loss of  life has unquestionably been
frightful. Whether or not this fearful shipwreck may have been
partly carsed by negligence,  or  incompetence, or
unseaworthiness, we cannot say. We have no reason  to state
that it is so; but still the public voice will  demand a
searching inquiry.
   We have only to  add that the above narrative has been
principally made up from the statements of  the survivors,
Stevens and Lightford, whom we have  seen separately, and
their accounts of this  most lamentable affair are entirely
   The passengers were chiefly  from Kilmacrenan, Letterkenny,
Ballyshannon, Stranorlar, Clonmany,  Enniskillen, Strabane,
Dungiven, Nn. Limavady, Castlederg, Omagh, Ballymoney, and