Should you have been one of the 4 passengers aboard the paddle-steamer ‘Brigadier‘ making her way from Lochmaddy to Portree on the 7th of December 1896 then your journey was about to be rudely cut short just off the coast of Rubha Reinis (Renish Point) at the entrance to Loch Roghadail.
The RCAHMS record of the wreck is both informative and slightly confusing, for there appears to have been a degree of uncertainty as to the location of the accident. However, Captain Otter’s 1857 chart of the Sound of Harris clearly shows us the position of ‘Duncan Rk’ and the dotted-circle surrounding the ‘¾’ figure indicates why this rock, only three-quarters of a fathom (four-and-a-half feet) below the surface of the sea, presented such a danger to shipping.
A description of the ship together with her history, including the final years in the ownership of David MacBrayne, is to be seen here but what interested me most was seeing if I could learn anything more of her Master on that fateful day, one D McPhail.
A search of the censuses for likely candidates produced just one – Dugald Macphail, from Crinan, Argyleshire, who we find in 1891 in Liverpool and in 1901 in Greenock.
The 1891 record has the 21 year-old Dugald as Master of the vessel ‘Northward’ which also had a Mate & 2nd Mate, an Engineer & 2nd Engineer, two Seamen, two Firemen and a Cook comprising her crew. I was surprised by the (to 21st Century eyes) very young age of the Master but also surprised to see on this census return from Garston Dock, Liverpool in England that there was the familiar column from Scottish censuses that records whether those listed spoke either Gaelic or Gaelic & English. Six of these mariners, including Dugald Macphail, spoke both languages whilst the remaining four recorded nothing in the column, indicating that they only had English.
In 1901, D Macphail aged 32 and hailing from Crinan, is now Master of the ‘Copeland‘ and accompanying him aboard that vessel in Greenock were a Mate & 2nd Mate, a Chief Engineer & 2nd Engineer, a Carpenter, a Donkeyman, eight Able Seamen & seven Firemen, a Cook, a Chief Steward & 2nd Steward, a Stewardess and finally three Passengers. I should perhaps explain that a ‘Donkeyman’ was responsible for the auxiliary steam engines, known as donkey engines, which were used to power winches and pumps.
This pencil sketch from 1898 of the SS Copeland’s Smoking Room was certainly a surprising find!
Finally, although I cannot be absolutely certain that he was indeed the unfortunate Master of the ‘Brigadier’ in 1896, Captain Dugald Macphail, Master of the ‘SS Copeland‘, was awarded an MBE on the 26th of March, 1920 within the list of ‘Civilian Honours Connected With The War At Sea’.
The SS Copeland had been sunk on the 3rd of December, 1917 by the German submarine, U-57 , under the command of Kapitanleutnant Carl-Siegfried Ritter von Georg . Twelve men died when the torpedoing took place in the St George’s Channel whilst she was enroute from Glasgow to Cork. .
Thus what began as the tale of an accident in which no lives were recorded as being lost ends, unexpectedly, with the sad story of a deliberate sinking in which twelve brave seamen lost their lives.