Hurricane of the 20th/21st October 1874

Edinburgh, October 29th
A storm exceeding in violence any experienced in Britain for more than six and a-half years, blew over the whole of England, Scotland, and Wales, and a great part of Ireland, on the night of the 20-21st inst. The havoc it has caused, especially in Scotland, is enormous…
…It was on the Hebrides, however, that te.most terrible wrecks took place. A splendid new Dundee clipper, the Maja, a vessel of 1000 tons register, was lost there with all hands, to the number of twentyfour. From wreckage that has come ashore, moreover, the large Glasgow ship Isabella Kerr is believed to have been lost, with 30 souls on board. If this be true, 20 wives in Greenock will have been made widows by this single disaster. Other wrecks, of vessels both known and unknown, have been numerous, and the shore near Stornoway is strewn for miles with wreckage to the depth of a couple of feet, while even yet bodies are frequently seen tossing about in the surf.
Otago Daily Times , Issue 4011, 24 December 1874, Page 6
National Library of New Zealand
The loss of the Maju and the Isabella Kerr and a catalogue of communications relating to the wreckage associated with them may be seen here and here.


A terrible S.W. storm visited the Hebrides and north-western coast of the mainland of Scotland on October 1st, doing immense damage. At Stornoway it was destructive almost beyond precedent, and the barometer was lower than during the Tay Bridge gale. Every vessel in the harbour was driven from her moorings, and several went ashore. The sea covered South Beach street, flooding the houses and strewing the roadway with smashed boats and other wreckage. Throughout the islands great numbers of fishing-boats were sunk or smashed, and in some villages the inhabitants are thus deprived of the means of earning their living.
In Mull and Skye the damage done is about equally great. In the latter island no such storm is said to have been experienced since 1860. The damage to crops, houses, and other property on land is very large. At Portree alone nearly 100 trees were blown down.
Much commiseration is felt for the Lews crofters, as they were exceptionally unfortunate at the herring fishing, since which their potato crop has failed, and now this storm has come to fill up their cup of disaster.
This will be a suitable place to mention that last Saturday, the 14th, was the first anniversary of the terrible storm which caused such havoc to life and property on the Berwickshire coast. In Eyemouth and Burnmouth services were held in the churches, and in the former place the parish church-bell was tolled, and the shops shut during service, while the inhabitants donned mourning garb, and the fountains of grief seemed to be reopened.
Source: Otago Daily Times , Issue 6496, 7 December 1882, Page 3
National Library of New Zealand
One of those vessels ‘driven from her moorings‘ may have been the ‘Jessie‘ but, if so, she certainly survived to perform many more years valuable service.

‘…a most eventful voyage…’

This, originally from the Pall Mall Gazette of 1889, is truly tragi-comic:
The Welsh schooner Pursuit, Captain Williams, has had a most eventful voyage of nearly six months’ time from Weston Point, near Liverpool, to Carloway. The vessel left the Mersey laden with salt in the end of September, 1888, and put into Stornoway on the 23rd October. There she remained for some time wind-bound, and made two ineffectual attempts to make her destination, which is only about 50 miles distant. Ultimately she sailed from Stornoway on Sunday, 23rd December last, under charge of a pilot, but when near Carloway that evening she was caught in a heavy westerly gale, which drove her towards the Orkneys, and the master succeeded, after losing most of his sails, in getting her into Thurso. Unfortunately the mate, who had been most reluctant to leave in the vessel, dropped down dead in the height of the gale. After getting a new supply of sails from Wales the vessel left Thurso, and advices have been received at Stornoway that she has now arrived at her destination. It may be stated that the exact distance between the place of loading and discharging is only about 410 miles. (Pall Mall Gazette)
Source: Boston Evening Transcript – Apr 3, 1889

Upturned Boats

These examples of boats being given a second lease of life as sheds in Lindisfarne led me to seek further examples. It was brought to my attention that the Peggotty family in Charles Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’ lived in such a structure in Great Yarmouth as shown on this book jacket .
Further South down the East Coast of England I found these in Whitstable and Gravesend, Kent .

On the West Coast of mainland Scotland, however, it was considered bad luck to re-use parts from old vessels and the only Scottish examples that I’ve been able to discover are these from Stronsay, Orkney Isles and the Shetland Isles .

If you know of other examples, whether of whole hulls or perhaps just a spar used as a roof-timber, then please drop me a line…


The Star (Saint Peter Port, England),
Saturday, October 11, 1879; Issue 53
19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II
In connection with the wreck of the yacht Astarte, and the gallant rescue of her crew, there are some interesting facts that have not been made public. The Astarte, belonging to Mr R. A. Napier, of Glasgow, was caught in the storm of the 21st ult. in the Minch, while running from Tarbert, Harris, to Barra, in the outer Hebrides. On Monday afternoon she ran for shelter to an island at the entrance to the Sound of Harris, called Greanern, about four miles from Lochmaddy, and close to the Uist coast. The gale increased to a hurricane during the night, and the sea ran fearfully high. The yacht dragged her anchors, and was eventually dashed onto the rocks near a small island about eleven miles from the west coast of Harris, where she soon broke up and sank. The passengers and crew, amongst whom were three ladies and two children, were with much difficulty got ashore with life-lines. They were dragged through the raging surf, one lady being nearly drowned. They took what shelter they could amongst the heather which grew on the top of this small rocky island. The privations they suffered were intense, and the force of the gale was such that they with difficulty prevented themselves from being blown off the rock into the sea. Thus they remained wet and starved, being utterly without food all that day and night, until early the next morning, when relief came to them from the most unexpected quarter. It appears that some men on the Uist coast saw the wreck of the yacht, but owing to the faerful sea running, no boat would venture out. Three men proceeded over the hills to Lochmaddy, and gave instruction to the Procurator Fiscal, who instantly telegraphed the news to Lord Dunmore, in Harris. The telegram was received in the middle of the night, but in less than two hours his lordship got a crew of three men together, who proceeded under his command to make ready for sea the only available boat at the moment, which was an un-decked but strongly built cutter-rigged fishing-boat of about six tons. In this small open boat, armed with baskets of provisions they started in the dark, under a close-reefed mainsail, to beat against a S.W. Gale for 11 miles through a very heavy sea of the open Atlantic. After beating for five hours they reached the island, and found the women and children in an exhausted state. After adminstering spirits and food to them they were put on board the gallant little boat, and were taken back to Rodel, in Harris, in safety, where they were treated with the greatest care by the shooting tenants. The little boat then put to sea again for the second time and rescued the remainder, whom she brought back to Harris in the afternoon. Lord Dunmore’s fishing-boat is called the Dauntless, and well she has now earned her name, as no other boat on the coast would venture out that day, and a few more hours of exposure on that storm-beaten rock must have been attended with serious results for the women and children. The names of the rescuing crew are Lord Dunmore, John McRae, McLeod, and Norman Macdonald.
– Daily Telegraph
(M’Leod was Ewen McLeod and all three men were apparently fishermen)
The National Lifeboat Institution (precursor of the RNLI) awarded Lord Dunmore its Silver Medal and each of the three Harrismen received £5, which was a considerable sum in 1879.
I am confused by the reference to the part played by the telegraph, for the message appears to have arrived some seven years before the subsea cable along which it was sent?
Looking for Fishermen who fit from South Harris in the censuses:
John McRae, b. 1846, Obbe, (married to an Effy Kerr, but not a known relative!)
Ewen McLeod, b. 1842, Smithy (presumably Obbe)
Norman Macdonald, b.1839
I cannot be certain, but these are good candidates and the 7th Earl of Dunmore was born in 1841 so these men were of his generation – young enough to brave the elements, old enough to have the wisdom to survive the experience!
I believe that I have found ‘Greanern’ for the island of Greineam lies about 4 miles from Lochmaddy off the North East coast of North Uist, but the reference to the ‘open Atlantic’ and ‘the west coast of Harris’ might appear to conflict with this? As Greineam is the only island at the this distance from Lochmaddy, at the entrance to the Sound of Harris, and about eleven miles from An-t-Ob and enroute for a voyage from Tarbert to Barra via the Minch (rather than the Atlantic), I am reasonably sure of this.
The record at Scotlands Places gives us this additional information regarding the wreck, , but doesn’t identify the island of ‘Greanern’ which is, of course, why I wanted to do so!
(There is a larger island called Greineam near Berneray, but that is too far from Lochmaddy and too near to Harris to fit the facts)
I hadn’t heard of this particular episode until I came upon the newspaper cutting, and hence thought it worth sharing with you!

Some Example Raw Data

Using the technique as described produced the following returns:

Loss 34,700

Loss + Minch 2,440
Loss + Stornoway 1,090
Loss + Sound of Harris 129

Loss + Coal 2,320
Loss + Coal + 19thC 1,910
Loss + Lime 237
Loss + Salt 510
Loss + Cement 50

Loss + Oats 145
Loss + Barley 141
Loss + Turnips 18
Loss + Carrots 3
Loss + Carrots + Turnips 2

Loss + Schooner 5,370
Loss + Brig 2,000
Loss + Ketch 317
Loss + Clipper 18

Loss + Minch + Coal + Schooner 17

Much care has to be taken for there are many factors including multiple recordings, the occurrence of words elsewhere on the returned page that my not be applying to the particular vessel, etc; but I think these few examples demonstrate that the technique has some potential as a research tool?

A round-about technique for discovering cargoes

If you perform a search from the Google search box (other search engines are available!) using the text… record loss whisky

…you will be rewarded by a list of Scottish shipwrecks that include the word ‘Whisky’. You should see fairly high in the list the ‘Politician’, the vessel who’s loss inspired the book ‘Whisky Galore’ by Compton Mackenzie.

However, if you replace ‘whisky’ in the search box with ‘lime’, or ‘coal’, or ‘oats’, or ‘barley’ (or whatever cargo you wish to discover) then opening each record will provide you with a range of information that may include dates, locations, weather conditions, personnel and details of the vessel and its loss.

The diligent researcher could use this method to estimate the proportion of each type cargo that was carried (or, at least, lost!) in particular periods but, as the number of records including the word ‘loss’ are in the tens of thousands (although some will be duplicates), I do not recommend you trying this at home…

…but the seven records for ‘cured herring’, including this one , are more manageable!

Note: It probably goes without saying that similar substitutions can be made using placenames, types of vessel, or whatever takes your fancy. If you replace the word ‘loss’ with ‘wreck’, or ‘earthquake’, ‘storm’, ‘gale’, etc then many other aspects may be researched.

I should point out that, in some cases, these losses were not only material but also included fatalities…