In Sight of Shore -
Loss of the Whaler "Oscar" - Girdleness 41 Dead
One of the most
that have ever occurred on this coast took place on the
1st April 1813.
Oscar whale ship
left the port that morning along with
the weather being fine; but appearances of a gale coming on, the
and another weighed anchor, in order to
stand out to sea.
was detained by one of her boats having been sent
for some of the crew
who had not come on board, and the gale coming on from the
Greyhope Bay, immediately behind the
breakwater at the south side of the harbour, where she quickly went to pieces,
and out of a crew of 43, only the
first mate and one seaman
were saved. The same place proved fatal in
1815 to the Caledonia
which were both wrecked in one day, and
the crews of both perished.
location assigned to this record is essentially tentative, being derived from
the unverified location that is cited by Whittaker. The
'Rocks of Greyhope'
are not noted as such on the current edition of the OS (GIS) MasterMap, but the
name presumably applies to those on either side of
Greyhope Bay, to the North West
The vessel was presumably stranded while anchored off Aberdeen harbour. The
present entrance location reflects development towards the East through the
construction of successive piers and breakwaters.
of Aberdeen held their Assemblies ceremonies in the
area. They later moved to the
The White House
Links at Futtiesmyre
- the later used for the Gas Works, They then built the
New Inn in 1755
was on the top floor in
Castle Street hence
Grayhope Bay Circa 1840 -
The area beneath the Lighthouse is known as
and the river mouth there is the
memorable as the scene of the most disastrous shipwreck ever recorded in our
local annals. "On the morning of the 1st of April,
5 whaling vessels were riding at anchor in the roads when a sudden tempest came
on from the South East. Two of the ships weighed and stood out to sea; but
as part of the crew of one, the ill-fated
had been left ashore, she was obliged to
and keep near the land. By the time that all her men were on board she was far
inshore. Meantime the wind had died away, and from the heavy roll of the sea,
and a strong tide setting in, she was unable to clear the
Soon after the gale sprang up with increased violence; it was accompanied with a
dense shower of snow, and now blew from the
The vessel in vain endeavoured to ride it out; and after dragging her anchor she
was driven ashore in the
on a large reef. The tremendous sea which broke over her threatened instant
destruction, and the only hope of safety for the crew was that of effecting a
communication with the land. For this purpose the mainmast was hewed down in
such a manner as that it might fall towards the beach; but it dropped alongside
the vessel. A number of the seamen who had clung to the rigging were hurled into
the sea along with it, many were swept from the deck, and others who attempted
to swim to the land were borne down by the floating wreck or overwhelmed by the
fury of the surf. Only the forecastle now remained above water, and for a short
time the Master and 3 sailors were observed upon it, imploring that
assistance which none could give. Of a crew of 44 men only 2 were
saved." The bodies recovered from the sea were laid in one long grave at the
east end of
St. Fittick Churchyard.
Old folks still living in Torry recall the figure of a broken old woman
wandering among the fisher huts and seeking alms at their doors. Her "all" went
down in the "Oscar,"
which carried her husband and 3 sons, and the poor fisher folk who had seen
them done to death, almost within arm's length of help, never refuse to share
their crust with the lone woman.
was designed by
Robert Louis Stevenson
(Grandfather to the Author) and built by
The Lighthouse was lit for the first time at sunset on 15 October
Lighthouse is 37 metres high and contains 189 steps.
lighthouse building is listed as a building of Architectural and Historic interest.
The shipmaster of Aberdeen requested that a light be established at
Aberdeen following the wrecking of a whaling ship called the
Oscar in 1813.
There were only 2 survivors from a crew of 43.
The lighthouse was built by an Aberdeen contractor,
The light had a new form of
2 distinct lights
from the same tower,
one above the other,
The lower light consisted of
13 lamps and reflectors
arranged like a garland in a
built round the outside of the tower about
one third of the way up.
1860 Girdle Ness
was visited by the Astronomer Royal,
Professor George Airy, (later Sir George)
who described it as "the best lighthouse that I have seen". In
the lower light was discontinued.
The main light was altered in
1847 and the old lantern which was too small, was
The original cast iron lantern
was acquired in
National Museums of Scotland.
During restoration of this 5 ton lantern, it was found to be decorated with a
wonderful casting of dolphins, ships and lighthouses.
"fronted to seaward with weather-resisting glass a quarter of
an inch thick and gun metal astragals. The dome of the lighthouse looks immense
from inside where as from the ground some 136 feet below it looks minute. The
lamp is framed by 2 large concave reflectors which sent its 200,000 candlepower
out to sea on a good night."
Photograph c1949 of Girdleness showing the rocky promontory which was a
severe threat to shipping. The Greyhope is clearly visible, as is the
outline of the Football Pitch behind the lighthouse. The sewage outlet can
be traced from the plume heading across Greyhope Bay towards the harbour
entrance. On the right is Nigg Bay where 'mony a buckie' was picked
regardless of the daily sewage feeding the such sea snails or winkles. Not
much evidence of the Balnagask Golf Course but such areas were used for
billeting of troops and conducting nock manoeuvres during the War. It is
now the playground of both golfers and Dolphins despite the ever present Oil
Servicing Craft and their demands on shore es and quays.
current foghorn, known affectionately as the ‘Torry Coo’ (owing to its
low sonorous tones) was completed in 1902 and replaced an earlier foghorn
which was located to the east of the current structure. The foghorn, like the
lighthouse, was once an invaluable aid to navigation. The siren itself is a
cylindrical type. The Aberdeen Daily Journal published the following
account on 25 March 1902 of how the horn worked. ‘Compressed air
escapes from tanks into the perforated siren while it rotates and there are thus
produced every 2 minutes 4 blasts of 2 high and 2 low notes. For the purpose of
producing the compressed air 3 oil engines, each of 25hp, are
used, and these are housed in a commodious stone structure within the grounds of
the Lighthouse Commissioners surrounding the lighthouse. Each of the
engines produces air up to a pressure of about 30lb per square inch, and it is
conveyed to the tanks through pipes and stored. Three of these tanks are
situated within the engine-house, and are capable of containing 135 cubic feet.
From the tanks to the feeders at the horn house the air is conveyed in pipes,
and by an automatic arrangement is discharged in the siren with ear splitting
effect. The horn was worked by a man who was posted on outlook duty and its
plant was supplied by James Dove and Co., contracting engineers from
has not been used for many years it retains a special place in the hearts of
people from Torry and is a striking addition to the rugged coastal landscape of
1st APRIL 1813
will long be remembered as one of the most disastrous
Whaling in Aberdeen, in consequence of the
melancholy shipwreck of the
Oscar on the fatal Greyhope,
a rock at the
Girdleness, situated a little to
the south of the entrance of the harbour. For some
time previous the weather had been remarkably
propitious, and everything was fraught with the
promise of uninterrupted spring.
Early on the morning
1st of April the
Oscar had left the harbour
in company with
other whale-fishing vessels,
and all were riding at anchor in a sea as smooth
as glass, which proved but too deceitfully calm.
5 a.m. however, the
sky began to lower, and exhibited to the experienced eye of the seaman certain
presages of impending storm. The
stood out to sea. Unfortunately she had
not on board
her full complement of crew, and was
obliged to stand into the bay for the
who had been spending their time in all the reckless
jollity in which the sailor delights to revel on
the eve of departure on a long voyage.
By this time the storm of the morning had lulled a
little, as if on purpose to facilitate the securing of
its devoted victims. All the crew were safely shipped
on board the
Oscar, now far in-shore, amid a
heavy sea, a stormy
setting in, and a fatal
calm. Suddenly a hurricane burst from the north-east,
thick snow. The situation
was now perilous in the extreme,
and the spectators on shore trembled for her
11.30 A.M., after dragging her anchor, she drove ashore
on the rock called the
destruction now appeared inevitable.
A tremendous surf broke over her, ever
and anon dashing her against the rock with such
resistless force that the noise of the concussion was distinctly audible at a
considerable distance, striking terror and dismay into the
covered the pier, in defiance of the violence of the
tempest, which threatened destruction to all that
opposed its career. A more heart-rending scene
cannot well be conceived.
perishing in sight of their nearest and dearest relatives and friends, who could only send
them, across the raging deep, their heart-felt yet unavailing sympathy. Some of
the crew attempted to form a bridge to the nearest rocks by cutting
main-mast, but it unfortunately fell
alongside the ship, instead of towards the shore as
they had fondly anticipated. Soon after the
gave way, when many who had clung
to them for a chance of safety were swept into
the tumultuous waves. Every desperate effort of
the sailors to
save their lives
All that now remained above water of the once trim
forecastle, on which
5 men, one
Captain Innes, were distinctly seen, making
signals for that assistance which all longed to
give, but found it impossible to afford. After clinging
to the wreck for some time, they were at length
compelled to share the fate of their unfortunate companions. Of the whole crew
only the first mate
one of the
were, with the utmost
difficulty, saved. The loss sustained by the
owners was estimated at
recently repaired, and was completely equipped
for the voyage. This catastrophe
excited the deepest sympathy for the
surviving relatives of the sufferers, and the sum
and upwards was speedily raised and distributed
among them, according to their various situations.
The bodies of
the crew were afterwards
cast on shore; and it was
a melancholy sight to see the crowds of weeping relatives eagerly endeavouring,
often with difficulty, to recognise
the storm-disfigured countenances of the departed objects of their affection. In
this sad employment they were much comforted by
the unremitting and unwearied kindness of the late
Dr. Cruden of Nigg, who was equally zealous
in ministering to the temporal necessities of
the wretched, and pouring the balm of spiritual consolation into the wounded soul.
Soon after the complete destruction of the Oscar,
the storm, which had raged with such unexpected violence,
suddenly abated its
fury, as if satisfied with having
executed the mysterious behest of
heaven. The sky resumed its wonted serenity
the wind was hushed to repose, and no vestige
of the recent wrath of the elements remained, save the deep swell of the
hollow-murmuring wave, and the desolation which the untimely visit
of winter had left behind.
The loss of the "Oscar" is mentioned in the
Basil Lubbock's "Arctic Whalers"
but the best account is
David Dobson's "Tales of the Whalers".
All the crew are listed.
Buried in Nigg
James and Thomas Sangster both 19, seamen,
Christie, 21, seaman and
George MacDonald, 27, landsman - buried elsewhere are
Alex Buchan, James Catto,18,seaman and
Thomas Greig, 25, seaman.
The only other
21, linesman buried in
where there is an epitaph erected by his son.
lair is unknown but there is mentioned a stone erected by his widow
records should give a position.
THE WRECK OF THE "OSCAR."
BY WILLIAM CADENHEAD.
IT was Nigg's lonely churchyard, beside the murmuring ocean,
The roofless church was old and grey, for since its ancient walls
In years gone past resounded with the fervours of devotion,
They long had bleached in summer suns, or dripped in winter squalls.
Among the graves a sailor sat, his locks were long and hoary,
All weather-beaten was his cheek by many a salt sea-breeze,
No doubt of calms and tempests wild he well could tell the story,
'Mid doldrums at the sultry Line, or blasts on Arctic Seas.
I asked the ancient mariner about his meditation
Among the mouldering monuments, among the grassy graves
Of that lone seaside churchyard, and this was his narration
Of strange and fortunate escapes from out the seething waves—
" It was the good ship ' Oscar,' bound for the Arctic Ocean,
Upon the first of April, in the year of grace thirteen,
And loving hearts were thrilled that day by many a wild emotion,
For a whole whaling fleet had sailed from the Port of Aberdeen.
" I was on board the ' Oscar,' a young and ardent dreamer,
Between her masts a garland hung with ribbons fluttering free,
For every sailor's sweetheart contributed a streamer
For luck to the good ' Oscar ' upon the frozen sea.
" The hawser was loosed cheerily that moored her to the jetty,
The sails were set and off we sped beside the long stone pier,
The good ship, everyone declared, looked trim and taut and pretty
As she curtsied o'er the heaving bar amid a ringing cheer.
" Sometimes we tacked about the bay with very little offing,
To wait a boat that was to bring some laggards of the crew,
For, heedless of the danger, some men will still keep loafing,
And this delay brought wild dismay, as soon they sadly knew.
" The day was, like most April days, made up of shine and
At times upon the heaving seas the sunlight glittered clear,
But all the while to eastward some heavy clouds were looming,
Which boded in the seamen's eyes some dirty weather near.
" It lulled, and on a heavy swell we drifted to the leeward,
The vessel had no steering way ; the tide set in with stress ;
There was no wind to fill the sails to tack her to the seaward ;—
Let go the anchors !—or she strikes upon the Girdleness !
" Then from the east a hurricane sprang up with furious rattle,
Driving the showers of blinding snow in fearful gusts and shocks ;
And the great breakers ran like steeds urged on to maddening battle;
The anchor drags-she's driving fast upon the fatal rocks !
" Cut down the main-mast ! it may bridge the fierce and angry
The carpenters and coopers all their saws and axes plied,
It did not fall athwart-ships ! and each heart was smote with spasm,
For it huddled down a useless log along the vessel's side.
" Then 'mid the din of breakers, and the great chain-cable's
You heard the skipper's husky cry above the roaring squall,
Above the cracking timbers, and the crunching of the planking,
'Twas every man now for himself, and God be for us all !
Of a brave crew of fourty-four that mann'd that gallant whaler,
But only two, my mate and I, came living through the surf :—
That fatal Greyhope Bay has been the grave of many a sailor,
Whose loved ones cannot shed their tears upon their grassy turf !
" 'Twas a sad scene this lone churchyard beside the moaning
After the storm, the cast-ashores among the graves were laid,
Their sailor garbs their winding sheets, the wet green graves their pillows,
That lovers and relations might claim their hapless dead.
" There was the skipper, brave and bluff, no more his anchor
The harpooner, shot down by shaft more subtle still than his;
The lover in his sweetheart's arms no more departure lagging;
The husband where the widow stands in speechless helplessness.
" Since then I've sailed in many a clime, by continents and
By icy bergs, or where the airs are balm and spicery,
Amid the roaring hurricane, or the calm's awful silence,
But now I've coiled my lanyards up- I go no more to sea.
" But oft I take a tack about, a thankful grey old sailor,
And often sit a lonely hour among these grassy graves,
Musing upon the gallant crew of the ' Oscar,' luckless whaler,
And how my mate and I escaped from out the seething waves."
Many another good ship has perished on the jags which lie pitiless as
under the waves that lap the rocks from
to the mouth of the river. One of the earliest local wrecks of which we know
recalls, in its elements of poetic justice, the doom of
Ralph the Rover,
who perished on the crag from which he had previously stolen the warning bell.
Some 350 years ago a band of
Reformation Religious Zealots
marched from the south to Aberdeen; maddened by the too palpable luxury, vice,
and superstitious observances of the priests, they were inspired by a wild
desire to sweep away every vestige of idolatry from the places of worship.
Their frenzy ever increasing as they advanced, their minds were at last
dominated by a mad desire for destruction, indiscriminate and unreasoning. Like
the contagion of a plague, the frenzy fastened on the lower classes in the town,
and a wild rabble attacked the religious houses in the city,
sacking and spoiling
as they went. They even sought to drag the steeple of
St. Nicholas Church
to the ground. but other citizens more sane resisted, and it was saved for that
time. Away they rushed to Old Aberdeen, and the Cathedral was over-run by the
mad crowd. Everything that was beautiful, everything that was breakable,
everything that was worth lifting, was defaced, broken or stolen. They tore the
lead from the roof
bells from the steeple,
and but for the timely arrival of the
Earl of Huntly
with troops a broken wall might have been all left us of the goodly church of
But the jagged reefs of the
in wait for some of the spoilers. One master robber, loading a ship with the
spoils of the church of the twin spires, the
lead from the roof,
set sail for
But a storm arose and swept him on the
and, within sight of the church he had robbed, and in the waters across which,
in the quiet Sabbath evenings so often stole the tolling of the
the robber went down with those bells he had for ever silenced, and weighted
with the lead of the church he had desecrated.
existence of the earlier Inner South Breakwater there was an ongoing need for
more quay space and better facilities in Aberdeen’s harbour. The 1868 Act
of Parliament, which allowed the Dee to be diverted and a third extension to the
North Pier to be built, also legislated for this breakwater. The works were
carried out between 1869 and 1874.This structure was much larger than the
South Breakwater and is built of concrete. A gale in 1937 tore a 100 foot gap in
the Breakwater. Repair work began in 1938, was stopped during the Second World
War and resumed in 1954. At that time the Breakwater was widened. The
works involved constructing 30 ton concrete blocks in a yard close to the
Breakwater. These were loaded onto a Sentinel steam waggon by crane and
transferred to a Titan crane, named ‘Goliath’. The completed Breakwater is 1050
feet in length and 35 feet in width.
Heavy seas with waves crashing over the top of the South
Breakwater about to engulf the South Breakwater light, water from the previous
wave still running over the west side of the South Breakwater, rails for the
South Breakwater crane usually removed altogether in the winter months to avoid
damage, are partially removed.
Geology of Balnagask and Bay
There is a tradition that a stronghold called
once stood on the north side of the Bay. There is now no trace of it, and it is
likely that this name was applied to the ruins of one of the watch-houses which
stood here. Immense quantities of
for paving the
used to be shipped at the
Bay of Nigg.
These were prepared at the quarries in the parish, which, when opened about
used to give employment to 600 or 700 men. The rounded oblong pebbles of this
shore were also largely used as
and were shipped in large quantities from the
The Old South Pier is seen clearly here lying parallel to the 1st and
shorter North Pier on the Old Torry side as the former deeper draught berth for offloading and mooring for
ships that could not navigate through the Inches of the Dee and Denburn.