The Doric Columns
Shipwrecks & Piracy
The Anna was set upon not far from Aberdeen's coast - around 2 miles away. L'Amazon fired what are described as 'great and small shots' at the ship, but seemed to aim mainly for their rigging. Sometimes the 'small shots' would be used as an attempt to clear the decks of sailors thus making the ship easier to board. Unfortunately, the Anna did not have any guns and so the crew were forced to strike - or take down - their colours, giving the victory to L'Amazon. Captain Alexander Dalyell of the Anna was taken aboard the French ship where he was to stay until the ransom of £310 Sterling was paid.
Further entries regarding the Anna state that the ransom for the ship was paid in France, and amounted to 5,094 Livres, the French unit of currency at the time. The ransom payment is mentioned in a later entry where the total bill is given as 5123 livres and 14 sous. The exchange rate is given as 18 shillings scots per livre, giving the equivalent of £4,607 - 8/- Scots. This is £354 8s 4d Sterling - slightly more than the £310 Sterling originally mentioned!
In 1637 the river Dee came down in spate, and drove from their moorings by the Torry shore 4 vessels, one of which contained a body of troops. A south-easterly gale was blowing which, catching the vessels as they were swept across the bar, drove them on the sands. The soldiers on the troop-ship were asleep when it struck, lying on heather in the ship's bottom. Awakened by the shock and the sea pouring in upon them in the darkness, a terrible scene ensued; a struggle for life with the pitiless sea, and, in the panic of the moment, their equally pitiless comrades. " Four Score and Twelve," the old record tells us, "were wanting, or drowned, or got away."
One of the most melancholy shipwrecks that have ever occurred on this coast took place on the 1st April 1813. The Oscar whale ship left the port that morning along with four others Hercules, Laiona, Middleton and St Andrew, the weather being fine; but appearances of a gale coming on, the Oscar and another weighed anchor, in order to stand out to sea. The Oscar 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 north-east, she was driven ashore about 11 a.m., in 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 44, only the first mate and one seaman were saved. The St Andrew made it to the harbour with difficulty and the Hercules struck the north side of the Pier losing her rudder and was then beached on the sands only to be repaired when the storm abated and returned to sea.
Many another good ship has perished on the jags which lie pitiless as sharks' teeth under the waves that lap the rocks from Greg's Ness 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.
After the Reformation a band of 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 the Old Town, 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 and the 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 St. Machar. But the jagged reefs of the Girdleness lay 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, and the bells, set sail for Holland. But a storm arose and swept him on the Girdleness, 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 Cathedral bells, the robber went down with those bells he had for ever silenced, and weighted with the lead of the church he had desecrated.
The same place proved fatal on 26th January 1815 to the Brig Caledonia with the loss of the crew - 6/7 lives, the schooner Providence sought refuge from the same tempest in a neighbouring Bay of Nigg and of the crew of 4 only the master Captain Findlay survived. The Thames smack, was driven on the same rocks as the Oscar and wrecked. The crew perished. On the 29th a Danish gaillot with a cargo of whale oil was smashed against the earlier damaged pier whilst making a dash for the harbour and crushed one seaman as he attempted to board the pier and was driven into the harbour in a shattered condition.
The Roundhouse stood impotent while 3 shipwrecks took place during the time of Captain Morrison: the Brilliant in 1839, the Velocity in 1848 and the Duke of Sutherland in 1853. Fittie had never witnessed such repeated disaster and Aberdeen Harbour entry gained a fearsome reputation.
The wooden paddle ship Brilliant was the 1st to be lost when she went ashore on the harbour entrance on 12 December 1839. At 159 tons gross she was relatively modest in size. The Brilliant had sailed from Leith the previous afternoon. Captain Morrison had been wakened during the night with a raging south-easterly gale which overtook the Brilliant. Off Girdleness early the next morning, her master Captain Wade, standing on the quarter deck, was thrown overboard when the ship rolled violently in a heavy sea. As it was well before dawn there was no chance of Wade being saved. In the beam seas the steamer struck the North Pier just inside the seaward end. Captain Morrison was unaware of the unfolding drama as a torrid sea drove the Brilliant further on to the root of his pier. The chief Engineer abandoned the Engine-room and rushed on deck. The unfortunate passengers were left in the pitch darkness, with the accompanying thunder of breakers and the roar of escaping steam. When the Brilliant finally came to rest, those on board were able to scramble ashore without much difficulty. Poor Captain Morrison awoke to the cries of the survivors on his very own pier. The boilers, now empty of water, rapidly over-heated, setting alight to the wooden hull of the Paddle Steamer. The stern was soon burning fiercely and though a fire-engine was brought out along the pier it proved impossible to extinguish the flames. Efforts were then concentrated on saving the cargo. Only 2 days after the wreck, several lots of the cargo were advertised for sale by a local firm in the same issue of the Aberdeen Journal that carried an account of the Loss of the Brilliant.
Nearly a decade on another wooden Paddle-Steamer, the Velocity, was lost in almost identical circumstances. On 25 October 1848 Velocity arrived in the bay of the Dee at low water and lay off until the leading lights were lit at dusk. It is clear that her master, Captain Stewart, did not appreciate that the lights were lit regardless of the tide and steered straight for the harbour. The wind, blowing strongly from the south-east combined with a strong fresh breeze in the Dee to produce a heavy sea off the harbour mouth; here the paddle steamer was struck on the starboard quarter by a large wave, and hit the south-east end of the North Pier. Her back was broken; she was lodged fast.
By the time the pilot boat was launched, the steamer’s longboat, carrying five of the crew, had managed to reach the safety of the harbour. The Velocity broke up, the poop deck carrying the master, mate, eight passengers and the remaining five crewmen out into the main channel. They were rescued by the pilot boat which had finally been manned by fishermen who ‘conducted the boat nobly, and took the men off the wreck and brought them to land in the most dextrous and seaman-like manner’. It was recorded that the Pilots were ‘unwilling’ to volunteer for crew, claiming they seldom received anything for their efforts.
The stranded steamer broke up and disappeared in less than an hour. Wreckage and cargo were strewn along the Torry side of the river and in spite of guards being set, a great deal was stolen under cover of darkness.
Aberdeen, 23rd Nov 1846. `The
ANTELOPE, Donald: from Sunderland, in entering this harbour yesterday,
struck on the north pier, and sunk: crew saved.'
1 April 1853, DUKE OF SUTHERLAND
Source: PP Admiralty Register of Wrecks and other [Record received incomplete]. NMRS, MS/829/67 (no. 440)
The vessel was built by
Crew (officers): 3
On the night of 30 March 1853, the paddle steamer the Duke of Sutherland was driven off course after being struck on the starboard quarter by a very heavy sea. In spite of 5 men struggling with the helm and the engines being put astern, she was swept by a 2nd sea which drove her on to the seaward end of the North Pier and extinguished the furnace fires. The Duke of Sutherland was holed in the vicinity of the Boiler Room which flooded rapidly. The steamer was then flung broadside on to the end of the pier before settling on the rocks and starting to break up, the fore-mast going over the side. Captain Howling, coolly directing operations from the bridge, had one of the lifeboats launched just as the bow section broke off. One of the female passengers was seriously injured when she jumped into the lifeboat; another fainted and was swept away, her body being washed up on the beach later.
The Harbour Lifeboat had to make for the beach carrying only 15 survivors, leaving 30 people on the rapidly disintegrating wreck. Captain Morrison commanded volunteers to help him retrieve lifelines from his Roundhouse; he knew that they could be fired to the stranded vessel using Dennett’s Rockets; but the damp fuses refused to light. It took 20 attempts before even 1 rocket fired and several more before a lifeline fell across the wreck. At this point Captain Howling, having just been knocked down by a wildly swinging quarter boat entangled in the stern netting, tried to free it, but fell into the sea and drowned in full view of his brother who was on the pier. Simultaneously, a salmon coble manned by some seaman and the Steamer’s 2nd mate, Peter Lighterwood, put off from the beach and pick up several people who had been washed off the poop. On the way back to the beach the coble fouled some standing salmon box nets and capsized; only 1 of the crew of 6 men survived.
It was then that the hero of the disaster emerged. The Chief Steward, Duncan Christie, took charge of directing rescue operations on the stranded paddle-steamer and with a mixture of ‘extraordinary effort, encouragement and the occasional threat’ succeeded in safely sending ashore the 20 or so people still aboard the ship. Finally, having ensured that all of the survivors had reached the pier safely, Christie left the wreck with a knife clenched between his teeth in case the rope pulling him ashore became entangled. In fact, this is exactly what did happen and he had to cut himself free just as he reached the pier.
Because of the heavy loss of life Aberdeen Harbour Commissioners appointed a full-time crew for the lifeboat and ordered an enquiry. The lifeboat had arrived alongside the casualty only half an hour after she had struck, but had been so badly damaged by floating debris that she was unable to return to the stranded steamer. The delay in the use of the Dennett Rockets was found to be due to a combination of inexperience, heavy spray soaking the rocket fuses and misguided interference from the huge crowd of onlookers. Captain Morrison was in his 60th year when morning dawned on the wreck of the Duke of Sutherland. He was never to recover, and developed a chronic chest condition from the drenching he had received.
Three months after the Duke of Sutherland was shipwrecked, Captain Morrison was served with 21 new regulations made after an emergency meeting of the Harbour Board. They leave no doubt that this was a reprimand, but more than that, a confirmation that safety of the harbour was the over-riding duty of the Captain Pilot. Reading the list I was left to feel sorrowfully sick for my distant grandfather: simply he had failed as Fittie’s Gatekeeper. Surely the Captain was hardy, yet he was also thrawn for he did not, and would not, retire. He worked on till his very last breath. Captain Morrison died at the Roundhouse in July 1856. His funeral was held at St Clements and in a mark of respect the ‘vessels in the harbour universally hoisted a flag half-mast high, as evincing respect’.
Steamer - Prince Consort
Mar 1863 - They were shipped by the steamer "Prince Consort March 1863. The steamers from Leith to Thurso usually call at Aberdeen and Wick on their way northward. On entering the harbour of Aberdeen, the "Prince Consort" struck the platform, and ran aground.
In 1863, Robert Dick, a baker of Thurso, was on the brink of ruin because of recession and competition from other bakeries in the town. To add to his difficulties he had ordered 23 bags of flour from his merchants in Leith which were shipped in the steamer "Prince Consort" in March 1863.
On entering the Harbour in Aberdeen the vessel struck the Pier; it was said that the helmsman was drunk. The ship eventually broke in half and Dick’s flour, as yet unpaid for, was soaked by sea water. He owed his merchant £45.13.6d and was unable to pay the bill; he could not use the spoiled flour nor could he afford to replace it.
The ship was wrecked on Aberdeen's North Pier on 11th March 1863 which resulted in the vessel breaking in two.
The 'Prince Consort' was an Iron Paddle Steamer of 392 tonnes burden. First built in Glasgow the wreck was salvaged and rebuilt in Aberdeen but was destined for further mishap 4 years later.
In May 1867 it collided with the Alten Rock within 3 miles short of Aberdeen in dense fog off the coast of Kincardine near Burnbank fishing village in Nigg Parish and sank with no loss of life as the local fishermen rescued the passengers, crew and Captain.
BURNBANKS, a village, in the parish of Nigg, county of Kincardine; containing 60 inhabitants. This is a small village, lying contiguous to two others, on the eastern coast. It is occupied by fishermen, who have 2 boats engaged in the white-fishery, and 3 boats which proceed yearly to the herring-fishery on the north coast.
DAVID, 25 yrs old, schooner, 50 tons, 3 crew, departed
Newcastle for Fraserburgh carrying guano, stranded, total loss, 1 life lost,
wind S10, 3/4 mile N. of Aberdeen Pier.
1876, DUNCHATTEN, 37 yrs old, of Glasgow, Wooden Schooner, 76 tons, 4
crew, Master and Owner J. Johnston, Stirling, departed Sunderland for Inverness,
carrying coals, wind East 6, stranded, behind the North Pier, Aberdeen.
30 September 1878, CHARLES GREEN, 21 yrs
old, of Falmouth, Wooden Schooner, 63 tons, 4 crew, Master and Owner J. Green,
St Mawes, Cornwall, departed Antwerp for Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, carrying
manure, wind ESE6, stranded, total loss, North Pier, Aberdeen.
Wreck Record of
the Charles Green?
Eence a ship sailed round the coast
It is also believed that this wreck legend runs parallel with the more wildly known tale of Hartlepool fishermen executing a monkey from a French Napoleonic warship as they thought he was a French spy since it wore a military uniform - well he certainly did not speak Geordie English!
The coal laden Schooner, 'The Queen' driven ashore on Aberdeen Beach in March 1883, during a terrible gale. It was unable to make the crossing of the bar at the entrance to the harbour and a number of the crew, frozen and stiff with cold, were blown off the rigging and drowned in the night.
SS James Hall
On Tuesday 23rd February 1904, the steamer ‘James Hall’ belonging to the Aberdeen Leith and Moray Firth Steam Shipping Company Ltd collided with the Aberdeen Newcastle and Hull Steam Company vessel, ‘Luddick’ in Aberdeen Bay.
The crew of the ‘James Hall’ were rescued by the damaged ‘Luddick’ which managed to successfully steam into the harbour, while the ‘James Hall’ was left to drift ashore on the beach.
Despite having a hole, approximately 17 feet in diameter, repair was thought possible. For the next few days, the local press reported that crowds of people had been to see the wreck, and that two trams with posters saying ‘To and from the Stranded Steamer’ were put on the Beach Route.
Unfortunately however, owing to strong winds and heavy seas, salvage attempts were not possible, and the vessel began to break up and its cargo was washed ashore. By the 8th March, very little remained of the wreck.
The rescue on 17 January 1825 of four of the crew of the ship Devoran that had been wrecked at the Bridge of Don, North of Aberdeen. Lieut Randall set up Captain Manby's rocket apparatus down on the beach and, after great difficulty, succeeded in throwing a line on board the wreck enabling a boat, manned by coastguards to bring off 4 survivors (he later received a bar to the Gold Medal in 1834 for services to Wanderer of Anstruther).
Medals awarded to Lieut John Sanderson RN and Lieut Thomas Langton RN for the rescue of 14 people from the smack Fame that was driven ashore in Aberdeen Bay on 21 January 1830.
Silver Medal awarded to James Robinson for the rescue of 11 people from the brig Newcastle which lost it’s mast in a storm and sank at anchor in Aberdeen Bay on 24 February 1844.
SS Idaho, Hull 1905 4,887 g.t., Built 1903 by Earles Shipbuilding & Engineering Co, Hull for Thos Wilson, Sons & Co, Hull, 7th Jan.1929 stranded off Aberdeen while on passage Hull to New York. Refloated but constructive total loss and finally scrapped 1930 at Port Glasgow.
S.S. G Koch - this may appear to be the wreck of a sailing ship but she was
actually a Danish Steamer, which went aground at Girdleness on 12 Ianuary
The ship had been running out of coal and the crew had started to burn the cargo
of pit props when she came ashore. Coastguards from Torry and Cove managed to
fire lifelines to her to secure a breeches buoy and saved same of the crew.
Seven men lost their lives.
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