Shipwreck at Drimnin, 1860
by John Dye

The report below comprises transcribed handwritten material from the office of the Procurator Fiscal of Tobermory, currently held in the Argyll Archive at Lochgilphead.

Mary MacPherson, Archibald Morrison and Archibald Clark drowned in a dreadful storm which tore boats from their moorings at Tobermory and swept them in hurricane force winds across the sound of Mull to be wrecked upon the far shore at Drimnin.

Precognition of Witnesses. Henry Nisbet P.F. as to the sudden death of Mary MacPherson & others Morvern 4 October 1860.

Colin Connell, owner of the smack Kitty tells of how he took some sheep across to Tobermory and loaded up with coal for the Minister for the return trip to Kilchoan

Compeared Colin Connell, Boatman and residing at Kilchoan in the parish of Ardnamurchan and Shire of Argyll, who says:

I am 48 years of age. I was the owner of the smack "Kitty", 8 Tons Register, which I ran as a Packet between Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan to Tobermory.

I came from Ardnamurchan to Tobermory with some sheep on Monday 1st October current.

On that day & on Tuesday 2nd October, I took on board 8 tons of coals to be delivered at Kilchoan to the Revd. Mr MacFadyen, Minister of the parish of Ardnamurchan. On Tuesday afternoon I drew the smack out to anchor in the Bay of Tobermory intending to start early next morning for Kilchoan. My son Alexander Connell, a boy 12 years of age, was my only assistant in the smack and we were both on board. Mary MacPherson, a woman aged 50 years belonging to Ardnamurchan but having no fixed residence, was also on board as a passenger.

After loading the coal, a terrible wind blew up and in the middle of the night the anchor dragged and his boat drifted helpless before the storm

About 12 p.m. of Tuesday it began to blow from West South West. I had then only one anchor out, but I dropped a second to make the smack more secure. The wind increased in violence from 12 p.m. to a perfect hurricane. The bay was a sheet of white foam. The smack began to drive as did other smacks in the harbour. About 2 a.m. of Wednesday 3rd October, and at 4 o'clock, she drove away with the fury of the gale. I saw the "Elizabeth" smack belonging to Hugh Campbell part from her moorings at the same time.

In going out of the harbour my smack came into contact with some other vessel and carried away her rudder so that as I could hoist no canvas we were powerless for good. I never experienced such a hurricane of wind. We were driven into the Sound of Mull but as the spray was so thick and flying over the smack I could see nothing.

Part of the chain was hanging in the sea and the smack was being driven broadside before the wind. We were so driven for about an hour or an hour and a half, when the smack struck on the rocks at Drimnin in Morvern and was immediately dashed to pieces.

After being driven on the rocks at Drimnin, he and his son were washed ashore, but Mary MacPherson was drowned

I did not see the rock till we were close upon them, and I could no nothing to prevent the smack getting among them. The sea was very heavy and the wind still a hurricane. After the smack struck I got into the sea & was washed ashore and found my son ashore before me. I don't know how he was saved. I was much stunned & bruised and shortly after finding myself ashore became insensible. I remembered nothing further till I found myself in the house of Mr Donald Campbell, the tenant of Drimnin, about 2 p.m. of Wednesday. I was there told that Mary MacPherson was found drowned near where the smack struck. The body was then in Mr Campbell's barn & I went and identified it. There were marks on it where it had come in contact with the rocks.

Hugh Campbell's boat also sunk nearby with the loss of two lives

After recovering I went along the shore which was strewn with wreck. Hugh Campbell's vessel was there in bits and I met himself on the shore. Archibald Clark, a Drover & Archibald Morrison, a Seaman, were, he told me, drowned after his vessel struck. I saw their bodies also in Mr Campbell's barn. The drownings in both cases were caused solely by the fury of the wind and waves. Truth, I can't at present write.

Colin's son Alexander Connell takes up the story and recalls Mary MacPherson's last words

Alexander Connell, son of and residing with Colin Connell, Boatman at Kilchoan aforesaid, who says:

I am 12 years of age. I concur with my father. When the smack struck the rocks I gave a jump and was lifted ashore by a wave without injury. After I got ashore I heard the woman Mary MacPherson call out "Oh, Colin, Colin". The boat was immediately broken to pieces & I heard or saw her no more.

My father was washed ashore shortly after me. He spoke to me and sat down. He was hurt. It was dark & I sat beside him till daylight. He became stupid and was unable to rise. I sat down beside him till Mr Campbell's servants and others from the neighbourhood came where we were and carried my father to Mr Campbell's house. I went with them. My father was two or three hours in the house before he could speak but he is now quite well.

I saw the body of Mary MacPherson being carried into Mr Campbell's barn about 11 o'clock a.m. of Wednesday by Mr Campbell's servants. The body was marked about the face but I had no difficulty in identifying it. Truth. I can't write.

Hugh Campbell, master of the smack Elizabeth was carrying a cargo of sheep from Loch Boisdale to Crinan together with their drover, Archibald Clark

Compeared Hugh Campbell, Boatman and residing at Penmore in the united parish of Kilninian and Kilkmore, Island of Mull and Shire of Argyll who says:

I am 40 years of age. I was master & part owner of the smack "Elizabeth" of 25 Tons Register. She was an open smack having a half deck & was employed chiefly in ferrying cattle and sheep between the Islands and the Mainland. I was engaged by the deceased Archibald Clark, Drover from Sandbank, Dunoon, to carry a cargo of sheep from Loch Boisdale in Uist to Oban or Crinan. We were accompanied by another smack from Penmore, also engaged by Mr Clark and belonging to Donald McDonald.

Both smacks were loaded with the sheep at Lochboisdale on the morning of Tuesday 2 October 1860. Mr Clark being present and assisting to ship them. We set sail from thence about 9 o'clock a.m. of that day, Mr Clark taking his passage with us. Both smacks kept company all the way and after a favourable run ( the distance being about 60 miles) we reached Tobermory harbour about 8 p.m., where both smacks came to anchor, intending, weather permitting, to resume the journey early on the following morning, Wednesday 3rd October 1860.

He had reached Tobermory after a favourable run of 60 miles and was staying overnight

We had 148 sheep on board & the other smack had about an equal number, all belonging to Mr Clark. Shortly after we came to anchor, Mr Clark went ashore to Tobermory for the purpose, as he said, of getting a newspaper to see the markets. He went ashore in our own little boat along with McDonald, the master of the other smack, whose own punt was leaky and could not be used. I did not expect Mr Clark to return on board as I thought he would take his bed ashore, but he did not say anything as to this when he went.

Besides myself the crew of the smack was: Donald MacQuarie & Archibald Morrison, both belonging to Penmore. I went to bed in the smack about 9 p.m. Mr Clark came in board about 10 p.m. accompanied by McDonald, who shortly afterwards went to his own smack taking our little boat with him. Mr Clark then went to bed in the forecastle as did the other two lads before named, intending to start early next morning for Crinan or Oban.

At midnight, the wind got up and a second anchor was laid out, but by three o'clock the storm was so fierce, that they dragged out of the harbour and across the sound

About 12 midnight I got up, it having then come on to blow. I roused the other two lads and we all three went on deck and let go our second anchor. The wind continued to increase till it reached a perfect hurricane and we drove, carrying both anchors with us.

We began to drive, our moorings dragging both anchors about 3 a.m., all the crew were on deck but Mr Clark did not come up. He stood with his head out of the companion scuttle. We dragged our anchors into deep water and were carried into the Sound of Mull about 4 a.m. The sea was white with foam, and the spray was flying over us incessantly. We drifted broadside dragging the anchor at the bow. It was dark with the spray, and the wind was so fierce that we could not stand on deck, or set sail, or even turn to look to windward.

They were driven ashore at Drimnin at five in the morning

About 5 a.m. we neared the rocks on the shore at Drimnin and I saw that no effort of ours could save the vessel. Mr Clark was still standing in the den with his head out of the forecastle scuttle. I told him to get up, and to do the best for himself as it was impossible to save the vessel, and to leap for his life on touching the rocks. He came on deck and appeared calm & collected but made no remark. He stood holding on by the shrouds. We were all near him on the half deck for ward. In two minutes the vessel struck (it being then 5 a.m. & nearly high water) against the face of a rock.

Hugh Campbell and Donald McQuarie jumped for the shore, but Archibald Clark and Archibald Morrison went down with the Elizabeth and were lost

McQuarie and I sprang on the rock at the same time calling on the others to follow our example. McQuarie succeeded in landing safely, I lost my hold & was washed into the sea. The returning wave lifted me up & I was washed over the rock onto dry land. The vessel was driving thro' a gully and was breaking up and in less than 5 minutes she went to pieces. I saw both Morrison and Clark in the boat after I got ashore, and McQuarie thro' the former a rope which he got between this teeth, but I think both he & Clark got entangled in the rigging which prevented them using any efforts to save themselves and both of them were drowned.

Clark's body was found at daylight tangled in the rigging, whilst Morrison was left on the shore at ten by the receding tide, naked except for his drawers

We waited near the scene of the wreck till daylight. We then found the mast, bowsprit, standing rigging and sails of the vessel warped and sticking together and the body of Mr Clark fixed among them. The ropes were warped about it, so that before it could be got out we had to use a hatchet to cut the ropes.

The body was considerably bruised about the face and chest. Farther up the shore and round some rocks which formed a small bay, Morrison's body was found about 10 a.m. on the receding of the tide. McQuarie lifted it from among the seaweed & carried it ashore. All the clothes were washed off it by the action of the tide except the drawers. It was marked about the face and chest.

A number of Morvern people had by this time gathered & were present when the body was found.

Mr Campbell's barn at Drimnin now contained three bodies,
after Clark and Morrison joined Mary MacPherson

Both bodies were removed to Mr Campbell's barn at Drimnin, and there laid out. Clark was about 45 years of age & his body was removed for interment to Kilmun or Dunoon. Morrison was 20 years of age and his body was removed for interment in Saint Mary's burying ground at Calgary in the united parish of Kilninian and Kilmore.


Donald McQuarie, who saved himself when the Elizabeth foundered, tells how he threw a rope to Morrison, but to no avail

Compeared Donald McQuarie aged 20 and a Boatman residing at Penmore in the parish of Kilninian and Kilmore, Island of Mull and shire of Argyll who says:

I concur with the preceding witness Hugh Campbell. I got ashore first, and as the smack was passing thro' the gorge, I saw Clark & Morrison on the deck. I called to them to jump, and seizing a rope which had been blown ashore, I threw the end of it to them. Morrison got hold of it with his teeth, but it did him no good.
I never was out in, nor did I witness, such a hurricane. It was impossible for us to save the vessel. Of the sheep on board, 90 were drowned.


Hugh Cameron lived near Drimnin and witnessed the storm and the aftermath

Hugh Cameron, Labourer, residing at Bunavullin in the parish of Morvern & shire of Argyll, aged 33 years, who says:

I remember the great storm which took place on the morning of Wednesday 3rd October 1860. After I had got up I heard that several smacks were wrecked on the shore at Drimnin. I went along the Beach which I found strewn with the fragments of wrecked vessels & dead sheep. A number of people were about.

He saw the body of Mary MacPherson on the shore and of Archibald Morrison, which Donald McQuarie lifted from the sea

On the shore at Drimnin, among the seaweed, the body of a woman was found, and which on being taken ashore, was identified as that of Mary MacPherson, who was a passenger in Colin Connell's smack. The face was scratched but not much disfigured. Farther on, the body of Archibald Morrison was found, also among sea weed. Donald McQuarie lifted it from the sea & it was carried ashore. The clothes were nearly all of this body which was also marked about the face and chest and hands.

And then he saw all three laid out in Campbell's barn

Mr Campbell, Drimnin, sent his cart in charge of Archibald MacIntosh and had the bodies removed to his barn where they were laid out. I also saw the body of Mr Clark but I was not present when it was found. The bodies of Morrison and Clark were removed by other friends for Interment but Mary MacPherson was buried in Killunaig burying ground at Mungasdale in the parish of Morvern, I was present. Truth.

Hector MacColl, the surgeon carried out a post mortem on Mary MacPherson certified that she died of asphyxia in salt water

I Hector MacColl, Surgeon, Tobermory, do hereby certify that upon the fourth day of October, Eighteen hundred and sixty years, at the request of Henry Nisbet Esquire, Procurator Fiscal, Tobermory, I made a post mortem examination of the body of Mary MacPherson. I found the body lying on a plank in the Barn of Mr Donald Campbell, Farmer, Mains Drimnin, Parish of Morvern. (There follows a very technical description of the injuries concluding) After a careful examination of the whole body I am of the opinion that death resulted from asphyxia brought on by submersion in salt water.

Given on Soul & Conscience at Tobermory on the 6 day of October 1860.