The Iolaire left Kyle of Lochalsh on 31 December 1918 for Stornoway, carrying naval reservists coming home on New Year’s leave or demobbed from the Royal Navy, apart from a few Mercantile Marine seamen.
Early on the morning of 1 January 1919, approaching Stornoway in the dark, she struck the Beasts of Holm in the harbour and was wrecked, with the loss of some 205 lives. Only 75 of the passengers survived, and the death toll may in fact have been higher as the ship was overcrowded and passenger records were incomplete.
Many of the survivors were saved by the actions of John F Macleod, Port of Ness, who jumped from the boat with a line, miraculously made land, wedged himself in the boulders and hauled ashore a hawser, along which most of the survivors struggled to safety.
This bitter episode, wherein young men who had survived the hardships of war perished within sight of their homes, was keenly felt by communities throughout the Outer Hebrides.
Originally named the Iolanthe, a luxury yacht built in 1881 in Leith, it was subsequently re-named the Amalthaea, Mione and then, requisitioned by the Admiralty during the Great War, as HMS Yacht Iolaire.
At New Year 1919 the ship was bringing home servicemen. The men – all naval ratings – were coming home after the terrible experience of hardship at sea during the war. The boat foundered at Holm Point outside Stornoway Harbour with the loss of 205 souls. The bitter irony of having survived the war to meet their end only a stone’s throw from home and safety cannot be adequately expressed.
An Iolaire survivor – An Iolaire Shipwreck Survivor. The Admiralty ship the Iolaire taking servicemen home to Lewis, grounded on the Beasts of Holm outside Stornoway, on the 1st of January 1919. Almost two hundred men perished.
A full list of all those known to have been aboard has been compiled by Stornoway Historical Society, with details of family connections, addresses, rank and service numbers.
We will be digitaising all of our archives soon…
The archives we have are currently in the Museum. Most of the known genealogy of The Iolaire has been documented on Hebridean Connections.
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