Macpherson the Wheelwright

The Flannans by rojabro

Photo by rojabro.

This isn’t strictly an Uig tale, though one episode takes place on the Flannans, and there is a suggestion that Macpherson may be the grandfather of Kenneth Macpherson the catechist from Bayhead, who married Ann Smith from Strome and Valtos and lived in Ness.   It’s offered in the hope that someone may be able to shed some light on the story, identify the house of the Misses Crighton, confirm or (more likely) dismiss the connections to the Bayhead family, or identify the source, which is presently unknown.  And it’s a good story.

MacPherson was from the East of Scotland, a wheelwright to trade, but he at times followed the sea and took some trips to Greenland as a whale fisher and those trips to the northern seas made him a little money. Mr MacPherson, owing to his trade, was advised by some Lewis gentlemen to come to Stornoway and commence both wheel making and spinning in a factory.

MacPherson decided to come to Lewis but at this time he had previously agreed to go on one more trip to Greenland as harpooner for a season. The ship sailed and the wheelwright/harpooner sailed with her. Some days before they arrived at the fishing ground they noticed a very large whale on the surface, which seemed to be asleep. The captain held a consultation with the ship’s company and said that if they were so successful as to kill that large whale and get her on board they might then return home, for she appeared a big enough whale to make a complete cargo for the ship. But the prudent captain also said that he would leave the decision to the ship’s company. The harpooners, nine in number, unanimously resolved to launch their boat and make a daring effort to kill this monstrously large whale.

They so far succeeded as to strike her with some of their harpoons and as soon as she had dived and they had paid out all their lines, they had to return to their ship with all possible speed. There they awaited impatiently the rising to the surface of the whale. But half an hour passed before she made her appearance and this she did on the very spot where she had disappeared. Her ferocious appearance now made the captain sing out to the crew to cut away all the lines and get clear of her as soon as they could, for her movements were awful and terrible. All hands were now at work, getting the ship clear of this awful monster of the deep, this formidable enemy. But the ship’s crew, with the exception of MacPherson, were to meet their destiny at this spot of water and, to accomplish the melancholy doom, the whale came close to the ship and by one tremendous stroke of its tail, she smashed the ship to pieces and so terrible was the shock that the monster gave to the ship that she sank in a few moments. All the ship’s crew, with the exception of MacPherson, went to a watery grave. MacPherson in his perilous situation, shipped himself on a large piece of the quarter deck and as he found this raft separate from the rest of the wreck, he salvaged some provisions which were floating upon the water. He also obtained a boat’s oar which he used to steer the raft, having lashed himself for safely.

It is related that MacPherson was for some weeks floating before the wind before he got his first sight of land and this was the Flannan Isles, only a few leagues west of the Island of Lewis. These islands, upon which MacPherson landed, are uninhabited, but there are always some sheep at pasture on the Flannans, which are owned by men from Lewis. MacPherson was there only a few days when he saw a ship passing close and so soon as he flew his distress signal, a boat was sent to him. But the boat’s crew were not willing to take MacPherson on board, maintaining that he must be a prisoner who was put on these deserted islands to expiate some crime. But MacPherson was able to produce a seaman’s certificate and when he also showed them his raft, they agreed to take him on board ship.

The rescuing ship was bound for New York and in this city MacPherson remained for nine years, making spinning wheels, etc. but at the end of this time he again took his passage to come to Stornoway to begin his business there.

But a French privateer captured the ship he sailed on and landed him and the crew in a French port where they were cast into prison. MacPherson was seven years in prison in France before he was liberated. He again shipped for New York and was there for some years until he again took passage for Scotland. He came to Stornoway in the year 1751 and then commenced the factory and the making of spinning wheels. He prospered so rapidly that he got built that house in Stornoway now in the possession of the Misses Crichton.

Mr MacPherson sold the house to the grandfather of the Misses Crichton and then left the country.