Landing at the Flannans

Martin Martin, in his Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (1695) gives an account of the use made of the Flannan Isles at the time and the superstitions that attended a visit: “The inhabitants of the adjacent lands of the Lewis, having a right to these islands, visit them once every summer, and there make a great purchase of fowls, eggs, down, feathers, and quills…”

Lighthouse Disaster in the Lews

In December 1900, the lighthouse on Eilean Mor in the Flannan Isles, which had only been lit for the first time a year previously, was discovered deserted by its three keepers; their dinner table had been set with cold meat, pickles and potatoes, and a chair was overturned in an obvious urgent departure.  Two sets of oilskins and seaboots were missing, and otherwise the quarters and lamp were in perfect order. 

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.