The Grana Rescue at Mangersta

Mangersta, Uig, Isle of Lewis, originally uploaded by rachel 79.

Christina Mackay, Uig’s Victorian heroine, was the wife of Donald Mackay, who had the farm at Mangersta after the township had been cleared in 1872 and the people resettled for the most part in Doune Carloway.

In October 1896, a gale had been blowing for days and out at sea a Danish schooner was being battered by relentless winds and raging waves. On the evening of 21st this boat was in a sorry state. It had lost its bowsprit, the starboard bow was smashed in, and the bulwark from the stem to opposite the foremast was carried away along with the lifeboats. The sails were torn to ribbons, and excessive strain on the hull had caused it to leak. The crew hoisted distress signals but no one noticed, so the Captain decided their only hope was to run ashore. He spotted a sandy creek and the whole boat was carried in on the crest of a gigantic wave. They scraped over some rocks and then hit the sand. Iain Mackay, son of Donald and Christina, was on his way home from school and . He spotted the stricken vessel being driven ashore and ran home to tell of his exciting news. 

This particular boat had been wrecked before. In 1868, sailing as the French schooner ‘Emilie’, she was badly damaged in a storm off northern Iceland and was abandoned by her crew in Siglufjord. The local people bought her for £40, initially with a view to using the timber but over two years they raised enough money to repair her. By that time, however, the ship had weathered grey and was renamed ‘Grana’, the grey one. The Grana mostly carried cargo between Iceland and Denmark, and in October 1896 they had left Iceland bound for Liverpool when they hit the sotrm that eventually drove them onto the beach at Mangersta.

Donald Mackay was not at home when Iain arrived with his news, but Christina realised that the crew would be in danger of being drowned. She just scooped up her younger son Fearchair and ran down to the bay. The baby was lodged in a crevice in the rocks at the top of the beach. The ship was stranded on the sand close by Stac na Sgarbh, with the sea completely surrounding it. Christina waded into the raging sea, shouting to the crew to throw down a line. Eventually she managed to grasp the rope without being swept off her feet. She hauled the rope up the beach and with Iain’s help managed to make it fast to some jagged rocks at the upper end of the shore.

The exhausted crew slithered down the rope to safety and stagged up to the warmth and comfort of the farmhouse. Christina then set about providing the men with food and drink, and a place to rest. In all they stayed for a week, until they were recovered from their ordeal. Captain Petersen stayed on for some time selling his cargo of salt fish and when he was ready to leave, Mrs. Mackay refused to accept payment for her hospitality.

The Danish Government recognised her bravery and generosity and presented her with an inscribed marble clock, long cherished by the family. Christina Mackay became famous throughout the country when her story was published in The Strand Magazine in December 1897. Mangersta farm was broken up before the first world war and the children, including John and Fearchair, ended up in Rhodesia.

The remains of the wreck are still on Mangersta beach, including the anchor chain. But these only appear after exceptional weather conditions cause the sand to shift. Some of the timbers of the boat, which were originally destined for the roofs of the houses of Siglufjord, can be seen in the roof of the old house at No.1, Islivig, which was being built by Donald Macaulay at the time.

Details of the story came from Fearchair Mackay and Murdo Macleod, 13 Crowlista, in the 1960s, with later input from Ina and Ian Macdonald and Dan Buchanan, collected by Dave Roberts and previously published in Uig News.