Published: 13/08/2017 17:00 - Updated: 11/08/2017 12:53

Victims of historic South Kessock ferry disaster to be remembered

Written byVal Sweeney


Dell McClurg
Dell McClurg close to the site of the tragedy at South Kessock.

SIX men who drowned in an Inverness ferry disaster are to be remembered with a special plaque designed by a group of children.

The tragedy, in February 1894, occurred as the ferry crossing the Beauly Firth from the Black Isle to South Kessock became caught in a fierce storm as it came in to land.

Three victims were ferrymen while the other three were coastguards attempting to rescue the crew.

The tragedy left 26 dependents without a breadwinner, prompting fundraising efforts by the local community.

The men are to be remembered with a memorial plaque designed by members of an art group at Merkinch Primary School.

The project also involves Merkinch Community Council and the owners of a luxury holiday property, Tangle Tower, which was the former coastguard station at South Kessock.

Dell McClurg, community council chairwoman, said the idea for a permanent memorial first arose during a ceremony in 2014 to mark the 120th anniversary of the disaster. The event, which included the laying of wreaths and speeches, was organised by the coastguard service.

"I think it is really important we recognise that those who died were very brave," Ms McClurg said.

"But it is also a part of our history and our heritage and if we don’t do something, it gets lost and forgotten."

Ms McClurg accompanied the pupils on a walk to the spot where the disaster happened and gave them a full account of what had happened.

Newspaper reports at the time of the accident related how a powerful gust of wind blew the boat off course and although the crew of four made efforts to get back to the pier, the wind was too strong.

As water began to pour in, a distress call was made and four members of the coastguard station, which overlooked the scene, went to their aid.

Tragically, during the rescue attempt all eight men were thrown into the water and only two made it to shore.

After their site visit, the youngsters submitted various ideas which have been incorporated into an overall design for the memorial which is now nearing completion.

Ms McClurg is in contact with some descendents of those hit by the tragedy but  is keen to hear from others so they can  be invited to the unveiling ceremony.

Ms McClurg felt other noteworthy locations and events in Inverness should also be commemorated with plaques.

"It is a part of our history and community and something to be proud of," she said.

"They could even be quirky things - just so long as it makes people stop and think."  

Funding for the memorial is being given by Tangle Tower. owned by local businessman Steve Byford.

His daughter, Cherry Ambrose, said they became involved after delving into the building’s history.

"It was so interesting looking into Tangle Tower and finding out about the disaster," she said.

"All those men died and it affected so many people, because of the ripple affect.

"Things were not the same then in that there were no support systems. People had to rely on the generosity of others."

Ms Ambrose felt it was important to have a memorial commemorating the tragedy.

"It would be easy in time to forget these things and so future generations would not know about it," she said.

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