The Isle of Whithorn Maritime History

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An old photograph of the Isle of Whithorn Harbour
The Isle of Whithorn

The Isle of Whithorn

The Wrecks

The exposed coasts around Galloway have claimed many ships, particularly schooners around the turn of the century, and there is a very good book on the subject - Galloway Shipwrecks by Peter C Miller, published by Sunquest. This catalogues around 35 vessels lost along the coastline from Portyerrock Bay to Burrow Head between 1812 and 1923, and this list is probably not exhaustive.

The best known is the Chile. This German owned ship was one of a class of sailing vessels built for the Chilean nitrate trade and was, unfortunately, in Liverpool at the start of the First World War. She was on passage to Glasgow as a prize when she went on shore just beyond St. Ninian’s Cave at what is known as the Ladies Steps.

The then Captain Weaver led the crew to safety up the Ladies Steps, as a result of which the grateful crew presented him with a picture of the ship which now hangs in the Wigtown Bay Sailing Clubhouse. The Chile was big, her masts could be seen above the cliffs, and it is alleged that the people of the Isle were never wont to waste things, so that much of the furnishings etc. of the ship found their way into the village, even saloon doors, which made excellent back doors to some houses!

Another wreck is that of the Inkosi, a steamship which was sunk off the coast during World War I y a German submarine. Two families remember their parents telling them that they sat on the cairn and watched the action.

The vessel was torpedoed and the submarine then surfaced to sink it by gunfire after allowing the Captain and 47 crew members and passengers to take to the boats. The survivors rowed ashore and were put up in the village school. The wreck lay undisturbed for many years as she is in deep water. In the past few years, as more advanced equipment has become generally available, it has been possible for amateur divers to reach the wreck. Sadly, there has been loss of life here in this respect.

In 1922 the fishing vessel Darent caught fire four miles off Cairnhead. James McCutcheon of the Isle went out and towed it into the bay, but unfortunately as she was petrol/paraffin powered the fire became uncontrollable, and the vessel burned down to the waterline.


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