Monday, January 5, 2015

The Flannan Isles Lighthouse Mystery

Image Credit: Northern Light Charters
Flannan Isles – Also Known as Seven Hunters

In the Western Isles of Scotland, about eighteen miles from the Isles of Lewis are a cluster of small islands which are known as Flannans and the largest of these Flannan Islands, Eilean More or Big Island in Gaelic is 39 acres in size which is 288 feet above the stormy North Atlantic Ocean. Na h Eileanan Flannach according to Scottish Gaelic name is for small group of islands which in English is called Flannan Isles. It is located in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and is also known as the Seven Hunters.

The remote islands face the brunt of severe Atlantic storms that whips across the sea, forcing the gulls to stay sheltered in the cliff face crags. For several years it remain uninhabited and the last inhabitants being the lighthouse keepers who between 1899 and it automaton in 1971 had kept the light burning on Eilean Mor, the highest point of the island group.

It was here that for the first time on December 7, 1899 that a 74 foot high lighthouse was constructed and lit, flashing twice in rapid succession every thirty seconds sending a 140,000 candlepower beam, 24 nautical miles out to sea guiding passing vessels safely around Cape Wrath onwards to Pentland Firth.

Mysterious Disappearance of Three Keepers 

A year later, the three keepers those were assigned to operate and maintain the light, disappeared without any trace and over a hundred years have passed and the fate of the Flannan Island lighthouse keepers tends to remain as one of Scotland’s enduring mystery.

It was on December 15, 1900, days after the first anniversary of the light being lit for the first time, that Captain Holman of the steamer `Archtor’ bound for Leith, Scotland, had noticed that the light was not lit and reported through wireless to the Cosmopolitan Line Steamers headquarters who failed to notify the Northern Lighthouse Board since it had escaped from their memory due to other issues. Roderick MacKenzie, Occasional Keeper, who was responsible in noticing the light from nearby GallenHead, had also failed to notice this incident.

Moreover relief keepers that were due on the island on December 20 were further delayed due to severe storms and did not reach the site till December 26th, the day after Christmas. Captain Jim Harvie on noticing that the usual relief flag was not seen flying and the landing being empty sounded the relief vessels’ whistle, shooting a signal flare to which they did not receive any response.

Investigation Done to Identity the Problem but Unsuccessful

Harvie thereafter ordered Relief Keeper, Joseph Moore to go ashore in the dinghy for investigation. On arriving on the island, he found that the gate and the outer door of the quarters were closed while inside the kitchen, the door was left open.

He also noticed that the clock had stopped working and the fire had not been lit. With no trace of the keepers, James Ducat, Thomas Marshall as well as Donald McArthur, Moore rushed back to the relief boat to inform the captain who then along with four members of his crew returned to the island with Moore for further investigation.

There are various accounts to the investigations made which reports that the lamps were cleaned and refilled in readiness for the night. An overturned chain was found on the floor besides the table while in the clothes locker stood a set of oilskins with a pair of willies or galoshes though the other two sets were missing. The west landing was hit by bad weather and the iron railings seemed to be bended, a life buoy was ripped from its mountings with a stone weighing over a ton had been displaced high up on the island with no trace of the keepers.

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