Disaster

Excerpt from the Inverness Courier 25th May 1871

Three Avoch Fishermen Drowned

    One The shoreof the boats from Avoch, employed in dredging oysters in the firth, was lost last week and its crew of three drowned. The boat had gone out with others on Tuesday in stormy weather but failed to return. Wreckage was later washed up on shore.

    Two of the men, Alexander Skinner and Alexander Allison were married with families. The third was a young lad of seventeen.

[Contributor Willie Stewart offers the following further information:

The young man drowned was John Patience, aged 16 (born 8 December 1854 in Avoch) who lived in the High Street with his parents. In the 1871 census a few weeks before the tragedy he was recorded as employed at Wester Raddery Farm as a farm servant.

Alexander Skinner was married with a family of two sons, Alexander and Donald, aged 2 and 1. He had a daughter Margaret who was only 4 months old when her father drowned. The family lived on Burn Road.

The body of Alexander Allison was not recovered at the time of lodging his death certificate.]

 Excerpts from the Inverness Courier 15 June 1871

An Overcrowded Boat Swamped, 12 Persons Drowned

One of the most distressing calamities that we have ever had to record occurred yesterday within a stone’s throw of the shore, at the fishing village of Avoch.

Having had a good catch of fish the night before, the men sorted it into creels aboard one of the big boats ready for the morning market in Inverness. It was anchored half a mile off shore.

At 6am, a five man crew with 16 women who were to sell fish at the market, set off in a small salmon-fishing coble for the big boat. The sea being calm, it was decided to risk the over-crowding, but not far from the shore, the boat began to take in water and amid panic and agitation, it sank. They were in comparatively deep water and in the ensuing struggle for survival unnecessary lives were lost. The alarm was raised on the shore but the tide being out, it took some time to launch a boat and reach the horrific scene.

Drowned

    James Ellison, unmarried
    Donald Patterson, unmarried
    Ann Ross, married 1 child
    Betsy Patience, married, 3 children
    Jessie Sutherland, unmarried
    Sarah Skinner, unmarried
    Margaret Jack, married 5 children
    Margaret Brodie, unmarried
    Jane Patterson, unmarried
    Betsy Skinner, married, 3 children
    Jessie MacLeman, unmarried

    WBoats on the shoreilliam and George Jack, father and son, died on reaching the shore

6 Funerals took place on Thursday and 8 on Friday.

“Never”, said a correspondent, “did I witness so mournful and deeply distressing a scene”.

Both ministers - John Gibson of the Parish Church, and David Philip of the Congregational Church appealed to the Courier for public donations to alleviate the destitute circumstances of the bereaved.

[Willie Stewart also offers the following information:

One name was missed from the list - that of Ann Skinner, aged 41, a mother of 6 children.

The names in the Courier are different from those in the death certificates - which is not surprising with possibly the reporter trying to understand the Avoch dialect. Elison is in fact Alison, Paterson is Patience. Maiden names have been given for some of the women.]

The cost of the Good Life

It should be remembered that in 1871 the loss of the family breadwinner frequently left the family unit destitute and on the verge of starvation, hence the appeals by ministers for public donations.
A family would normally consist of husband, wife and 5-10 children, many of whom died in infancy. In addition it was considered the duty of the eldest married son to provide for his immediate relatives according to their needs. 

See Willie Stewart’s article about the Droonins, and his definitive list of those who perished