David Alan Stevenson, engineer, 1899; George Lawson, Rutherglen, builder; automated 1971. Battered, circular, 3-stage lighthouse tower with single storey, flat-roofed, L-plan keeper's house clasping base at NE corner, sited on steeply falling site. Whitewashed squared rubble with raised margins. Base eaves and blocking courses.
LIGHTHOUSE: 23m high. Tall 1st stage with blocked opening at ground, part-blocked opening approximately half way and window close to top; corbelled walkway giving way to 2nd stage with modern steel railings, row of small glazed portholes and door; narrower pierced cast-iron decking above surmounted by lamp with diagonal astragals and ball-finialled domed cap with weathervane.
INTERIOR: serpentine cast-iron staircase with timber handrail; boarded timber deck with iron girders supported in fluted pilasters and timber-moulded porthole openings.
KEEPER'S HOUSE: principal (S) elevation with 3 windows in advanced section with modern gantry supporting solar panels (see Notes), and recessed entrance bay with door and window. N elevation with door and 3 windows, E elevation with door and window.
BOUNDARY WALLS AND GATEPIERS: saddleback-coped, snecked roughly squared rubble and random rubble boundaries with pyramidally-coped square-section gatepiers.
Statement of Special Interest
Flannan Lighthouse is now termed a 'Major Automatic Light' since its de-manning on 28 September 1971. It signals by flashing 2 white lights every 30 seconds with a candlepower of 100,000 which can be seen for 20 miles. It has been altered from gas power to solar electric, circa 2000. The structure was built at a cost of ?6,914, including landing places and stairs, on Eilean Mor by George Lawson who also built the dwelling houses for the lightkeepers' wives and families at the shore station at Breasclete, Isle of Lewis (listed separately at category B). Building materials were, of necessity, hauled up the 150 foot cliff face. With no Radar communication in 1899, Roderick MacKenzie, gamekeeper on Lewis, was appointed as observer to the light for which service he received ?8 per annum. Little more than a year after the lighthouse began service, on 15th December, 1900, three men disappeared without trace, they were James Ducat Principal Keeper, Thomas Marshall, 2nd Assistant Keeper and Donald McArthur, Occasional Keeper. The disaster, not discovered until 26th December, was most likely caused by a large and unexpected wave which swept them into the sea.
The Flannan Isles (Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan Flannach, pronounced [nə ˈhelanən ˈflˠ̪an̪ˠəx]) or alternatively, the Seven Hunters are a small island group in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, approximately 32 kilometers (20 mi) west of the Isle of Lewis. They may take their name from Saint Flannan, the seventh-century Irish preacher and abbot.
The islands have been devoid of permanent residents since the automation of Flannan Isles Lighthouse in 1971. They are the location of an enduring mystery that occurred in December 1900, when all three lighthouse keepers vanished without trace.
Flannan Isles Lighthouse is a lighthouse near the highest point on Eilean Mòr, one of the Flannan Isles in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. It is best known for the mysterious disappearance of its keepers in 1900.
he 23-metre (75 ft) lighthouse was designed by David Alan Stevenson for the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB). Construction, between 1895 and 1899, was undertaken by George Lawson of Rutherglen at a cost of £6,914 inclusive of the building of the landing places, stairs, railway tracks etc. All of the materials used had to be hauled up the 45-metre (148 ft) cliffs directly from supply boats, no trivial task in the ever-churning Atlantic. A further £3,526 was spent on the shore station at Breasclete on the Isle of Lewis. It was first lit on 7 December 1899.
The purpose of the railway tracks was to facilitate the transport of provisions for the keepers and fuel for the light (paraffin, at that date; the light consumed twenty barrels a year) up the steep gradients from the landing places by means of a cable-hauled railway. This was powered by a small steam engine in a shed adjoining the lighthouse. A track descended from the lighthouse in a westerly direction and then curved round to the south. In the approximate centre of the island it forked by means of a set of hand-operated points humorously dubbed "Clapham Junction"; one branch continued in its curvature to head eastwards to the east landing place, on the south-east corner of the island, thus forming a half-circle, while the other, slightly shorter, branch curved back to the west to serve the west landing, situated in a small inlet on the island's south coast. The final approaches to the landing stages were extremely steep. The cable was guided round the curves by pulleys set between the rails, and a line of posts set outside the inner rail prevented it from going too far astray should it jump off the pulleys. The cargo was carried in a small four-wheeled bogie.
In 1925, the lighthouse was one of the first Scottish lights to receive communications from the shore by wireless telegraphy. In the 1960s, the island's transport system was modernised. The railway was removed, leaving behind the concrete bed on which it had been laid to serve as a roadway for a "Gnat" – a three-wheeled, rubber-tyred cross-country vehicle powered by a 400cc four-stroke engine, built by Aimers McLean of Galashiels. This had a somewhat shorter working life than the railway, becoming redundant in its turn when the helipad was constructed.
On 28 September 1971, the lighthouse was automated. A reinforced concrete helipad was constructed at the same time to enable maintenance visits in heavy weather. The light is produced by burning acetylene gas and has a range of 17 nautical miles; 20 miles (32 km). It is now monitored from the Butt of Lewis and the shore station has been converted into flats.
Mystery of 1900
Other than for its relative isolation, the lighthouse would be relatively unremarkable, were it not for the events which took place just over a year after it was commissioned.
Before the establishment of the lighthouse on the Flannan Isles -named after St Flann - which consists of seven rocky, uninhabited islands called the Seven Hunters, the island of Eilean Mor on which the lighthouse stands had two other habitations. The habitations, in ruins, were described by the Ancient Monuments Commission as "The Bothies of the Clan McPhail" and in appearance one of these ruins seems to have a chapel and the other a dwelling.
In 1896 sanction was received from the Board of Trade for erection of the Flannan Isles Lighthouse but it was not until 7 December 1899 that the lighthouse, designed by Mr D Alan Stevenson, was undertaken by Mr George Lawson of Rutherglen at a cost of £6,914:1:9 which included the building of the landing places, stairs etc on Eilean Mor. Mr Lawson also built the dwelling houses for the lightkeepers' wives and families at the shore station at Breasclete, Isle of Lewis, which cost £3,526:16:0. The site for the shore station at Breascelete was chosen for its close proximity to Loch Roag, a sea loch, which provided a safe anchorage and shelter for the lighthouse tender when taking on or putting ashore the lightkeepers, or when bad weather made it impossible to carry out the relief on the due date.
As there was no Radar communication between the Flannans and Lewis at that time, a gamekeeper, Mr Roderick MacKenzie, was appointed as observer to the light for which he received payment of £8 per annum. Mr MacKenzie's duties involved watching for any signals from the lighthouse 18 miles north west of his vantage point at Gallan Head, Lewis and to observe and report any failure in the exhibition of the light. In the event of such a failure it is required to be reported immediately by telegram to Head Office in Edinburgh so that the necessary steps could be taken to have someone sent to carry out any repairs as soon as possible.
Just over a year after the light was first exhibited, on 15 December 1900, the disaster which has since captured the imagination of the public in much the same way as the "Mary Celeste", occurred at the Flannan Isles.
The Flannan Isles Lighthouse remained as a manned Station, reliefs and water supplies being carried out by the MV POLE STAR from Stromness until 28 September 1971. It was then demanned, and became a Major Automatic Light.
Today the Flannans receives an annual inspection and maintenance visit from the boards Tender NLV PHAROS.
"Though three men dwell on Flannan Isle
To keep the lamp alight,
As we steer'd under the lee, we caught
No glimmer through the night.
A passing vessel at dawn had brought
The news: and quickly we set sail,
To find out what strange thing might ail
The keepers of the deep-sea light.
The winer day broke blue and bright
With glancing sun and glancing spray
While o'er the swell our boat made way,
As gallant as a gull in flight.
Wilfrid Wilson Gibson
Flannan Isles Lighthouse
The first hint of anything untoward on the Flannan Isles came on 15 December 1900. The steamer Archtor on passage from Philadelphia to Leith passed the islands in poor weather and noted that the light was not operational. The vessel suffered the misfortune to run aground on Carpie Rock in the Firth of Forth  some time after passing the lighthouse and after the struggle to save the vessel, the fact of the lighthouse light being unlit was not reported on arrival at Oban for some time, the vessel's master, Captain Holman, being distracted by the damage to his vessel, and the procedures for dealing with her on arrival in port. The island lighthouse was manned by a three-man team (Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald MacArthur), with a rotating fourth man spending time on shore. The relief vessel, the lighthouse tender Hesperus, was unable to set out on a routine visit from Lewis planned for 20 December due to adverse weather and did not arrive until noon on Boxing Day (26 December). On arrival, the crew and relief keeper found that the flagstaff was bare of its flag, none of the usual provision boxes had been left on the landing stage for re-stocking, and more ominously, none of the lighthouse keepers were there to welcome them ashore. Jim Harvie, captain of Hesperus, gave a strident blast on his whistle and set off a distress flare, but no reply was forthcoming.
A boat was launched and Joseph Moore, the relief keeper, was put ashore alone. He found the entrance gate to the compound and main door both closed, the beds unmade, and the clock stopped. Returning to the landing stage with this grim news, he then went back up to the lighthouse with Hesperus's second-mate and a seaman. A further search revealed that the lamps were cleaned and refilled. A set of oilskins was found, suggesting that one of the keepers had left the lighthouse without them, which was surprising considering the severity of the weather on the date of the last entry in the lighthouse log. The only sign of anything amiss in the lighthouse was an overturned chair by the kitchen table. Of the keepers there was no sign, neither inside the lighthouse nor anywhere on the island.
Moore and three volunteer seamen were left to attend the light and Hesperus returned to the shore station at Breasclete. Captain Harvie sent a telegram to the Northern Lighthouse Board dated 26 December 1900, stating:
A dreadful accident has happened at the Flannans. The three keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the Occasional have disappeared from the Island... The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows they must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane.
The men remaining on the island scoured every corner for clues as to the fate of the keepers. At the east landing everything was intact, but the west landing provided considerable evidence of damage caused by recent storms. A box at 33 meters (108 ft) above sea level had been broken and its contents strewn about; iron railings were bent over, the iron railway by the path was wrenched out of its concrete, and a rock weighing more than a ton had been displaced above that. On top of the cliff at more than 60 meters (200 ft) above sea level, turf had been ripped away as far as 10 meters (33 ft) from the cliff edge. The missing keepers had kept their log until 9 a.m. on 15 December, however, and their entries made it clear that the damage had occurred before the disappearance of the writers.
Speculations and misconceptions
No bodies were ever found and the loneliness of the rocky islets may have lent itself to feverish imaginings. Theories abounded and resulted in "fascinated national speculation". Some were simply elaborations on the truth. For example, the events were commemorated in Wilfrid Wilson Gibson's 1912 ballad Flannan Isle. The poem refers erroneously to an uneaten meal laid out on the table, indicating that the keepers had been suddenly disturbed.
Yet, as we crowded through the door,
We only saw a table spread
For dinner, meat, and cheese and bread;
But, all untouch'd; and no-one there,
As though, when they sat down to eat,
Ere they could even taste,
Alarm had come, and they in haste
Had risen and left the bread and meat,
For at the table head a chair
Lay tumbled on the floor.
However, Nicholson (1995) makes it clear that this does not square with Moore's recorded observations of the scene, which state that: "The kitchen utensils were all very clean, which is a sign that it must be after dinner some time they left."
Other less plausible rumours ensued—that one keeper had murdered the other two and then thrown himself into the sea in a fit of remorse (which is likely not the case, simply because the keepers only had to work together for short amounts of time, and none of the men reported any psychotic behaviour); that a sea serpent (or giant seabird) had carried the men away; that they had been abducted by foreign spies; or that they had met their fate through the malevolent presence of a boat filled with ghosts—and the baleful influence of the "Phantom of the Seven Hunters" was widely suspected locally.
Northern Lighthouse Board investigation
Northern Lighthouse Board Ensign
On 29 December 1900, Robert Muirhead, a Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) superintendent, arrived to conduct the official investigation into the incident.
The explanation offered by Muirhead is more prosaic than the fanciful rumours suggested. He examined the clothing left behind in the lighthouse and concluded that James Ducat and Thomas Marshall had gone down to the western landing stage, and that Donald MacArthur (the 'Occasional') had left the lighthouse during heavy rain in his shirt sleeves. He noted that whoever left the light last and unattended was in breach of NLB rules. He also noted that some of the damage to the west landing was "difficult to believe unless actually seen".
From evidence which I was able to procure I was satisfied that the men had been on duty up till dinner time on Saturday the 15th of December, that they had gone down to secure a box in which the mooring ropes, landing ropes etc. were kept, and which was secured in a crevice in the rock about 110 ft (34 m) above sea level, and that an extra large sea had rushed up the face of the rock, had gone above them, and coming down with immense force, had swept them completely away.
Whether this explanation brought any comfort to the families of the lost keepers is unknown. The deaths of Thomas Marshall, James Ducat (who left a widow and four children), and Donald MacArthur (who left a widow and two children) cast a shadow over the lighthouse service for many years.
Later theories and interpretations
The westernmost of the Flannan Isles: Eilean a' Ghobha and Roareim with Brona Cleit in the distance
Christopher Nicholson offers an alternative idea for the demise of the keepers. The coastline of Eilean Mòr is deeply indented with narrow gullies called geos. The west landing, which is situated in such a geo, terminates in a cave. In high seas or storms, water would rush into the cave and then explode out again with considerable force. Nicholson speculates that McArthur may have seen a series of large waves approaching the island, and knowing the likely danger to his colleagues, ran down to warn them, only to suffer the same fate as well. This theory has the advantages of explaining the over-turned chair, and the set of oilskins remaining indoors, although perhaps, not the closed door and gate.
Haswell-Smith (2004) attributes the origins of the theory to Walter Aldebert, a keeper on the Flannans from 1953 to 1957. Aldebert believed one man may have been washed into the sea, that his companion rushed back to the light for help but that both would-be rescuers also were washed away by a second freak wave.
McCloskey (2014) states that a fight broke out near the cliff edge, by the West Landing, between the three Keepers started by the allegedly volatile Macarthur and the three fell to their deaths.
The event remains a popular issue of contention among those who are interested in paranormal activity. Inevitably perhaps, modern imaginations speculate about abduction by aliens. A fictional use of this idea is the basis for the Doctor Who serial Horror of Fang Rock. The mystery also was the inspiration for the composer Peter Maxwell Davies's modern chamber opera The Lighthouse (1979). The British rock group Genesis wrote and recorded "The Mystery of Flannan Isle Lighthouse" in 1968 while working on their first album, but it was not released until 1998 in Genesis Archive 1967-75. Angela J. Elliott wrote a novel which was published in 2005 about the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers, entitled Some Strange Scent of Death after a line from Gibson's poem. The "haunted" islands and the lighthouse also feature heavily as a hideout for a villain in British author Manda Benson's novel Pilgrennon's Beacon. In 2008, the New Zealand band Beltane wrote a song about the lighthouse and its mysterious disappearances on the album ...Through Darker Seasons.
1. The keepers were:-
James Ducat, Principal
Thomas Marshall, 2nd Assistant
Donald McArthur, Occasional Keeper - doing duty for William Ross, 1st Assistant, on sick leave.
2. Their disappearance was discovered only as a result of the routine visit of the Lighthouse Tender HESPERUS on 26 December 1900.
3. It is the case that a vessel passed the Flannan Islands about midnight on 15 December and on arrival in port reported that the light was not seen, but this fact was not communicated to the Commissioners until the disappearance of the keepers had been discovered on the visit of the Lighthouse Tender.
4. Captain Harvey was in command of the HESPERUS. We reported that on arrival at the Flannans during the afternoon of 26 December there was no sign of life to be seen on the Island and no response was made to a rocket fired from the vessel. The relieving keeper, Joseph Moore, who was landed on the Island, went up to the lighthouse, but found no one there. Moore reported the facts to the Master and then returned to the Island, along with Mr MacDonald, Buoymaster (who was on board the vessel at the time) and Seaman Lamont and Campbell, all three having volunteered to remain on the Island with Moore for the time being to keep the light in operation.
5. The Master of the HESPERUS was not an eye witness of the condition of the lighthouse when found deserted. Moore was the first person to be landed, and when he went back to the Island for the second time he was accompanied by the three men referred to in 4.
6. The disappearance was immediately investigated, and from the traces which were evident of the very bad weather which had been experienced on the Island it was concluded that the men must have left the lighthouse for some purpose or other, probably to secure some gear or to ascertain what damage had been done at one of the landing places, and been caught by an unexpected large roller and swept into the sea.
7. The last written entries in the log were for 13 December, but particulars for 14 December and of the time of extinguishing the light on 15 December, along with barometer and thermometer readings and state of the wind taken at 9am on 15 December, were noted on the slate for transference later to the log.
Everything was in order, the lamp ready to be lit, and it was evident that the work of the forenoon of the 15th had been completed, indicating that the men disappeared on the afternoon of Saturday 15 December.
8. The contractor for the work of building the lighthouse on the Flannan Islands was Mr George Lawson. The lighthouse stands on Eileen Mor, one of the Flannan Islands about 18 miles from Gallan Head, West Coast of Lewis, and the light was first exhibited on 7 December 1899.
A vessel passed the Flannan Islands about midnight on 15 December 1900 and on arrival in port reported that the light had not been seen. This fact, however, was not communicated to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses until after the disappearance of the lightkeepers had been discovered as a result of the routine visit of the Lighthouse Tender, HESPERUS, on 26 December 1900.
The Master of the HESPERUS in his report stated that on arrival at the Flannan Islands on the afternoon of 26 December there was no sign of life to be seen on Eilean Mor, the island on which the lighthouse was built, and no response was made to a rocket fired from the Tender. The relieving lightkeeper was landing and proceeded to the Lighthouse Station but, finding no-one there, he immediately returned to the vessel and reported the position to the Master. He then returned to the island accompanied by three men who had volunteered to remain ashore to assist the ligthkeeper in keeping the navigation light in operation.
Investigations into the disappearance of the three lightkeepers showed evidence of very bad weather having been experienced and it could only be concluded that the lightkeepers must have left the Station buildings for some purpose or another, probably to secure some gear or to ascertain what damage had been done at one of the landing places, and had been caught up by some exceptionally large and unexpected wave and swept into the sea.
The last written entries in the log were for 13 December, but particulars for 14 December, and of the time of extinguishing the light on 15 December, along with barometer and thermometer readings and state of the wind taken at 9am on 15 December, were noted on the slate for transference later to the log.
Everything was in order, the lamp was ready to be lit, and it was evident that the work of the forenoon of the 15th had completed, indicating that the men disappeared on the afternoon of Saturday, 15 December.
This is a letter from Mr Moore, Assistant Lightkeeper, who was due for relief duty at the lighthouse
It was with deep regret I wish you to learn the very sad affair that has taken place here during the past fortnight; namely the disappearance of my two fellow lightkeepers Mr Ducat and Mr Marshall, together with the Occasional Keeper, Donald McArthur from off this Island.
As you are aware, the relief was made on the 26th. That day, as on other relief days, we came to anchorage under Flannan Islands, and not seeing the Lighthouse Flag flying, we thought they did not perceive us coming. The steamer's horn was sounded several times, still no reply. At last Captain Harvie deemed it prudent to lower a boat and land a man if it was possible. I was the first to land leaving Mr McCormack and his men in the boat till I should return from the lighthouse. I went up, and on coming to the entrance gate I found it closed. I made for entrance door leading to the kitchen and store room, found it also closed and the door inside that, but the kitchen door itself was open. On entering the kitchen I looked at the fireplace and saw that the fire was not lighted for some days. I then entered the rooms in succession, found the beds empty just as they left them in the early morning. I did not take time to search further, for I only too well knew something serious had occurred. I darted out and made for the landing. When I reached there I informed Mr McCormack that the place was deserted. He with some of the men came up second time, so as to make sure, but unfortunately the first impression was only too true. Mr McCormack and myself proceeded to the lightroom where everything was in proper order. The lamp was cleaned. The fountain full. Blinds on the windows etc. We left and proceeded on board the steamer. On arrival Captain Harvie ordered me back again to the island accompanied with Mr McDonald (Buoymaster), A Campbell and A Lamont who were to do duty with me till timely aid should arrive. We went ashore and proceeded up to the lightroom and lighted the light in the proper time that night and every night since. The following day we traversed the Island from end to end but still nothing to be seen to convince us how it happened. Nothing appears touched at East landing to show that they were taken from there. Ropes are all in their respective places in the shelter, just as they were left after the relief on the 7th.
On West side it is somewhat different. We had an old box halfway up the railway for holding West landing mooring ropes and tackle, and it has gone. Some of the ropes it appears, got washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks near the crane. The crane itself is safe.
The iron railings along the passage connecting railway with footpath to landing and started from their foundation and broken in several places, also railing round crane, and handrail for making mooring rope fast for boat, is entirely carried away. Now there is nothing to give us an indication that it was there the poor men lost their lives, only that Mr Marshall has his seaboots on and oilskins, also Mr Ducat has his seaboots on. He had no oilskin, only an old waterproof coat, and that is away. Donald McArthur has his wearing coat left behind him which shows, as far as I know, that he went out in shirt sleeves. He never used any other coat on previous occasions, only the one I am referring to.
Mr J. Moore,
Flannan Islands Lighthouse
28 December 1900
This is the report submitted by Robert Muirhead, Superintendent, on the 8th January 1901
On receipt of Captain Harvie's telegram on 26 December 1900 reporting that the three keepers on Flannan Islands, viz James Ducat, Principal, Thomas Marshall, second Assistant, and Donald McArthur, Occasional Keeper (doing duty for William Ross, first Assistant, on sick leave), had disappeared and that they must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned, I made the following arrangements with the Secretary for the temporary working of the Station.
James Ferrier, Principal Keeper was sent from Stornoway Lighthouse to Tiumpan Head Lighthouse and John Milne, Principal Keeper at Tiumpan Head was sent to take temporary charge at Flannan Islands. Donald Jack, the second Assistant Storekeeper was also despatched to Flannan Islands, the intention being that these two men, along with Joseph Moore, the third Assistant at Flannan Islands, who was ashore when the accident took place, should do duty pending permanent arrangements being made. I also proceeded to Flannan Islands where I was landed, along with Milne and Jack, early on the 29th ulto.
After satisfying myself that everything connected with the light was in good order and that the men landed would be able to maintain the light, I proceeded to ascertain, if possible, the cause of the disaster and also took statements from Captain Harvie and Mr McCormack the second mate of the HESPERUS, Joseph Moore, third Assistant keeper, Flannan Islands and Allan MacDonald, Buoymaster and the following is the result of my investigations:-
The HESPERUS arrived at Flannan Islands for the purpose of making the ordinary relief about noon Wednesday, 26 December and, as neither signals were shown, nor any of the usual preparations for landing made, Captain Harvie blew both the steam whistle and the siren to call the attention of the Keepers. As this had no effect, he fired a rocket, which also evoked no response, and a boat was lowered and sent ashore to the East landing with Joseph Moore, Assistant Keeper. When the boat reached the landing there being still no signs of the keepers, the boat was backed into the landing and with some difficulty Moore managed to jump ashore. When he went up to the Station he found the entrance gate and outside doors closed, the clock stopped, no fire lit, and, looking into the bedrooms, he found the beds empty. He became alarmed at this and ran down to the boat and informed Mr McCormack and one of the seamen managed to jump ashore and with Moore made a thorough search of the Station but could discover nothing. They then returned to the vessel and informed Captain Harvie who told Moore he would have to return to the Island to keep the light going pending instructions, and called for volunteers from his crew to assist in this.
He met with a ready response and two seamen, Lamont and Campbell, were selected with Mr MacDonald, the Buoymaster, who was on board, also offered his services, which were accepted and Moore, MacDonald and these two seamen were left in charge of the light while Captain Harvie returned to Breasclete and telegraphed an account of the disaster to the Secretary.
The men left on the Island made a thorough search, in the first place, of the Station and found that the last entry on the slate had been made by Mr Ducat, the Principal Keeper on the morning of Saturday, 15 December. The lamp was crimmed, the oil fountains and canteens were filled up and the lens and machinery cleaned, which proved that the work of the 15th had been completed. The pots and pans had been cleaned and the kitchen tidied up, which showed that the man who had been acting as cook had completed his work, which goes to prove that the men disappeared on the afternoon which was received (after news of the disaster had been published) that Captain Holman had passed the Flannan Islands in the steamer ARCHTOR at midnight on the 15th ulto, and could not observe the light, he felt satisfied that he should have seen it.
On the Thursday and Friday the men made a thorough search over and round the island and I went over the ground with them on Saturday. Everything at the East landing place was in order and the ropes which had been coiled and stored there on the completion of the relief on 7 December were all in their places and the lighthouse buildings and everything at the Stations was in order. Owing to the amount of sea, I could not get down to the landing place, but I got down to the crane platform 70 feet above the sea level. The crane originally erected on this platform was washed away during last winter, and the crane put up this summer was found to be unharmed, the jib lowered and secured to the rock, and the canvas covering the wire rope on the barrel securely lashed round it, and there was no evidence that the men had been doing anything at the crane. The mooring ropes, landing ropes, derrick landing ropes and crane handles, and also a wooden box in which they were kept and which was secured in a crevice in the rocks 70 feet up the tramway from its terminus, and about 40 feet higher than the crane platform, or 110 feet in all above the sea level, had been washed away, and the ropes were strewn in the crevices of the rocks near the crane platform and entangled among the crane legs, but they were all coiled up, no single coil being found unfastened. The iron railings round the crane platform and from the terminus of the tramway to the concrete steps up from the West landing were displaced and twisted. A large block of stone, weighing upwards of 20 cwt, had been dislodged from its position higher up and carried down to and left on the concrete path leading from the terminus of the tramway to the top of the steps.
A life buoy fastened to the railings along this path, to be used in case of emergency had disappeared, and I thought at first that it had been removed for the purpose of being used but, on examining the ropes by which it was fastened, I found that they had not been touched, and as pieces of canvas was adhering to the ropes, it was evident that the force of the sea pouring through the railings had, even at this great height (110 feet above sea level) torn the life buoy off the ropes.
When the accident occurred, Ducat was wearing sea boots and a waterproof, and Marshall sea boots and oilskins, and as Moore assures me that the men only wore those articles when going down to the landings, they must have intended, when they left the Station, either to go down to the landing or the proximity of it.
After a careful examination of the place, the railings, ropes etc and weighing all the evidence which I could secure, I am of opinion that the most likely explanation of the disappearance of the men is that they had all gone down on the afternoon of Saturday, 15 December to the proximity of the West landing, to secure the box with the mooring ropes, etc and that an unexpectedly large roller had come up on the Island, and a large body of water going up higher than where they were and coming down upon them had swept them away with resistless force.
I have considered and discussed the possibility of the men being blown away by the wind, but, as the wind was westerly, I am of the opinion, notwithstanding its great force, that the more probably explanation is that they have been washed away as, had the wind caught them, it would, from its direction, have blown then up the Island and I feel certain that they would have managed to throw themselves down before they had reached the summit or brow of the Island.
On the conclusion of my enquiry on Saturday afternoon, I returned to Breasclete, wired the result of my investigations to the Secretary and called on the widows of James Ducat, the Principal Keeper and Donald McArthur, the Occasional Keeper.
I may state that, as Moore was naturally very much upset by the unfortunate occurrence, and appeared very nervous, I left A Lamont, Seaman, on the Island to go to the lightroom and keep Moore company when on watch for a week or two.
If this nervousness does not leave Moore, he will require to be transferred, but I am reluctant to recommend this, as I would desire to have one man at least who knows the work of the Station.
The Commissioners appointed Roderick MacKenzie, Gamekeeper, Uig, near Meavaig, to look out daily for signals that might be shown from the Rock, and to note each night whether the light was seen or not seen. As it was evident that the light had not been lit from the 15th to the 25th December, I resolved to see him on Sunday morning, to ascertain what he had to say on the subject. He was away from home, but I found his two sons, ages about 16 and 18 - two most intelligent lads of the gamekeeper class, and who actually performed the duty of looking out for signals - and had a conversation with them on the matter, and I also examined the Return Book. From the December Return, I saw that the Tower itself was not seen, even with the assistance of a powerful telescope, between the 7th and the 29th December. The light was, however, seen on 7th December, but was not seen on the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th. It was seen on the 12th, but not seen again until the 26th, the night on which it was lit by Moore. MacKenzie stated (and I have since verified this), that the lights sometimes cannot be seen for four of five consecutive nights, but he was beginning to be anxious at not seeing it for such a long period, and had, for two nights prior to its reappearance, been getting the assistance of the natives to see if it could be discerned.
Had the lookout been kept by an ordinary Lightkeeper, as at Earraid for Dubh Artach, I believe it would have struck the man ashore at an earlier period that something was amiss, and, while this would note have prevented the lamentable occurrence taking place, it would have enabled steps to have been taken to have the light re-lit at an earlier date. I would recommend that the Signalman should be instructed that, in future, should he fail to observe the light when, in his opinion, looking to the state of the atmosphere, it should be seen, he should be instructed to intimate this to the Secretary, when the propriety of taking steps could be considered.
I may explain that signals are shown from Flannan Islands by displaying balls or discs each side of the Tower, on poles projecting out from the Lighthouse balcony, the signals being differentiated by one or more discs being shown on the different sides of the Tower. When at Flannan Islands so lately as 7th December last, I had a conversation with the late Mr Ducat regarding the signals, and he stated that he wished it would be necessary to hoist one of the signals, just to ascertain how soon it would be seen ashore and how soon it would be acted upon.
At that time, I took a note to consider the propriety of having a daily signal that all was well - signals under the present system being only exhibited when assistance of some kind is required. After carefully considering the matter, and discussing it with the officials competent to offer an opinion on the subject, I arrived at the conclusion that it would not be advisable to have such a signal, as, owing to the distance between the Island and the shore, and to the frequency of haze on the top of the Island, it would often be unseen for such a duration of time as to cause alarm, especially on the part of the Keepers' wives and families, and I would point out that no day signals could have been seen between the 7th and 29th December, and an "All Well" signal would have been of no use on this occasion.
The question has been raised as to how we would have been situated had wireless telegraphy been instituted, but, had we failed to establish communication for some days, I should have concluded that something had gone wrong with the signalling apparatus, and the last thing that would have occurred to me would have been that all the three men had disappeared.
In conclusion, I would desire to record my deep regret at such a disaster occurring to Keepers in this Service. I knew Ducat and Marshall intimately, and McArthur the Occasional, well. They were selected, on my recommendation, for the lighting of such an important Station as Flannan Islands, and as it is always my endeavour to secure the best men possible of the establishment of a Station, as the success and contentment at a Station depends largely on the Keepers present at its installation, this of itself is an indication that the Board has lost two of it most efficient Keepers and a competent Occasional.
I was with the Keepers for more than a month during the summer of 1899, when everyone worked hard to secure the early lighting of the Station before winter, and, working along with them, I appreciated the manner in which they performed their work. I visited Flannan Islands when the relief was made so lately as 7th December, and have the melancholy recollection that I was the last person to shake hands with them and bid then adieu.
8 January 1901
Here is a telegram sent by the master of Hesperus, the Lighthouse Tender on 26th December 1900
A dreadful accident has happened at Flannans. The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. On our arrival there this afternoon no sign of life was to be seen on the Island. Fired a rocket but, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went up to the Station but found no Keepers there. The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows they must been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane or something like that. Night coming on, we could not wait to make something as to their fate. I have left Moore, MacDonald, Buoymaster and two Seamen on the island to keep the light burning until you make other arrangements. Will not return to Oban until I hear from you. I have repeated this wire to Muirhead in case you are not at home. I will remain at the telegraph office tonight until it closes, if you wish to wire me.