The Flannan Isle disappearances (2)

This is the second of a series of four blog posts about the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on Flannan Isle on December 15th 1900. If you feel that you need to read a previous blog post again, just search for “Flannan”. If you need it, then here’s a link to Post No 1

Last time you had the list of what Lighthouseman Joseph Moore found during his search of the island on December 26th, and I promised that I would explain what they all proved. Well….

“clocks were stopped” and “fire was not lighted for some days” means whatever it was that happened, happened well before the Hesperus, and Joseph Moore, arrived at the island.

“the beds were empty just as they left them in the early morning” means that the disaster was an afternoon affair, probably in the late afternoon.

“The outside gate and two doors to the outside were closed” because the men left calmly.

“the light room was in proper order” means that everybody was doing their job properly and that it is unlikely the crisis was based on madness or violence. And whatever the problem was, it began and ended in much less than a day.

“Nothing appears touched at East Landing” means that whatever happened, it was probably not here, but at……

“the West side……… old box halfway up the railway has gone…the ropes got washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks….The iron railings on the footpath to the landing … broken in several places…the railing round the crane, and the handrail for making the mooring rope fast entirely carried away” means that it was highly probable that the West Landing was where all three men met their deaths.

Robert Muirhead, the NLB Superintendent, submitted his final report on the events of Flannan Isle on January 8th 1901. Details included in his report, as far as the West Landing was concerned, that……

“the crane was found to be unharmed….. the canvas was securely lashed round it……no evidence that the men had been doing anything at the crane.”

The West Landing is in the bottom left of the photograph below:

“The mooring ropes, landing ropes, derrick landing ropes and crane handles, and also a wooden box in which they were kept, in a crevice in the rocks 110 feet above the sea level, had been washed away… the ropes were strewn in the crevices of the rocks… 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 (one ton), had been dislodged from its position higher up, and carried down, and left on the concrete path leading to the top of the steps.”

“A life buoy fastened to the railings had disappeared….. on examining the ropes by which it was fastened, they had not been touched, and 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.”

“Ducat was wearing sea boots and a waterproof, and Marshall sea boots and oilskins……..the men only wore those articles when going down to the landings”

“they must have intended, when they left the lighthouse, either to go down to the landing or the proximity of it.”

Here’s the extremely steep path down to the West Landing. Just beyond the right turn, if you stumble and fall, is a sheer drop to the rocks and the sea far, far below:

Robert Muirhead, the NLB Superintendent continued…..

” 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 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 the possibility of the men being blown away by the wind, but, as the wind was westerly…….the more probable explanation is that they have been washed away as, had the wind caught them, it would, from its direction, have blown 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.”

Some of the distances between the lighthouse and the top of a three hundred foot sheer cliff down to the sea were extremely small. It would have been easy to have been blown off if the wind was particularly strong:

The second picture shows pretty much the same situation:

One interesting additional detail in the Superintendent’s report was that……..

“The Commissioners appointed Roderick MacKenzie, Gamekeeper, Uig, near Meavaig, to look out daily for signals that might be shown from Flannan Isle, and to note each night whether the light was seen or not seen. The light had not been lit from the 15th-25th December, so I resolved to see him on Sunday morning. He was away, but his two sons, aged about 16 and 18 – two most intelligent lads of the gamekeeper class, and who actually performed the duty of looking out for signals, I had a conversation with them, 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 when it was lit by Moore.”

The lighthouse was around 23 miles north west of Uig which is on the northern edge of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. In those days there was no light pollution, so a lighthouse that distance away could be seen if conditions were favourable. I think that the telescope was at Gallan Head, the furthest and remotest place that the Orange Arrow has ever been. The locals, for example, did not speak English as their first language but Gaelic, a Celtic language related to Breton, Cornish and Welsh :



Filed under Criminology, History, Wildlife and Nature

20 responses to “The Flannan Isle disappearances (2)

  1. “. . the Tower itself was not seen, even with the assistance of a powerful telescope, between the 7th and the 29th December.” What were the daytime weather conditions during the period between 7 December and the 29th. Heavy rain, snow, dense fog?

    “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 when it was lit by Moore.” The same questions again, but for the nighttime. What were the nighttime weather conditions during each day? Surely folks of the “gamekeeper class” would have been sensitive to such matters.

    Lastly, is the westside of Flannan Isle usually subject to huge rollers coming i.

    • None of the websites I have consulted have made any mention of the weather, either by day or night, so I would presume that it was nothing exceptional. The Superintendent spoke to the gamekeeper’s sons as their father was away, and again, they made no mention of any exceptional weather.
      I only found two facts about the weather during that period in 1900. Apparently the other lighthouses near Flannan all reported that the weather was calm for the time of year and that there were no big storms. And a website that spoke about storms at sea said that, nowadays, in general terms, the most severe weather in the world is found in two places. In the north Pacific to the south west of Alaska, and in the north Atlantic, to the north west of Scotland. Exactly where Flannan Isle is situated.
      Don’t forget that there are two more blog posts yet, both of which will examine every solution put forward for this mystery. And at the end you will read my own solution, which I have called “the absolute 100% true correct answer”. And it’s not Bigfoot, fairies or abduction by aliens. I promise!

  2. GP

    All that would still be a mystery to me. Such a series of events to kill 3 men.

    • Yes, and they were three very fit, resilient men in the prime of life, tough both in mind and body. It would have taken a lot to kill all three of them but, as you will see, it was something very much out of the ordinary. (As I said to Allen Gray, not aliens. I promise)

  3. Thanks for the follow-up. That must’ve been quite a storm! Then again, the island offered little protection from the elements.

  4. Two more posts to go. No 3 looks at the ideas put forward but largely rejected and No 4 contains my own solution called “the absolute 100% true correct answer”. And yes, the fact that the island offered no protection is relevant.

    I watched a documentary the other night about the racism in the Church of England. It may be of interest to you, although I can see that it might not.

    It was an episode of “Panorama” called “Is the Church Racist” ?”. I’ve provided the address but it may be impossible for you to watch it because you are outside the UK.
    If you can’t watch it, “the absolute 100% true correct answer” to the question is “YES” in letters ten feet tall!

  5. So my point about there being a fight has been knocked on the head. I will wait.

    • In blog post No 3, I touch upon explanations of the mystery which may well be true, and on explanations which have been proved to be false.The fight scenario is one of the latter, with a researcher proving that the evidence for a violent quarrel was invalid.

  6. It would seem there was substantial ‘damage’ caused by something big, especially if a huge rock has been dislodged. I dont see however, how a wave 110 feet high could have such ferocity as to remove articles and cause damage, without there being some record somewhere of the storm. If the weather was calm, would it not rule this one out? Maybe the rock became dislodged naturally and fell down taking the men with it or forcing them to take evasive action and inadvertently jump over the cliff. It’s all very intriguing!

    • Yes, it certainly is intriguing! Reports from other lighthouses were that the weather was nothing out of the ordinary, presumably for the time of year. What I don’t know is how far away the other lighthouses were. Perhaps very bad weather was possible on Flannan Isle and the other lighthouses were a good distance away and they missed it. Anyway, you’ll see my ideas in the fourth blog, scheduled for April 12th.

  7. This is a fun series. It’s fun to speculate.

  8. Thank you for sharing!!.. looking forward to the next post (I am leaning towards a large wave)… I noticed you did not rule out the legendary Kraken… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

    • No I didn’t, but the truth is that was the only suitable monster I could think of. I thought it would be too cold for dinosaurs, and with the Loch Ness monster, the clue is in the name, really!

  9. Fascinating.
    I was reading this post about statues by Elizabeth and remembered you.

  10. Pingback: The Flannan Isle disappearances (3) | John Knifton

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