Precognition of Witnesses
Henry Nisbet P.F.
as to sudden
death of
John Maclean & others

1858


Balenoe 8th May 1858

Compeared John MacArthur Cottar residing at Balenoe in the Island of Tyree in the united Parish of Tyree & Coll, in the County of Argyll. I am 50 years of age. Upon Friday 30th April 1858 my eldest son Archibald, Alexander Macfarlane Cottar Hellipoll, Donald Maclean Cottar Cruaidh-ghorten and John Maclean Cottar Balenoe left Portabhate Balemartin at 6 o’clock A.M. for the fishing. Their “big lines” were set the previous evening on the fishing banks between Hynish and Skerryvore. The morning was calm. It began to blow from the North West about 2 o’clock P.M. and towards 6 P.M. increased to a gale. I felt anxious about them and went to the shore, some of the boats were near the shore and others were following them. I was shewn the boat in which my son was. It was farther off than any of the rest. I could see the men sitting on the thwarts pulling with the oars but could not recognise them. They were making no progress as the wind and the tide were against them and a very deep sea on. I was looking at them until dusk when I lost sight of them. There were a number of the neighbours looking on at the time. It was impossible for those ashore to go to their assistance. I have no doubt they were drowned. The boat belonged to John Maclean one of the crew. It was only 14 feet in length of keel. They had a sail with them but I did not see it set. They were all married except my son who was 19 years of age.


Tyree 10th May 1858

Compeared Mary Maclean widow and residing at Balenoe on the Island of Tyree in the United Parish of Tiree & Coll. I am 40 years of age. I am widow of the late John Maclean fisherman Balenoe. Upon Friday 30th April 1858 my husband along with Alexander Macfarlane Hellipoll, Donald Maclean Cruaidhghorten and Archibald MacArthur Balenoe left a Port at Balemartin in a small open boat to pursue their avocation of fishermen between 5 & 6 A.M. The morning was calm. The fishing ground is about 11 miles from Tyree Shore in a Southerly direction from Hynish point which is on the South side of the Island and between that and Skerryvore light. About 2 o’clock P.M. it began to blow a strong breeze from the North East, and farther on in the afternoon it steadily increased, and in the evening about dusk it was a perfect hurricane throwing up large seas. I felt very uneasy about my husband and went to the shore about 5 P.M. I found a number of the neighbours, and some of the relatives of the parties above named were there before me. All the fishing boats from the neighbourhood which had been out that day were ashore when I reached except my husbands. I was shewn the boat in which my husband was, it was a long distance from the shore, but making for the land. I could not recognise them tho’ I saw them rowing the boat. The wind which was very high was against them. The sea was also very high and broken. I think they were driving backwards latterly. I was looking at them till it became dusk when I lost sight of them. My husband was 39 years of age and in perfect health when he left home. I am of the belief that he and the rest that were in the boat with him are all drowned as the gale continued the whole night & part of the next day. All which is truth.


Balemartin 10th May 1858

Compeared Allan MacKinnon fisherman residing at Balemartin an the Island of Tiree & Coll. I am forty two years of age. I was in a boat from Mannal along with John Macdonald Balemartin, Archibald Campbell and Lachlan Campbell Mannal fishing on Friday 30th April 1858. John Maclean Balenoe’s boat was also at the fishing with a number of other boats from the neighbouring villages. We left home between 5 & 6 A.M. The morning was calm and clear when we left. We were lifting our “big lines” which were set the previous day, when it commenced to blow a strong breeze from the North West. It would be about 3 o’clock P.M. when it began to blow, we were then on a fishing bank between 10 & 12 miles from the shore. John Macleans boat was a short distance farther off than ours. They began to lift their lines at the nearest end to the shore. All the other boats were then leaving and we soon followed under a close reefed lugsail and left Maclean’s lifting their lines. The wind was increasing and the sea was getting deep, about 5 o’clock P.M. it increased to a gale and the waves were breaking. We experienced great difficulty before we got near the land, the tide and wind being against us, and the sea breaking over us. We saw Maclean’s boat coming a long distance behind us. After we landed, and when Maclean’s boat was within 3 or 4 miles of the shore, the gale increased to a hurricane and the sea becoming more deep and continually breaking. It was impossible for them to make any progress against it, after landing I was viewing them off the shore until dusk. They have not been heard of since. The boat was only 14 feet keel. I am of the opinion that the boat would be swamped soon after we lost sight of it. We could not render them any assistance. All which is truth.

The parties in the boat along with Maclean were Alexander McFarlane, Donald McLean and Archibald McArthur all from the Island of Tyree. They were all able men and good fishermen but they hung rather long to their lines expecting to save them. They were the last to leave the fishing ground and were not within hail of us when we left. Which is also truth.


Hynish Tyree 10th May 1858

Compeared Alexander Brown, who says I am mate of the Tender ‘Argyll’ and reside at Hynish on the Island of Tyree. The duties of the Tender are to relieve the Light keepers on Skerryvore Lighthouse and I know the coast and seas between Tyree and the rock well. On Friday 30th April 1858 I was aware that several Boats were employed on the fishing ground on that day between Hynish and Skerryvore. About mid-day the breeze which had been light and variable during the forenoon stiffened, but I did not think there was anything dangerous to the fishing Boats from it. About 2 P.M. the wind fixed itself and blew North and by east, increasing steadily in violence. About 4 P.M. the wind having by this time increased to a gale, the relatives and friends of the fishermen out that day gathered on Hynish hill to look out for them. I went out and observed several pretty large Skiffs making for the land under very snug canvas. The sea was very high and breaking over them. About 5 or between 5 & 6 P.M. all the Boats succeeded with difficulty in making the land, except one small Boat, the smallest of the lot which I saw considerably farther out than any of the others struggling for the land. Four men were in her and they each were pulling an oar. This Boat was John Maclean’s tho’ I could not identify the parties in her. I was looking at them thro’ a powerful telescope and observed that the 4 men were straining every sinew, and make every effort to reach the land and made progress. They had reached within a mile of the shore about 8 P.M. but the gale at this time increased to a perfect hurricane, throwing up heavy waves which were breaking in white water. Notwithstanding, the men still struggled, but gained nothing. They were being driven out to sea by the fury of the winds and waves. About a quarter of a mile farther out to sea than what they were at this time, and at a place where the tide runs swiftly, I saw large rollers of waves and a mass of white water. The men continued to keep the Bow of their Boat to the sea still attempting for the land but lost ground & in the dusk of the evening I lost sight of them. My decided opinion is that they were swamped and drowned very shortly afterwards as it was impossible for such a small boat to live in such a sea. The gale continued all night and the following day with unabated violence and no intelligence has since been received of them tho’ a Boat was sent out in search.

I was anxious seeing their perilous position to have gone out to their aid with the Lighthouse Tender, but the sea & wind were so great and the surf so heavy on the shores that I could not possibly risk it. I had great doubts whether the Tender could live in the sea even if I had got her safely out from the shore. I have not witnessed a more severe storm either in Summer or Winter for a number of Years. All which is truth.