Precognition of Witnesses

Henry Nisbet P.F.

as to sudden death

of

John MacDonald & 4 others


Balephuil 11th May 1860

Compeared Charles Maclean a fisherman and son of and residing with Donald Maclean residing at Balephuil on the Island of Tyree in the United parish of Tyre and Coll aforesaid who says I am 22 years of age. On a Friday fortnight past today, 27 April 1860, John Black, Niel Maclean, Archibald Maclean, Niel McKinnon, Donald Macdonald and I left Balephuil early in the morning to pursue our avocation as fishermen. We proceeded to some of the fishing Banks which are distant about 5 miles, and set a portion of our lines. About 2 P.M. we saw the boat in which Donald Macdonald, Lachlan Macdonald, John Macdonald all from Balemartin and John Orr and John Maclean both from Mannal were proceeding towards the fishing banks near Stevenson’s rock which is about 4 miles from Tyree. About 5 P.M. we followed and found them having their lines set on a bank near Stevenson’s rock. We set our own lines in a parallel direction with theirs and about 400 yards distant. We went to the other boat and enquired whether they intended to remain out during the night. We were told that their intention was to remain out and lift their lines in the morning. We considered this to be the best, and particularly as the night was calm and good looking, we agreed to remain. We kept close together till sunset when each went to their fishing lines. About midnight a breeze began to spring up from the South West and continued to increase till Sunrise, 28th April 1860, when we noticed the other boats crew engaged lifting their lines. We then began to lift our own lines and while so engaged we saw the other boat having her sail (a lugsail) with we thought three reefs in, being steered towards Tyree. The sea was getting very deep and the wind increasing. We cut our lines being unable to take them in and set a buoy on the end. We had only the 1/6th of them taken in. We then set our own sail taking in four reefs and stood homewards. We found the sail too much and owing to the strength of the wind we had to take in another reef. While we were engaged setting the sail I saw the other boat about ¼ of a mile ahead of us and we were remarking that they carried to [sic] much sail. It would be between 3 & 4 o’clock when I last saw the other boat. The morning was rather hazy. After having sail righted, I looked again but could nothing of the other boat. We kept a sharp look out all the way but could see nothing of it. The wind though very high with a deep sea on was quarterly. We thought that probably she had been too far ahead of us to enable us to see her. On landing we were informed that the other boat did not arrive. It occurred to me then that some mishap had occurred and I have no doubt that the men perished that morning.

They left the fishing ground fully ½ an hour before us.

I was never in a boat in such a heavy sea. I was steering the boat and had enough to do in managing to keep her from being swamped.

The other boat was 21 feet keel but not very strong built. The place we had set our lines at Stevenson’s rock is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and a very strong current which when there is any wind to signify causes the sea to run with high waves so that it is with the greatest difficulty a little boat, such as we had, can survive.

We reached home about 7 P.M. on Saturday in question.

I have no doubt the men were drowned shortly after we had missed the boat in which they were as aforesaid by the swamping of their Boat in the heavy sea that was running at the time.