The enduring mystery of the missing Victorian lighthouse keepers

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On Boxing Day in 1900 the clocks stopped as three lighthouse keepers on a distant Scottish island vanished with out hint, forsaking their untouched meals and work notes for the next day. 

James Ducat, Thomas Marshall and Donald MacArthur had been stationed on the Flannan Lighthouse, some 215 ft above sea stage close to the very best level on Eilean Mòr, within the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland.

However when passing ships reported the sunshine had gone out, a search social gathering was despatched out. 

When rescuers climbed the 160 steps up the cliffside and into the 75ft-high tower, they discovered the clock had stopped, half eaten meat, pickles and potatoes on the desk, a toppled chair and two units of oilskins lacking. The third was hanging on its traditional hook.

A canary was ravenous on its perch and the lighthouse log and work notes for 2 days had been on a slate. 

There was no hint of the lads and it was assumed they’d been swept away by a freak wave.

However theories quickly emerged that one keeper had murdered the opposite two earlier than throwing himself into the ocean in a match of regret. 

Different rumours steered the trio had been taken by a haunted ship. 

Greater than 120 years later, the destiny of the lads stays a thriller and the tales about what might need occurred to them persist to this present day.

Lighthouse keepers (from left) Thomas Marshall, and Donald MacArthur and James Ducat vanished without trace on December 15, 1900

Lighthouse keepers (from left) Thomas Marshall, and Donald MacArthur and James Ducat vanished with out hint on December 15, 1900 

The trio were stationed at the Flannan Lighthouse, some 215 feet above sea level near the highest point on Eilean Mòr, in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland

The trio had been stationed on the Flannan Lighthouse, some 215 ft above sea stage close to the very best level on Eilean Mòr, within the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland

When a search party climbed the 160 steps up the cliffside and into the 75ft-high tower, they found an untouched meal on the table, a toppled chair and two sets of oilskins missing. The third was hanging on its usual hook. Pictured, the landing platform

When a search social gathering climbed the 160 steps up the cliffside and into the 75ft-high tower, they discovered an untouched meal on the desk, a toppled chair and two units of oilskins lacking. The third was hanging on its traditional hook. Pictured, the touchdown platform

Chilling logbook entries left behind by the keepers 

DECEMBER 12: Keeper Thomas Marshall wrote of ‘extreme winds the likes of which I’ve by no means seen earlier than in twenty years’. 

He added Principal Keeper James Ducat had been ‘very quiet’ and William McArthur – often called an skilled mariner and ‘robust brawler’ – had been crying. 

DECEMBER 13: Log entries famous the storm was nonetheless raging, and that every one three males ‘had been praying.’

It stays unclear why the keepers would have been fearful from the relative security of the newly constructed lighthouse. 

Based on locals, there have been no reported storms within the space on the twelfth, thirteenth or 14th of December.  

DECEMBER 15: The ultimate log entry on December 15 learn: ‘Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all’. 

Supply: History UK  

The Flannan lighthouse was accomplished in 1899, a yr earlier than the tragedy.  

Households had been ripped aside by the disappearance – MacArthur and Ducat had been each married, with six kids between them. 

McArthur was an Occasional Keeper – doing obligation for William Ross, 1st Assistant, on sick depart. James Ducat was Principal Keeper and Thomas Marshall was second Assistant.

Based on The Affiliation of Lighthouse Keepers, the lads went lacking on December 15, 1900. 

Passing ships had famous the sunshine was on on the evening of December 14, however had gone out the next night.

The primary document that one thing was untoward on the Flannan Isles was on 15 December 1900 when the steamer Archtor, on a passage from Philadelphia to Leith, famous in its log that the sunshine was not operational in poor climate situations. 

When the ship docked in Leith on 18 December 1900, the sighting was handed onto the Northern Lighthouse Board. 

On December 26m relieving keeper Joseph Moore was travelling to Eilean Mor on the Lighthouse Tender Hesperus for his subsequent six-week stint of obligation. 

By sheer probability, he had been taken off the earlier obligation rota in order that he may spend Christmas together with his kids. He went as much as the lighthouse, however discovered nobody there. 

Captain Harvey, Grasp of the Hesperus, reported that on arrival on the Flannans through the afternoon of 26 December there was no signal of life to be seen on the island and no response was made to a rocket fired from the ship.    

As he climbed the steps to the lighthouse, he famous ‘three large black birds perched above’, earlier than discovering the eerily empty kitchen – often a hive of exercise. 

He despatched a panicked telegram again to the mainland, which learn: ‘A dreadful accident has occurred at Flannans. The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. 

‘On our arrival there this afternoon no signal of life was to be seen on the Island. 

‘Fired a rocket however, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went as much as the Station however discovered no Keepers there. The clocks had been stopped and different indicators indicated that the accident should have occurred a couple of week in the past. 

‘Poor fellows they need to been blown over the cliffs or drowned making an attempt to safe a crane or one thing like that. 

‘Evening approaching, we couldn’t wait to make one thing as to their destiny. I’ve left Moore, MacDonald, Buoymaster and two Seamen on the island to maintain the sunshine burning till you make different preparations. 

‘Won’t return to Oban till I hear from you. I’ve repeated this wire to Muirhead in case you aren’t at residence. I’ll stay on the telegraph workplace tonight till it closes, in case you want to wire me.’

In a report he added: ‘Nothing seems touched at East touchdown to point out that they had been taken from there. On West facet [landing] it’s considerably completely different. We had an outdated field midway up the railway for holding West touchdown mooring ropes and deal with, and it has gone. Among the ropes it seems, received washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks close to the crane. The crane itself is protected.

The Flannan lighthouse, more than 215 feet above sea level, was completed in 1899, a year before the tragedy

The Flannan lighthouse, greater than 215 ft above sea stage, was accomplished in 1899, a yr earlier than the tragedy

‘A dreadful accident has occurred’: Telegram from passing ship studies bother 

A Telegram from the Grasp of Hesperus despatched on 26 December 1900 learn: 

A dreadful accident has occurred at Flannans. The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. 

‘On our arrival there this afternoon no signal of life was to be seen on the Island. 

Fired a rocket however, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went as much as the Station however discovered no Keepers there. 

The clocks had been stopped and different indicators indicated that the accident should have occurred a couple of week in the past. 

Poor fellows they need to been blown over the cliffs or drowned making an attempt to safe a crane or one thing like that. 

Evening approaching, we couldn’t wait to make one thing as to their destiny. I’ve left Moore, MacDonald, Buoymaster and two Seamen on the island to maintain the sunshine burning till you make different preparations. 

Won’t return to Oban till I hear from you. I’ve repeated this wire to Muirhead in case you aren’t at residence. I’ll stay on the telegraph workplace tonight till it closes, in case you want to wire me.

Grasp, HESPERUS

Supply: nlb.org

‘The iron railings alongside the passage connecting railway with footpath to touchdown and began from their basis and damaged in a number of locations, additionally railing spherical crane, and handrail for making mooring rope quick for boat, is completely carried away. 

‘Now there’s nothing to offer us a sign that it was there the poor males misplaced their lives, solely that Mr Marshall has his seaboots on and oilskins, additionally Mr Ducat has his seaboots on. He had no oilskin, solely an outdated mackintosh, and that’s away. Donald McArthur has his sporting coat left behind him which exhibits, so far as I do know, that he went out in shirt sleeves. He by no means used another coat on earlier events, solely the one I’m referring to.’

Robert Muirhead, the board’s superintendent who had recruited and knew all three males personally, performed an investigation and located that the previous couple of days of the lighthouse logbook entries had been uncommon. 

On December 12, keeper Thomas Marshall wrote of ‘extreme winds the likes of which I’ve by no means seen earlier than in twenty years’. 

He added Principal Keeper James Ducat had been ‘very quiet’ and William McArthur – often called an skilled mariner and frequent ‘robust brawler’ – had been crying. 

Log entries on December 13 famous the storm was nonetheless raging, and that every one three males ‘had been praying.’

It stays unclear why the keepers would have been fearful from the relative security of the newly constructed lighthouse. 

Based on locals, there have been no reported storms within the space on the twelfth, thirteenth or 14th of December.  

The ultimate log entry on December 15 learn: ‘Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all’.  

Muirhead later discovered ropes strewn throughout the rocks on the touchdown platform. 

Regardless of prolonged searches, no our bodies had been ever discovered – and it stays unclear why one of many males appeared to go away the lighthouse – in mid December – with out his coat.  

Based on History UK, within the years that adopted, subsequent lighthouse keepers at Eilean Mor have reported ‘unusual voices within the wind, calling out the names of the three useless males.’  

To this present day the thriller has by no means been solved and stays one of the vital puzzling in Scottish maritime historical past. 

Myths counsel one keeper murdered the opposite two earlier than taking his personal life, or {that a} sea serpent – or large seabird – carried the lads away. 

Different rumours declare the lads had been taken away on a ghost ship. 

Scottish actors Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan teamed up within the psychological thriller, The Vanishing, to retell the story and three lighthouses in Dumfries and Galloway; Killantringan, Mull of Galloway and Corsewall – together with Cloch within the Firth of Clyde – stood in for the Flannan Isles throughout filming.  

The story was brought to life in the 2018 movie, The Vanishing, starring Gerard Butler, Peter Mullan and Connor Swindells as the lighthouse keepers

The story was delivered to life within the 2018 film, The Vanishing, starring Gerard Butler, Peter Mullan and Connor Swindells because the lighthouse keepers 

The shoot additionally took in Port Logan which was mentioned to have related options to the Isle of Lewis harbour, the place the lads would have sailed to the Flannan Isles.

Butler performs Ducat and Mullan portrays Marshall. The movie had initially been referred to as Keepers, however was renamed throughout filming.

The thriller additionally options in an episode of Dr. Who, ‘Horror of Fang Rock’. 

The Genesis track The Thriller of Flannan Isle Lighthouse and an opera referred to as The Lighthouse by the late Queen’s composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies are primarily based on the incident.

Angela J. Elliott revealed a novel concerning the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers in 2005, referred to as Some Unusual Scent of Loss of life, after a line from Gibson’s poem.

An exhibition in reminiscence of the lads opened final yr at Breasclete on the village neighborhood centre. 

Final yr the Princess Royal visited the Flannan Isles Memorial, exhibition and former keepers’ shore station at Breasclete on the Isle of Lewis in her function as patron on the Northern Lighthouse Board. 



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