The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

The loss of the Albion

Ten lives were lost in 1866 when the Albion was wrecked off the Point of Oxan on Graemsay. The text from the local newspaper Orkney Herald tells the storyof the time.


Wreck of the Albion - Loss of Ten Lives - Distressing Scenes
From the Orkney Herald

A melancholy shipwreck, involving the loss of ten lives, occurred off the island of Graemsay in Hoy Sound on New-Year's Day. The ill-fated vessel was the Albion, (Capt. THOMAS WILLIAMS,) From the time when she left Liverpool, twelve days previous, the Albion had experienced very stormy weather, her sails being torn to shreds, her cordage worn out, and three of her boats destroyed ere she made the Orkney coast. She narrowly escaped shipwreck on St. Kilda, and bore up for Orkney, after a desperate but abortive effort to reach Stornoway. When Hoy was sighted the crew were very much exhausted by continuously laboring at the pumps and working the ship. On New-Year's day the wind blew with great violence, accompanied by occasional blinding showers of hail and snow, and a heavy sea was breaking along the Atlantic seaboard of the islands. About noon the Albion, with very little canvas set, was observed standing in for Hoy Sound from the westward.

On reaching the mouth of the dangerous sound a foretopsail was set, and just at this critical moment a fierce hail-storm came on, hiding the ship from the view of those who were anxiously watching her progress. When the hail cleared off the Albion was seen brought up in the sound in a dangerous position opposite the island of Graemsay. Two pilots from the Island rapidly made their way on board. By their advice the cables were being cut, but ere this was effected the ship began to drag her anchor, and became quite unmanageable from her want of canvas. Dragging still to leeward, she struck heavily at last on the Point of Oxen, in the Island of Graemsay. In a short time, so violent was the contact of the vessel with the rocks, the hatches sprang up, and the deck planks split from stem to stern.

Among the passengers there were a number of women and children, and a scene of the most heart-rending description ensued. Several boats immediately put off to the ship from Graemsay, Hoy and Stromness, and the mail steamer, which was fortunately at hand, also approached the scene of disaster to render assistance. As the vessel, from being fast on the rocks, appeared to be rapidly breaking up, the women, children and male passengers were got into the boats without delay, and the great proportion of them, after considerable effort, were landed in safety. The second trip of one of the boats, however, terminated in a sad catastrophe. With fourteen people on board, nine of whom were male passengers, she had got alongside of the mail steamer, which lay as close as possible to the wreck. In their anxiety to be taken out, the passengers rushed to one side, capsizing the boat and ten of the unfortunate beings perished. Of these seven were male passengers, two belonged to the crew of the Albion, and the remaining victim was a young man, JOSEPH MOWAT, son of Capt. MOWAT, of Graemsay. Two passengers and two seamen were alone saved out of the boatload.

When the boat capsized, Mr. JAS. SHEARER and others gallantly put off in the small boat of the mail steamer to do what they could in rescuing the drowning men. They picked up the four who were saved, and a fifth, who appeared to be a good swimmer, was followed until it was found impossible to venture further amid the rough sea into which the strong current had dragged the poor fellow, who battled long and bravely against his hard fate. The daylight was beginning to fade, the flood tide was about to come in, when the Captain, mate and steward, who were the last to leave the ship, took to a boat, and reached the shore in safety. Before 5 o'clock the once stately Albion was completely broken up, and the Graemsay beach was strewed with pieces of the wreck and portions of the cargo. The passengers and crew, who lost the whole of their effects, obtained accommodation for the night in the two lighthouses of Graemsay. On the following day they were taken off by the mail steamer and landed at Stromness, where they were taken in charge by Messrs. MOWAT & HAY, LLOYD'S agents.

The passengers, many of whom were in an utterly destitute condition, were treated with great kindness by the people of Stromness, who supplied them with food, shelter, and comfortable clothing. Some of the cases were of a very distressing character. A German woman, with two children, had lost her husband, all the money they had being in his possession when he perished. Another German woman had also lost her husband, and two sisters lost a brother each. The greater portion of the crew of the ill-fated ship arrived in Kirkwall on Wednesday night, waiting the arrival of the steamer to carry them to the South. The following are the names of the Shetland part of the crew, all of whom were saved: JAMES W. WILLIAMSON, Unst; JAMES C. JAMIESON, Unst, and JAMES HENDERSON, Lerwick. On Thursday the passengers, who were grateful for the kindness which had been shown them in Stromness, left that port by the packet Reaper. Owing to the rapidity with which the vessel broke up, little has been recovered from the wreck. Some crates of stoneware, we understand, were carried by the current to Houton Shore, a distance of six miles from the scene of the wreck.


A local man, Joseph Mowat, lost his life while trying to rescue survivors. He is buried in Graemsay Kirkyard.

Today pottery is still washed up on the shores. The sandy-coloured brick in the centre was used for ballast and then sold in New York © Tom Muir