14th October 1881

Hundreds drowned in the Eyemouth disaster

The Eyemouth disaster of 1881 saw close to 200 killed by a wind storm that swept across south-east Scotland. Many of those who died were fishermen who drowned when out in their boats.

The following day’s Edinburgh Evening News described the wind as “a storm of extraordinary violence”, in which “all telegraphic communication between Scotland and the Metropolis was broken down by wreckage of the wires… hundreds of magnificent trees have been torn to pieces or uprooted and cast across the roads, rendering traffic impracticable. From all parts of the country floods and serious agricultural havoc are reported. Railway traffic, in consequence of the destruction of signal posts and wires, was carried on with difficulty, and the drivers of express trains report that they could scarcely maintain their footing on the engines. Snow lies deep in the north, and the lower ranges of the Grampians have also received a coating of snow.”

Eyemouth harbour
Eyemouth harbour

Boats caught in a gale

However, the greatest loss of life was suffered by Eyemouth where more than 120 were killed. The Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette of 15 October reported that “fishing crafts along the east coast of the South of Scotland were caught by the gale while at sea… several were driven ashore in the neighbourhood of Dunbar, and over twenty fishermen lost their lives, while at Eyemouth two boats were dashed to pieces before the eyes of hundreds of spectators, and five men went to the bottom beyond the reach of aid.” An update, elsewhere in the same paper, informed readers that “advices from Eyemouth received in Glasgow this morning state that eighty fishermen are known to have been drowned in the storm last night. Twenty boats are still missing.”

Over the next several days, the number of casualties rose as better information became available, and on 17 October a fund was established to support the bereaved.

Dead and missing

The following day’s Berwickshire News and General Advertiser reproduced the remarks of Edward Majoribanks, MP, who reeled off a list of the dead and missing: “from Eyemouth there started on Friday morning 45 boats, manned by 279 brave men. Of these they knew 63 had been lost, while 151 are saved and 65 still missing. As far as they could calculate there were left 40 widows and 126 orphans in Eyemouth.”

Two days later, the Eyemouth death toll was still greater. “The loss, it will be seen, is great at Cove, Codlingham and Newhaven,” reported the Fife Herald of 20 October 1881, “but it is at Eyemouth and Burnmouth where the blow has fallen with greatest severity; 129 fishermen connected with Eyemouth have perished, and 24 connected with Burnmouth, all leaving families or dependent relatives to mourn their loss.”



Other events that occured in October

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