18th December 1900

Ship’s crew reports strange events at Flannan Isles Lighthouse

Flannan Isles Lighthouse was opened in 1899 and although it was originally staffed and lit by paraffin, it is now fully automated and electrified, like the other lighthouses that dot the British coast. On 15 December 1900, the crew of the Archtor, travelling to Leith, noted that the light was not lit. When they docked three days later – on the 18th – they reported this fact to the Northern Lighthouse Board.

Lighthouse keepers missing

The ship that was to relieve the lighthouse crew was delayed by bad weather, and didn’t reach the lighthouse until boxing day that year. They expected to find the four lighthouse keepers waiting for them, but they were nowhere to be seen. Neither was the flag that should have been flying high on the flagpole.

A thorough search was made of the island, but the men could not be found. Their beds had not been made, and the fact that all of the clocks, which required manual winding, had stopped, suggested that the men had been gone for the best part of a week.

Significant damage

The only clue as to what might have happened was significant damage to the land and some structures, including a railway track, at the western end of the island, which suggested the Flannan Isles had been struck by a violent storm. Subsequent investigations concluded that the men left the lighthouse to secure various items on that part of the island, and that a wave, several hundred feet tall, had washed them all out to sea and drowned them.

The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 29 December 1900 explained that “the lighthouse steamer succeeded in landing two men on the Flannan Islands who, after a search, signalled to those on board that no trace of the men or their bodies could be seen; that the last entry in the log was dated Saturday morning; and that they seemed to have been at breakfast when something must have occurred, which made them leave hurriedly, as a half-finished meal lay on the table. They also communicated that all the ropes in the store had been removed, and as one of the cranes was amissing, it is supposed they must have noticed it in danger, and have taken the ropes to secure it, and in their efforts to do so must have been dragged over the rock along with it.”

“No such incident has ever happened in the history of the Lighthouse Board, and it is provident that it did not result in disaster to any vessel passing,” wrote the St James Gazette of 28 December 1900.



Other events that occured in December

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