19th December 1872

Storm washes away Wick Harbour arm

When dawn broke on the morning of 19 December 1872, Wick’s harbour master got his first clear view of the damage caused by a fierce storm that was still passing through.

The log book for that morning details how the furthest 50m of the harbour arm had been knocked down, and a block weighing more than 1000 tons deposited in the basin.

“Unabated fury”

“The storm continued to rage at Wick, Scotland, on Thursday with unabated fury,” wrote the Leeds Mercury of 21 December 1872, under the headline Wick Breakwater in Ruins. “It was discovered that a large portion of the masonry had succumbed to the force of the waves, and in the course of the day the building was seen to gradually crumble away, so that at nightfall about one-half of the erection seaward of the portion having a parapet had been tumbled into the bay.” It concluded, that although it would take some time to ascertain the full extent of the damage, one thing was clear: “the British Fisheries Society – having now expended something like £130,000 in the erection of the breakwater, a sum much above that contemplated for its completion, find that after nine years’ labour, and the expenditure of their whole capital, and the exhaustion of their borrowing powers, successive storms, culminating in that of this week, have left Wick Bay in a worse position than it was previous to the laying of the foundation stone in 1863.”

Harbour reduced to rubble

Two days later, on 23 December, the Glasgow Herald published a report from its Wick correspondent, who said that “further damage has been done to the new harbour works, which seem to be rapidly approaching demolition.” Much of the harbour arm was now just rubble, and “the concrete block of a thousand tons, which was dislodged on Tuesday, is at times seen lying irregularly on the top of loose rubble, and though the surf has not admitted a close inspection of the works, there seems no reason to doubt that the erection is damaged to an extent by this fourth disaster which has befallen it that renders it out of the question to entertain the thought of proceeding further, or of attempting to repair the damage.”

Harbour improvements

The British Fisheries Society held a series of meetings in January the following year, to decide what to do next. They passed several resolutions unanimously, including that “the experience of the last few years has proved beyond doubt, the utter hopelessness of attempting to extend the breakwater further seaward upon the present system of structure; and therefore that no effort should be made by the directors to re-erect any portion of it as far as the parapet extends.”

Instead of rebuilding the breakwater, funds would instead be directed to improving the harbour, according to a report carried in the Glasgow Herald of 18 January 1873.



Other events that occured in December

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