16th August 1809

The Meikle Ferry disaster kills 99 passengers

When the overloaded Meikle Ferry capsized, 99 passengers drowned in the Dornoch Firth. So many were aboard that it was sitting lower in the water than it should have done, and the waves started to wash over the sides shortly after it had made its way out into the current.

Twelve passengers survived, although the newspapers of the time, reflecting the confusion surrounding the event and the difficulty of obtaining news, published a variety of alternative body counts.

News spreads

News spread slowly but, on 28 August, the Hampshire Chronicle printed that “intelligence, of a most distressing and awful nature, has just reached us. It would appear that a great many persons from Dornich and other parts of Sutherland who were on their way to attend Tain Market… crowded into the passage-boat at the Meikle Ferry, to the number of from 100 to 120, being considerably beyond its burden… they were insensible to the imminent danger to which they were about to expose themselves; for they had scarcely proceeded half way from the shore, when, dreadful to relate, the boat sunk, and all on board perished, except five persons.”

Death count increases

The Star had an update on the 31st, claiming that by then the number of dead had risen to 140. Moreover, “the business of the fair having been the object of almost all of those who were on board the boat, many of them had, of course, all the money they could command about them; a circumstance which not a little aggravates the irreparable loss sustained by many a fatherless child. The accident is attributed principally to the misconduct of the boatmen who, it is said, were intoxicated, and who perished with the rest, leaving behind them a dreadful example of the fatal effects of rashness and intemperance.”

Fund for survivors

A fund was opened to compensate those who had lost not only their family wealth but also their main breadwinner in the accident. On 18 January the following year, the Perthshire Courier reported that the fund had distributed its first £509 15s. The same paper reported, on 9 September 1811, that “an additional list of contributions… has been received from our benevolent countrymen in India, amounting to 3229 pagodas. The value of a pagoda is 8s 9d.”

In total, £2909 15s was distributed to the bereaved.

Although the ferry service continued to operate, the sinking led to the construction of Bonar Bridge, which was designed by engineer Thomas Telford.



Other events that occured in August

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