19th August 1848

The Moray Firth fishing disaster

More than 120 boats sank, and 100 fishermen were killed, when a storm hit the Moray Firth on the night of 18th to 19th August 1848.

In a subsequent report, commissioned by the government and compiled by the Admiralty’s Captain John Washington, blame for the loss was laid on the design of the open hulled boats (without decks) that were used at the time and a lack of suitable harbours at which the fishermen could seek refuge as the storm rolled in.

“Extraordinary violence”

The Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser of 22 August described it as “a storm of extraordinary violence, which, we are sorry to say, has occasioned great destruction amongst the boats engaged in the herring fishing”.

The paper described how “as the evening advanced the temperature became extremely cold – the wind rose, blowing with great violence, from SE by E, and the sea assumed an angry, agitated appearance… about 11pm showers of hail fell, which a party exposed describes as of most extraordinary violence. Shortly after midnight the wind veered round to the south west… the scene exhibited during the storm is described as most appalling; the waves lashing upon the shore – the boats breaking and crashing, and the female relatives of the unfortunate men running about in a state of the utmost excitement and alarm, and bewailing the fate of their husbands, and fathers, and brothers.”

“Dreadful hurricane”

On 26 August the Staffordshire Advertiser informed its readers of a “dreadful hurricane on the east coast of Scotland” when around 1000 boats, each with five men aboard, were out in the Firth.

Although the boats out of Fraserburgh got safely back to shore, the Advertiser noted that “a Peterhead, which is the easternmost point of the coast; and altogether exposed to an easterly gale, 70 out of 400 boats that were fishing there are missing, and there is too much reason to fear that most, if not all of them are wrecked or sunk.”

The whole coast between Buchanness lighthouse and the entrance to the south harbour was, said the paper, “strewed with wrecks and the dead bodies of fishermen. Twenty-three corpses were carried into Peterhead before nine o’clock, and at the time the latest accounts left, others were being constantly thrown among the wreck on the sands of the rocks.



Other events that occured in August

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