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Stories of the Past

Orkney and Shetland Journal 1st January 1838



Some wrecks which happened recently in the neighbourhood of Sumburgh and Bigtown, were plundered in a very disgraceful manner by some of the people in that quarter. The authorities here (Lerwick) have been taking precognitions preliminary to the seizure of the ringleaders; but it is said that they have entered into a "solemn league of covenant" to defend themselves against the authorities. The Cunnisburgh, Sandwick parish, and Dunrossness men, to the number upwards of three hundred, have come to this resolve; and as these, (particularly the former) are the most pugnacious we have, and all the military establishment of Shetland at present consists pf the bombardier and this wife, there is no saying that they may not storm our capital, drive us into the sea, and take possession of the islands.

Therefore, although there may be no great need of an armed force to help the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get taxes, it does not appear quite so clear that such a force may not be needed to carry the laws into execution.

Orkney and Shetland Journal February 1838




In my last communication it was mentioned that a number of men in Dunrossness and that neighbourhood, who had been concerned in plundering a wreck, were determined to set the civil authorities at defiance.  This as now actually taken place, although in a somewhat different manner to what was anticipated, for the executive power here has been held so cheap that the task of setting it at defiance, instead of engaging the warlike prowess of the men, has been left to the feeble hands of a few women, who, however, as will appear in the sequel, have not acquitted themselves badly.

The facts are as follow :-- The ship Elvira, of Halifax, bound from Hamburgh to Jamaica, and laden with flour, butter, &c., having been dismasted at sea in a storm, and the crew, except one boy, washed overboard, was driven on shore near Fitful Head.  The people, as usual in such cases, considered the wreck a god-send;  and, after devoutly thanking providence for his kindness to “puir fock,” set to work to help themselves.  The men employed to save the wreck for benefit of whom it might concern, were, as a matter of course, considered as innovating interlopers, and their having secured a quantity of flour in a sort of warehouse, was looked upon as an absolute infringement of the rights and immunities of the Dunrossnessians, the Sandwickians, the Cunnisburghers, the Quarffites, and the Fladabisterians; who, determined to vindicate their ancient priveleges, unroofed the warehouse and carried off the flour. Some men of the two last-mentioned tribes, after examination, were committed to the toll-booth (town jail) of Lerwick for trial ;  and six Cunnisbrugh men being also implicated as ringleaders, it was determined to have them apprehended likewise.  Accordingly, armed with the necessary authority, four “officers of court” were dispatched from Lerwick to capture the delinquents.  Now, the Cunnisburghers having long been celebrated for their boldness as as tact with which they defend their domiciles against unwelcome visitors, such as press-gangs, excisemen, officers of court, &c., we think the Lerwegian executive who sent so meagre an expedition to invade the turbulent colony of Cunnisburgh, displayed about as much judgement as a somewhat higher executive has in his management of Canada.  The four officers of court arrived, however, at the village of Cunnisburgh,

Shetland News, July 22, 1899.




The sad intelligence has been received here of the loss of a young Lerwegian, Isaac F. Heddell, son of the late Mr J.J.G. Heddell, merchant, Lerwick.  He was one of the crew of the steamer Ohau, which is supposed to have foundered on the New Zealand coast on the 13th May last.  Much sympathy will be felt with his widowed mother and sister.  We take the following account of the dossier from the “Otago Daily Times” of June 7:—        We regret to have to announce the total loss of the Union Steam Ship Company’s steamer Ohau, while on her passage from Greymouth to Dunedin.  She left Greymouth on May 12, with a cargo of 800 tons of coal and coke, and 13,000 ft. of timber.  Although before leaving Captain Brewer had intimated that he intended proceeding through the Foveaux Strait, he appears to have changed his mind at the last moment and taken the northern route, with the result that the Ohau met the full force of the storm which was raging off the coast of Wellington.  The Ohau was seen by several steamers which were sheltering the last sight of her being obtained by the light-house-keeper at Cape Campbell at 3 p.m. of Saturday, May 12.  She was then about ten miles north of the light, struggling against a furious S.W. gale and heavy sea.  As she did not put in an appearance, the company’s s.s. Brunner was sent in search of her, but without success; while a diligent search was made along the coast for sign of wreckage.  On May 25 Mr James Mills, managing director of the company, abandoned all hope of the Ohau turning up, and issued the following circular to all branch managers. I regret very much to advise you that there is every reason to fear that the s.s. Ohau foundered in the severe gale experienced in Cook Strait on Saturday, 13th inst.  The Ohau was coal laden from Greymouth to Dunedin, and was passed by the Rosamund close by The Brothers lighthouse shortly before 1 o’clock on Saturday afternoon.  She was seen by the lighthouse-keeper at Cape Campbell at 3 o’clock, and was then about 10 miles north.  She was kept in sight until dark, struggling against a furious south-west gale and heavy sea.  Her masthead light was sighted at 5.20 p.m., but after that nothing was seen o her, although a look-out was kept for her off and on until 10 o’clock. The gale was an unusually heavy one, and several of the steamers were forced to seek shelter, delaying their arrival at their destinations from two to four days.  Until within a few days ago it was confidently hoped the Ohau would turn up also, and when after the weather moderated there was no sign of her, it was feared something serious had happened. The Brunner was despatched from Wellington to search the coast line, but after a thorough examination no signs of the ship or of wreckage were discovered.  We are forced, therefore, to conclude that she foundered, with all hands, during the night of the 13th inst. We find it difficult to account for the loss of the Ohau, as she was a strongly-built vessel and well found in every particular.  She was built by Messrs Denny Bros, to a special specification, and recently underwent a thorough overhaul, being fitted with new decks etc. No doubt there will be many anxious inquiries mad to you regarding those on board.  She carried no passengers. The loss of the Ohau is very distressing to us, as many of her officers and crew belonged to Dunedin, we are brought very closely in touch with the widespread sorrow entailed by her loss.  The relatives and friends of those missing have the heartfelt sympathy of the directors and staff in their present bereavement.

Crew list of s.s. Ohau, as per articles:

Richard Brewer, Master, married.
Murdoch MacPherson, chief Officer.
Robert Hogg Warrender, Second Officer, single.
I.F. Heddell, lamps and A.B., single.
A. Taylor, A.B., single.
J. Martin, A.B., single.
W. Carey, A.B., single.
J. Angus, A.B., single.
A. Werbe, A.B., single.
W.J. Nicholls, Deck Boy, single.
Robert Burns, Chief Engineer, married.
John Young, Second Engineer, married.
D. Grant Stevenson, Third Engineer, single.
J. W. Charnock, Donkeyman, married.
J. Underwood, Fireman, single.
W. Lenny, Fireman, single.
J. Ferguson, Fireman, single.
R. Wilson, Fireman, single.
Joseph Fielder, Chief Steward, widower.
A. Fender, Second Steward, single.
A. Schofield, Cook, single.
A.G. Matheson, Purser, single.

The officers were insured for the following amounts:
Richard Brewer, Master, £750; Murdoch MacPherson, chief officer, £500; Robert Hogg Warrender, second officer, £200; Robert Burns, chief engineer, £500; John Young, second engineer, £400; D. Grant Stevenson, third engineer, £500; A.G. Matheson, purser, £200.The fact that all the officers being insured shows the wisdom of the company’s regulation which requires all their officers to insure their lives for sums varying according to their rank, and the company contributes a portion of the premium. The scale is as follows:—Captain, £500, chief engineers, £400, chief officers, £300, second engineers £200, second officers £200, pursers £200, all junior officers £100.  The company has also a liberal provision for which if any officer desires it, he may insure for 50 per cent. more than the amount his rank calls for. It will be seen that several of the Ohau’s officers took advantage of this. The managing director also instructed that all the company’s vessels should carry their flags half-mast high on the 27th as a token of respect to the memory of the offices and crew of the Ohau.  This was done at all ports. Captain Brewer’s wife and family reside in Dunedin.  Mr Robert Burns, chief engineer, was a son of Mr A.J. Burns, a well-known citizen. He was married, and his wife resides in Dunedin.  Mr Douglas Grant Stevenson, third engineer, was also a Dunedin native, and was the only son of Mrs Stevenson, relict of the late Mr A.C. Stevenson, formerly chief clerk in Dunedin Post Office.  The young men Burns and Stevenson were cousins, and were grandsons of the late Rev. Dr. Burns, one of the founders of Otago.  Young Stevenson, who held a first engineer’s certificate, was about to be promoted to the s.s. Wakatipu, but unfortunately missed that vessel by about two hours through the late arrival of the Ohau at Wellington.  Mr A.G. Matheson was also a young Dunedinite, and son of the late Mr Gilbert Matheson, of High Street. If any lingering doubt was entertained as to the fate of the Ohau, it was dispelled by the discovery of wreckage on the coast of Wellington, between Castlepoint and Cape Turnagain. A life buoy marked “s.s. Ohau,” fore and aft hatches, and some cabin fittings, were found near Cape Turnagain.  Further south, near Castlepoint, the lid of the flag locker, with the name “Ohau” on it, a derrick, and portion of the cabin, were found.  No bodies were washed ashore.