Thursday, November 30, 2006

8th October 1960

This amazing post from the Kintre forum (

'On October 8, 1960, MacBrayne's Lochiel sank after it struck a rock when trying to enter West Loch Tarbert
Alexander McCutcheon had travelled across to the mainland on the Thursday, two days before the Lochiel's fateful trip and finding that he needed his car, he arranged for his brother-in-law, Peter McSporran, to send his Ford Popular over.
When he arrived at the pier at Port Askaig, Peter McSporran handed over the car to the company's official and, after paying the agreed freight charge, he left, holding a receipt for the money, but wasn't asked to sign a "risk note".
Both Peter McSporran and his brother-in-law Alexander McCutcheon were used to sending goods to the mainland using the MacBrayne vessel and had on other occasions signed a "risk note" limiting the company's liability by incorporating the printed conditions into the agreement but, on this occasion, nobody in the MacBrayne office had asked for any signature or even mentioned a "risk note".
It was the time of the autumn cattle sales in Tarbert, the weather was calm and the visibility good and, as the Lochiel was making her way up West Loch Tarbert full of cattle and sheep, a rippling tremor ran through the ship.
Several plus-foured members of the gentry were sipping tea in the comfort of the forward lounge when the door of the engine room emergency escape route that opened into the saloon burst open to reveal a dripping second engineer. 'My God we're sinking !' he shouted, and disappeared towards the bridge. After a few moments silence there was the sound of a cup being replaced onto its saucer. 'I suppose we should go and see to the dogs', someone said.
The little ship had run into Sgeir Mhein, an unmarked skerry submerged at high water about a mile from West Loch Tarbert Pier , which normally merited a dogleg in the otherwise straight in up the loch.
In absent-mindedly steering by eye rather than by chart and compass, the vessel struck the rock a glancing blow with her port side, opening up a huge gash in the engine room. The cattle sales had nothing to do with the cause of the accident, but was rather the direct result of the regular helmsman being away, singing at the Mod.
The master did his best to make for the pier, but as water rose over the main engine air intakes, she stopped and drifted into the mud just north-east of Eilean da'Ghallagain. There was no immediate danger since the vessel had sunk as far as she was going to and the main-deck was still above water, the mess-room boy, left behind in the mess-room having his tea, decided that there was something wrong when he felt water round his feet.
Passengers wandered around in bemused fashion as the crew frantically tried to disturb the lifeboats comfortably settled on their chocks since the last Board of Trade inspection and someone with a compassionate turn or mind released seventy-five sheep from their pens, the relieved animals adding to the surreal scene as they scampered around the decks.
The bar was in those days in the forepart of the vessel, the part which was disappearing under water. The valiant barman stuck to his post, with water nearly up to his armpits, salvaging the contents of the bar and handing out bottles of booze to all comers although the sea was lapping their waists, prompting one daily paper to headline the event 'Drinks for All As The Ship Goes Down'.
Within an hour, lifeboats rowed by some of the crew and some happy passengers ferried Tarbert fire-brigade men and pumps to the ship. One elderly seaman summed up the situation: 'Yon was a terrible experience altogether. I jumped into a lifeboat and there was no room for me, it was full of passengers and sheep'.
The fire-brigade pumps were raised aboard by the ship's derrick and swung in through the forward windows and, in time, the pumps achieved enough reduction in water level to allow the watertight door between the engine room and the propellor shaft tunnel to be shut.
Among the items lost or irretrievably damaged was Alexander McCutcheon's car . On every occasion, whether he was doing it for himself or on behalf of his employer, Alexander McCutcheon had been required to sign a "risk note" imposing conditions on the contract of freight and seeking to restrict the shipping company's liability but, not on this occasion for the car had been delivered to MacBrayne's Port Askaig office by Alex's brother-in-law, Peter McSporran and Peter, after paying the agreed freight charge and handing over the car to the company's official, had left, holding a receipt for the money, but hadn't been asked to sign a "risk note".
MacBrayne's conditions of carriage were displayed in the office on Islay as well as elsewhere and most regular users of the service were aware of there being such a notice but few probably had troubled to read it or to consider its meaning.
The sinking of the Lochiel was entirely due to the negligence of members of her crew and Alex McCutcheon now endeavoured to recover the cost of his Ford Popular from the vessel's owners, its value agreed at £480 but the shipping company refusing to pay, they pointing out that both Mr McCutcheon and Mr McSporran were well aware of the conditions of carriage and Alexander McCutcheon then taking his case to court.
At the initial hearing of the case before Lord Walker it was established that Clause II of the printed provisions was sufficiently clear in its terms as to exclude any claim for the loss of the car even if it arose from the company's employees' negligence. The crucial question was whether the conditions of carriage applied when Mr McSporran had not, on this occasion, signed a "risk note".
The ferry owners contended that as both men knew the basis on which cars and other goods were transported the fact that for once no "risk note" had been completed did not matter. The presence of clear notices on the pier and in the ferry office meant, in their view everybody knew of and accept restriction of liability.
Mr McCutcheon's lawyers maintained that the previous dealings of either Mr McSporran or their client had nothing to do with what happened. This was, they argued, a new agreement under which David McBrayne Limited agreed to port the car to West Loch Tarbert and in return received payment from Mr McSporran acting as agent for his brother-in-law. No special conditions were agreed to nor accepted and no document was signed changing the normal rule that a negligent party should pay for any loss caused by carelessness.
After hearing evidence and considering all the documents, Lord Walker rejected the ferry company's contentions and awarded Mr McCutcheon £480. They however appealed and two years after the Lochiel sank three judges listened to two days of legal argument before agreeing that Mr McCutcheon was bound by the normal conditions of carriage and that accordingly David McBrayne Ltd could escape any liability. Poor Mr McCutcheon was now faced with a massive bill for both sides' legal expenses and no recompense for his lost car.
In the hope that the adverse decision could be reversed, the car owner sought and obtained leave to take his case to The House of Lords. There for a further two days the issues were closely debated and reference made by both QCs to numerous legal authorities and text books.
The issue was however summarised by one of The Law Lords when he pointed out that had the company's form been signed by Mr McSporran there would never have been any claim. However, "by a stroke of ill luck. . . . . . upon this day of all days they omitted to get him to sign. What difference does that make ?"
The answer, said Lord Devlin, would be a short and simple "None" if the Judges were able "to escape from the world of make-believe which the law has created into the real world in which transactions of this sort are actually done".
Fortunately for Mr McCutcheon, Lord Devlin and his four colleagues felt unable to look beyond the fact that Mr McSporran on this one occasion had not accepted the "risk note". They therefore held that no contract existed preventing David McBrayne Ltd being liable for the incompetent navigation of the crew of the Lochiel.
The ferry company had to pay for the lost car as well as the cost of five days in court. This had involved six firms of solicitors as well as four counsel. There can be little doubt that October 8, 1960, was an unlucky day for the ferry operators. Not only did they lose their vessel due to a blunder by members of the crew, they also incurred a substantial liability because another employee forgot to ask Mr McSporran to sign a form.
Their feeling of frustration must have increased when they saw Lord Devlin's comment that the form which would have saved them was "not meant to be read, still less understood !"
The Lochiel, her hull full of mud, was eventually salvaged by the salvage vessel from the ex-boom defence base in Greenock and returned to service the following spring with a black line inside her engine room, which marked the high watermark on the day of the 1960 autumn sales at Tarbert.
The master lost his job and fetched up as pier-master at Lochaline, not quite the West Highland equivalent to being exiled to Siberia and the Lochiel chugged happily up and down West Loch Tarbert for most of the next decade. '

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Bristol Docks Pictures

Bristol based photographer David Reynolds has posted 3 beautiful pictures of Lochiel in Bristol dock area during the 1980's - - they are definitely worth a look. (Can't copy them onto this page unfortunately). The one of Lochiel opposite Drake's Golden Hind is stunnning.

From that to the totally surreal - I unearthed this picture after doing a Lochiel google. A Spanish modelling website - the creator/artist is David Suarez and he has posted 2 of his model creations . A submarine and the Lochiel. Here is the text in English:

'T.S.M.V. Lochiel is the name of the boat used like ferry of passengers between islands in the north of Ireland, foundling the 4-April of 1939 peso 577 metric ton Capacity 599 passengers 2 diesel engines of 8 cylinders and 880 Cv each one. Speed 12 knots.The scale model this constructed according to planes that appeared published in the English magazine Model Boats in December of the 2002 on a scale 1/75. In order to make it navigable was equipped it with a motor Graupner Sped 500 with reducing and exit to two contrarrotatorios trees that move two helices of brass of 2cm and four shovels, the 120 variador is rocraft Up de Robbe and the 7,2 battery of v. It has diesel sound as well as navigation lightses. The helmet this constructed in wood of ocume of different thicknesses and all the elements has been handmade except some in which I did not have but remedy that to go to the store. Diverse materials like softdrink cans, putties of two components, steel rods removed from a windshield wiper etc. were used Sails well, the motor gives too much power him reason why it is necessary to always go to the minimum of rpm. The original rudder according to plane had to be replaced by another but generous one since he was sluggish in the turns. The final result to judge it you'.

Complete with models of the crew! Up until now i cant say i have ever had any iterest in this - but now i want to know more. I have just emailed Mr Suarez!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sad to Say - Banksy Grimreaper and the Wrong Boat

Thanks to Jack for getting this straight. The Bansksy grafitti on the boat in Bristol dock was not on the Lochiel (very sorry to say - it would have been a great story).

Confirmation is here - .

But the guy really is a genius - here is an even better picture of the artwork.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

West Loch Tarbert Pier

Lochiel used to depart from West Loch Tarbert pier

Here is a current picture of the pier.............................. and a shot from the past.

I wonder if this shot of the Lochiel at Oban on her first run in 1938?

Leads I am interested in following up are:

The public enquiry - I am trying to track down records of the enquiry which was held in Glasgow in 1961 (my father attended)
Passenger lists for 8th October 1960 - to see if it might be possible to identify other 'survivors'.
More information about the boats 'decline and fall' - my impression (maybe wrong) is that of a vessel that never quite achieved.
It sank - would there have been a stigma from then on?
It didn’t get called up during the war - was it too slow?
It was renamed in the 1970’s as Northwest Laird? Surely this must have been a shameful experience?
It was sent of a journey between Fleetwood and Isle of Man that took hours because it wasn’t licensed to travel miles off shore.
'Impounded ' for non payment of harbour taxes?
Stripped of its engines and became a floating pub/restaurant in Bristol (actually this bit sounds good).
Scrapped in Bristol 1995 - without a trace?

Anything references/signposts that could cast light would be most appreciated.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Some History
OK – Some history. This information from Caledonian Macbraynes site. ( . Lochiel was the forth of a distinguished stable. The three previous boats were single screw steamers and had served Islay. I have been able to track this picture of Lochiel (III).

Lochiel (IV) didnt start service on islay because the pier at West Loch Tarbert wasnt completed. I think this may be one of the earlierst hots of Lochiel at Oban where it started servic\e (in 1939).

Lochiel (IV) was built by William Denny & Brothers Dumbarton, Yard No 1341. Engines by Davey Paxman & Co Ltd Colchester. She spent most of her life on the Islay service

Described by Cal Mac as follows:

‘She followed the increasingly utilitarian dictates of the day: LOCHIEL had a raked stem, cruiser stern, single funnel, steel mast, derrick and cargo-hold forward. Her accommodation – originally two-class – comprised the usual lounges, dining saloons and smoke-rooms, with purser's room and ticket office. There was a cold store on her lower deck, for refrigerated cargo – a MacBrayne first. On this deck, too, her officers were berthed; the crew quarters were in the forecastle at main-deck level. She was deliberately built with a clear area of plated main-deck forward for carriage of cars or cattle. LOCHIEL also bore three lifeboats on Welin, Maclachlan davits and all her deck machinery – capstan, winches and so on – was electrically powered. Her engines, rather as aboard LOCHNEVIS, were flexibly mounted to reduce vibration and noise nuisance. Another innovation was the use of oil-operated reverse reduction gearboxes, rather than an additional, heavy reversing engine - “the principal elements in the gear-boxes,” notes G E Langmuir, “were constant-mesh helical gears, oil-operated friction clutches and their control-cock.” LOCHIEL achieved fourteen knots on trial but the required service speed was only twelve knots. Her total cost was £62,805.’

Monday, November 20, 2006

Lochiel Clips - Leaving West Loch Tarbert

Filmed around 1955 - definitely pre shipwreck era.
I got this from Scottish Film Archive - it is a superb 20 minute film of life on the Mull of Kintyre.
For full details are:
Film - Date: 1955c Director: filmed by Iain Dunnachie Ref No: 2767 Genre: amateur, documentary Sound: sound Running Time: 9.30 mins Fiction: Non-Fiction Colour: col Original Format: 16mm Sponsor: unknown Production Company: unknown

Price of DVD - £13.50. Scottish Screen Archive, 39 ­ 41 Montrose Avenue, Hillington Park
Glasgow, G52 4LA Phone : 0845 366 4600. And super efficient it was too.

I think this excellent photo must have been a around same time. Definitely not roll on roll off.

Monday, November 06, 2006


At the tender age of 13 weeks my parents took me to see my grandparents who lived on the Isle of Islay. This was their first chance to see me - and by all accounts it was a good visit. Things turned a tad more challenging on the return jourtney to the mainland on 8th October 1960. The vessel Lochiel hit the rocks and sank. For the past 12 years this front page of the Daily Record for 9th October has hung on out hallway My one and only front page story - celebrity status for me peaked early. Over the last few months that I have felt compelled to learn more (big thanks to Almax - ) for posting some pictures I never knew existed on his superb blog.

My parents have spoken about the sinking but they didn't know that this picture existed. More to follow on the chequered career of this boat.

It ended its days as floating bar/nightclub in Bristol docks in the 1980s and was scrapped in 1994. I stumbled accross the Lochiel in 1986 and had a couple of drinks on board.

Imagine my amazement when I browsed through Banksy's recent grafitti artsit book Banksy Wall and Piece ( and got to some of his work in Bristol. You've got it - he hit the Lochiel. And with a brooding dark grim reaper rowing silently past the hull. I've just emailed Banksy to tell him that the boat almost came to a sticky end - to get a reply from the master of grafitti..... would be ......

More to follow on things Lochiel.