Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Shipwreck - Rambling Recollections of My Schools and School Days – Article VIII - Part B

Article VIII written by Alexander Gunn was printed in the Northern Ensign on 23 December 1880 – Part  B

Dannal M'Hearish aka Donald Gunn

"Donald, Alister’s brother had a large farm also in the Strathnaver district and after Alister’s death Donald made up his mind to set out and go to Canada to try his hand to farming in that distant land. In those days emigrants from Caithness for the Americas embarked at Scrabster. The ships called on their way out at Cromarty then at Scrabster.."

Thurso from  Mount Pleasant. Scrabster is on the right. 

Although the scan of the last part of this article is unreadable, fortunately Alexander Gunn had related much of the story elsewhere, and from the few words I can decipher in this version I am confident I can figure out what else is written. The following, published after Alexander Gunn's death, is from the History of the Clan Gunn, Supplement, Twelfth Instalment: Thomas Sinclair M.A. Northern Ensign 17 Feb 1903 
 Source: http://clangunn1.blogspot.co.nz/2012/08/sinclair-gunn-supplement-12-1721903.html

"Alaster was by no means a quarrelsome man, but his brother Donald was all fire, and seldom did he leave a market or marriage party without a fight. He used to say, ‘I raised the fights, but Alaster laid them.’ Had there been two Donalds in the family it is more than likely that Donald would have alluded to it in some way. It was always ‘Alaster mo brohar’ he spoke of, never any other brother if he had any. He lived a wandering life for many years depending on friends. I [Alexander Gunn] was with one of the Gunns of Altnabreac, where he often visited, and there came into contact with him." 

Scrabster and Dunnet Head 1930s. Source: Caithness.org

Emigrate to Canada

"Donald had made up his mind to emigrate to Canada, sold all his effects, and went on board ship at Scrabster Roads with wife and family. As the ship was about to sail he went ashore upon some pretence, made no effort to go aboard again, and the vessel sailed without him, so that Donald was left with nothing but the clothes on his back; no small loss, whatever prompted him to forfeit his all, as he was in very comfortable circumstances. It was hinted that his married life was not a very happy one; or would it be some presentiment of the fate that awaited this ship? She was wrecked (in 1807) on the Canadian Coast, and there was not a soul saved, although one report said that 6 or 8 survived. It was said to have been a very rich ship.…."

Shipwreck in the Bay of Bulls, Newfoundland

"The Canadian shipwreck has of late had notable illustration in the newspapers. Quotations by the Inverness Courier of 1901 from the Inverness Journal of 1807, describe the vessel as the brig Rambler of Leith, from Thurso to Pictou, September 1807, with 130 passengers, captain, surgeon and 14 seamen. The Bay of Bulls, Newfoundland, was the scene of the disaster; and, out of 146 persons, only 3 passengers, the second mate, and 4 seamen were saved, 29th October the date. The emigrants were all from Caithness, who, says the correspondent to the Inverness Journal, went voluntarily in the rage for emigration then prevalent. Captain Alexander Gunn, Braehour, held the same view of the case, asserting that there were no Clearance victims on board."

Alexander Gunn further wrote:

To The Editor of the Northern Ensign 14th August, 1896

"Being a herd boy with David Gunn, one of the Altnabreac Gunns, an old man Dannal M’Hearish (Donald Gunn), brother to Alister of that name, often came to the house and used to speak about that ship, with which he was closely interested. … Donald slept in the same bed with me when he came there, and I was always glad when he came, in listening to the stories he used to tell of the many desperate fights he used to have in days gone by. He never set up housekeeping after this occurrence, but wandered over the country, and was made welcome wherever he went."

My Comments:

A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. During the Age of Sail, brigs were seen as fast and manoeuvrable and were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels. They were especially popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  

Wife and Children

Some thoughts must be spared for the wife and children of Donald Gunn who were on the ship and deserted by him. Life on board a sailing ship was cramped and very difficult but to have been deserted, under the circumstances must have been a nightmare for them. None of them survived. The following report, just three months after the disaster, confirms what Alexander Gunn wrote nearly ninety years later

Not Clearance Victims

Alexander Gunn published some other letters to the Editor of the Northern Ensign in a different series. Claims had been made that the passengers on the ship that went down were Clearance victims. Gunn refutes those claims stating that the passengers were mostly well-off people.

Some other interesting characters associated with this story, including the Caithness agent, are mentioned in other letters of Alexander Gunn. I will write about them next blog.

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