Wreck of the Linnet

by Davine Sutherland

Image provided by Am Baile/ Highland Libraries

The story of the shipwrecked Linnet echoes down the generations in the Easter Ross Peninsula Seaboard Villages.

One stormy September night in 1842, the Sunderland cargo schooner the Linnet was driven onto the rocks below Cadboll and badly damaged. The crew of 4 were saved, thanks to men from the Villages. Sadly, that was not the end of the story.

The hull stayed wedged on the rocks until January, when two Balintore fishermen and a local farmer bought it, for £27, thinking to re-float and repair it. They tried every ingenious method imaginable to raise the Linnet, e.g. with empty casks, then tried to drag her above the high-water mark, but difficult tide and weather conditions thwarted them. Finally, they tried adding a second deck, and managed at long last to float her off the rocks.

On Wed 4 January 1843 a work-party of local men & youths took boats out to the Linnet to tow her down to Balintore for repair, but the weather deteriorated and by the time they’d dragged her the length of Hilton, it was nearly midnight and very threatening. Those on board dropped anchor before leaving her, but someone noticed the hull was still drifting - the anchor had come off the chain. The two last yawls raced to the shore for help and a spare anchor, leaving 7 men still on the Linnet, but a violent hurricane came up and the boats couldn’t get back out for them. To the watchers consternation, the Linnet disappeared into the storm, and was seen no more. All seven were lost, leaving grieving widows and mothers in Hilton and Balintore.

The 5 men and two lads came from the extended Mackenzie or Mhorair family, the Skinners or Talachs, and the Tarrel family. The traumatic loss made national headlines, and a local bard, Arthur Ross, composed a 56-verse Gaelic elegy commemorating it, which was passed down the generations. We have a tangible link too - the captain of the Linnet gave a ring to the Skinner family who’d rescued him, and it’s in the family to this day.

Please follow this link to read selected verses from An Linnet Mhòr, the Gaelic elegy written by Arthur Ross to commemorate the victims of the wreck of the Linnet.

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