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Scotlands year of Coasts and Waters 2020 & a Historic Boat Accident

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

As an Island with over 31 thousand lochs it makes our landscape that bit more special. So, what does this mean for you? To some it is a chance to kayak or partake in water sports around our stunning coastline, fish our rivers, camp close to our lochs or just soak up the beauty that our waters provide.

We are happy to be supporting Scotlands YCW 2020

But to me as a Genealogist it represents History, Industry & often tragedy.

Many of the communities that lived close to our sea and lochs no longer exist. Some moved overseas or into the cities not only for a better quality of life but for better job prospects.

But, in days gone by there were many more tragedies on our waters!

A friend of the family passed me a small article from a newspaper written in 1899 it detailed one such tragedy involving several members of the one family.

Alexander Oliphant was a Ships Carpenter from Montrose & had married Euphemia Taylor in Brechin, Forfar in 1874. They had the following Children: -

Alexander born in 1874 in Montrose

David was born in England in 1875

Euphemia born in Montrose in 1877

Mary Helen born in Edinburgh in 1878

John James born in Glasgow in 1880

Joseph Taylor born in Glasgow in 1883

Jane Ann Taylor born in Glasgow in 1888

Albert born in Glasgow in 1891

Annie born in Glasgow in 1892

When the 1881 Census was taken in April the Family are residing at 3 Teviot Street, Anderston, Glasgow, fairly close to the River Clyde where Alexander would have worked as a Ship Wright producing some of the famous Clyde built ships.

The River Clyde today

By April of 1891 the family have moved to Dingwall Street in Anderston, Glasgow. This would more than likely have been a bigger home to accommodate their expanding family. Some of the Children are now of working age and the Census shows that Alexander aged 16 is working as a Ship Smith Striker, David aged 15 is a Steam Hammer Worker and Mary aged 13 is a message girl.

Some years later Mary would go on to date William Whyte he was a Spirit Salesman 2 years her senior & worked for Mr Ross in Dock Street, Kelvinhaugh. William lived at 522 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow and was the son of James Whyte a Commission Agent & Jane Dunlop.

By the late 1890s the Oliphant family have moved to 210 Kelvinhaugh Street, Glasgow and Mary & her sister Euphemia are both working as Sewing Machinists.

Rothesay on the Isle of Bute became a popular tourist destination during the Victorian Era and saw many Glaswegians take the trip ‘Doon the Watter’ (Down the Water) to Rothesay for holidays & day trips.

The Paddle Steamer 'Waverley' still takes trips from the River Clyde 'Doon the Watter'

It was a place we holidayed as children and one I just love to return to!

Alexander Oliphant had hired out a house at 23 Bridgend Street in Rothesay for the month of July 1899 and although himself and his wife were at home in Glasgow on the below date, they would probably have made the trip to Rothesay to spend a few days here and there.

Rothesay on the Isle of Bute was a popular Victorian Holiday destination

On Sunday 9th July 1899 Mary along with her Sweetheart William, Sister Euphemia, 3 other children from the Oliphant Family & an 11 year old boy named Harry Shearer took the pleasure boat ‘Cuckoo’ rented by a Mr Matthew Scott out into Rothesay Bay without permission. The Boat had been rented by Whyte on the Friday & Saturday and he had wanted to hire it on the Sunday, was refused but took it anyway.

The party were observed to cruise about the bay for some time. But the boat was seen to keel over when it was about one mile from the shore, then seeming to disappear from view. The Captain of the ‘Iris’ saw this and set out a boat to the scene of the disaster, it appeared that the sail had disappeared carrying some of the occupants with it. They managed to pick up 3 of the Oliphants which included Jane aged 8, Albert aged 7 & Annie aged 5 along with Harry Shearer. All were all suffering from exhaustion, but they could find no trace of Euphemia, Mary or William Whyte.

It was thought that the boat capsized due to winds.

Their registration in the register of passengers who died at sea along with their death certificates detail that their bodies were never found.

Although the newspapers name Mary’s sweetheart as being Alexander Whyte his death Certificate names him as William, this may have been an oversight on their part or perhaps he was known as Alexander. It must have been extremely hard for Alexander Oliphant to have to register his 2 oldest daughters deaths, though how his younger children managed to survive is a miracle!

The newspapers detailed that this was the 3rd accident in the area over a period of 3 weeks.

I suppose something has to be said for health and safety and how a lot less people lose their lives on the water nowadays.

If any of us can learn anything from this story it is to always wear a life jacket, be mindful of the weather and don’t take risks.


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