The Mystery Encyclopedia

Disappearance on Flannan Isles Lighthouse

The first record that something was abnormal on the Flannan Isles was on 15 December 1900
4610 (1)

3 men go missing on Flannan Isles

– by Mystery Wiki

The first record that something was abnormal on the Flannan Isles was on 15 December 1900 when the steamer Archtor, on a passage from Philadelphia to Leith, noted in its log that the light was not operational in poor weather conditions. When the ship docked in Leith on 18 December 1900, the sighting was passed onto the Northern Lighthouse Board. The relief vessel, the lighthouse tender Hesperus, was unable to sail from Breasclete, Lewis, as planned on 20 December due to adverse weather; it did not reach the island until noon on 26 December. The lighthouse was manned by three men: James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and William MacArthur, with a rotating fourth man spending time on shore.

On arrival, the crew and relief keeper found that the flagstaff had no flag, all of the usual provision boxes had been left on the landing stage for re-stocking, and more ominously, none of the lighthouse keepers were there to welcome them ashore. Jim Harvie, the captain of Hesperus, attempted to reach them by blowing the ship’s whistle and firing a flare, but was unsuccessful.

A boat was launched and Joseph Moore, the relief keeper, was put ashore alone. He found the entrance gate to the compound and the main door both closed, the beds unmade, and the clock stopped. Returning to the landing stage with this grim news, he then went back up to the lighthouse with Hesperus‘ second-mate and a seaman. A further search revealed that the lamps had been cleaned and refilled. A set of oilskins was found, suggesting that one of the keepers had left the lighthouse without them. There was no sign of any of the keepers, neither inside the lighthouse nor anywhere on the island.

Moore and three volunteer seamen were left on the island to attend the light and Hesperus returned to Lewis. Captain Harvie sent a telegram to the Northern Lighthouse Board dated 26 December 1900, stating:

A dreadful accident has happened at the Flannans. The three keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the Occasional have disappeared from the Island... The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows they must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane.

On Eilean Mòr, the men scoured every corner of the island for clues as to the fate of the keepers. They found that everything was intact at the east landing but the west landing provided considerable evidence of damage caused by recent storms. A box at 33 metres (108 ft) above sea level had been broken and its contents strewn about; iron railings were bent over, the iron railway by the path was wrenched out of its concrete, and a rock weighing more than a ton had been displaced. On top of the cliff at more than 60 metres (200 ft) above sea level, turf had been ripped away as far as 10 metres (33 ft) from the cliff edge.