Yard Number: 226
Completion Date: October 1882

Two masts, barquentine rigged, no figurehead, iron framework.

Hall Russell's shortest lived ship; left Aberdeen 9th October 1882 and wrecked 11th October 1882.

Engine: Steam compound engine, 36" x 75" with 57" stroke.

2 steel double-ended
Heating Area (ft2): 5836
Diameter: 13'6"
Length 18'6"
Furnaces: 12
Pressure (p.s.i.) 120

Diameter: 16'0"
Type: Built 4-bladed
Material: Cast iron

11 October 1882 - stranded on Leversay Island, South Uist, while on maiden voyage from Aberdeen to Cardiff and became a total loss.

The Times, 12 October 1882:
'Disaster At Sea. A telegram was received in Aberdeen yesterday afternoon, stating that the splendid steamer Balgairn, the largest vessel ever built in Aberdeen, bad been Wrecked on her maiden voyage. The Balgairn had a carrying capacity of 4,000 tons, was 325ft. in length, with 40ft. breadth of beam. Her engines had a maximum horse power of 2,000. The vessel belonged to Messrs. Davidson of Aberdeen, and was built by Messrs. Hall, Russell, and Co. She was launched on the 15th of August with great state in the presence of a vast assemblage, and was christened by the Countess of Aberdeen, a banquet being afterwards held, at which the Earl of Aberdeen presided. After receiving her fittings, the vessel was thrown open to the public and thousands visited her, the money drawn being given to local charities. On Monday last she left on her first trip, the intention being to go to Cardiff, take on a cargo, and proceed to Point De Galle. A distinguished company, including several of the shareholders, accompanied the vessel on her trial trip. She proceeded by the north passage between Skye on the east, and the South Uist on the west. At a point on Leversay Island, in the Sound of Benbecula, the vessel went ashore this morning, and immediately filled with water. There was little hope from the first of getting her off, but telegrams were dispatched to Glasgow for assistance. The captain, in a telegram to the owners, states that the vessel is likely to become a total wreck. All on board, including a crew of 40 men, were saved. The steamer bad a year's stores on board, and the loss is estimated at £60,000. The Balgairn was commanded by Captain Crombie. The intelligence created the greatest excitement and disappointment in Aberdeen. DISASTER AT SEA .'

Unique ID: 14838
Description: Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Balgairn', 1882
Creator: Board of Trade
Date: 1882
Copyright: Out of copyright
Partner: SCC Libraries
Partner ID: Unknown

(No. 1572.)


The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876.

IN the matter of the formal Investigation held at Aberdeen, on the 15th and 16th of November 1882, before H. C. ROTHERY, Esquire, Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captain METHVEN and Captain VAUX, as Assessors, into the circumstances attending the stranding and loss of the steamship "BALGAIRN," of Aberdeen, near Grey Island, South Uist, on the 11th of October 1882.

Report of Court.

The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons annexed, that the stranding and loss of the said ship was due to the negligent navigation thereof by William Allan Crombie, the master, in having, when he was approaching Ushinish Light, and although that light was not visible, gone below without having given any orders to reduce the speed of the vessel, and without having taken any steps to ascertain his true position either by a cast of the lead or otherwise, and in having remained below playing cards when the safety of the vessel and of the lives of those on board imperatively demanded his presence on deck.

For these wrongful acts and defaults the Court suspends the certificate of the said William Allan Crombie for twelve months, but recommends that during the period of such suspension he be allowed a first mate's certificate.

The Court is not asked to make any order as to costs.

Dated this 16th day of November 1882.


H. C. ROTHERY, Wreck Commissioner.

We concur in the above report.




C. VAUX, R.N.R.,

Annex to the Report.

This case was heard at Aberdeen on the 15th and 16th of November 1882, when Mr. Duncan appeared for the Board of Trade, Mr. Prosser for the owners and for the first and second officers of the "Balgairn," and Mr. Sutherland for the master. Fourteen witnesses having been produced by the Board of Trade and examined, Mr. Duncan handed in a statement of the questions upon which the Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court. Mr. Sutherland and Mr. Prosser then addressed the Court on behalf of their respective parties, and Mr. Duncan having been heard in reply, the Court proceeded to give judgment on the questions on which its opinion had been asked. The circumstances of the case are as follow:

The "Balgairn" was an iron screw steamship belonging to the Port of Aberdeen, of 2,577 tons gross and 1,661 tons net register, and was fitted with engines of 380 horse power. She was built in Aberdeen in the present year, and was the property of Messrs. James and Alexander Davidson, of Aberdeen, shipowners, and others, Messrs. Davidson being the managing owners. She was a first-class vessel, built at a cost of 45,500l., and furnished with all the newest appliances. She had five boats, all apparently very good. She was fitted with steam steering gear, and could be steered from both the upper and the lower bridge amidships as well as from aft. She had five compasses, a standard compass fixed on a tripod on the upper bridge, a steering compass also on the upper bridge, another in the wheelhouse amidships, and a third before the wheel aft, and a tell-tale compass in the chart room. She had a large supply of charts, and was in every respect thoroughly and efficiently equipped for a voyage to almost any part of the world, and was classed 100 Al at Lloyd's. Thus equipped she left Aberdeen, on the 9th of October last, for Cardiff in ballast, having on board a crew of thirty-eight hands all told, five guest passengers more or less connected with the vessel, and six engineer mechanics to assist in case anything should go wrong with the machinery. The owner suggested that, as she was a new vessel, it might be better to go round by the southern route, so as to have a port to put into in case of accident, but the master preferred to go the shorter and northern route, and he was accordingly allowed to do so. They proceeded on their voyage, the vessel making about nine knots an hour, without anything occurring, except that the bearings, as is usual with new vessels, became heated, making it necessary to ease the engines occasionally to cool them, until about 8 p.m. of the 10th, when they were off Stornoway. At that hour the chief officer came on deck, and was told by the master to keep a look out for Glas Island Lighthouse, and when he was within a mile of it to alter the course to S.W. At 9.15 p.m. Glas Island Lighthouse came in view, upon which the mate, on his own authority, altered the vessel's course so as to bring the light a little on the starboard bow; and at about 10 o'clock, thinking that he was then about a mile from the light, he, in accordance with the master's directions, altered the course to S.W., and at the same time informed the captain that he had done so. The captain shortly afterwards came on to the bridge, and seeing that the mate had miscalculated his distance from the lighthouse, and that instead of being only a mile from it, they were between three and four miles off, he altered the course to W. by S. directly for the light, and kept her on that course for about a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes; when, believing that he was then about a mile from it, he altered the course to S.W. 1/2 W. by the standard compass, which he told us was the magnetic course, there being no deviation on the standard compass on that course, and he directed the mate to keep that course until further orders. At midnight the chief officer was relieved by the second mate, who had orders from him to keep her on the same course, and to look out for the Ushinish Light, and as soon as he saw it to call the captain. By about 1 a.m. the weather had become very threatening, the wind blowing strong from the S.W., with heavy passing showers, and no light having been seen the second mate became anxious, and accordingly sent to the captain, who was then in the cabin, to ask him to come up on deck. On his doing so some conversation seems to have taken place between them as to what ought to be done, no light being visible, and also as to whether the speed of the vessel should be reduced, the telegraph at the time standing at full speed. The master, however, thought that it was not necessary to reduce the speed, as the vessel, we are told, was not making so much way as she had been doing owing to the strong head wind and sea, but he ordered the course of the vessel to be altered a point to the southward, to S.W. 1/2 S., and then left the deck and returned to the cabin. The second mate accordingly kept the vessel on that course until about five minutes before 2, when, observing a dark object a little on the port bow, he asked the man at the helm, who was standing by him, what it was, but he had hardly got the words out of his mouth before the ship struck. On feeling the vessel strike the captain at once rushed on deck and telegraphed to the engine room to put the engines full speed astern; but on Captain Davidson, the ship's husband, who was a passenger on board, suggesting that, if she came off, there might be a danger of her sinking in deep water, the engines were stopped. They were, however, soon afterwards again put on full speed astern, but they were not able to move her, and the vessel remained aground where she had struck, namely, on a rock inside of and some 3 or 4 miles north of Ushinish Lighthouse. At daylight all hands were landed on a little island, called Grey Island, whence they were safely conveyed to the shore, but the vessel herself became a total wreck.

These are the circumstances under which this lamentable casualty took place, and the first question which we are asked is, "What was the cause of the stranding of the vessel?" The stranding of the vessel was no doubt due to her having been allowed to get too far to the westward of her proper course; how it was that she got so far out of her course will better appear when we come to answer some of the other questions.

The second question which we are asked is, "Whether at the time when she left Aberdeen, her compasses were in good and proper order, and were properly adjusted?" We were told by Mr. Berry, a gentleman residing in Aberdeen, and who has had a large experience in the adjustment of ship's compasses, that he adjusted the "Balgairn's" compasses, and prepared the deviation cards for all the five compasses on the 28th of September last, where she then lay in the harbour. He told us that in doing so he had the assistance of Captain Davidson, the ship's husband, and of two young men from his own office, and that it was done most carefully, the circumstances being exceptionally favourable for the purpose, there not being at the time any iron ships in the harbour; and he told us that, at the request of Captain Davidson, the vessel was swung twice for the purpose of checking the deviations. We have therefore no reason to think that the compasses were not properly adjusted when she left Aberdeen, or that they were not in good and proper order; at all events, the usual and proper measures seem to have been taken to make them so.

The third question which we are asked is, "Whether proper measures were subsequently taken to verify them, and to ascertain that they were in proper working order?" It should be observed that although the compasses may have been in good and proper order, and the deviation cards quite correct, when the vessel left Aberdeen, it did not follow that they would continue so after she had started, the compasses of new iron ships being very liable to go wrong within a few hours of their sailing; a fact which seems to have been well known to the master, for it is on this that he seems to rest his justification. But if it was so, it was all the more necessary that he should watch his compasses carefully, and ascertain at every possible opportunity whether they continued in good order, and whether the deviations were correctly indicated on the cards. And how do we find that this master discharged that duty? So far as we see, beyond taking one observation at about half past 3 o'clock on the afternoon of the 10th, he did nothing. He seems to have found that all his other compasses had gone wrong, but he thought that the standard compass, although half a point out on one course, was right on a S.W. course. He told us that he had intended to verify the compasses again as they passed the Eye peninsula, when the ship would be nearly on the same course on which she would be when going through the Little Minch; owing, however, to his not being able to get the assistance of any of his officers he failed to do so, and continued his course without taking those steps which in the opinion of the assessors he should have done to satisfy himself that his compasses were in proper order.

The fourth question which we are asked is, "Whether proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel when off Glas Island, and whether his distance from that point was correctly estimated?" It seems clear that when the chief officer first altered the course of the vessel to S.W., thinking that he was then about a mile from the light, he greatly underestimated his distance from it; but there appears to be no reason to think that the master made any such mistake, or that when, after standing in some two miles nearer to the light he finally put the vessel on a S.W. 1/2 W. course, she was not then within about a mile of the light.

The fifth question which we are asked is, "What charts were on board? At whose cost were they provided? and whether they were sufficient for the safe navigation of the ship?" A list of the charts which the vessel had on board has been brought in, and shews that she had a very full and complete set to take her to almost any part of the world. They were, we are told, provided by the owners, and were certainly amply sufficient for the navigation of the ship on the voyage on which she was bound.

The sixth question which we are asked is, "Whether safe and proper courses were set and steered after passing Glas Island Light, and whether due and proper allowance was made for tides and currents?" The course, as we have seen, which was set from about a 1/4 after 10 p.m. when they were off Glas Island Lighthouse to 1 a.m., was S.W. 1/2 W., and from 1 a.m. until they struck S.W. 1/2 S. Now these courses, if made good, would, there can be no doubt, have taken the vessel on a safe course down the channel some five miles or so to the eastward of Ushinish Lighthouse; and the question is, how it was that she got some 7 miles to the westward of that course, and inside of Ushinish Lighthouse, when she struck. The master has told us, and his statement is confirmed by the sailing directions for the west coast of Scotland that the flood tide at this part sets to the N.E., and the ebb tide in the opposite direction, or nearly up and down the channel. He also told us that from Glas Island Lighthouse they had an hour and a half flood and an hour and a half ebb, which he supposed would about counteract one another; but whether they would or not, the tide being nearly up and down the channel would not account for her having got some seven miles to the westward of her course. We are also not disposed to think that the courses which the master and officers said that they had steered were not the courses steered by them as indicated by the standard compass. But if the standard compass had gone wrong, and instead of being, as they supposed it to be, magnetic, it had a deviation of a point to the west, that would be quite sufficient in a run of 35 miles, which is the distance between Glas Island Lighthouse and the place where she grounded, to account for her having got some 7 miles to the westward of her course. In our opinion the only way of accounting for this casualty is by supposing that the standard compass, by which the course was steered, and which was supposed to be magnetic, had gone wrong, so that when they were steering S.W. 1/2 W. and S.W. 1/2 S. by it, they were in fact steering about a point more to the westward.

The seventh question which we are asked is, "Whether proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel at midnight and about 1 a.m. on the 11th of October; and whether a safe and proper alteration was made about 1 a.m. in the course; and whether due and proper allowance was then made for tides and currents?" It appears to us that from the time of passing Glas Island Light no steps whatever were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel, and certainly none were taken either at midnight or at 1 a.m., although Ushinish Light had not been seen, and the master must have known that the safety of the vessel depended on his passing outside of that light. As regards the alteration of the course one point to the southward, which was made at 1 a.m., it was an alteration in the right direction, and the only mistake seems to have been that it was not altered more in that direction.

The eighth question which we are asked is, "Whether the log book was properly kept?" It was suggested by the learned advocate for the Board of Trade that the appearance of the log book seemed to show that the entries therein could not be implicitly relied on, and that the slate on which the entries were first made should have been kept and produced. But we do not think that there is anything in the appearance of the log book to impeach the accuracy of the entries therein; it seems to have been made up at about 8 o'clock on the night in question; and only the entries subsequent to that hour were made after they got on shore. The slate, too, is only used for writing down rough notes of the entries to be made in the log book; and when these entries have been made the rough notes on the slate are generally rubbed out; the fact, therefore, that they were not preserved is in our opinion no ground for not believing in the accuracy of the entries in the log book.

The ninth question which we are asked is, "Whether the master was on deck at the time when the safety of the vessel required his personal supervision?" The master, who had elected to take the northern course somewhat against the owners wishes, was bound in consequence to have exercised the greatest care in the navigation of his vessel. Let us see how he discharged that duty. It seems that the only orders given by the master to the chief officer were, that he was to alter the vessel's course to the S.W. when they were within a mile of Glas Island Lighthouse. The mate accordingly, who had it seems never before passed through this channel, being deceived by the brightness of the light, altered the course when they were yet some three or four miles from it; and it was only the accident of the master coming up on deck shortly afterwards that caused the mistake to be discovered. Thereupon we are told that she was steered directly for the light, and was kept on that course for about a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, after which she was laid upon a S.W. 1/2 W. course; and we have the evidence of the master that, had that alteration not been made, the vessel would in all probability have gone on the Skeir-i-noc Rock. Now it was well known to the master that perhaps the most dangerous part of the navigation was, when approaching the Glas Island Lighthouse, between which and the Skeir-i-noc Rock the channel is only about 2 1/2 miles wide. A slight alteration of the helm, a little carelessness in the steering, a slight error in the compass, an error in estimating the distance from the light, would be quite sufficient to put the vessel upon the rock; and yet all the orders that the master gives to the mate when he leaves the bridge is to alter the course to S.W. when he thinks that he is within a mile of the light, an order which nearly resulted in putting her on the Skeir-i-noc Rock. Seeing the narrowness of the channel between the Glas Island Lighthouse and the Skier-i-noc Rock, and the dangerous nature of the navigation, it was of the utmost importance that the master should have been on deck from the time the Glas Island Light came in view until they had passed it and she had been put upon a safe course; and it was a grave neglect of duty on his part to be below at the time, and to leave the navigation of the vessel to an officer who had never been there before, and who was ignorant of its dangers, and not to come up on deck until, according to his own statement, the vessel was heading directly for the Skeir-i-noc Rock.

Whether the master was on deck or not after passing the Glas Island Lighthouse, and when, it is not easy to say; the chief officer told us that he did not see him after that time, nor did the second officer when he came on deck at midnight to take charge; and, according to the master, he was down in the cabin playing at cards from about midnight until a little before 2 when the vessel struck, except for a short time at about 1 a.m., when the second mate sent for him. During all this time, namely, from midnight to the time when the vessel struck, the wind and sea was, we are told, increasing, and Ushinish Light, to the eastward of which it was essential to the safety of the ship that they should pass, had not been seen. Now it will be seen from the sailing directions, as well as from the Admiralty charts, that the Ushinish Light is only visible from seaward between the bearings N.N.E. going round by east to S.W. 1/2 S.; so that to a vessel approaching from the northward the light would not be visible if she had got so near to the shore as to be to the westward of a N.N.E. bearing from it. The fact, therefore, that the light was not visible may have been, and in this case no doubt was, due to the vessel having got to the westward of that bearing, whence the light could not be seen. This being so, it was of the utmost importance that the master, who alone of all his officers appears to have been acquainted with the navigation of these waters, should have been on deck, if not from midnight, at all events from 1 a.m., when he must have known that the light, if he was in his proper course, should have been visible. Here, then, are two occasions when the safety of the vessel required his personal supervision first, when he was nearing the narrow channel between the Glas Island Lighthouse and the Skeir-i-noc Rock; and, secondly, when he was summoned by the second mate to come on deck, and was informed that the Ushinish Light could not be seen, and that the weather had become worse.

The tenth question which we are asked is, "Whether the total neglect of the lead was justifiable?" in our opinion there was no justification whatever for this neglect of the lead. It seems that she had a patent lead on board, by which he could have ascertained the depth of water by slightly easing the speed of the vessel, but he never used it. In the sailing directions for the west coast of Scotland, Part I., page 146, it is said that "in navigating this part of the coast in foggy " weather" (and the same observation applies to weather when it is so dark and stormy that lights cannot be seen) "vessels should keep outside the 50 fathom " line, which in general will give an offing of half a " mile from the points." The line of soundings here referred to will be seen clearly laid down on the charts, and looking at the course which this vessel must have taken, it is clear that, for at least an hour or more before she struck, the vessel must have been within the fifty fathom line; so that if a cast of the lead had been taken at any time after 1 o'clock, when he was called up by the second mate, he would have seen that he was out of his course, and in imminent danger of going ashore. He talks with the second mate about the speed of the vessel, and although he has not seen the Ushinish Light, and is quite ignorant of his position, he keeps the telegraph pointing at "Full speed ahead;" and having merely altered the vessel's course one point to the southward, he returns to the cabin and continues his game at "Nap." If ever there was a case in which the neglect of the lead was utterly unjustifiable it is this.

The eleventh question which we are asked is, "Whether the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care." It is obvious she was not. Let us see what the facts of the case are. The master leaves Aberdeen with a new and admirably equipped vessel, worth, we are told, some five and forty thousand pounds, and elects to take the northern and more dangerous route, on which he will have to pass through some very narrow channels. He knew, as he has admitted, that the compasses of new vessels are very liable to go wrong soon after leaving harbour; and yet he takes little trouble to verify them, or to see that his deviation cards are correct. Again, when nearing Glas Island Light, between which and the Skeir-i-noc Rock there is a very narrow channel through which they would have to pass, he leaves the deck in charge of an officer who had never before been that route, giving him the loosest instructions for his guidance; and he only comes on deck after the vessel's head had been put directly for the rock, and, according to his own account, just in time to save her from going on to it. Having passed the light and put the vessel on her course, he then goes below, and so far as appears does not come up again until he is sent for by the officer in charge of the deck, and told by him that the weather had become very threatening, and that the Ushinish Light, which should have been seen by that time, is not visible. He remains on deck for about a quarter of an hour, and not seeing the light, he alters the course of the vessel one point more to the south, and then, without knowing at all where the vessel was, without taking any cast of the lead, and without reducing the speed of the vessel, and leaving the telegraph to the engine-room pointing to "full speed ahead," he returns to the cabin and resumes the game of cards which had been interrupted when he was called on deck, and he continues playing until the vessel strikes. A grosser case of neglect has seldom come before the Court; he has neglected almost every precaution which it is incumbent on a master to take when navigating a vessel in dangerous waters and on a dark and stormy night.

Under these circumstances we are asked, "Whether the master and officers are, or any of them is, in default?" And it is added that "in the opinion of the Board of Trade the certificates of the master, first mate, and second mate should be dealt with." So far as the first and second mates are concerned, we think that no blame attaches to them, for they only carried out the master's orders, and appear to have done their duty throughout. The whole blame for this unhappy casualty rests with the master, and with the master only. According to the master's own admission he was in the cabin playing at cards from midnight until the vessel struck, except for a short time at about 1 a.m., when he was called on deck by the second mate, who at any rate seems to have been alive to the danger in which the vessel then was. It is not pretended that the master was at the time fatigued with his previous watches, so that it was necessary for him to go and get some rest. Nothing of the kind; he was playing in the cabin at Nap when the safety of the vessel and the lives of those on board imperatively demanded his presence on deck, and we feel that we should not be doing our duty unless we marked our sense of his misconduct by a very severe punishment. He has lost a valuable vessel which was entrusted to his care, and for which he can make no compensation whatever to the owners; he has risked the lives of some 50 people by his neglect; and we think that we shall be passing a very lenient sentence upon him if we suspend his master's certificate for 12 months. At the same time we shall, as we have been requested to do so by his advocate, recommend that during the suspension of his master's certificate, he be allowed a first mate's certificate.

The Court will make no order as to costs.


H. C. ROTHERY, Wreck Commissioner.

We concur.




C. VAUX, R.N.R.,

L 367. 1343. 150.11/82. Wt. 171. E. & S.

Hall, Russell & Company, Limited
J & A Davidson, Aberdeen
length 320 5/6' x breadth 38 5/6' x depth 28 1/12'
Net tonnage 1661 ton
Gross tonnage 2577

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