View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 13 December 2010

Monday 13 December

Another quiet day on the weatherfront, after a cold night, with the mercury down to -3C. We have lost the mild weather of the weekend, with afternoon highs only just on 4C. And we'll be even lower before the weekend. Strong winds will blow in another cold spell by Thursday, with snow and freezings temperatures. It won't be very nice here, but the mainland will get worse.

I came across another bad weather event, going back 92 years. A Pacific storm raged along the west coast of Canada and the northwestern USA in October 1918, with winds up to 100 knots (110 mph), making it hurricane force. The hurricane kept going for a week, wrecking several ships. One of them was a Canadian naval vessel, the Galiano. She went down with all hands, after transmitting a final message: "Hold's full of water, for God's sake send help". Help could not come, and the 39 crew were lost. One of them originated from Leurbost, here in Lewis, hence my interest in the disaster.

Bad weather has brought about the demise of at least two communities in the Hebrides in the 20th century. I was following up a tribute to a man from Scarp, Donald Maclennan. He died of the Spanish flu in 1918 at the age of 43. His mother, Catherine, died in November 1896 after suffering a very serious accident. She suffered head injuries, which brought about her death after about 7 weeks. Her death was not certified by a medical practitioner. Scarp, lying just a mile offshore from the northwest coast of Harris, is singularly difficult to reach due to strong tidal currents in the channel separating it from Harris, particularly in bad weather. The community abandoned the island in 1971. Before then, it gained prominence for being the home to a mother of twins which were born in two different counties. One baby came into the world in Inverness-shire (the county that Scarp is in), the other in Ross-shire, the county for Stornoway (until 1974).
The other abandoned island? St Kilda. For 8 months of the year, it did not have a regular steamer service until it was evacuated in 1930.