Saturday, 19 November 2011

Fisherman's Blues

Fishing boat Keith Hall ashore at Birsay, 27 November 1921
Photographed by Tom Kent

The fishing boat Keith Hall had an eventful life before finally running aground at Birsay. Originally a German registered vessel named Darmstadt, she was captured during the First World War, taken into the Royal Navy, renamed Carbosin and fitted with a gun. She served with the Navy until October 1920, when she was sold to her new owners in Aberdeen and registered as a line fishing boat.

On 19 November 1921 the ten man crew of the Keith Hall had just completed a successful fishing trip to the seas around the Faroe Islands and were heading for home a little after seven in the evening. They were making good time until they ran into a bank of fog. Blinded by the dense fog, they were pulled off course by a strong tide and, as a result, ran aground on the north coast of Birsay at about half past five in the evening of Sunday 20 November.

A telegram was sent to Stromness asking for the urgent assistance of the lifeboat and the rocket brigade. As it was Sunday and Stromness being a hotbed of religious fervour both crews were attending a service in Stromness Parish Church when they received the summons for help. Much excitement ensued in the town, as the lifeboat men rushed off to the boat, still dressed in their Sunday best, and the rocket brigade crew hurried off to find motor transport to take themselves and their equipment to Birsay.

The rocket brigade won the race and were first to arrive at the scene, where they discovered the Keith Hall aground at the entrance to Skipi Geo. On investigation they found that the crew had already abandoned the fishing boat to its fate and were still at sea in a small boat. The lifeboat arrived and, looking around, detected a dim light out to sea. This turned out to be the missing crew, who were keeping well away from the shore.
Sadly one crew member drowned.

There was something of a tradition in the islands that wrecks were considered fair game for scavengers. And so it was with the Keith Hall. This resulted in a group of young men finding themselves in front of the sheriff in February 1922, charged with removing “various articles” from the wreck. The court heard that on the night in question, the same night as the above photograph was taken, a huge crowd descended on the Birsay shore from the surrounding districts. “Great numbers” went aboard the wreck and souvenirs were removed in large quantities. It was claimed by the defending solicitor that no malice was intended and that “use and wont” was the prevailing custom. The young men had, in fact, returned all the items that they had removed.

Unfortunately, for the men, the sheriff was not swayed by this argument. One was fined £30-10s with the option of spending eighteen days in prison, while all the rest were fined £3 or fifteen days imprisonment. All the fines were paid.

1 comment:

  1. Nice topic and post You have done a wonderful job communicating your message. Keep up the good work.


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