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The Guga Hunt of 1912 - I
The Guga Hunt of 1912 - I
The guga hunters who set out from Ness in 1912 had failed to return, and a search party, landing on the wrong island, reported them missing and presumed lost. The Highland News of 12 September 1912 reported the following:
The district of Ness - unfortunately no stranger to fishing boat disasters with serious loss of life - is once more under the black cloud of a great calamity. The present is the bitterest affliction the community has suffered since the 'big drowning' of thirty years ago. Today, no less than sixty-two orphans and ten widows, besides numerous friends, mourn together in heartbroken anguish as they scan the sea in hopeless quest, or crouch beside their peat fires in their darkened homes in pathetic little groups, waiting in painful suspense for any tidings of their lost one, who will evidently never more return.
It is just over three weeks since the open skiff containing the missing men left the Port of Ness in beautiful sunshine to go for the annual haul of young Solan Geese to Suilis Sgeir, a rocky islet in the vicinity of North Rona, which is about thirty-eight miles north-east of Ness. But the next day turned out so stormy that it was manifest no open boat could live at sea, and the only hope for the safety of the crew was that they had landed at Suilis Sgeir before the storm burst out in all its fury.
The boat was manned by ten of the ablest men of Ness - five of them skippers of boats - but it was heavily laden with provisions, fuel and other requisites, and it only cleared the horizon late in the evening so it was feared they could not effect a landing before the storm was at its height. This was the 13th of August, one of the stormiest days experienced in Lewis this season. The weather, however, improved in a day or two, and hope revived, but some of the old fishermen shook their heads and maintained ominous silence. Was there not a wild deer seen at Ness this summer?
And a wild deer is ever a sure sign of drowning. Then Suilis Sgeir and Rona were famous for tragedies. What weird and sad tales these lonely isles of the North Atlantic could tell of calamities which were enacted upon and about them in the last three hundred years. Who would tell but they had witnessed another one. Did the men find it impossible to land, then turn back and after untold struggling against wind and sea, were they finally engulfed in the raging billows and carried to a watery grave far removed from any succour in their last sad hour?
Nearly three weeks passed by without any tidings, then suspense became unbearable, and ex-Provost Anderson, Stornoway, as county councillor for Ness, was approached with the request that a steamboat be dispatched to Suilis Sgeir to investigate. In accordance with this request, HMS Phoenix of the torpedo flotilla, now stationed at Stornoway went to the isle on Friday last and returned the same evening to report that examination of the rock resulted in no sign of anyone being there. This sad intelligence ex-Provost Anderson communicated by wire and letter to Ness Saturday morning, and the scenes witnessed on receipt of the news will live forever in the memory of those who went through them, and for harrowing detail they assuredly baffled description. Bereaved wives and mothers wept in mortal anguish until they could weep no more; strong men bowed themselves and suffered and little children and young people wailed in plaintive accents for the dead who return no more.
A number of the afflicted families are in destitute circumstances, and it is earnestly hoped that a public subscription may be started to ameliorate their helpless condition. The names of the missing men with their townships are as follows:- Norman Campbell, Eorodale, (leaves a widow and family of four); Donald MacLeod (Norman), Swainbost (widow and family of seven); Murdo MacRitchie (Angus), Swainbost (widow and family of six); John Morrison (Jockan), Habost (widow and family of four); Donald Morrison (John), Habost (widow and family of six); Donald Campbell (Murdo), Eorodale, brother to the first named, and skipper of the boat (widow and family of ten); John MacLean (Angus), Knockaird (widow and family of seven); Murdo Gunn (Alex), Knockaird (widow and family of seven); Donald MacKenzie (Angus), Eoropie (widow and family of seven).
But the men returned; see Part II.