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Overloaded boat runs into trouble on the way to Church

Year 1860

Read by Reverend Johnathan Osborne – Supporter, Royal Humane Society

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On Sunday, the 19th inst., twelve individuals — six males and as many females — left Achnagart and Relong, in the parish of Kincardine, Ross-shire, with the intention of going to the Free Church in the parish of Criech, Sutherlandshire. These two parishes are separated by the Dornoch Firth and the river Oykill. The party, instead of taking the ferry, took a salmon fishing-boat, or coble, which might comfortably carry seven or eight persons only ; and though the wind was high, the firth rather stormy, the boat overloaded, and the sail too large, ever3rthing went on well till they were about one mile and a quarter from Bonar Bridge. There it was considered expedient to take down the sail, and while so doing the boat took in some water, which so alarmed some of the females as to cause them to spring to the opposite side of the boat. She immediately filled, capsized, and appears to have more than once turned upside down in a part of the firth which at the time was from twelve to fourteen feet deep, and is considered 300 or 400 yards from the shore. All were thrown into the water. Only two could swim. These were Donald Urquhart, a sailor, and Alexander Ross.

The former had his father and sister with him; the latter had his wife, a son, and daughter. On looking about him, Alexander Ross’s attention was attracted to his daughter struggling in the waves. He seized hold and attempted to save her, but, after an earnest effort, he felt that he was in the utmost peril of losing his own life without any prospect of saving that of his daughter — a girl of sixteen years of age. He was most reluctantly forced to let her go, on which he succeeded in swimming about twenty yards, when he found that he could stand, though the water reached to his neck.

Donald Urquhart, observing Ross’s daughter sinking head foremost, swam directly to the spot, got hold of her, and swam with her to her father, who could keep the girl’s head above water. With a moment’s delay, Urquhart swam back, in the face of a strong wind and rapid current, to the others, who were helplessly struggling for life. Observing a female in the act of being submerged, he made for the spot where she disappeared, dived after her to the bottom (twelve feet), succeeded in bringing her to the surface and swimming with her to her husband — for she happened to be Ross’s wife. Urquhart, with all possible expedition, for the third time swam bravely to the scene of the disastrous calamity, dived, as on the previous occasion, and now brought two females from the bottom. With these he emerged quite close to the boat, which was rolling in the waves, and to which he found another female clinging, but in imminent danger of sinking into the surging water. She managed to get hold of his clothes, as did her sister — one of the two rescued and brought from the bottom. The other was his own sister, who was in a state of utter unconsciousness. The noble fellow has no distinct recollection of the manner in which he now conducted himself, but he struggled desperately to bring the three with him to Alexander Ross. With his unconscious sister in one hand, and the two sisters (Ann and Bella Ross) clinging to his clothes, Urquhart made the most determined and energetic struggles with the one free hand to carry these to where the other rescued ones were in the water. Without any human aid he succeeded, although he was much exhausted and quite bewildered Five were still in the bottom of the firth — amongst them his own father ; but the brave fellow could do no more, and his helpless sister demanded all his attention. Hitherto none of the multitude of spectators who had witnessed the catastrophe at various distances were able to render any assistance ; but when they were able their services were of little avail None of the five who sank to the bottom were rescued alive.

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