The Falcon 1867

As the Taymouth Castle was sinking to her final resting place beneath the cliffs of Torr, it would soon become apparent that this wouldn’t be the last of the bad news hitting the broadsheets in the days after the storm.

Across the water two young Campbell brothers that were living on the Kildalton estate on Islay were looking out to sea and surveying the damage done by the storm the night before. On the horizon they would see a boat being violently thrown about by the breakers and the strong winds. The lads rushed to the shoreline and boarded a small craft and headed into the water, pulling up alongside a lifeboat. Inside were three bedraggled men that had just survived nearly 30 miles of open water in one of the most savage storms of the decade. Those men were Captain Hudson, the second mate Hugh O’Donnell and the winchman, James Urie. They were the only ones to have survived the sinking of the Falcon.

Throughout the 1800’s, Denny’s was the most important of all the Scottish Shipyards. The Denny Family had been involved in shipbuilding in Scotland from the early 1800’s and William Denny Sr would be the first man to build a steamship that would cross the English Channel. But it would be under the guidance of the son William Denny that the company would really grow in strength. After the death of his father, William would set up a partnership with his remaining brothers. William would actually serve his time in the Belfast and would be the chief’s draughtman in the yard of Coat and Young.

 A draughtsman is someone who makes detailed technical drawings or plans for machinery, buildings etc. After Belfast he would return to Scotland for a period working and honing his craft before later coming into the family business. After the death of William, the brothers would soon fall apart and the company would be left in the very capable hands of Peter Denny who would continue to expand the business and indeed in 1867, they would open a new yard in Govan. They would also have major capital invested in ships that were built to run for the confederate army in the American Civil War. The Denny ship builders were innovative and would contribute a number of “firsts” to the world. Over 1500 ships were built by the Denny’s between 1844 and the final ship leaving the yard in February 1963.

The Falcon would be one of these ships, launching on Friday, 6th April 1860. Her compound steam engine was constructed by Tulloch & Denny and produced around 100hp. Built as a cargo passenger steamship to the order of MacConnell & Laird, Glasgow, she weighed in at 389 grt and 264 nrt. Her dimensions were 174.4’ x 24.1’ x 13.35’. The Falcon was built to run the route from Glasgow to Derry with a stop in Portrush. After An Ghorta Mhor, (The Great Hunger) emigration would become a major part of the Irish culture, indeed It always was, but the hunger would increase this exponentially. Donegal, oft named ‘the forgotten county’ and the hinterland of Derry would be one of the most effected countries by emigration. Before An Ghorta Mhor, the Donegal population stood at 296,000 people but within a few years had decreased by 41,000[kmg1] . Not all of this was emigration though! The Derry ports and indeed Moville would host major emigration from this corner of the Island. Scotland would be a major beneficiary of Irish emigration and in the 1840’s there was twenty steamers running the routes between Glasgow, Ardrossan and Stranraer and Derry, Sligo, Belfast Newry, Dundalk and indeed the capital Dublin. In 1851, around seven per cent of the population of Scotland were Irish born, equating to 207,367 persons. Many of these immigrants would get the “Derry Boat”

The Falcon would be a troubled ship and the captain aboard her although coming with a strong reputation, seemed to have constant difficulty with her. The Captain of the Falcon was known as Richard Hudson and while some newspapers of the time reported him in a favourable light there was also quite a bit of controversy around Captain Hudson. He was experienced in the sailing of steam vessels. He would have been the captain of the Mary Jane for several years, a ship that ran between Glasgow and Stornoway. He would then move on to the screw steamer the Islesman before taking the helm of the Falcon. Both the Islesman and the Mary Jane ran between Scotland and the Western Isles.

In August 1864, the Falcon is reported to have been in a collision with another ship known as the Eagle at Greenock Quay. No major damage was reported but one lady had died on the ship due to shock. I think that this reporting might be confused with another steam passenger ship however, I could be wrong.

Steamers on Lough Foyle/Welch Collection.

The Foyle Collision What can be in no dispute is that over one year later she was in another collision in Lough Foyle where it was reported that there were twenty lives lost.  In the aftermath of the Foyle Collision a board of trade inquiry would result in a three-month suspension of Captain Hudson’s certificate and that of his mate Mr O’Donnell for two years. The two ships that collided that day were the Garland and the Falcon. That Saturday evening the 16th September 1865, the Garland, a ship belonging to the Derry and Glasgow Steam Packet Company with a cargo of livestock, cattle and about fifty passengers had set off for Glasgow. As she reached Quigley’s point another steamship came into view coming down the lough. It was that of the Falcon who had been making the return journey with Irish reapers or better known here as the tattie hoakers. The tattie hoakers job was to gather up the potatoes from the muddy ground, put them in baskets and bring them to where they were sorted and cleaned. Most of the tattie hoakers would come from the West of Ireland. It was reported that a smaller ship cut across the lough making the ships change course where it soon became apparent that both ships were headed for a collision. As the ships got closer to each other, both Captain Hudson and Captain Fennick of the Garland put the engines into reverse but it was too late. The Garland hit the Falcon on the bow. The bow was damaged down to the water line and the bow on the Garland was damaged and her bulwark was carried away. As the two boats separated again, the damage became apparent and there were already numerous people in the water. Most people thought the boat was for sinking and immediately lifeboats were boarded. One lifeboat, as it was being lowered only managed to cut the ropes on one side and the boat tipped. It is thought that this is where the majority of the lives were lost. Captain Hudson then decided to beach the ship on the shore of Lough Foyle. The Garland was in sufficient shape that she was fit to head back into Derry after picking up and rescuing some of the survivors. Another tug that was in the area was also fit to lift people from the water, but it is thought that there were over twenty lives lost in the collision that day. Two of the bodies that were recovered were those from the Falcon, one being John Mc Daid from outside Buncrana. It later transpired that Captain Hudson was at his dinner and the ship was under the command of the first mate. Captain Richard Hudson’s licence was revoked for three months, and first mate O’Donnell certificate was suspended for two years.

The Journey ends

On Friday the 4th January 1867, James Urie, the winchman would have the Falcon loaded and ready to sail, sitting that morning on the river. Her normal departure time was midday on a Friday, making a stop in Portrush. There was a heavy fog settled on the river that Friday, perhaps a sign of what was to come, which resulted in the departure being delayed to the Saturday. The Falcon would make its way down the river and dock again at midday in Greenock where she would take on a load of sugar and some passengers. The shipping company would testify that approximately sixteen passengers would have tickets at Greenock, but the company admits that it was probable that more people jumped onboard.

By 10.10am that afternoon she would pass the Cloch. The Cloch is a lighthouse that sits in the Firth of Clyde, the mouth of the river Clyde. By 4.15pm, the ship was making its way past Pladda. Pladda Island is a small uninhabited island that lies just below Aran Island at the exit of the Firth of Clyde. As the Falcon left the Firth of Clyde, it would pass this Island. Coincidentally, part of Bonamargy Friary and the Castle that Ballycastle took its name from would be built by Randal Mac Donnell. Randal would have the moniker Randal Arranach having spent his youth on Aran Island under a peace keeping scheme known as “fosterage”.

As the Falcon passed Pladda that afternoon, the wind was starting to gain strength and by 6pm that evening the ship was heading past the Mull of Kintyre. It was later noted that the flood tide was running, the wind was blowing a gale in the Southeast direction and that it had started to snow.

The ship would continue on and by the time it was sailing into open water and leaving the shelter of land, the ship was headed into a major storm. As the conditions were starting to progressively get worse, the ship was losing visibility and could not make direction. The ship reportedly sailed Northwest with the hope of sighting Rathlin’s light and travelled this direction for over an hour and should have sighted Rathlin Island by this stage but no sign. The snow was coming down so heavy that the ship got lost in the Channel and after consulting with the crew of the ship, Captain Hudson decided to head for the Mull of Kintyre and try to take some shelter close to land.

At 2.00am that morning the ship struck rocks on the side of the Mull of Kintyre.  She had stranded on an area of rocks named Rubha á Mharaiche, that would lie north of the Mull lighthouse. The only testimonies that we have that night are of the three surviving members of the crew and the testimonies are all very similar. Captain Hudson immediately on striking the rocks, ordered the engines to be put in to reverse, the thinking was that he could put in her into a nearby creek (in the dark of 2am, visibility was surely impossible). The vessel did not move and they turned the engine off. As the engineer came on deck, a large wave dislodged the ship and started to bring her out to sea. It was then that the extent of the damage was done. Immediately the order was given to drop the lifeboats. Four boats were partially lowered into the water with the one on the starboard side sinking almost immediately. It would however be the starboard boat that would only survive with three passengers. The survivors reported that as the starboard boat was lowered, she filled with water twice. It would be O’Donnell who entered the boat first reportedly in order to bail the water out. He shouted to passengers to get into the boat but on seeing it half filled with water and bashing against the side of the ship they refused to get in. Urie would be the next to get into the boat and also started to bail her out with a bucket straight away. Captain Hudson was still on the bridge but O’Donnell seeing the ship starting to sink shouted at him to get in. After lowering himself down, O’Donnell shouted to those on board to let go of the painter (the painter is the rope that ties the safety boats to the ship). On no one complying to this he cut the rope himself with a knife. In later dispositions, the survivors would recall that one voice in the water that stood out was that of James Cuthbert but unfortunately no sight of him could be found.

Picture courtesy of

It would be nearly twelve hours in the midst of one of the strongest storms to hit and in strong oceans before the three survivors would see dry land again.

The exact details and numbers on the ship as she went down that evening will never be truly known, but from various sources, namely newspaper articles of that period I have been able to collect a number of names and details about the crew and passengers.

Crew members

Captain Hudson.

First Mate, John Mc Ewan, who was from Islay but living in Glasgow left behind a wife and two children.

Quartermaster, George Anderson, who was married and left behind a family.

First Engineer, Gilbert Barr, left behind a wife and family in Glasgow.

Second Engineer, Alex Lindsay who was married but no other details available.

Seaman James Cuthbert was an Ayr man, but his family were also living in Glasgow, married with children.

Neil Doherty who was from Derry and left a family and widow.

William Patterson also from Derry left a widow and family.

John Turner left a family behind in Glasgow.

Patrick Kelly who was in charge of the cargo. Patrick was a Portrush man he was married and would leave a family behind. At the close of the 1800’s there was a boat building firm operating in Portrush under the ownership of James Kelly. If this is the same line of Kelly’s, I do not know.

Isaiah Johnson was of African birth, and he would be the ship cook, he was married but had no children.

Donkey Fireman, Gavan Brown,

Afterward Winchman, Archibald Johnson.

Firemen, Thomas Slavin, Robert Hosie, Daniel Mc Laughlin, Neil Mc Kellar and James Stewart.

Boy Peter Robinson

The two stewardesses on the ship were two sisters Mrs Montgomery and Mrs Mc Lean. Mrs Montgomery was married and would leave her husband and two children. Mrs Mc Lean was also living in Glasgow and had one grown up son. But more about the ladies later on.

 There was no surviving passenger list on that fateful morning, but we can through the broadsheets name some of the passengers. It has been widely reported (from Captain Hudson’s testimony) that there were approximately forty-three passengers aboard the ship that morning. These would include Mr Mc Farland, the owner of the Neptune Hotel in Derry. Thomas Miller, a farmer from Culcrum, John Arthur, a millwright from Culcrum and his eldest daughter, Margaret Jane Arthur. Mrs Usher, from Killure in Coleraine and her eldest son, Daniel Usher. Robert Thompson, James D Stewart, Robert H Stewart, and Sarah Stewart, a family of brothers and sisters. Mrs Rebecca Mc Laren, Robert Johnson from Killeague, Coleraine and a young partner. A special note that went out after the sinking was that the blind fiddler, Dominick Boyle, a musician who played on the passenger steamers. He would be especially associated with the ship VIVID. I have tried to find out more information on Dominick Boyle but as of, yet none has become known.

Another fella who was aboard the ship that night was John Clemings from Coleraine, he was only 18 years old in 1867. That Christmas and New Year he was over in Greenock with his brother-in-law and sister. His mother and father were small tenant farmers in Coleraine. He would be another fatality on the ship. Mac Connell and Laird would mention that there were eleven passengers that went on in Glasgow and there was five at Greenock.

The Stewardesses

The two females on the boat were sisters who would have been back and forth regularly with the ship as it plied its trade between Derry and Glasgow. The two women were so well recognised that before the official identification of the bodies, locals recognised them first. It was a sad, yet poignant fact that that two women were bonded in death as in life and their two bodies would wash up on the same day along the Ballycastle coastline. Port Cairn in Ballycastle lies below the steep cliffs of the Mc Gildowney Estate of Clare Park. John Mc Gildowney would have been the head of the family at this time and the staff would have reported the find that the body of a young woman was found at the side of the shore. It would later be established that this was the body of Mrs Mc Clean. She was approximately forty-five years old and was an attractive, well-kept woman. Her washed up body was reported to be in good condition, and she was fully dressed, wearing a life jacket but her boots missing. Her uniform consisted of a dark grey dress, a dark cloth jacket trimmed with a dark braid and dark glass buttons. Her stockings were again dark grey with a red knit garter on them and on the white of the stockings was the letter “K”

On her body was three white handkerchiefs, one of which was inscribed Thompson. Mrs Mc Clean had dark and greying hair and her ears pierced, one of her earrings was missing and then on her left hand was a gold ring. The finding of the body was reported to the local RIC, Ballycastle Constabulary which at this time was under a Tyrone man, William Mc Mullin. William was married to a local woman, Margaret Mc Henry, the daughter of pub owner, Robert Mc Henry and living on Anne Street. The Mc Henry public house was located where the Central Bar now stands. The body of Mrs Montgomery was moved from the shoreline to the mortuary that was part of the Ballycastle Workhouse. Constable Mc Mullan would shortly be called into action once again, not far away from where the first body was found, another body was found washed up, also that of a woman. Mc Mullan, sub-constable Fenning and the Clerk of the Petty sessions Mr A Mc Alister would make haste to the second body. Mr Mc Alister would own a hardware shop on Castle Street, Ballycastle. The family grave is in Old Ramoan Graveyard. On arrival at the scene, it was noted that the lady was also wearing a lifejacket. She had two gold rings and significantly she had a watch on her body. This watch was stopped at 4.40am. The people present that morning were in no doubt that the two women were sisters. The second body was that of Mrs Montgomery. The woman had been in the water for nearly two weeks. Shortly after, the only son of Mrs Mc Clean would arrive in Ballycastle from Glasgow. He had taken the SS Irishman from Glasgow to Portrush and then made the journey to Ballycastle. He would confirm that the two bodies were those of his aunt and his mother and give further particulars. His mother had worked on the Falcon or the last five or six years and his aunt worked on the boat for two. Both women were widows and he was an only child. His aunt had left two young daughters. The woman were forty years old and forty-two years old respectively. After the inquiry had taken place, it was decided that the women would get a Christian burial and Archy Coyles, a local man offered the use of his family plot in Bonamargy. The Coyles Family plot sits to the left of the gatehouse to Bonamargy.

The Coleraine Hoax

The sinking of the Falcon was headline news and if we were to take this into contemporary times it would be the equivalent of the Larne to Stranraer Ferry sinking. Some of the older readers of this article might even recall the sinking of the Princess Victoria in January 1953. One other similarity between the two ships was that they were both built by the same shipyard. Shortly after the sinking of the Falcon, reports would appear in the media that there were sixteen persons who survived the sinking. A Greenock journalist reported that a Greenock Bootmaker by the name of Mr Patrick had been writing to a Coleraine Bootmaker, Mr William A Kain of Captain Street about the tragedy. Kain mentioned that at the Coleraine Train station one morning there was a young girl who had survived the sinking of the Falcon. She said she was from Glasgow and that her and her cousin were on a visit to Portrush and that the Falcon had been in a collision with a foreign vessel before beaching at Fairhead. She thought there was 30 passengers on board and about 16 survived. She told the audience that a sailor had saved him and her by tying them to a piece of floating wood and that they were nearly frozen to death before they got to a house. Immediately this was pulled into question and the Scottish newspaper telegrammed Belfast asking about survivors. It seemed highly unlikely that there were any survivors other than the three aforementioned. Could this girl have heard about the sinking of the Taymouth Castle on the same night further past Fairhead? It would be an even bigger story if she was to have survived that.

It is unknown how many lives were lost that night between Rathlin and Scotland. Official reports suggest anywhere between 45 to 60 lives and it was incredibly fortunate that those three survivors would reach the safety of Islay in a small boat with one oar across a ferocious part of the ocean in a fierce storm. They would spend a few days on Islay before they were shipped across to the mainland and the depositions on the shipwreck could begin. It was said that the Falcon was valued at £10,000. £10,000 in 1847 is worth approximately £1,153,077.96 today.

In 2012, the wreck was confirmed to be lying in 40 metres of water and both the ship’s bell and makers plate was found.

Picture courtesy of

I have learned a lot over the course of the research on the Falcon and the one on the Taymouth Castle that fateful night in January 1867. On a clear day standing on the cliffs of Fairhead or on the lower end of Rathlin we have an outstanding view across the channel and over to the Mull of Kintyre.

The bodies of those who perished, many never recovered and many unnamed would never be found. Some would however wash up across this coastline and become permanent residents in the graveyards of Layde and Bonamargy.

Another lesson learned was really how treacherous the trip was between Glasgow and Derry. I have researched and written about only two ships but there have been a number of ships who have sunk on this route between the two islands. The Falcon’s predecessor, the SS Eagle would sink on this route on the 28th November 1859 after a collision and would go down with the loss of 40 lives.

The Loss of the Falcon.

You are feeling hearts of each degree

List to an awful tragedy

In a dreadful storm on the Argyll Coast

A Glasgow steamer has been lost

In the month of January, this present year

The Falcon for Londonderry did steer

With a crew of twenty-three all told

And forty passengers, young and old

Fathers and mothers with joy and glee

Were going home to their family

With hearts so light, we understand

Returning, where to their native land

To the mouth of the Clyde, as you may read

The steamer Falcon did proceed

But a storm came on, and the captain he

Tried to hug the land for the ship’s safety

The vessel struggled with the angry wave

While Captain Hudson tried the ship to save

And kept under the land with his living freight

Hoping the storm would soon abate

The wind and the waves with their angry roar

Drove the steamer Falcon towards the shore

And with great violence she was toss’d

Upon a rock on the Argyle Coast

Men, woman, and children in great despair

Fell on their knees and joined in prayer

While some half frantic, jumped into the wave

And soon, alas: met a watery grave

Fathers, mothers, and children dear

Clung to each other in hope and fear

And calling upon the Lord to save

From being swallowed up by the angry wave

The captain then he did command

The ship to be backed upon the land

But alas, no human power could save

And all sunk in a watery grave

Friends and relations, both high and low

The country round where’er you go

In grief and anguish, they do lament

The loss of their friends by this sad event

Reference; Bodleian library, Edition Bod8514

Ballad- roud number V7316

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