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Eldorado

The Eilean Mor lighthouse keepers mystery

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Eldorado

The Flannan Isles, located in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, are a set of small and uninhabited rocky islands with a curious history. One of the islands, Eilean Mor, was the setting of a great historical mystery – the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers in 1900. To this day, a concrete explanation for the strange event remains elusive.

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Shortly after the one-year anniversary of the lighthouse’s completion, something changed on the quiet little island. Captain Holman of the steamer Archtor, who was passing by the area on route to Leith, Scotland, on December 15, noticed that the lighthouse’s lamp was not shining. He sent a wireless to the Cosmopolitan Line Steamers (CLS) headquarters to report the outage but, as Lighthouse Digest reports “CLS failed to notify the Northern Lighthouse Board because “other more pressing matters caused it to escape from memory.””

To make matters worse, Roderick MacKenzie, who was also responsible for checking on the light from the Isle of Lewis, did not even notice the light was out.

The situation became more perilous as only days before what should have been the end of the three men’s shift, bad weather came to the islands. This delayed the arrival of the fourth attendant who was going to replace one of the men on December 20, but could not make the trip until things cleared up on December 26.

Full article: https://www.ancient-origins.net/unexplained-phenomena/curious-disappearance-eilean-mor-lighthouse-keepers-scottish-mystery-004820

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oldrover

I love lighthouses. I'd even like bigfoot if he lived in a lighthouse. 

Speaking of lighthouses, I remember being taught about this Flannan Isle business at school. Loved it. 

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susieice

Oddly, I just re-read a book I have called World's Great Mysteries and there was a chapter about this. On December 15, 1900 an assistant keeper named Joseph Moore, who was on leave at Loch Roag, noticed the light was out. Delayed by bad weather, on December 26, a ship named the Hesperus under the command of a Captain Harvey, with Moore onboard, went to the lighthouse and what they found has remained a mystery. My book very much agrees with what El's article says.

In the hearth was a bed of cold ashes. The lamps were trimmed. The clock was stopped. The larder was full. Their beds were made and their clothes were neatly folded. They found the logbook. On December 12 & 13, they had recorded rough seas lashing the lighthouse. There was no entry for the 14th but chalked on a slate were the words: "December 15th. Storm ended. Sea calm. God is all over." That was the last heard from the 3 keepers and that night the light went out.

Rescuers could only find one set of oilskins. It was determined they belonged to Donald McArthur. The sets belonging to Thomas Marshall and James Ducat were gone. The island was searched and in a rock crevice on a cliff at 112 ft above sea level, workers had put a large wooden crate containing lashing gear and spare machine parts. It was gone. It was wondered if the waves had been high enough to wash the heavy crate out of it's crevice and if the keepers had been washed to sea. This theory didn't hold up. Eilean Mor's light had shone brightly during the storm, not going out until the 15th when seas were calm. The beacon was found trimmed and ready to light.

Another theory was that one of the men had gone mad and killed the others. No evidence of a struggle or weapons or remains were ever found. The axes and other equipment were found properly stored.

You would think if waves reached the crevice 112 ft up a cliff and washed away the heavy crate, it would have disturbed the lighthouse also, yet everything was found neat and intact. And what did their final message mean?

Scottish legend has the island inhabited by fairies and the spirits of drowned sailors inspiring a number of superstitions. Just saying.

Edited by susieice
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susieice

Now I'm intrigued again. These were experienced seamen accustomed to the conditions around the island. They found some strange circumstances when they landed at the lighthouse and searched the island. Why would someone hoax the logbook? This doesn't make sense. Were they covering up something they didn't report? 

The article says Captain Harvie thought the men didn't disappear until the 20th. That's 5 days from the last date the light came on. Did the men not use the lighthouse at all during that time that everything was found intact? What brought him to that conclusion other than that the clocks stopped then? 

Edited by susieice
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susieice

Found this article. My book didn't mention uneaten food or an overturned chair. Nor did it mention that the keepers had recorded being upset in the final days. McArthur was known to be a brawler. His was the only oilskin found inside the lighthouse. Did he have something to do with the disappearances and what happened to him if so? 

https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/The-Eilean-Mor-Lighthouse-Mystery/

Why were the keepers upset and how were they possibly washed away on a day when the sea was calm? 

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oldrover

With all cases like this, the only thing that might shed any light on it are the primary sources themselves. Without seeing everything there is to see it's difficult to know if any analysis is selective or elaborated. 

I'd really like to see a thorough critical examination of this incident.

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susieice

I would like to see a thorough investigation also. I found references to damage on the west side of the lighthouse but the logbook has entries after the first storm and ends before the second one. Why would someone hoax the logbook? That was in El's article but not in my book. What was the meaning of that last entry? Especially if the logbook records that the keepers were upset in the days before it was made.

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susieice

Found this article where it was determined the men were washed out to sea by an abnormally large wave. Yet the sea was calm on December 15th. And why did no one on the Scottish coast report abnormally high waves? It was only 20 miles away. 

https://www.sundaypost.com/news/scottish-news/has-mystery-of-flannan-isles-finally-been-solved/

I can't find any other reports of waves like that hitting the island although there were inhabitants until 1971 when the lighthouse was automated and the islands were visited by people making a pilgrimage to the chapel or hunters.

I found this, also mentioning December 20 as the possible day of disappearance, but why no log entries after the 15th?

https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/the-eerie-disappearance-of-the-eilean-mor-lighthouse-keepers-1-4080709

Edited by susieice
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oldrover

I've no way to say whether the entries at the link are legit or not, but they do seem to be. They would also seem to shed light on the matter. Two of the men were in their weather gear, or appear to be from the garment's absence. The third is less clear, from Moore's letter it seems as though he didn't own wet weather gear. Suggesting that something was up and the men were outside dealing with it. 

Crucially it details what was found on entering the lighthouse, all of which suggested normality until the afternoon of the 15th. Or at least it seems that the men who discovered the scene, and who were presumably familiar with the order of tasks carried out, and the time it would take to complete them, interpreted it as suggesting whatever happened did so after noon. The light being prepped for lighting, the dishes being squared away, and entries on the slate for that day, but which had not yet been transcribed into the log. Yet a ship passing by at approximately 0:00 on the 16th reported not seeing the light. 

The damaged rope locker, the contents of which were strewn about the rock face, and (apparently) corresponding damage to the iron railings of the walkway, was about 110' above sea level. Which seems very high for a wave, and that's putting it mildly, yet we know that the crane, which was 40' below this, and 70' above sea level had been destroyed by the sea the previous year. Although on this occasion its replacement was undamaged. But, we don't know whether it was directly below it, or what. But according to Moore, it was on the west side of the island, and there's not a great deal of anything between that and Newfoundland. 

https://www.nlb.org.uk/HistoricalInformation/FlannanIsles/Letter-from-Mr-Moore/

 

 

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oldrover

The details in Moore's account, and the points in the later 'interpretations are telling. It's said that only one of the men was wearing his oilskins, but Moore says only one of them owned oilskins. One man appears not to have owned much in the way of gear, but the third appears to have been wearing his alternate weather gear. So no inference should be made that only one man went out as if expecting weather.

Also, the bit about the uneaten meals appears to have first originated in Gibson's Flannan Isle, first published in 1912. Very much the same way as the details of the uneaten meals on the Mary Celeste, which only appeared first appeared in, I think, Conan Doyle story. 

Stories like these are inherently mysterious, and pretty romantic, they get elaborated anyway, but the fact is that many of the retellings are by people who are trading on the uncanny details of the stories, so they focus only on those. Or invent them.

Edited by oldrover
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susieice

Trying to think out why a large wave would hit this island and only this island. Even considered volcanic or seismic activity in Iceland which may not have been easily reported at the time of this event. How could waves large enough to take out a crate at over 100 ft up a cliff only happen on this island and nowhere else? There are seven islands altogether and the coast of Scotland was twenty miles away. Or at least, the Island of Lewis. The lighthouse was visible from the coast, yet no one else saw unusually high waves. That just sounds weird to me.

Here's another article that talks about the men being upset and recording it in the logbook on December 12 & 13. Why were they praying and why would McArthur be crying? Were they influenced by the superstitions about the island? The Island of Lewis reported things as calm on the 15th.

http://husheduphistory.com/post/157493944058/lights-out-the-enigma-at-eilean-mor

Edited by susieice
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susieice

The ship Archter going from Philadelphia to Leith reported the light out on December 15th. This message was passed on to the NLB on December 18th. This was before Captain Harvie's estimate of the December 20th disappearance date. The ship reported poor weather but nothing about unusually high waves.

From Wiki:

The first record that something was untoward on the Flannan Isles was on 15 December 1900 when the steamer Archtor, on a passage from Philadelphia to Leith, noted in its log that the light was not operational in poor weather conditions. When the ship docked in Leith on 18 December 1900, the sighting was passed onto the Northern Lighthouse Board.[9] The relief vessel, the lighthouse tender Hesperus, was unable to sail from Breasclete, Lewis as planned on 20 December due to adverse weather. It was not until noon on Boxing Day (26 December) that it reached the island.[7] The lighthouse was manned by three men: Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald MacArthur, with a rotating fourth man spending time on shore.

Edited by susieice
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susieice
4 hours ago, oldrover said:

The details in Moore's account, and the points in the later 'interpretations are telling. It's said that only one of the men was wearing his oilskins, but Moore says only one of them owned oilskins. One man appears not to have owned much in the way of gear, but the third appears to have been wearing his alternate weather gear. So no inference should be made that only one man went out as if expecting weather.

Also, the bit about the uneaten meals appears to have first originated in Gibson's Flannan Isle, first published in 1912. Very much the same way as the details of the uneaten meals on the Mary Celeste, which only appeared first appeared in, I think, Conan Doyle story. 

Stories like these are inherently mysterious, and pretty romantic, they get elaborated anyway, but the fact is that many of the retellings are by people who are trading on the uncanny details of the stories, so they focus only on those. Or invent them.

Here's the report from the NLB. It says the kitchen was found cleaned up with the pots and pans washed and put away. That's why they thought what happened was afternoon of December 15th. It also mentions the report from the Archtor.

https://www.nlb.org.uk/HistoricalInformation/FlannanIsles/Report-by-Superintendent/

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susieice

Found this link that talks about the Archtor. Captain Holman says he was within 6 miles of the lighthouse when he passed just after midnight on December 15-16. The storm had passed and there was still a heavy swell to the sea, but the sky was clear. This was based on Captain Holman's statement given December 29, 1900.

https://books.google.com/books?id=6kMTDQAAQBAJ&pg=PT10&lpg=PT10&dq=ss+archtor&source=bl&ots=6qEr4W-hGL&sig=zbL6Om0F9hl_3j3odSfp1y_J_xw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi9o4W6jY3fAhUkh-AKHcsMCUsQ6AEwB3oECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=ss archtor&f=false

The Archtor ran aground on Carphie Rock on December 17th 1900, two days later. Her registry was closed in 1912.

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C10188022

Edited by susieice
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oldrover
9 hours ago, susieice said:

Trying to think out why a large wave would hit this island and only this island. Even considered volcanic or seismic activity in Iceland which may not have been easily reported at the time of this event. How could waves large enough to take out a crate at over 100 ft up a cliff only happen on this island and nowhere else? There are seven islands altogether and the coast of Scotland was twenty miles away. Or at least, the Island of Lewis. The lighthouse was visible from the coast, yet no one else saw unusually high waves. That just sounds weird to me.

 A wave hitting 110 feet sounds over the top to me. But, that's a wave at sea, one that'd hit the rocks might be different. We know there are rouge waves which reach around 60, possibly a little more, at sea. Also that the crane 70 feet above sea level was destroyed by the sea in 1899. But the rope locker was a further 40 feet higher. But again it was damaged by the sea. Without an understanding of how these things work it's hard to say really. 

What I would add though, is that having always lived by the sea, when you see waves hit they rocks they rise and spray dramatically when its rough. If there was a rouge wave out there that day, it might have hit and broken covering the rocks much further up than its initial height at sea. It would only have been a matter of seconds, and even at around 60 feet, may not have been discernable while still at sea. 

Also as I understand it, rouge waves (as opposed to tidal waves etc) are individual, and are a phemonema of the open sea. So if one did form and hit the Flannan Isles, 20 miles west of Lewis, there fore presumably largely dissipating, it may have been unoticeable on the mainland. 

Edited by oldrover
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susieice

I still wonder about that logbook being tampered with also. Of course, it seems to have disappeared after the inquiry but the entries were said to be in Thomas Marshall's handwriting. Was he trying to record changes in the mental status of the men in the lighthouse the only way he could? Would love to know what the entries were from December 7th when Moore left the island until the last three starting on the 12th. And why were those entries never mentioned? McArthur was a big guy, an ex-soldier and a well known brawler. He could handle himself in a tough situation as I'm sitting here thinking about what a pub full of drunken sailors must have been like in 1900. He was just an occasional keeper who was relieving a man on sick leave but why would he cry? That's even scary!  Still everything was found in order and the men had been doing their jobs up until the 15th so I would think Marshall also kept up the logbook. I'm not so sure the log was hoaxed. 

Robert Muirhead from the NLB also said the damage to the western side of the lighthouse may have been done on December 20th when that storm hit and not the earlier one. The keepers left no record and no one else was there from the 7th until the 26th. Did they go out in an attempt to save the equipment and spare themselves a fine and get washed away? A later keeper in the 50's made a record about the waves that can hit the island. But it's agreed it's unusual for the keepers to leave the protection of the lighthouse in bad conditions although conditions were reported to be good on the 15th. And never all three. Why did McArthur go out? If he did so because something happened to the first two, it would require at least two enormous waves to take all three and I would also think at least one of the bodies would wash up unless they were carried well out to sea. Maybe even by the storm that came in on the 20th. Captain Holman reported the storm had ended but there were still heavy swells when he passed close to the island on the night of the 15th-16th.

Edited by susieice
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susieice

The official inquiry into this incident was filed in January 1901 as: Scottish National Archive file number NLC3/3/1. Can't bring anything up in their online catalog or digital catalog. There is also a Court Inquiry report #6137 published by the Board of Trade 2/8/1901. Wish I could open one of these!!

Edited by susieice
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susieice

Now rereading the link regarding Muirhead's report to the inquiry (post #13), I noticed this. Don't know why it didn't strike me then but apparently the light was not seen from December 8-12 when it was lit again. MacKenzie was worried then and even had natives looking for it. He said it wasn't entirely unusual for the light not to be seen but was concerned because of how long it wasn't. It was seen on the 12th but not again until the 26th when Moore lit it. Can't find anything about ships reporting it out during that time frame. Something strange was going on out there!

he Commissioners appointed Roderick MacKenzie, Gamekeeper, Uig, near Meavaig, to look out daily for signals that might be shown from the Rock, and to note each night whether the light was seen or not seen. As it was evident that the light had not been lit from the 15th to the 25th December, I resolved to see him on Sunday morning, to ascertain what he had to say on the subject. He was away from home, but I found his two sons, ages about 16 and 18 - two most intelligent lads of the gamekeeper class, and who actually performed the duty of looking out for signals - and had a conversation with them on the matter, and I also examined the Return Book. From the December Return, I saw that the Tower itself was not seen, even with the assistance of a powerful telescope, between the 7th and the 29th December. The light was, however, seen on 7th December, but was not seen on the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th. It was seen on the 12th, but not seen again until the 26th, the night on which it was lit by Moore. MacKenzie stated (and I have since verified this), that the lights sometimes cannot be seen for four of five consecutive nights, but he was beginning to be anxious at not seeing it for such a long period, and had, for two nights prior to its reappearance, been getting the assistance of the natives to see if it could be discerned. 

Edited by susieice
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oldrover

I'm intending to read through this carefully, but initially my thoughts are what are we talking about regarding hoaxing the log book? Is it that the entries are known to have been in the log and the question is whether they were doctored, or that the log has disappeared and it's claimed these entries were made? 

If it's the latter then unless there's mention if these entries in any surviving document I'd be very dubious. In fact if the claim can't be traced to an individual with an established connection, and by an authenticated document,  then I'd say they  have to be treated as bogus. 

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susieice

As far as I know, the entries were in the logbook when it was found at the lighthouse. The entry for December 15th was on a slate found there. Some say they are a hoax and others do not. From what I've read, the logbook itself was never returned by the Inquiry. I don't know why the lightkeepers would stop keeping the log as they were doing all their other chores. I would love to be able to read what was written from the time Moore left on the 7th until the log was found on the 26th.

Edited by susieice

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susieice

Again from Muirhead's report to the Inquiry: (post #13)

The men left on the Island made a thorough search, in the first place, of the Station and found that the last entry on the slate had been made by Mr Ducat, the Principal Keeper on the morning of Saturday, 15 December. The lamp was crimmed, the oil fountains and canteens were filled up and the lens and machinery cleaned, which proved that the work of the 15th had been completed. The pots and pans had been cleaned and the kitchen tidied up, which showed that the man who had been acting as cook had completed his work, which goes to prove that the men disappeared on the afternoon which was received (after news of the disaster had been published) that Captain Holman had passed the Flannan Islands in the steamer ARCHTOR at midnight on the 15th ulto, and could not observe the light, he felt satisfied that he should have seen it. 

When Moore and Harvie searched the station, they found the slate with the last message from Saturday, 15 December. Was that the message that had been reported? Muirhead said it was written by Mr. Ducat. The logbook was supposedly in the handwriting of Thomas Marshall. Was Ducat upset by what Marshall wrote? Or did he write it on the slate for Marshall to transcribe it to the logbook?

From the link in post #5:

Muirhead immediately noticed that the last few days of entries were unusual. On the 12th December, Thomas Marshall, the second assistant, wrote of ‘severe winds the likes of which I have never seen before in twenty years’. He also noticed that James Ducat, the Principal Keeper, had been ‘very quiet’ and that the third assistant, William McArthur, had been crying.

What is strange about the final remark was that William McArthur was a seasoned mariner, and was known on the Scottish mainland as a tough brawler. Why would he be crying about a storm?

Log entries on the 13th December stated that the storm was still raging, and that all three men had been praying. But why would three experienced lighthouse keepers, safely situated on a brand new lighthouse that was 150 feet above sea level, be praying for a storm to stop? They should have been perfectly safe.

Even more peculiar is that there were no reported storms in the area on the 12th, 13th and 14th of December. In fact, the weather was calm, and the storms that were to batter the island didn’t hit until December 17th.

Captain Holman said he sailed through a storm that ended on December 15th and that it had been bad.??? What do they mean that no storms were reported in the area from the 12th to the 14th? What was going on out there? 

The NLB site also says the last entries made by the keepers were on December 15th.

https://www.nlb.org.uk/HistoricalInformation/FlannanIsles/Main/

The more I read, the more confusing the story becomes and the more intrigued I am.

 

Edited by susieice

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susieice

Posting this here so as not to lose the page. It's the closest I've come to the Scottish record. Eilean Mor appears to be #40 on the list. It may have to be requested to be viewed.

https://webarchive.nrscotland.gov.uk/20170203095300/http://catalogue.nrscotland.gov.uk/nrsonlinecatalogue/details.aspx?reference=NLC3%2f1%2f1&st=1&tc=y&tl=n&tn=n&tp=n&k=&ko=a&r=nlc3&ro=s&df=&dt=&di=y

My computer isn't equipped to send what they are requesting to release the record. It sounds as if you may have to go there in person to view the record. It may not be available online.

https://webarchive.nrscotland.gov.uk/20170203103417/http://catalogue.nrscotland.gov.uk/nrsonlinecatalogue/advanceOrder.aspx?reference=NLC3%2f1%2f1&st=1&tc=y&tl=n&tn=n&tp=n&k=&ko=a&r=nlc3&ro=s&df=&dt=&di=y

Edited by susieice

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