Sailor’s Grave Centenary (1917-2017) – Angus Martin

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Inneans Bay, South West Kintyre, 2009. Photograph by Paul Barham ©

Exactly 20 persons, including myself and my wife Judy, were in the Inneans Bay on Saturday 6 May for a centenary memorial ceremony at the Sailor’s Grave. I had chosen that date mainly because it was a Saturday, and more people, especially those in work, would be able to come, but I later realised that it was the precise date of the body’s discovery: 6 May 1917, a Sunday.

The date on the succession of crosses erected in the bay has always been 16 May 1917, but a police report, which turned up in 1985, established that the skeletal torso was found on the shore on 6 May and buried on 12 May.

The finder was Duncan Sinclair, a young shepherd at Largiebaan and later head shepherd at Ballygroggan, and his witness statement was included with the report. This conclusively resolved the contentious issue of who had found the remains – see my Kintyre: The Hidden Past, pp. 144-45, published in 1984, the year before the police report emerged. According to Duncan, in a statement dictated to his daughter Mary, in September 1981, the burial party consisted of Machrihanish lobster-fisherman Robert Rae, whose boat took the party round to the Inneans Bay, his daughter Nelly Rae, Duncan’s sister Annie, and John MacDonald, the village police constable who had dealt with the report.

The various dates, however, are of little relevance, because the date of death, which is normally what appears on any grave memorial, will never be known. On to the previous cross, which by 2016 had fallen to bits, two small aluminium plates had been nailed, one with ‘God Knows’ engraved on it and the other with ‘16 May 1917’ on it, and these were salvaged and transferred to the new cross, thus preserving a degree of continuity.
Both that cross and its predecessor were made by Neil Brown, a Campbeltown joiner whose father, James, belonged to Drumlemble. Neil, for health reasons, was unable to attend the ceremony, but I telephoned him earlier that week to remind him of it. I asked him who had made the plates; he was unsure. After the ceremony, I was chatting to Angus Nimmo, who had come with his wife Valerie, who filmed the event, and he told me, when I described Neil, that he was actually his cousin – Angus’s mother, Bella, was a Drumlemble Brown.

The first cross Neil made was carried to the bay on 29 July 1981, by himself, son Stephen, brother-in-law George McKendrick and Teddy Lafferty (another who should have been at the event, but was unfit to go). Neil couldn’t remember when he replaced that one, but it would probably have been in the last years of the century. By my calculation, the present cross is the seventh, but there may be have another of which I am unaware. The evidence was laid out in Kintyre: The Hidden Past (pp. 145-46) and, again, in A Third Summer in Kintyre (pp. 168-74). Whatever the true number, it is clear that the average life-span of a wooden memorial on that exposed coast can’t be much more than 12 years.
The new cross is the biggest and heaviest ever erected there. It was made from durable pitch-pine salvaged from a renovation job in Campbeltown and donated by Mr Barry Colville of the local building firm, McKinven & Colville. The cross was crafted by Graham Sopp, a joiner with the firm and grandson of Mrs Elizabeth McTaggart, who took a keen interest in the memorial project from the outset and secured Graham’s involvement. Also crucially involved was Gary Anderson, a builder with McKinven & Colville and himself a keen hiker with an interest in local history. All previous crosses have been free-standing, but this one is lodged a metre into the ground and its base is protected by a bolted metal sheath and enclosed in a concrete basin. It has been further stabilised by a small cemented cairn. The cross has four coats of varnish on it, and Graham is confident of its potential for longevity.

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The maker of the new cross, Graham Sopp, attaching the plates from the previous cross prior to the ceremony on 6 May 2017. Photograph by Anna Miccolis ©

The final work was done on 23 April, and it was work! Cement and sand, required for the first time in the history of the Sailor’s Grave, was carried out from Ballygroggan on a quad bike, by arrangement with Duncan McKinnon, head shepherd there, but the load could be taken only as far as the head of the Glen. From there, Graham, Gary, and Gary’s cousin, Steven Coffield, had to drag the bags into the bay – this after lugging the heavy cross and tools overland. When George McSporran and I arrived in the bay, early in the afternoon, the boys were almost exhausted before the work of erecting the cross had begun. Elizabeth McTaggart and her friend, Catherine Dobbie, had also gone out and were cooking over a fire on the beach in the sunshine.

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The work party at the Sailor’s Grave, before erection of new cross, 23 April 2017. L-R: Elizabeth McTaggart, Steven Coffield, Gary Anderson, Angus Martin, Graham Sopp, and George McSporran. Photograph by Cathy Dobbie ©

There was an additional monument, which I had carried out in my rucksack. This was a polished granite plaque in which Bill Armour, a monumental sculptor who lives in Campbeltown, had cut: ‘SAILOR’S GRAVE: 1917.’ The plaque was to have been incorporated in the cairn, but was too big for it. After discussion, George’s suggestion, that the plaque become a separate feature, was adopted, and Gary set it in a neat cement mount in front of the cross.

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The new cross on the Sailor’s Grave, propped in place to allow the cement to set, 23 April 2017. Photograph by George McSporran ©

The day of the ceremony was sunny and breezy, perfect for the walk out. The assembly point for most folk was the Kintyre Way car-park at Ballygroggan and we set out at 11 a.m. in a group which soon broke into smaller parties, proceeding at their own pace.
I gave the number at the ceremony as 20, but there should have been 22. Anne Leith was to have sung two songs at the graveside, her brother Alastair’s ‘The Inneans’ and Willie Mitchell’s ‘Road to Drumleman’, but near Innean Mòr sheep-fank she was so stricken with vertigo that she could go no further. She was willing to make her way back to Ballygroggan alone, but her friend, Iain McKerral, insisted on accompanying her, so, after a look at the new memorials, he left the bay before the ceremony began. Ann’s contribution would have enhanced the event and intensified its emotional impact, and she was missed.

First to arrive in the bay were Angus and Valerie Nimmo, who joined Will Slaven from Glasgow at his camp-site. Will had gone out with his tent and gear on Thursday afternoon and stayed until Sunday. He had guessed, from the date on the cross, that a memorial event might be pending, and had ’phoned and spoken to Judy, who provided the date and time. I had met Will and his brother Mick camping in the Inneans in 2006 and, camping again, with a son, almost ten years to the day of the event, on 7 May 2007. He is a devotee of the bay, its solitude and peacefulness, and recounted that, during his stay this year, as the sun sank away in the west the new cross assumed an eerie luminosity.

Last to arrive in the bay were Mike Peacock, Kenny Graham – who had already been to Largiebaan – and Alex Docherty, from Stewarton, who had left his car at Lochorodale and walked out via Killypole. I had hoped that Agnes Stewart might conduct the ceremony, but, at 80 years old, she understandably didn’t feel physically capable of getting there and back, so I did it myself.

After I had spoken on the history of the Sailor’s Grave and its past custodians, the cross was unveiled by Helen Bapty, a daughter of Stewart Hamilton, who, with his brother Malcolm, had been one of those custodians in the 1960s. Helen, who was accompanied by her husband Neil, sister Liz, and sister Margaret and her husband, Finlay Wylie, then delivered a brief personal statement, which was followed by a few impromptu words from Angus Nimmo, who had first heard of the Sailor’s Grave as a boy growing up in Drumlemble. I was grateful for the attendance of these members of mining families with a childhood connection to the place. There were three others present, Morag McLean, her brother Malcolm McMillan – their father was Kenny McMillan – and Malcolm’s son, also Malcolm.

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The ceremony at the Sailor’s Grave on 6 May 2017. Photograph by Anna Miccolis.

After the ceremony, I opened a bottle of Glen Scotia malt whisky, donated by Iain McAlister, distillery manager, for anyone who wished to have a celebratory nip. As it was cask-strength, some preferred a dash of water with it, and what better water than that from the spring at the foot of Cnoc Maighe, which Neil Brown piped many years ago?
So much money for the project came in that I didn’t have to fund-raise; and none of the creative participants wanted paid (but all were modestly rewarded with meal vouchers for the Ardshiel Hotel). The first, and main, donor was Alistair Thompson, who lives in Canada, but was back in Campbeltown for his mother’s 90th birthday party that night. He was one of the many who wanted to be at the ceremony, but couldn’t go. Happily, however, he was represented by his son Kenneth and partner, Anna Miccolis, two of whose photographs illustrate this article.

The other donors were: John MacDonald, Kenny Graham, Anonymous, George McSporran, John McSporran, Catherine Barbour, Jon Hooper, and Ann and Graham Baird. The total raised was £470, and, after expenses, £135 remains. I suggested at the gathering that this money could go towards a get-together later in the year in a local hotel, where an edited film of the ceremony and historic photographs could be projected in a continuous loop, both for those who were there and those who couldn’t be there.

An expanded version of this article will appear in the Kintyre Magazine No. 81 in Autumn, 2017.

Angus Martin

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The Campbeltown to Machrihanish Light Railway.

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The Machrihanish Express. Postcard courtesy of Charlie McMillan.

When the Campbeltown – Machrihanish coal canal eventually fell into disrepair in 1856, the Argyll Coal and Canal Co., who took over in 1875, decided to transport the coal from Machrihanish to Campbeltown by train. The construction of the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway began in November 1905 and the line was built by the Association of Argyll Railway Co. Ltd. The track was completed the following year and mainly followed the route of the old coal canal.  It was a narrow gauge railway – 2 ft 3 in (686 mm). The line was used to transport both passengers and coal. The last train ran in 1934.

For more on the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway visit Machrihanish Online.

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“Chevalier” working at the Colliery. Image courtesy of Will Ross, Campbeltown.

On the Opening of the “Kintyre Railway”

Like voice of springtime to the glen,
Like summer to the vale,
So is the news to Campbeltown
That I’m just gaun to tell;
For gloomy winter, bleak and cold,
Nae mair we’ll need to fear;
We’ll get our fuel cheap and good,
Brought by the “Pioneer”.

Hark! there’s she’s coming down the brae,
Along by Crossel Hill,
A train o’ wagons close behind –
I hear the whistle shrill;
Go spread the news a through the town,
Wi’ joy and news they’ll hear;
Our Heilan’ line is open now –
There comes the “Pioneer”.

Her coals will bless the poorest home,
And cheer the humblest hearth,
Although in other parts they’re dear,
No more we’ll dread their dearth.
The coals that come frae other lands
Let them be cheap or dear,
We’ll rather hae our Heilan’ coals,
Brought by the “Pioneer”.

The Frenchman and the Prussian too
Will smile when they are told
As soon’s their cargo they discharge
Wi’ coals we’ll stow the hold.
And when they reach their native hame,
And friends begin to speer
Where did they get their coals, they’ll say –
“Twas by the Pioneer”.

The coals that come frae “Auld Coalhill”
Are cheap as coals can be,
They’re just eight shillings for the ton,
When left in at the ree.
Twill make the Laggan flourish yet,
We’ll gie a hearty cheer –
Success attend our Heilan’ line.
Good speed the “Pioneer”.

James MacMurchy

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The Wimbledon Pit at Machrihanish. (Campbeltown Coal Company). The coal was transported by train from Machrihanish to Campbeltown. Image courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre.

 

Old Machrihanish

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A photographic image of old Machrihanish. Courtesy of Charlie McMillan ©

This photograph of Machrihanish was brought in to one of our drop-in sessions at Campbeltown Library by Charlie McMillan, a former mechanic at Argyll Colliery. We’re not sure when it dates back to but it’s certainly the oldest photographic image I have seen of Machrihanish. The salt pans would have been just off camera to the left. I wonder if the Wimbledon Pit existed at the is time (close the where the Argyll Colliery was later to be situated) or whether there were still workings open at Kilkivan? I think it’s more probably to be pre- Wimbledon.Cameron McLellan from Machrihanish Online thinks that the photo had to be taken before 1869 as the Mission Hall had not yet been built so the photo could date from early/mid 1800’s. If anyone has any information to add contact me.

Jan Nimmo

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L-R Dougie McArthur, Charlie McMillan and Rankin MGown. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Charles Armour – Fatal Accident at the Coalpit

On browsing through the Scottish Mining Website I came across the following extract relating to the death of Charles Armour, who was killed on 10th November 1875, at the  Drumlemble pit, aged 30.

“Fatal Coal Pit Accident At Campbeltown – Charles Armour, a collier, residing at Macarananish [sic], died on Wednesday from injuries received in Trodigall [sic] Coal Pit, Campbeltown, the day previous. It appeared that while at work a mass of coal became detached above him, which crushed him against the edge of a hutch before he could get out of the way. His injuries were very severe. Dr Cunningham attended him, but he never rallied. [The Dundee Courier & Argus and Northern Warder 12 November 1875]”. 

Here follows a report from the Argyllshire Herald relating to the same accident.

FATAL ACCIDENT AT THE COALPIT

A pitman named Charles Armour, Employed by the Argyll Coal and canal Company, Drumlemble, sustained an injury on last Tuesday, which resulted in his death the next day. He was engaged in the pit on Tuesday, and was standing before a hitch when a heavy piece of coal fell from one of the supports upon his back, crushing him against the hitch. When found he was in a very weakly condition, an’ was immediately removed to his home when medical aid was procured. Little, however, could be done for the sufferer and he expired on Wednesday. Curiously enough there were no external marks of injury on the body. The deceased leaves a wife and a family.

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Report from the Argyllshire Herald on the death of Charles Armour on 10th November 1875. Thanks to Angus Martin for looking through the archives at Campbeltown Library and finding this for us. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library.

There are still Armours living in the area so I’d be interested to know if any of them were relations of Charles and if so, if they could shed any light on Charles and the family he left behind.

Jan Nimmo

Hugh Sinclair, Surface Foreman.

I received the following information, photo and painting from Hugh Sinclair, about his grandfather, whom Hugh is named after. It’s great to see the painting of Hugh’s grandfather by the well known landscape artist, Maude Parker and to know a bit about his connection with mining in Drumlemble and Machrihanish.

Jan Nimmo

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Painting of Hugh Sinclair, as a boy at Machrihanish. The painting is by landscape artist, Maude Parker. Courtesy of Hugh Sinclair ©

My grandfather, Hugh Sinclair, lived all his life in Drumlemble, a near neighbour of your great uncle Neily Brown and your grandmother Bella. When he left school in the early 1900’s I believe he worked at Coalhill mine above Drumlemble until he served in the Argyll’s during World War I and beyond. When he retired from the army he worked as golf professional and Greenkeeper at Machrihanish Ladies Golf Club. He and my grandmother, Elizabeth (nee Thomson) had five daughters: Margaret, Jean, Betty Maureen and Elsie (my mother).

When the Argyll Colliery opened in the late 40’s he worked there as Surface Foreman until he retired in 1963. Times must have been good working at Machrihanish Colliery as he was 69 years old when he retired. He died in 1971 aged 77 years and 7 months.

Hugh Sinclair

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Hugh Sinclair starting a golf competition at the Ladies’ Golf Club, Machrihanish, Kintyre. Photo courtesy of Machrihanish Golf Club ©

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Hugh Sinclair, centre, at Kilvivan. Photo courtesy of Helen Bapty, Hugh’s granddaughter ©

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Hugh Sinclair, standing, top left. This photo is was taken at “Lone Creek’ High Tirfergus Farm, Drumlemble. Photo courtesy of Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©