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


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.

grahamSopp_ AnnaMicclas

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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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

Fatal accident at Drumlemble – the death of Donald Kerr

I was looking through the records on the Scottish Mining website to see if there was anything of interest that related to South Kintyre when I came across the following entry.

1859 July 25th – Drumlemble, Campbeltown (Duke of Argyll) Donald Kerr died aged 40 by getting entangled with the signal wire in the shaft“.

I mentioned this incident to Campbeltown historian and writer, Angus Martin, and he very kindly found this account of the death of Donald Kerr in the Campbeltown Library – this article is from the Argyllshire Herald from August 5th, 1859 and reads as follows:


On the morning of Monday the 25th ult., a fatal accident occurred at the coal-pit at Drumlemble. As three of the colliers were ascending the pit, one of them named Donald Kerr happened to look out of the basket, when unfortunately the recoil of the signal wire which had previously been broken, caught him by the chin and dragged him out of the basket. Before he could be rescued from this perilous position, he lost hold of the wire, fell to the distance of 90 feet, and was killed on the spot. His remains were taken up in a very mangled state. One of the two two workmen who were in the the basket at the time was the son of the deceased. We understand that the men at the bottom of the pit hallooed to the man at the head of it, informing him of the condition in which the signal wire was. Immediately on receiving this intelligence, he communicated it to the person in charge of the engine, at the same time urging upon him to be very cautious, as it was men who were coming up. A widow and seven children survive to mourn the loss of the deceased. It is now 25 years since any fatal accident occurred at this colliery. 


Article about the death of Donald Kerr, collier at Drumlemble Pit. Argyllshire Herald, 5th August 1885. From the collection at Campbeltown Library.

This account makes harrowing reading – that Donald’s son, Alexander, should witness his father die in such a way is quite horrific. I am left wondering how the family survived after Donald’s death and if the Duke of Argyll ever compensated them in any way…

Jan Nimmo

Colliers at Drumlemble in the Old Parishioners Registers (1802 -1815)

EPSON scanner Image

Colliers, South Kintyre. Photo courtesy of the late Willie McKinlay of Campbeltown ©

I am at present engaged in a project which involves going through the Old Parish Registers for Campbeltown entry by entry.  The specification of occupations began in these records in 1802, and it seems a worthwhile exercise to note all those births/baptisms which mention the colliery then at Drumlemble.  Not all mine-workers are identified as such, but most are, and from these records it will be possible to form an idea of the families at Drumlemble and nearby Coalhill which were involved in the industry.

Coalhill, which was a settlement up the brae from the present village of Drumlemble, at about NR 662 192, is hardly mentioned in these records, but I suspect that many, if not most, of the entries relate to Coalhill.  Certainly, in the ‘List of Inhabitants upon the Duke of Argyle’s Property in Kintyre’ of 1792, Coalhill is the larger community, with 144 occupants, against 86 in Drumlemble, with a number of these latter employed and living on the farm there.

The following list of the heads of households at Coalhill in 1792 will demonstrate that ‘Coalhill’ in the Old Parish Registers is lumped in with Drumlemble: John McDonald, Archibald Crawford, Samuel Biggam, John Omay, Duncan McPhaddan, Norman Currie, David Watson, Hugh McKenzie, Samuel McArthur, Ronald Johnston, Thomas McKendrick, William Campbell, Malcolm Kerr, Donald McCallum, Donald MacNeill, Lachlan Omay, Peter Smith, Alexander McPhaddan, Hugh Kelly, Donald McKenzie, Donald Sinclair, John McKillop, Malcolm McKillop, James McNeill, John Sinclair, Archibald McArthur, Alexander McKillop, John Leckie, Dugald Martine, and Torquill McNeill.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Drumlemble/Coalhill, with its coal mine, was the largest settlement in Campbeltown Parish outwith the town itself and its satellite villages, Dalintober, Lochend and Dalaruan.  The village now known as Machrihanish was, in the early 19th century, a small fishing community, variously known as ‘Mary Pans’, ‘Salt Pans’ or simply ‘Pans’, and Stewarton did not come into existence until about 1804 and did not expand significantly until the 20th century.

The project will end with the year 1854, after which the recording of births and marriages – and additionally deaths – was taken out of the hands of the churches and became the responsibility of parish registrars. This list will be supplemented periodically as I work my way through the registers.  Spellings are – or should be – as written in the records.

Angus Martin ©


1802:  Malcolm Kerr, ‘coalier’, & Catharine Watson, ‘Drumlemble’, son John born 12/9.


1803: Alexander McKillop, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Catharine MacPhail, daughter Effy born 23/3.

1803: John McKillop, ‘coalier at Drumlemble’, & Margaret Leckie, son Alexander born 4/6.

1803: Donald Sinclair, ‘Coalier at Coalhill’, & Anne Elder, son Donald born 12/8.

1803: Archibald MacGrigor, ‘Workman at Drumlemble Coal Works’, & Isobell Johnston, son Ronald born 18/8.

1803: Neill Thomson, ‘Workman Drumlemble Coalwork’, & Jean Armour, son Neill born 7/10.

1803: John MacCallum, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Curry, son Neil born 22/11.

1803: William Kerr, ‘overseer of Drumlemble Coalworks’, & Margaret MacNeill, son David born 10/12.


1804: John Miller, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Florence Leckie, daughter Isobell born 8/4.

1804: Archibald MacArthur, ‘coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Watson, daughter Margaret born 8/4.

1804: Neill MacNeill, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Flory MacNeill, daughter Christian born 3/5.

1804: Hugh McEacharn, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Jane Armour, daughter Mary born 22/8.

1804: John Campbell, ‘collier Coalhill’, & Margaret MacGeachy, son William born 22/10.


1805: John Gribbon, ‘coalier at Drumlemble Coalwork’, & Rose MacCall, daughter Janet born 11/1.

1805: James McPhadan, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble Coalworks’, & Catharine Campbell, son Michael born 1/2.

1805: Malcom Kerr, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble Coalwork’, & Catharine Watson, daughter Janet born 6/3.

1805: David Watson, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble Coalworks’, & Janet Kerr, daughter Margaret born 2/4.

1805: John Omay, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Effy Henderson, twins More & Alexander born two days apart according to entry, More on 9/5 & Alexander on 11/5.

1805: Archibald MacGregor, ‘Collier at Drumlemble’, & Isobell Johnston, son Archibald born 18/5.

1805: Peter Hunter, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Jean Bruce, son Duncan born 18/5.

1805: Hugh MacPhail, ‘Weaver and Collier at Drumlemble’, & Mary McLean, son John born 23/5.

1805: Alexander MacKillop, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Catharine MacPhail, son Archibald born 27/8.

1805: John MacLauchlin, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Janet MacFie, son Angus born 10/9.

1805: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drimlemble’, & Margaret Leckie, daughter Florence born 27/11.


1806: Samuel MacArthur, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Janet Watson, daughter Janet born 4/1.

1806: John MacCallum, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Catherine Currie, daughter Margaret born 22/1.

1806: Lauchlin MacNeill, ‘Engineer Drumlemble’, & Isobell MacCallum, son James born 17/6.

1806: John Thomson, ‘Coalier at Drimlemble’, & Margaret MacNeill, son Neill born 3/7.

1806: John Campbell, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret MacGeachy, daughter Mary born 19/8.

1806: Donald Sinclair, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Anne Elder, son Duncan born 6/9.

1806: Archibald MacArthur, ‘Coalier in Drumlemble’, & Margaret Watson, son David born 7/9.

1806: Robert Summervile, ‘Grive [grieve or overseer] at Drumlemble’, & Agnes Craig, son Robert born 16/9

1806: John Miller, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Florence Leaky, son John born 4/10.


1807: James McPhadan, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Campbell, son William born 26/1.

1807: John MacKillop Junr., ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Margaret Kelly, daughter Margaret born 30/5.

1807: Robert Peden, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Mary MacGilvray, son James born 4/7.

1807: John MacCallum, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Curry, daughter Isobell born 14/7.

1807: Hugh MacDonald, ‘Engineer Drumlemble Coalwork’, & Mary MacMillan, son John born 18/7.

1807: Alexander MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine MacPhail, daughter Margaret born 31/12.


1808: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Lakie, son Andrew born 24/2.

1808: Hugh MacPhail, ‘Weaver & Collier Drumlemble’, & Mary MacLean, son Hugh born 29/3.

1808: Hugh MacDonald, ‘Engineer Drumlemble’, & Mary MacDonald [for MacCallum], daughter Janet born 2/7.

1808: Malcom Kerr, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Watson, daughter Florence born 13/7.

1808:  John Campbell, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret MacGeachy, daughter Janet born 20/7.

1808: John MacLachlin, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Janet MacFie, son Daniel born 29/8.


1809: John Gribbon, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Rose MacCulloch, daughter Rose born 20/4.

1809: James MacPhaden, ‘Collier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Campbell, daughter Margaret born 17/5.

1809: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Kelly, daughter Mary born 19/5.

1809: Dugall MacTaggart, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & More MacAlester, son John born 27/6.

1809: Archibald MacArthur, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Watson, daughter Mary born 29/6.

1809: John Sinclair, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Smith, daughter Anne born 12/9.

1809: John Miller, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Flory Lecky, daughter Mary born 13/9.


1810: Robert Peden, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Bryan, daughter Minie born 17/1.

1810: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Leaky, daughter Margaret born 27/1.

1810/23/4: John McCallum, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Curry, son Donald.

1810/24/10: David Watson, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Janet Kerr, daughter Anne.


1811/16/5: James Anderson, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary MacLeonan, son William.

1811/15/8: John Gribbon, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Rose MacCullach, daughter Catharine.

1811/7/11: John Sinclair, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Smith, son Donald.


1812/29/1: John Miller, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Flora Lacky, daughter Flora.

1812/23/3: Robert Peden, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Bryan, son John.

1812/18/5: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier in Drumlemble’, & Margaret Leakey, daughter Mary.

1812/23/5: John MacLachlin, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Janet MacFie, son Archibald.


1813/12/1: Hugh MacDonald, ‘Engineer Drumlemble’, & Mary MacDonald, daughter Isobell.

1813/16/1: John MacCallum, ‘Collier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Currie, son John.

1813/5/2: Hugh MacPhail, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary MacLean, daughter Mary.

1813/17/2: James Kerr, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Elizabeth OMay, son Malcom.

1813/28/3: Duncan Sinclair, ‘Coalier Newton Ayr’, & Margaret Sinclair, daughter Catharine.

1813/22/7: James Mains, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Wylee, son Robert.

1813/4/8: John Sinclair, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Smith, son Hugh.

1813/25/9: James Anderson, ‘Engineer Drumlemble’, & Mary MacLeonan, daughter Anne.

1813/9/12: Archd MacArthur, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Watson, daughter Flora.


1814/9/4: John Campbell, ‘Collier Drumlemble’, & Margaret MacGeachy, daughter Catharine.

1814/20/9: James Kerr, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Elizabeth O’May, daughter Effy.

1814/20/9: Duncan Sinclair, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Sinclair, son Neill.


1815/20/1: Dugald Campbell, ‘Collier Drumlemble’, & Mary MacMath, daughter Mary.

The Sailor’s Grave at the Inneans


Looking south across  the Inneans Bay to the slopes of Cnoc Moy, with Largiebaan out of sight around the corner, 9th October 2016. Photograph: George McSporran ©

Next year (2017) is not only the 50th anniversary of the closure of Argyll Colliery, but the 100th anniversary of the Sailor’s Grave in the Inneans Bay.

There follows an extract on the interment from my latest book, A Third Summer in Kintyre, but a little more background is required, particularly on the involvement of miners in the care of the grave.

Few who are familiar with the terrain between Machrihanish and the Mull of Kintyre would dispute the claim that the Inneans Bay is the loveliest spot on that entire rugged Atlantic coastline.  For the grandeur of its cliffs, Largiebaan surpasses the Inneans as a scenic wonder, but the Inneans has qualities which Largiebaan lacks: easier accessibility and an extensive level grassy foreshore which lends itself to picnicking and camping.

The Inneans remains a popular destination for local hikers and campers, and the creation of the Kintyre Way in 2006 has made the bay a familiar sight to thousands of visitors who walk that trail.

It is impossible to reckon for how long the Inneans has attracted local walkers, but it has been a destination for ramblers from Machrihanish and Drumlemble, in the main, for more than a century, and has been a camping spot for almost as long.

The peak of the camping phase came just after the Second World War, and the miners were prominent in that.  This was, of course, before cheap air travel encouraged foreign holidays.

A small tent, now within the means of everyone, was for these poorly paid miners a financial impossibility, and various improvised shelters were used, and sometimes none: they would lie in the open around a fire which was kept going all night.  But in the mid-1960s, the Hamilton brothers, Stewart and Malcolm, acquired a large tent which was lugged, in stages, over the moors from Ballygroggan to the Inneans and pitched permanently in the bay.  When it eventually collapsed and rotted, it was replaced in the early 1970s by a little hut built with sloping walls of overlapped planking, which someone later burnt down.


The Hamilton family tent in the Inneans Bay, looking  north on a drizzly day. The photo was taken by Angus Martin on 24th september 1967, on his first camping trip to the Inneans, with Iain Campbell, his friend and neighbour in Crosshill Avenue. Being nervous about using the big tent – which, it transpired, was unoccupied – they spent  a miserable night in their own small tent with no groundsheet. They discovered later that the Hamiltons were easy about visitors using their tent as long as they behaved themselves and replaced any provisions they used. Photograph by Angus Martin ©

Large groups of miners and friends would spend a week or two camping in the Inneans in the summer.  They passed the time by fishing for saithe and pollack from the rocks, snaring rabbits (now apparently extinct in the bay), and, round the camp-fire at night, by story-telling and singing. There was even, in the 1960s, a three-hole golf course in the bay, laid out by the Hamilton brothers and their friend Willie McArthur.


Four members of the Hamilton family. L-R Bobby, Agnes, Stuart and Malcolm. Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton ©

And all the time the Sailor’s Grave was tended; but the traditional custodians of the site are now either dead or unfit to reach the bay, and the present cross is now broken and rotting.  It needs urgent attention and the centenary next year may provide an opportunity to organise a more permanent memorial.  It is not my place, however, to implement any plan without public approval, and in particular the approval of those families which have been most closely associated with the care of the grave, so a fund-raising event will be organised in Campbeltown later this year and a solution discussed.


At the Sailor’s Grave, 9th October 2016. The dilapidated state of the cross is plain to see. L-R Alastair Thompson, his wife Liz, George McSporran and Angus Martin. Alastair, who has contributed a substantial donation to the Sailor’s Grave fund, was previously at the Inneans with Angus Martin on 27th August 1967, approaching 50 years ago. He has lived in Canada for most of his life. Photograph by Sandy McSporran ©

My suggestion, for what it is worth, will be to mount a new cross on top of a small cairn and on to the cairn fix a plaque with the following inscription, or similar: ‘Erected by public subscription in May 2017 to mark the human remains found in this bay by Duncan Sinclair, shepherd, Largiebaan, and ceremonially interred in this spot on 11 May.  This centenary memorial also recognises the dedicated service of generations of local families who voluntarily tended the grave.  6 May 2017.’  Thus, even should the cross never be replaced, the grave will still be marked.  A fuller account of this proposal will be found in the latest issue of the Kintyre Magazine (No 80, Autumn 2016, p 26).

I hope that others, who have spent convivial days and nights at the Inneans, will add their memories to this blog. These contributions need not be great literature.  Ultimately, it’s the stories that count, and the photographs too.

Angus Martin

An extract from A Third Summer in Kintyre by Angus Martin

The Sailor’s Grave


The wheel-headed cross which stood at the Sailor’s Grave for many years until it was replaced in 1981. It was acquired second-hand from Kilkerran Cemetery by the late Duncan McLachlan, Campbeltown, a painter and signwriter , who added new lettering. The cross was carried to the bay by the late John Kelly, Machrihanish, in his small motor-boat and set up on the grave by the Hamilton brothers, Malcolm and Stewart. Photograph: Agnes Stewart 1977 ©

The cross on the grave, as reported in Another Summer in Kintyre (p 176), is in poor shape: the top had broken off and been tied on with twine. My suggestion, in that book, that a more durable memorial should be erected for the centenary of the interment, May 2017, had already elicited responses. An old school friend in Canada, Alastair Thompson, sent me £200, suggesting I buy myself a bottle of ten-year old ‘Ardbeg’ malt whisky and put the balance towards the memorial, a generous and inspiring gesture, and John  MacDonald later donated £100.

At least six of them have succumbed to natural decay, weathering and the rubbing of animals; in other words, a wooden structure in that exposed spot can’t be expected to last longer than about fifteen years on average. As the last of the grave’s caretakers die out, has the time come to erect a lasting monument there? Since I have no authority to end the tradition of wood, as the centenary of the burial approaches I’ll arrange a public discussion on the question of a replacement memorial. I hope, however,  that considerations of longevity will prevail over those of custom.

I referred to ‘caretakers’, and I’ll introduce some of them now. They were assembled, as it were, in an article in the Campbeltown Courier in 1964. I didn’t know the article existed until I found it in 2014 while checking the newspaper files for something else. I was 12 when it was published and don’t remember seeing it; even if I had seen it, it wouldn’t have meant much to me because I’d probably never heard of the Inneans, let alone the Sailor’s Grave. But when I read ‘For 50 Years They Have Tended Unknown Sailor’s Grave’, its poignancy hit me. Fifty years further on, I was familiar with the story and with the men and boys mentioned in it, but, of course, most of them are now dead.

The article contains a few errors, and I’ll offer corrections, but in a spirit of humility, since my later researches enabled me to pick away the embroidered edges of a story which had been preserved in oral tradition alone. The burial was not reported in either of the local newspapers at the time; in 1917, the pages of the Argyllshire Herald and the Campbeltown Courier were packed with news of the war and with obituaries and photographs of the Kintyre soldiers and sailors who had been killed, wounded or captured on the battlefields of Europe. Information on skeletal remains washed ashore on a remote beach either didn’t reach the newspaper offices or was disregarded.

The Courier article opens with the statement that ‘For almost 50 years a few Kintyre men have tended the grave of an unknown sailor whose body was washed ashore near Machrihanish during the First World War’. There was no evidence on the corpse to suggest that the man – if a man and not a woman – had been a sailor. When a police report turned up in the Argyll and Bute Archive in Lochgilphead in 1985, the remains were described as skeletal and unidentifiable. However, the assumption that the remains belonged to a sailor was entirely reasonable, and that the grave became known as ‘The Sailor’s Grave’ was almost inevitable. On other coasts, bodies washed ashore were generally assumed to be sailors, and the graves named accordingly.

The article continues

The story began on one sunny morning in May 1917, when three young men from Drumlemble Village, out amping, came across the sailor’s body on the shore south of Machrihanish. They were Donald Munro, John Lambie and Duncan McPhail. After reporting their find to the Receiver of Wreck, a coffin was obtained and the body was buried in a field overlooking the sea. There was no fuss and no funeral service. Since the body was partly decomposed and there was no means of identifying it, the civil and military authorities did not come into the picture. 

Of the three men named as the finders, in 1964 only Donald Munro, aged 66 and living at 14 Rhudal Cottages, Drumlemble, was ‘still alive and resident in the district’. While researching the Sailor’s Grave for Kintyre: The Hidden Past (1984), I encountered two conflicting stories about the finding of the corpse: the one above and one which credited Duncan Sinclair as the finder. Donald Munro was by then dead, but Duncan Sinclair, who had been head shepherd at Ballygroggan, was still alive, living in retirement in Machrihanish. He supplied me with a written account of his role in the corpse’s discovery and I judged that to be the ‘strongest evidence’. As I remarked in the book: ‘It is quite possible, of course, that the body could have been  “discovered” several times over, but it certainly could not have been buried several times over.’ The counter-claim therefore remains a puzzle. The police report, by P.C. John MacDonald in Machrihanish, is dated 12 May 1917 and records that the body was found by Duncan Sinclair, shepherd at Largiebaan, on Sunday 6 May, and that the ‘bones’ were buried on 11 May ‘above high water mark at the place where they were found’. Duncan Sinclair gave the following statement:

On Sunday 6th May 1917 I was going through the hill attending to my Sheep Stock, and when about two miles from Largiebaan nearer Machrihanish I went along the shore noticed that my dogs observed something on the shore amongst the rocks on the shore. I went to the place where I found a Skeleton lying below a rock, the skull & feet was amissing. And as I was sure it was a Skeleton of a human being I went to Machrihanish and reported the matter to the Constable.

In the account Duncan later gave me, he identified the burial party on 11 May as Machrihanish lobster fisherman Robert Rae, in whose boat the party sailed to the bay, Robert’s daughter Nellie, Duncan’s sister Annie, and P.C. MacDonald. Duncan was preoccupied with lambing that day and missed the burial.

The ‘sailor’ wasn’t forgotten, though, and the tending of is grave was the focus of the 1964 Courier article. As the anonymous writer observed: ‘There is no special organisation, no committee behind this remarkable example of parochial humanity. It has been done so quietly and spontaneously that only a handful of people in Kintyre know where the grave is.’ The outline of the grave was described as being ‘covered with pebbles, sea shells and glass bottles’. (The latter were doubtless glass flotation-balls which were lost from fishing gear and drifted ashore. These were collectable, until replaced by plastic floats, and could be seen as decorative features on pathways and in gardens.) The cross bore the ‘roughly cut out’ date 16 May 1917 and the words ‘God Knows’. The specificity of the date is misleading, and ‘May 1917’, which would cover both the date of the body’s discovery and of its burial, might now be preferred.

Angus MartinSailorsgrave_1.jpg

The subsequent cross was made by Neil Brown, a joiner, Campbeltown, and carried to the Inneans Bay on 29th July 1981 by Neil, his son Stephen, his brother-in-law George MacKendrick and Teddy Lafferty who took this photograph. Photograph: Teddy Lafferty ©

Malcolm Hamilton  was interviewed for the article. His father, Robert, had tended the grave before him, and Malcolm occasionally took his sons Robert (13) and Leslie (7) with him to the Inneans. In the following week’s issue of the Courier, a photograph of the grave was published with two young boys – Robert and Leslie, presumably – flanking the cross. ‘As long as I am here,’ Malcolm is quoted as saying, ‘I will continue to go round. My two boys are very keen on those trips to Eanon and I am trying to encourage them.’

Willie McArthur was also interviewed. When asked why he and the other ‘volunteers’ gave ‘their time and effort to caring for the grave of a man they did not know’, Willie replied: ‘One or two of us are old soldiers and I suppose it is a feeling of comradeship. Willie McArthur was the only one of all the adults mentioned in the article – the others were Willie Colville, Willie Brown, and Duncan McLachlan – I ever met in the Inneans, and that was in 1980, as recalled in A Summer in Kintyre (pp. 22-25).

A Mystery Verse

Several days after my walk to the Inneans with Don O’Driscoll, Agnes Stewart mentioned to me that Robert Brown had asked her about a ‘poem’ he’d seen, as a young boy, on the Inneans cross. He recited a couple of lines of it, but she didn’t recognise them and didn’t remember seeing them there. I did remember lines connected with the Sailor’s Grave, but they were out of reach in memory and I abandoned the struggle and fetched my file of Inneans material. I wasn’t optimistic of success there either, but the information was in that file and I’d forgotten I had it.


Looking south from Inneans Bay to the north coast of Antrim, 9th October 2016. Photograph: George McSporran ©

When I tape-recorded Duncan McLachlan in February 1981, he had plenty to say about the Sailor’s Grave. He had acquired, from Kilkerran Cemetery, a wheel-headed teak cross, of ‘Celtic’ design, which had marked the grave of an English sailor who drowned during the Second World War and was buried in Kilkerran. The sailor’s family had erected a new memorial and the cross was redundant. Duncan, a skilled sign-writer, added the customary lettering to the cross, John Kelly took it to the Inneans in his motor-boat, and it was set up on the grave by the Hamilton brothers and stood there until replaced in 1981.

But Duncan told me he had added something extra to the cross, a verse from a poem. He quoted the couplet, ‘Borne ashore by tidal hearse/ created a mystery time cannot pierce’, adding: ‘Well, it’s taken from the Ancient Mariner, isn’t it?’ These were indeed the lines I had struggled to recall, but I didn’t remember them from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous ballad, and they didn’t, to my ear, sound as though they could belong there, even had Duncan misquoted them slightly. His own uncertainty about the source of the quotation is obvious from his quizzical remark. The question was easily solved, of course. I read the entire Coleridge poem and failed to find the lines, but a further question took its place: what was the source of the couplet?

When I contacted Robert Brown to hear the lines he had recited to Agnes Stewart, they transpired to be substantially the same as those I had heard from Duncan. As Judy and I had done, Robert and his wife Margaret tried internet searches to establish a literary source, likewise without success. I asked him when he had seen the lines on the cross, and he reckoned his first time at the Inneans was with his father, John, around 1955, when he would have been about eight years old.

Angus Martin ©

Angus Martin, Mining Engineer, Argyll Colliery.


Angus Martin with his son, Angus, c. 1956, Campbeltown. Photo courtesy of Angus Martin ©

When my father, also Angus Martin, left his job at ‘The Pit’ I would have been four or five years old and I remember nothing about his life as a mining engineer. I do remember being in the playground of the Infant or ‘Wee’ Grammar and, seeing him appear at the entrance gate, running over to speak to him. I would have been five or six then, so that would have been 1957 or ’58. He was on his way to sign on at the ‘Buroo’, or Labour Exchange. I remember being told later that his work at the coal mine was affecting his health because he was frequently up to his waist in water.

Some time after leaving Argyll Colliery, he found a job as engineer on board an inshore cargo boat, the Halcyon. That, too, I suspect, was something of a trial to him, because, with his being at sea, he largely missed my and my sister Carol’s childhood. Yet, he had been a fisherman from the age of 14 aboard his father Duncan’s skiff, the Fame, and the sea was ‘in his blood’, as the saying goes. He was 29 when the Second World War broke out and he served in the Navy throughout that war, as an engineer. Again, the sea.


Halcyon discharging her last cargo of coal in Campbeltown in 1966. Shortly afterwards, in July, she was sold. Her owner, Captain William McMilllan, is standing on the quay and Angus Martin is operating the winch. Photo courtesy of Angus Martin ©

I belong to an acquisitive  family and have kept that tradition going with a vengeance.  Not only do I keep my own memorabilia, but I take others’ too and I naturally held on to all the documents, photographs and books which had been in my father’s possession. Some of these relate to his years at Argyll Colliery and include a few photographs and a big notebook connected with his training as a mining engineer in Sheffield.

There is one piece of oral tradition which lodges in my memory in connection with his time in Sheffield. His landlady there cooked a particular meal, the simple recipe of which my father brought home and passed on to my sister Carol and me. It consists of onions sliced into a frying-pan and fried in fat, with water added and then layers of sliced potatoes, with several squares of sliced sausage placed on the top. He called it ‘Brand Mash’, after his landlady’s surname, and I still occasionally make it, and enjoy it, but without the meat.


Angus Martin with a group at Sheffield NCB Mechanisation in 1949, (top row, third from the right). Photo courtesy of Angus Martin ©

The big ledger-type, hard-backed book is full of notes and hand-drawn diagrams from his course in Sheffield. He seems, from the  evidence of the book, to have been a conscientious student. The first page contains a drawing and specifications of ‘The Micrometer’, followed by ‘Common Tools’. The six pages of notes and sketches of tools were signed off by a lecturer, with the date ’10/6/49′, which is the only date I can find in the book. There follow sections on drills, taps and dies, lubricants, the properties of steel, blueprints, lock devices, keys, soldering, white metal bearings, gears, lathes, screw-cutting, pumps, ratchet assembly, ‘Strand Conveyors’, ‘Scraper Chain Conveyors’, welding methods, and much else.


From Angus Martin’s engineering course notebook, 1949: ‘AB ARC Shearing Machine: Schematic Drawing of Change Speed Gear Train’. Drawing courtesy of Angus Martin ©

I’d wonder from time to time why I continued to keep the notebook, and the answer always was that I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away because it had belonged to my father and he had put so much time and effort into filling it.  Now it has acquired a broader value, however modest, as a relic of local mining history.

Angus Martin ©

From the Campbeltown Courier, 21/7/1966


Captain William McMillan, one of the grand old ‘salts’ of the Clyde, sailed his puffer [actually a converted Thames barge] into Campbeltown Loch for the last time at the week-end.

After 51 years carrying cargoes to and from Campbeltown and other Clyde ports, Captain McMillan is to become a landlubber at the age of 65.

His last trip as skipper and owner of the Halcyon started yesterday, when he sailed from Irvine with a general cargo for Port Askaig, Islay.

Captain McMillan will retire officially on Monday, when his boat will be sold at Troon to a Glasgow shipping company.

The vessel was managed by the Irvine Shipping and Trading Company, which is arranging alternative employment for her three-man crew.

Captain McMillan, who has skippered his own vessel for 36 years, has carried cargoes of all kinds to Clyde ports and ‘up north’, though in recent years his principal dealings in Campbeltown have been with D. McNair and Son, the coal merchants.

A native of Bute, Captain McMillan was born in Kilchattan. He took to the sea on leaving school at the age of 14, going on board the smack Cottage Girl, which was owned and skippered by his father, Captain Daniel McMillan.

Later they bought their first power-driven vessel, the Duchess. Captain McMillan remembers: ‘The last tiles to be made in Bute were carried by us from Kilchattan Bay to Campbeltown.  That was in 1919.

He also remembers a time – before Argyll Colliery was opened – when they had to make ten successive trips to Campbeltown at top speed with coal to keep the town’s industries running.

In 1920, his father purchased the 75-ton Vineyard and ten years later replaced her with the Norman (105 tons). Shortly afterwards, his father retired to Rothesay and Captain McMillan took over as skipper and owner.

In earlier days they had sailed only on the West Coast but Captain McMillan decided to expand.  In recent years he was trading to the Outer Hebrides, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man with cargoes such as timber, limestone and even explosives.

He acquired the 130-ton Halcyon in London in 1945.

Captain McMillan married a local girl, Mary Mitchell, and moved to Campbeltown in 1939.  His home is at Rosebank, High Askomel.

The couple have one son, William (27), but he is not following in the seafaring tradition of the McMillan family.  A chartered accountant, William is at present studying for the ministry at Trinity College and Glasgow University.

Captain McMillan is not going to grieve for the sea.  He says: ‘I have had a good shot at it. Now I am going to enjoy my retirement and make up to my wife for all the lonely hours she has spent.’