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Loss of the Norstar

Site ofNorstar Sinking
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Brendan O’Hanrahan
North West Highlands Geopark

In the South West corner of Oldshoremore cemetery there is small black plaque which commemorates the lives of 6 fishermen from the Western isles, who were lost when their boat foundered near Sandwood bay on the 8th of December, 1893. Their story is a sad one and emphasises the saying that ‘The cost of fish…

In the South West corner of Oldshoremore cemetery there is small black plaque which commemorates the lives of 6 fishermen from the Western isles, who were lost when their boat foundered near Sandwood bay on the 8th of December, 1893.

Their story is a sad one and emphasises the saying that ‘The cost of fish is men’s lives’, and in the Winter of 1893 it had stark resonance. In total, 92 boats and 82 men were lost around the Scottish coast, 12 of these men came from the Stornoway District.

In early December 3 Harris boats, the Claymore, the Try Again and the Evening Star, from Rheinigadale, as well as the Eilean Anbhuic and Nostar were anchored in a loch on the West coast. Although the day dawned fine, the forecast was not good and the skippers wondered if they might be able to make it home. A local shepherd had advised one of the skippers who was ashore that the weather was going to turn bad, despite its current calm. However, he noticed that the Try Again was preparing to sail and since they had all agreed that they would leave together he went back aboard and followed suit.

They made good progress, but the wind turned North West and freshened to a gale. The last sighting of the Nostar was at approximately 3pm, when the crew were attempting to reef in the sails. The remaining boats made it into Loch Marvaig on the Lewis coast. Subsequently, there was no sign of the Nostar having made landfall.

On Dec 12th, Farquahar MacRae a shepherd at Sandwood came across 2 bodies on the South side of Sandwood bay, by coincidence he had been a shepherd on Kenmore and recognised the men as Donald MacInnes 44 yrs and his son Norman 16 yrs. He wasted little time in pulling the bodies up out of reach of the Sea and informing people, subsequently the Kinlochbervie postmaster sent a telegram to Harris reporting that the boat had foundered and informing the families at Rhenigadale. 

The wreck was found the same day at the foot of Strath Chailleach river. A piece of wood bearing the registration CY 58 confirming the boats’ identity. A week later, 2 more bodies were found nearby, Angus Shaw 35 and his nephew Angus 21, despite further searching the body of Angus’ father Roderick 40 was never found.

The wreck had a broken mast and her sails had blown out, the ballast and anchor was found nearby, blown onto a lee shore with storm seas running the crew would have had no chance. It was surmised that Donald McInnes and his son Angus may have jumped overboard near Am Bauchille sea stack using a bouy found nearby to help them keep afloat. 

Am Bauchille Sea Stack

The response of the local community around Kinlochbervie was notable. They refused any recompense for their efforts, the cost of the coffins, searching and then carrying the coffins to Oldshoremore cemetery. This involved a gruelling trek of 6 and 8 miles in the latter instance people had to ford 2 rivers wading up to their waists. The School master at Oldshoremore, William MacKay stated that, “The relatives of the departed may rest assured that the people here did all that and noble withal could do. The council offered to pay all expenses but the public refused their offer”. 

While the loss of the Nostar boat was an awful tragedy one can only imagine it’s impact on a small island community and directly on the men’s families, shock, grief and the hardship of losing the main breadwinners.