The Ashbury was built by William Gary & Co Ltd of Hartlepool (Yard No.961), her steel hull had dimensions of 356.5’x50.0’x24.7′ and her tonnages were 3901 gt. and 2363 nt. Built in 1924 for her original Norwegian owners, Ostlandet D/S A/S of Christiana as the Nitedal, she was sold to Macbeth, Blackwood and Laurie of Glasgow one year later. She sailed for this company as Cairnhill for more than ten years before being sold to her final owners, the Alexander Shipping Company of London in 1935 and renamed Ashbury. At the beginning of World War 2 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty for war service under the control of the Ministry of War Transport.
As the war headed towards its conclusion the Ashbury, having survived five years of service unscathed, left Workington on 31st December, 1944 bound for Loch Ewe in ballast. She had recently returned from service in the Mediterranean but had been sent back to the UK from Gibraltar for repairs as the condenser was partially blocked resulting in a significant loss of power for the ship. Originally she was planned to sail directly to the Tyne to offload her cargo of iron ore and then to be repaired but the ship was diverted to Workington and offloaded her cargo there. At Workington she was loaded with an extra 345 tons of colliery waste as ballast before setting off for the Tyne via the north of Scotland to be repaired. This additional ballast was enough to keep the propeller boss under the water but a portion of the blades of the prop rose above the surface reducing the efficiency of the ship considerably. While anchored at Loch Ewe the Ashbury required assistance from a tug which later reported that her anchors were insufficient to hold her station in strong winds, even in the sheltered anchorage of the loch. One of her anchor cables snapped as she struggled to maintain her position among the other ships in the busy anchorage. It seems likely that this problem was to seal her fate when she ran aground later in her voyage as only a portion of her anchor chain was to be available when required a few days later.
The Ashbury, under the command of Captain David Morris and with a crew of forty one, joined a convoy heading south to the River Tyne setting off on the 6th January.However, very quickly she failed to maintain her station in the convoy and by the end of the day on 7th January she had lost sight of most of the other ships. The weather deteriorated on the 8th as the underpowered ship continued to struggle in ever worsening seas with a Force 10 gale blowing from the north pushing the ship towards the Scottish coastline. By this time she could only see one other ship, the Norwegian steamship Bestik, which was also struggling in the terrible weather. Both ships were being driven inexorably towards the rocky north Scottish coast.
At 22.21 GMT the Ashbury sent out a distress message asking for immediate assistance from a tug as she had become unmanageable in a position given as 20 miles west of Dunnet Head. The Bestik reported the Ashbury with both anchors down and steaming full ahead trying to hold her position. The Canadian escort vessel, St Therese, reached the Ashbury quickly but attempts to get a line aboard were unsuccessful as the Ashbury’s proximity to the shoreline made manoeuvring very dangerous. The weather continued to deteriorate and visibility was reduced to virtually zero in the violent storm and darkness. Both the St Therese and the Bestik lost contact with the Ashbury during the night, reporting all lights on the Ashbury extinguished at 03:30am. The only other report that might indicate the fate of the ship was from the coastguard station at Melness which reported seeing a light, perhaps from a life raft from the Ashbury, drifting into the Kyle of Tongue at 03.17am. It seems likely that the anchor cables finally parted and the ship was driven into the Kyle of Tongue and ashore at Talmine Skerries where all of her 42 crewmen perished and the ship was wrecked. In the morning local villagers could see the masts of the ship protruding from the sea and began the grim taskof recovering the bodies of the lost seamen. 26 bodies were finally pulled from the water and taken for burial. 14 of the men are buried in the cemetery and St Peterís Church, Thurso.
The Wreck Today
The wreckage of the Ashbury lies in position 58°32.776’N, 004°24.626’W (WGS84) which is on the west side of the rocky outcrop Dubh Sgeir Mohr, off Talmine. The wreckage is very broken in rocky gullies spread across the full extent of the reef in depths of 10 to 20 metres. Visibility is usually good and the bright sand reflects available light and adds to the visual appeal of the site.