The iron steamlighter Ben Nevis was launched from the Paisley yard of Abercorn Shipbuilding Co Ltd (Yard No 19) on 24th June 1876. She measured 63.2’ x 17.6’ x 8.1’ and her tonnage was 65 gross tons, 44 net tons. She was powered by a compound steam engine by Dunsmuir and Jackson, Glasgow delivering 20 net horse power. Built for Edward Ferguson of Greencock she was purchased by Mr James Campbell, 23 Cathcart Street, Greenock in 1884, and remained in his ownership until loss.
The strong tides racing through the Sound of Luing make it a dangerous place for a small vessel in distress. Unfortunately for the Ben Nevis and her four crew this is exactly where she got into trouble and it was to prove disastrous for the vessel and the men aboard. She had sailed from Greenock and was bound for Temple Pier on the Caledonian Canal with a cargo of 90 tons of coal, with Captain Archibald McNeil in command. When she reached the Sound of Luing, around 10am on 5th April, 1887 and was passing Fladda Lighthouse, she had developed a bad list to port, probably due to her cargo shifting. This and a F8 northerly gale slowed the little vessel and as she entered the tide race off the lighthouse, the combination of the list and the lack of speed made her unmanageable. One of the villagers at Cullipool later reported that he had seen the men aboard trying to pull in their small boat but it was full of water which made it impossible. A few minutes after she entered the tide race he saw her founder with the loss of all of the men on board. She sank in the middle of the fairway with the beam of her derrick visible at low tide.
On the days that followed her loss, a number of searches took place to try and recover the bodies of the four crew members, but without success, although the ships papers were recovered and returned to the owners. In the Oban Times of 30 April it was intimated that the wreck was to be raised, as it lay in the main navigable channel inside Belnahua, and as such a hazard to navigation. However, further searches of the newspaper could not find any reports of success or otherwise. The vessels registry was not renewed in 1888, which suggests that the Ben Nevis was either raised and broken up or, the remains still lie in the channel to the east of Fladda Lighthouse. On this basis, we have assigned a position of loss as 56° 15.185’N, 005° 272’W, the thinking behind this is explained in the diagram above.