The iron steamship Blythville was launched from the yard of William Gray and Co Ltd., Hartlepool (Yard No 171) on 28th July 1877. She measured 248.0′ x 32.1′ x 18.4′ and her tonnage was 1394 gross tons, 897 net tons. She was powered by a 2 cylinder compound steam engine by North East Marine Engineering Ltd delivering 120 net horse power. Built for William Gray’s own shipping line she was sold to H Cail of Newcastle in 1906 became part of Cail’s Zapata Steam Shipping Co Ltd in of Newcastle 1907.
At 11am on June 2nd, 1908 Blythville departed from Stornoway in water ballast for a short voyage south along the Scottish west coast and through the Irish Sea to Swansea. Her route took her through the Minch and she passed Barra as darkness began to fall. The weather at first was fine and the sea calm but as they sailed south fog began to sweep over the vessel. By midnight the crew could hear the Skerryvore Explosive fog signal sounding off the port bow and at 1am Captain James Stephen ordered her course changed to south half east. This course was calculated to take her five miles west of Islay but, in the thickening fog, failed to take account of the strong tidal streams off Islay’s west coast.
By 5:30am the captain was getting worried and he slowed his speed to half then again to slow ahead at 7am. Shortly afterwards he ordered the mate to get out the sounding lead but before this could be done they heard breakers close by and almost immediately they sighted rocks three lengths ahead of their ship. The engines were reversed and the helm put hard over but it was too late. The Blytheville ran aground striking the Frenchman’s Rocks near her port bilge and within minutes the engines and pumps stopped as water poured into the engine room. The vessel had a heavy list to starboard and, as it was clear that she was about to sink, the crew took to the boats and reached the shore safely. When the captain returned later with some locals the ship had slipped off the rocks and vanished. At the subsequent inquiry his certificate was suspended for three months. The court held that he had not navigated his vessel in a seamanlike manner as he had failed to use the sounding lead to verify his situation.
The scattered wreckage of the Blytheville lies around 8 metres of water in position 55° 41.597’N, 006° 32.019’W and much of the wreckage lies in a narrow gulley at the south west corner of Frenchman’s Rocks. The stern section is most in tact and engine and boiler are still visible. Tides around the rocks are ferocious so great care must be taken when diving the site and slack water is essential.