The iron paddle steamship Cygnus was launched from the West Yard, Renfrew of James Henderson and Son in October 1954. She measured 180.5′ x 21.4′ x 9.7′ and her tonnage was 275 gross tons, 85 net tons. She was powered by a two cylinder oscillating steam engine by McNab and Clark, Greenock delivering 120 horse power.
She was built for the North of Europe Steam Navigation Company of London and operated for this company until she was sold to the Weymouth and Channel Islands Steampacket Company and registered in Weymouth in 1858. Further ownership changes followed before she was finally sold to David MacBrayne Ltd., Glasgow in 1891. She was renamed Brigadier, underwent a major refit including new paddle boxes removing her twin funnels and replacing them with a new single funnel before she re-entered service on the Scottish west coast routes in 1892 initially based in Glasgow then Oban and finally Portree.
On 7th December 1896 the Brigadier, temporarily assigned to the daily mail run, was in Lochmaddy, North Uist under the command of Duncan McPhail who had a crew of twenty one men aboard plus one male passenger. She was on a voyage from Portree to Tarbet in Harris with a number of stops at various small ports en route. She had offloaded the mail, some of her cargo and four passengers at Lochmaddy and had departed around 12.20pm on the ebb tide bound for Rodel Bay in Harris. She arrived off Ru Renish on the west side of Rodel Bay around 1:40pm. As they entered the mouth of the loch the engines were slowed and the telegraph set to standby as the crew made ready for docking. At this point the captain inexplicably ordered the helm to starbaord and almost immediately Brigadier ran aground on Duncan Rock, and rocky reef at the west side of the loch. Depsite the slow speed of the vessel she was seriously damaged and was soon filling fast with water rushing in to the forehold and engine room. The boats were safely lowered and everyone aboard disembarked. Within two days the Brigadier had disappeared and become a total wreck.
The subsequent inquiry focussed on the role of Hugh Campbell placed on board the Brigadier by MacBrayne’s agent in Portree for the period of her daily mail runs. Campbell’s role on the Brigadier seemed very unclear and at the point of the stranding he was not on the bridge. Despite this, and the captain’s order to starboard the helm, McPhail insisted that it was Campbell’s fault that the vessel had run aground as he was employed as a pilot. The captain’s submission was dismissed by the court and he was found to be totally responsible for his vessel’s loss. His certificate was suspended for six months.