The wooden paddle steamer Duke of Sutherland was launched from the Govan yard of Robert Napier and Sons (Yard No.21) on 6th November 1846. She measured 197.8′ x 26.2′ x 17.5′ and her tonnage was 803 gross tons, 515 net tons. She was a large powerful ship with her steam engine by Robert Napier, Govan delivering 340 horse power. She was operated by the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Co Ltd and was a popular ship. She was once described as ‘one of the most beautiful models to enter the Thames.’ She had berths for 60 first class and 28 second class passengers and her public areas were luxuriously fitted out. She was manned by a crew of 27. She operated on the North Sea routes along the east coast of Britain.
On 1st April 1853 she was en route from London to Aberdeen with her normal crew of twenty seven under the command of Captain Howling and had twenty five passengers aboard. As evening approached she reached her destination and headed towards the entrance to Aberdeen harbour, when disaster struck. The sea at the entrance was very rough fuelled by a heavy cross channel swell and south easterly gale plus a strong outflow from the river Dee. As the captain manoeuvred his ship towards the harbour she was hit by a huge wave on her starboard quarter and was swept onto the rocks off the North Pier just north of the harbour entrance. The engines were run in reverse at full power but to no avail. Almost immediately, she began to break up and within ten minutes had more than three feet of water in the engine room. As she lay broadside to the swell with her bow facing south the waves were crashing over her.
One lifeboat was successfully launched but the other was smashed against the side of the ship and disintegrated. An inshore lifeboat was able to take off a few more passengers despite being damaged when it too was driven against the ship’s hull. Thirty minutes after she went aground she rolled violently and the forepart of the ship broke off. The remaining passengers and crew huddled around the port paddle box. Meanwhile, ashore the rocket brigade had arrived and eventually succeeded in getting a line aboard and, with the on board assistance of the Chief Steward Duncan Christie, were able to save twenty passengers and crew.. At this juncture Captain Howling was struck by flying wreckage falling into the sea and drowned. A small coble manned by some local men took off two more passengers but the coble was swamped as they left the ship with five more lives lost. Soon after the bow section of the ship broke off throwing more people into the boiling surf. By 8pm in the evening the ship had vanished smashed to pieces against the rocks. Of the fifty two people aboard thirty six people were saved.