The iron steamship Duncan was launched from the Aberdeen yard of Hall Russell and Co Ltd (Yard No 193) on 24th September 1874 for Mr Peter Duncan of Dundee. She measured 188.1′ x 26.1′ x 14.4′ and her tonnage was 626 gross tons, 405 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Hall Russell delivering 74 registered horse power.
On 18th July 1877 the Duncan departed from Dundee bound for Archangel in water ballast under the command of her usual skipper Alexander Paterson intending to load a cargo of flax there for the return voyage. They steamed north sighting Rattray Head at 7:25 pm where Paterson adjusted his course to north west steering towards Fair Isle. As they crossed the outer Moray Firth around 2:00am on 19th the weather thickened as fog set in. The skipper slowed her engines until, four hours later, the air cleared somewhat and the engines were returned full speed ahead steering a course that was now planned to take them 30 miles east of Fair Isle.
At 7am, spotting a strong surface current pushing them west of the intended course, he altered course a few degrees to the east to provide additional safety margin for the ship away from the island. However, at 9:30am, land was sighted directly ahead and, although engines were reversed, she ran aground at 9:45 am on the Head of Baa, Fair Isle. Thankfully the weather was calm and although the ship was sitting very low in the water the men aboard were in no immediate danger. The crew and the single passenger were safely evacuated in the ship’s boats and later taken aboard the SS St Magnus for onward transit back to the mainland. A few hours after the crew were evacuated the Duncan slipped of the rocky ledge and sank in deep water with only the higher points on the ship remaining visible above the surface. She became a total wreck. At the subsequent enquiry Paterson was held responsible for the loss of the vessel failing to take adequate care and precautions to keep his ship safe in the deteriorating weather conditions. His certificate was suspended for six months.
The scattered wreckage of the Duncan is reported to lie in approximate position 59° 30.667’N, 001° 38.667’W in water up to 20 metres deep.
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