Launched on 7th August 1880 from the Lawe yard of John Readhead and Co Ltd of South Shields, the iron steamship Grimsel measured 251.0′ x 34.2′ x 17.5′ and weighed 1398 gross tons, 902 net tons. She was powered by 2 x 2 cylinder compound steam engines by Readhead delivering 130 net horse power. She was owned by Mathew Cay of South Shields.
She left Salonica in Greece on 24th September, 1889 with a cargo of rye and five passengers aboard. She was under the command of Captain Daniel Clark with a crew of eighteen men. She called at Gibraltar to replenish coal then headed north through the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel en route for Leith. The voyage went well and by midnight on the 12th October she was off St Abbs Head where the Leith Trinity pilot, James Dryburgh, came aboard to assist with the final few miles of the trip. The sea was smooth with a light westerly breeze and hazy visibility.
As they entered the more restricted waters if the Forth estuary they maintained full speed of 8 ½ knots altering course slightly, under the instruction of the pilot as they passed Fidra light. At about 3:30 am the green light of a sailing vessel crossed their bow about half a mile ahead of them but, despite the hazy conditions, speed and course were maintained. Suddenly, about 4:20 am, the rocky outline of Inchkeith appeared directly in front of them and, despite helm put hard to port and engines reversed the ship ran aground on the east side of the island. The boats were lowered and an inspection below revealed that, although she was fast aground, she was making water rapidly in the fore peak and fore hold. The pumps were started and kept in operation for almost twenty four hours with the crew remaining aboard hoping to save their ship. However around 9:30 am on the 14th the captain gave the order to stop the pumps and abandon ship. She was to become a total wreck. Thankfully none of the crew or passengers were injured and everyone made it safely ashore.
At the subsequent enquiry there was much debate about how poor the visibility had been and whether, in the circumstances, the speed maintained was too fast but testimony about the visibility varied greatly. It seems evident that the visibility was less than the captain and pilot thought it was on the night in question. The poor visibility was exacerbated by the inferior nature of the light on Inchkeith although the pilot was well aware of the weakness of this beacon. The enquiry held the pilot, James Drybrough, to blame for the loss of the ship stating that he should have taken a course that was more conservative than the route chosen given the limited visibility and the poor beacon on Inchkeith.
The wreck of the Grimsel was auctioned on 31st October later that year and partially salvaged but some substantial wreckage, mainly of the forward section of the ship from the bow to the bridge, is reported to remain in position 56° 01.900 N, 003° 07.800 W (WGS84) in the shallows on the east side of Inchkeith.