The 3 masted ship Guy Mannering was launched from the East River, New York yard of William H Webb in 1849. She measured 189.9′ x 42.6′ x 29.8′ and her gross tonnage was 1418 tons. She was built for the Taylor and Merrill Line of New York, a partially British owned shipping Line (named as the Black Star Line in Liverpool). She operated on the North Atlantic trading routes bringing mainly cotton, flour grain and timber the United States to Britain and returning with iron and steel from Britain’s factories and hundreds of optimistic migrants setting out for a new life in the former colonies. On her first return voyage she is recorded as leaving Liverpool on 22nd May 1949 with hundreds of migrants, mainly Irish labourers and their families but also including 58 lead miners from Northumberland who had been blacklisted following an industrial dispute and were heading to America for a new life.
Years later, in December 1864, as the twenty nine crew members of the Guy Mannering under the command of Captain Charles Brown completed the final preparations for their return voyage to Liverpool with a cargo of cotton and grain and six passengers they could not have imagined the terrifying ordeal they were about to face. They departed from New York 2nd December 1864 on initially the voyage went well but, around a week into the voyage the weather deteriorated dramatically and for the next three horrendous weeks the ship was buffeted by ferocious winds and swept by huge seas. The passengers joined the exhausted crew manning the pumps and replacing the continually shifting cargo but the ship, with her sails and rigging torn to ribbons, was slowly but surely swept towards the Scottish coast. As she tossed helplessly in the wild waters off Skerryvore on the 30th December the passengers and crew were relieved when another New York ship, the J P Wheeler, spotted them and signalled that she would come alongside and attempt to take them off their disabled ship. Their hopes were dashed when, in the fading light and spray, the two ships lost sight of each other and the people aboard the Guy Mannering were abandoned again to the mercy of the wind and waves sweeping them inexorably towards the rocky west cost of Iona.
The captain tried as best he could to steer his ship towards the one sandy bay on the west coast of the island but, with most of the small population of the island watching and waiting to help in the rescue, the Guy Mannering struck on a rock about a quarter of a mile offshore from Camus Cul an Taibh about 3pm on the 31st and immediately began to break up in the pounding surf. Within 30 minutes of striking the ship broke her back. The unfortunate passengers and crew were left with little alternative but to trust their lives to chance and to attempt the swim through the boiling surf to the shore. The brave islanders formed human chains from the shore into the surf to help the survivors reach safety – nineteen of the thirty six people aboard managed to somehow reach the shore – the remainder were drowned in the huge breakers or crushed among the wreckage of the disintegrating ship which had disappeared from view within a few hours of going aground. The terrible wreck of the Guy Mannering and the bravery of the islanders who tried to save the shipwreck victims has entered into the local folklore of the island. The rock on which the ship went aground is known locally as Brown’s Rock after the unfortunate captain of the ship.
Some wreckage, believed to be from the Guy Mannering was discovered ashore on Iona inshore of the wreck site. The large wooden objects were recovered, preserved and now are on display in a local heritage museum.