The iron steamship Inflexible was launched from the yard of Short Brothers of Sunderland (Yard No.123) in February 1882 for Anderson, Horan & Company of Sunderland, and remained in their ownership until her loss. She measured 281.0′ x 38.2’ x 27.4′ with tonnage of 2300 gross and 1489 net. She was powered by a 2 cylinder compound steam engine by J Dickinson of Sunderland delivering 200 horse power The vessels official number was 85001.
The Inflexible left New York on 3 August 1893 bound for Newcastle with a valuable general cargo of 2,700 tons comprising flour, maize, cheese and potatoes. Observations of their position were taken on 13 and 15 August, and a course set to make sight of St Kilda around 08.00 on 16 August. Her master, Joseph Taylor was on the bridge around 07.00 hrs, the weather conditions were patchy with light winds and changeable visibility, but still no sight of St Kilda. The master continued on his course at full speed believing that St Kilda would come into view fairly soon. By 08.30 visibility began to reduce and by 09.15 a lookout was posted on the bow. Shortly after this the chief officer saw rocks ahead. He immediately ordered the helm hard a port and reversed the engines, but the vessel ran aground and remained fast. Sounding were take around the ship and they established they had around 5 fathoms depth at the stern, shelving towards the bow. She was holed in No.1 hold and also forward ballast tanks.
The chief mate was sent ashore for assistance, and he established from the islanders that the Inflexible had run aground on a reef off the west side of the Monach Isles, North Uist, also know as Heisker. A telegram was sent from the local post office at Locheport on North Uist advising the owners of the situation and requesting assistance although the master was aware that the damage was serious and cargo would need to jettisoned prior to any visit by a tug and diver. By the 18 August the weather began to break and there did not seem much hope of assistance reaching the stricken vessel soon enough and by Sunday 20 August the crew were instructed to take the next steamer south. The SS Staffa took them as far as Oban where they arrived on the Tuesday, and travelled to Glasgow on the SS Claymore arriving late evening. The master, two mates, and the chief engineer had remained with their vessel in the hope that help would arrive. Unfortunately none was forthcoming and a gale later in the week broke up the Inflexible and a good deal of her cargo was washed a shore on Heisker and surround coast of North Uist.
We have not been able to establish if there was any formal salvage carried out on the wreck, a good deal of her cargo would have been spoilt by seawater, there was probably limited scrap value in the vessel itself. The wreck was advertised for sale in early October 1893, and again we have not been able to establish if this attracted any interest. From local sources the wreck is reported to lie off Sgeir Mhor, Skivinish, which would put it an approximate position of 57° 31.069’N, 07° 38.423’W, probably lying between 5 and 12 metres on a rocky seabed. It will be heavily degraded. Local sources, that is northuist.net also note the existence of an anchor from the wreck on the shore nearby.
A Board of Trade inquiry was held in Sunderland on 12 and 13 September 1893 to establish the cause of the stranding of the Inflexible. The Court found her master, Joseph Taylor to be in default for the stranding for a) not reducing speed in the pour visibility and b) not checking the depth by lead line when they were unsure of their exact location. The Court suspended his masters certificate for 3 months.
We would like to thank Lloyd’s Register Foundation – Heritage & Education Centre for allowing us to reproduce documents from their archive in this article.