The iron steam yacht Miome was launched from the yard of Ramage and Ferguson in Leith in 1881. Built for T J Waller of London she measured 189.3′ x 27.1′ x 15.0′. Her 110hp steam engine built by Matthew Paul of Dumbarton provided power for the beautiful private yacht. She passed through multiple owners in the years before the war prior to being acquired by Sir Donald Currie in 1915 who named her Amalthea. She was requisitioned later that year by the Royal Navy and eventually renamed HMS Iolaire. She was stationed in the Hebrides as the parent ship at the Stornoway Naval Base.
The end of the war was greeted with joy and relief by families and friends of the soldiers and sailors of many nations. For the islanders of the Outer Hebrides the many tragedies of the war were to have one last cruel twist as the survivors of the conflict made their way back to their island homes. Train loads of weary soldiers and sailors were ferried north and emptied onto the crowded platform at Kyle of Lochalsh throughout the last day of the year in 1918. The regular mail steamer SS Sheila could not cope with this massive influx of people and so the Iolaire was sent across the Minch to assist. As she steamed into view the soldiers and normal civilian passengers in the crowd were dispatched aboard the Sheila leaving around 260 naval ratings who merrily jostled on the quayside waiting to board the Iolaire. The Iolaire unceremoniously crashed into the pier as she pulled alongside but this incident was quickly forgotten as the ratings hurried aboard, anxious to be on their way to see their loved ones at Stornoway. No one paid any attention to the cramped surroundings of the ship which was designed and fitted out to carry only eighty passengers.
Captain Mason expected a quick trip as they would be pushed along by a strong, nearly gale force breeze blowing from the south. They set off at around 8pm and the trip went well with boisterous singing and talking around the ship as they steamed along. Two hours out from Stornoway they joined in celebration of a new year that everyone expected would be filled with hope after the years of war but tragically, for most of them, it would not be. Soon the light at Arnish, close to the entrance to Stornoway, was sighted and many of the ratings began to get their gear together and moved on deck to catch the first glimpse of their home town.
Suddenly a terrible grinding crash rocked the ship and her bow rose high in the air. She had run aground. Almost immediately she tumbled to starboard throwing some fifty of sixty men into the freezing sea before righting herself again and settling on the reef she had hit. The engines stopped and the ship was plunged into total darkness adding to the panic and confusion aboard. Waves crashed against her and smashed the lifeboats as they were lowered down the sides of the ship. From the light of the distress flares the shoreline looked temptingly close but the few men who tried to reach it drowned in the attempt. The continual pounding of the huge seas gradually pushed her off the rocks and the ship turned broadside onto the cliffs of Holm. This precarious position actually provided enough shelter to allow a rope to be attached to the shore and few men managed to clamber to safety before the ship finally slipped off the rocks completely and sank.
The survivors staggered across the fields to nearby farms and soon the news of the tragedy spread round the island shattering the hopes of the relatives and friends waiting for the return of their loved ones. The next day crowds gathered above the scene of the wreck to look in silence over the site of the disaster. It was hard to believe that fate could have been so cruel, snatching the men from them so close to home after years of war. The masts of the Iolaire were the only sign of what had occurred the previous evening. The bodies of the dead were washed ashore at Holm and Sandwick over the next few days. There were only seventy nine survivors.
The wreck of the Iolaire lies in position 58°11.293’N, 006°20.998’W (WGS84) between the Beasts of Holm and the Lewis mainland. It is reported that the boiler and the propeller are still discernible with other general wreckage scattered around the area among the kelp in depths ranging from 5 metres to 15 metres.