The fine appearance of this sleek, twin funnelled steamer and the exceptional speed provided by her oscillating engines made her very popular with the public as she sailed for her owners, William Hutchison & Company, on her regular route from Glasgow to Ardrishaig. The Iona 1 had been built by James & George Thomson in 1855 and launched from their Cessnock yard in Govan. Her iron hull had dimensions of 225.2’x20.4’x9.0’ and she had a net tonnage of 124 tons.
The history of the Iona 1, and many of her contemporary Clyde steamers, was to be dramatically changed by the events in far off America where, in the early 1860s, the Civil War raged between the Confederate southern states and the Unionist states of the north. In April 1861 President Abraham Lincoln declared a blockade on all southern ports immediately stimulating the lucrative, if risky, business of blockade running to bring essential supplies to the beleaguered citizens of these Confederate cities and towns. The fast, shallow draft steamers of the Clyde were ideal for this business and over the next few years many Clyde steamers were sold at excessive prices to Confederate agents thinly disguised as a ‘ Spanish firm’ or the ‘Emperor of China.’
The Iona made her last passenger sailing on the Clyde in September 1862 and then she too was sold to one of those mysterious buyers. She was stripped of all her fittings, painted grey, loaded with coal and general stores and set off from Glasgow on the morning of 2nd October, 1862. Her destination was Nassau in New Providence, the Bahamas. She spent a number of hours off Gourock plying back and forth, setting and adjusting her compasses before finally weighing anchor in Gourock Bay that evening. She steamed into the dark, clear night at a steady three or four knots.
For most of the same day the newly launched steamer Chanticleer had been undergoing speed trials between the Cloch Lighthouse and the island of Cumbrae and on the measured mile off Skelmorlie. She was returning to port and passed the Cloch at 6:50pm, travelling at around eight knots.
As in most of these type of incidents, the testimonies of the crew of the two vessels relate differing versions of the events which followed. The crew of the Iona later told how the Chanticleer, without lights showing, suddenly appeared out of the night bearing down on them and that, despite cries from them to alter course, she tore into the Iona’s starboard side some twelve feet aft of the paddle box. The Chanticleer’s bow cut through the Iona to within two feet of the port side so there is no doubt that the Chanticleer was travelling fast when the collision occurred.
The crew of the Chanticleer, on the other hand, said that they had put up their lights on passing the Cloch Lighthouse and, in fact, the Iona cut across the path of their vessel causing the subsequent collision. The pilot on board the Chanticleer told reporters that he had sighted the Iona’s lights some two or three miles ahead and had turned to starboard to leave passage for the Iona on his port side. The two vessels continued on this course until, within a few lengths of each other, the Iona suddenly veered across the Chanticleer’s bow.
The only certain fact is that the Iona was fatally damaged in the collision and that, after her crew and some of their possessions, plus a very shaken young stowaway, were taken off by the boats of the Chanticleer, her bows rose dramatically into the air and she sank, stern first, in deep water. The master of the Chanticleer made an attempt to push the Iona towards the shore but to no avail. Curiously an offer of assistance from a passing tug appears to have been declined by the captain of the Iona who had insisted that the master of the Chanticleer accept liability for payment before he would allow his stricken vessel to be taken in tow. It would also appear that many of the crew, none of whom were local, were drunk when picked up by the Chanticleer.
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Iona lies in position 55° 57.912’N, 004° 47.212’W (GPS), 100 metres south east of Whiteforeland Buoy.
She lies upright in 28 metres with stern pointing in the general direction of Helensburgh. The mid section of the vessel, with paddles still clearly visible, is all that remains. The stern and bow sections have almost disappeared into the muddy seabed. The remaining centre section is approximately 25 metres long. The engines, with their large brass counterweights, and the boilers are the most obvious visible features. The superstructure and the funnels are long since gone although the bases of the twin stacks can still be seen. The sides of the ship above deck have fallen onto the seabed, as have many other items from on board. The huge store of coal for her long Atlantic voyage lies in mounds at both ends of the wreck.
Iona 1 slideshow
There are no major problems diving the wreck, however, it does lie in the shipping channel and therefore good boat cover and a sharp lookout are essential. The wreck itself is entangled with fishing line which can be a hazard in the darkness. The visibility, although always dark, is generally 2 or 3 metres as evidenced in the short slideshow of underwater pictures. The current in this narrow part of the river can also be a problem at certain states of the tide. A dive around high water slack should give best conditions of current and visibility.
In October 2016 the Scottish Government confirmed that the wreck site had been designated an historic Marine Protected Area (MPA), which will allow the preservation of a 19th century Clyde built paddlesteamer for future generations.