The steel steamship Jasper was launched from the yard of W B Thompson Ltd., Dundee on 23rd June 1883 for the Gem Line Steam Shipping Company of Dundee. She measured 235.0′ x 31.7′ x 22.4′ and weighed 1256 gross tons, 811 net tons. She was powered by two 2 cylinder compound surface condensing engines by W B Thompson delivering 99 horse power. She operated successfully for her owners for more than ten years mainly on the Scottish and English North Sea routes.
On 16th April 1894 around 11.30 in the evening she steamship left her home port in ballast bound for Burntisland in the Firth of Forth. She was under the command of Captain John Douglas with a crew of 18 hands plus the master’s wife and child as passengers. The weather was patchy fog with a moderate breeze and a north easterly swell.
After clearing the Abertay lightship the captain plotted a course which took them close to the North Carr Lightship at around 2:00 am. Captain Douglas ordered a reduction in engine speed as by now the fog was very thick but, with a good bearing on the lightship, the skipper was confident of his position and intended course which should take him east of Fifeness and north of May Island towards the Forth estuary. He entered the chartroom to further check his position and course but almost immediately he heard the engine telegraph ring as the second mate put the helm hard to starboard and the engines into reverse. He raced to the bridge to see rocks and broken water on the starboard bow and, thinking that going ahead with starboard helm would give them the best chance of missing the rocks, he changed the order to full speed ahead and almost immediately reversed the order but it was too late. The Jasper crashed onto the rocks and remained fast.
An immediate inspection of the engine room revealed water rushing in and the ship quickly settled. A sounding at the stern showed water depth of over 60 feet so, with the bow jammed hard ashore and the stern precariously suspended over deep water it was clear the ship was in serious trouble. Distress rockets were fired which were answered quickly by the lighthouse crew who arrived on the shore close to the stranded ship. The passengers and crew disembarked by rope ladder as remaining aboard the ship in it’s dangerous position would have been taking a serious risk. A local tug arrived on the scene later but all that could be done was for the tug to ferry the crew and passengers, except the master who stayed on the island to keep his ship under observation, back to Anstruther. He too finally abandoned the ship which was to become a total loss
During the subsequent enquiry local fishermen testified that easterly and north easterly winds, as those encountered by the Jasper that night, often caused a considerable surface current running SSE towards May Island and that this most probably caused the ship to be much further south than the skipper had reckoned as he calculated his ship’s progress on the dark foggy night. It was also noted that the recent replacement of the gas light on May Island by an electric light had, in fact, considerably dimmed the light itself making it much more difficult to see on the foggy night in question. There was no fog signal on May Island at that time. The captain was exonerated from blame in the loss of his ship.
The wreck was heavily salvaged where she lay but some broken scattered wreckage is still visible among the rocks in approximate position 56° 11.195’N, 002° 33.141’W in depths of up to 10 metres.