The iron steamship King Alfred was launched from the yard of Blyth Shipbuilding Co Ltd (Yard No 68) on 27th July 1889. She measured 225.0′ x 32.7′ x 15.8′ and her tonnage was 1137 gross tons, 717 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by North East Marine ngineering Co Ltd delivering 99 registered horse power. She was built for the King Alfred Steamship Co Ltd (Phillips and Co, Glasgow mgrs) and operated from the Clyde before she was sold to the King Line Ltd, London who maintained Owen Phillips as the ship’s managers.
On 16th March 1894 she departed from Fernandinha in the Gulf of Florida with a cargo 1225 tons of phosphate rock bound for Bo’Ness. She was under the command of Captain William Wishart who had a crew of twenty men aboard. The voyage across the Atlantic went well although they encounter a storm which lasted four days from 22nd to 24th March. By noon on the 4th April she was in a position approximately 56° 36’N, 07° 10’W nineteen miles south east of Barra Head Lighthouse. At this point her heading was adjusted to NEbyE to take her through the Little Minch towards Cape Wrath steaming at full speed of eight knots. At 2pm, with her course now set at NE, land was sighted three and a half miles off her port bow. A further small course adjustment to NNE followed but, around an hour later the second officer who was on the bridge with the captain suggested they were too close to the land but the captain appeared to ignore his warning. At 3pm a light was sighted off the port bow and a buoy appeared off the starboard bow. The captain later stated that he thought the light was on Glass Island or Scalpay and the buoy marked the Sgeir Inoe shoal. This statement seemed ridiculous as this shoal was more than forty miles from their actual position. He steered the King Alfred to pass the buoy on his starboard, still steaming at full speed, and fifty minutes later ran hard aground. The light the captain had spotted was in fact on Calvay Island, Loch Boisdale and he had run his ship aground off Stuley Island, South Uist.
The King Alfred’s hull was badly damaged and the forehold was filling fast but local islanders quickly responded and rowed out to assist. The ship’s boats were quickly launched and the crew prepared to disembark but, with the sea calm and little wind they decided to stay aboard to assist in salvage attempts. The salvage steamer Ranger soon arrived onsite and assisted in removing seven hundred tons of her cargo. Despite the lightening of the King Alfred attempts to tow her off were unsuccessful and, on 10th April Ranger took off the crew and the ship was abandoned. At the subsequent Board of Trade enquiry found that Captain Wishart was entirely to blame for the loss of the ship by ‘failing to take common precautions in approaching the land to verify his position by bearings.’ His certificate was suspended for twelve months.