This vessel was built as the iron cargo passenger steamship Iowa by Malcomson of Waterford and launched from their Neptune yard in 1863. She was a large vessel and measured 315’ x 34.0’ x 24.2’ and weighed 2136gt / 1781nt. The Iowa was powered by twin compound steam engines of 486 hp combined. She had been built for the London and New York Steamship Line and she commenced the transatlantic run from London in July 1864. Later that year, on 6 December, she ran aground near Cherbourg and remained ashore until salvaged in late July 1865.
The Iowa was put up for sale in early 1866 and was purchased by the Anchor Line based in Glasgow. After refurbishment the Iowa then re-commenced Transatlantic service from Glasgow to New York and in December 1873 was re-named the Macedonia. The following year she was re-boilered and re-engined and her tonnage increased to 2272gt / 1452nt. She remained with the Anchor line until her loss.The vessels official number was 49731.
The Macedonia left New York on 16 May 1881 en route to Glasgow with a general cargo of American produce and a large number of cattle when, on Monday 30th May 1881, she encountered dense fog as she tried to make her way through the dangerous North Channel and round the Mull of Kintyre. Unfortunately for her master, Thomas Martin and his sixty three crew they misjudged their position in the poor visibility and treacherous tides and ran ashore north of the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse. The weather was calm at the time and, as a result, all of the crew and the four cattlemen aboard to look after the animals, escaped safely in the ship’s boats and landed at Southend.
The cliffs north of the Mull are very high and steep making any approach to the wreck from the land extremely difficult but at first there were high hopes of getting the ship off the rocks and saving her. Salvage equipment was sent for from Ardrossan but, by the time it arrived, hope was fading. The Macedonia was lying broadside to the rocks and, although the weather remained calm, she was swept by the tremendous tides that affect the area at most times and was rolling badly on the rocks. The day after the grounding, on the ebb tide, a tug managed to get along side and take off 80 head of cattle, a valuable horse and the ship’s silver plate, papers and materials. Inspection of the ship determined that the hull was already holed by the continual rolling on the rocks caused by the rushing tide and she was declared a total wreck. The salvage tugs departed for Glasgow later in the day. Soon the ship’s cargo was washing out through the holes in the hull and bags of flour were washed ashore as far north as Gigha and Islay. The wreck and cargo, valued at approximately £17,000, were sold at auction in Glasgow on 8th June for £10 – the very low value of the wreck resulting from its location, making successful salvage almost impossible.
A formal court of inquiry into the loss of the Macedonia was held in Glasgow on 16 & 17 June 1881. After due consideration of the evidence the Court found the master, Thomas Martin to be in default, for not navigating the vessel in a seamanship manner, and suspended his certificate for 3 months.
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Macedonia lies in 8-10 metres of water approximately half a mile north of the Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse in position 55° 19.168’N, 005° 48.058’W (GPS). There are still fairly substantial amounts of wreckage to be found although it is completely smashed and mostly unrecognisable. The wreckage is spread among the rocks and boulders at the base of the cliff and, at the outer edge, is partly submerged in the white sand of the seabed. The most impressive aspect of the wreck is that some of it is under massive boulders which must have been moved around by the power of the sea after the shipwreck.
The site is totally exposed to the prevailing wind and swell and just offshore is subject to very strong tides although close to the shore on the wreck itself the tide is less strong. She can only be dived in good conditions or it could be dangerous. Approach by boat from the east takes you through the tide race off the Mull and again care is required as the unpredictable surface conditions can be treacherous for small boats.