The steel cargo steamship Maple Branch was launched from the Sunderland yard of Bertram, Haswell & Company (Yard No.134) in May 1888 for the Nautilus Steam Shipping Company of Sunderland. She measured 300.4′ x 40.0’ x 18.4’ and her tonnage was 2681 gross, 1716 net. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by J Dickinson of Sunderland delivering 242 net horse power. Her official number was 95266.
The Maple Branch was on a voyage from Glasgow to Sunderland in ballast when she ran aground on the Island of Sandray in the Outer Hebrides around 01.00hrs on 5 July 1897. Aboard were twenty three crew, four passengers and her master, Captain T R Hutchinson. The Maple Branch had driven ashore on the Skertichenish Rock (aka. Skerlechenish on contemporary charts) a reef off the Leehinish peninsula on the south east side of Sandray. Fortunately the weather was settled at the time, and the four passengers ( the master’s wife, his 2 children and another boy) and half the crew were put ashore with food and shelter until assistance could be summoned.
The masters initial telegram to the owners on the 5 July was short and to the point; Maple Branch ashore 1am Sandray Island, in dangerous position. In the following days help arrived in the form of a marine surveyor closely followed by the East Coast Salvage Company, who supplied a diver and attended with their salvage vessel Ranger which was based in Oban. However, the wreck was in a very exposed position, was lying over a submerged slab of rock and badly damaged around the engine room and No.2 hold as she grounded. The surveyor got aboard on the 7 July but it was too rough for the diver, although he was able to make an inspection the following day. The list of damage did not make good reading, her two main boilers both out of position by 6”, donkey boiler out of position 24”, main hull and deck distorted midships, engine room and No.2 hold awash with rock seen through engine room floor. By 9 July there seemed little prospect of refloating the wreck with further heavy swell slowly breaking her up.
Discussions between salvors, insurance company and her owners concluded that her salvage was beyond reasonable cost based on her distant location and such an exposed position. At high water much of the fore deck was below water as she had been turned by the sea and swell so her bows were pointing almost due south out of the bay. It was decided to put the wreck of the Maple Branch up for sale by public auction, and adverts in the press appeared on 14 July. We have not been able to establish what the outcome was, but it is likely she eventually became a constructive total loss, her register was closed a few months later in 1897.
A Board of Trade inquiry took place on 3-4 August in Sunderland to establish the cause of the stranding and perhaps establish why the Maple Branch had strayed 4 miles off course in as many hours. After hearing evidence from a number of maritime experts, Captain Hutchinson and senior crew the inquiry gave its judgement as follows. “The Court finds that the casualty was due to the neglect of the master to use the lead, and find and verify the position of the vessel when Barra Light should have been visible”. Fortunately for Captain Hutchinson the Court took his clean record, long service and good character into consideration and did not suspend his masters certificate, but cautioned him to more careful in future.
There are three small peninsulas along the south coast of Sandray, the Maple Branch ran aground on Skertichenish Rock (aka. Skerlechinish) which lies off the most easterly of these. Wreckage is reported to lie in the channel between the reef and the island and is heavily broken in position 56° 52.850’N, 07° 29.880’W. The wreckage consists of hull plating and a boiler, note the Maple Branch had two single end boilers and a single triple expansion steam engine.
We would like to thank Lloyd’s Register Foundation – Heritage & Education Centre for allowing us to reproduce documents from their archive in this article.