The New York was the second of three large iron steamships built for the Glasgow & New York Steamship Company, the first being SS Glasgow and the third was the SS Edinburgh. Launched from the yard of Tod & MacGregor in Glasgow (Yard No.73) on 10 August 1854 the New York measured 283.2’ x 40.5’ x 14.4’ and had a tonnage of 2168gt / 1011nt. Power came from a single compound 2 cylinder steam engine driving a single propellor. The New York entered service in 1854 and was soon chartered by the French Government for troop transport to the Crimea. The New York commenced her intended service of regular transatlantic crossings in the late summer of 1856, and provided a few years of active service before her untimely loss.
As the New York steamed down the Clyde on the evening of 12th June, 1858 the passengers promenaded on the deck of the beautiful steamship enjoying the warm, calm summer’s evening. Many of them gazed a little sadly at the picturesque Clydeside shoreline for the last time before heading for a new life in the Americas. She was bound from Glasgow to New York and had two hundred and twenty two passengers aboard in addition to her eighty crew, under the command of Captain McWilliam, a native of Campbeltown and an experienced Transatlantic navigator.
As they passed Arran and Pladda the passengers were beginning to settle for the night, although many were still about or below decks sketching, singing and talking about the adventure that lay ahead in the New World. Their adventure was to start long before they reached the other side of the Atlantic. Just after 10pm, the ship passed Sanda and the crew took a last bearing, setting course to take them safely past the Mull of Kintyre. They did not know it but a defect in the ship’s compass put the course towards the rocks near the Mull instead of safely off shore as her Captain had planned. As she passed Sanda lighthouse the night was still clear but, as she approached the Mull, a thick fog came down and soon the flashing light of Sanda was lost. Despite the fog, she was steaming at about eleven knots and, at about 12:15am she crashed bow first, onto the rocks at Rubha Clachan. Her bow rose up into the air and she listed heavily to starboard but luckily did not capsize. The captain tried to reverse engines but to no avail, although it is probably just as well as she had been severely damaged on impact and would most likely have sunk in deep water if she had come off.
As it was, the crew and frightened passengers rushed on deck, many of them in their night-clothes, expecting the worst. At first many of the crew panicked and threatened to abandon ship but the captain’s good sense prevailed and soon everyone was calm and an orderly preparation for getting ashore was under way. As the night was calm and the vessel, after her initial lurch, had now settled safely on the reef, they waited until daybreak before attempting to reach the shore. Next morning the crew rigged a series of lines that were used to pull boatloads of passengers, with their belongings, to the rocky shore.
The scene ashore was almost like a picnic, as the passengers sat in the sun, among the rocks, eating a hearty breakfast and discussing the adventure of the previous evening. As they waited to be picked up and taken to Campbeltown, they watched the ship gradually settle, by the stern until, by the time they were picked up by the steamship Celt, the back half of the ship was almost under the surface and the starboard gunwales were awash for her full length.
The subsequent court of enquiry held that there had been a problem with the ship’s main compass that had caused the captain to steer a wrong course and he was absolved of any blame in the matter. The New York quickly became a total wreck.
The Wreck Today
The wreckage of the New York lies to the east of the reef at Rubha Clachan in position 55°17.322’N, 005°45.050’W (GPS), in depths ranging from 7 metres to 18 metres. The wreckage, which is well broken, is spread among the boulders on the side of the reef and down onto the white shingle seabed at the base.
A section of the stern at the shallowest part of the wreck and a huge crankshaft, lying almost on top of the reef, are the most recognisable items, but there is still a great deal of wreckage to explore with many broken pieces of crockery and other remnants of the ship’s cargo or gear, particularly at the deeper part of the wreck. The reef is visible at most states of the tide as the swell breaks over it. The tide sweeps past the outer edge of the reef and the combination of tide and swell make it an “interesting” site, not for the novice. Also boats must be handled with great care to avoid joining the New York on the reef although a small boat can normally be safely anchored inside the shelter of the reef itself.