Built by Tyne Iron Shipbuilding Co Ltd., Willington Quay for, Joseph Robinson and Company of North Shields the iron steamship Nymphaea measured 286.9′ x 37.0′ x 21.8′ and weighed 1969 gross tons., 1284 net tons. She was powered by a 180 net horse power 2 cylinder steam engine by North Eastern Marine Engineering Co Ltd., Sunderland. Launched in January 1882 she was operated by them as part of their Stag Line fleet predominantly serving ports on the eastern seaboard of the UK.
The Nymphaea set out from the Tyne at 10:00pm on the night of 13 July 1914 bound for Cuba in ballast under the command of Captain John Mouat, an experienced seaman who had served on the Nymphaea as mate then master for fourteen years. As they steamed out to sea a dense fog descended and the master decided to anchor till dawn hoping that the fog would clear for his journey north. Indeed, when they finally set off at 5:45am the following morning, the visibility had improved significantly so Captain Mouat ordered the anchors raised and his ship got underway. The course was set for Buchan Ness and the crew settled down to an easy voyage along the Scottish east coast in almost flat calm conditions. As they passed Bell Rock the fog came down again but, at 9:47pm, a light was spotted off their port bow which the captain and chief officer took to be the lighthouse at Girdleness. As the fog continued to thicken and no further lights had been seen Captain Mouat ordered cautionary depth soundings which were taken three times during the next ninety minutes. On the first two readings the lead failed to find the bottom as expected but the final reading, at sixteen fathoms, was much shallower than he had expected so he ordered he helm hard to port to take them east away from the land. No sooner had this been done than the Nymphaea crashed aground at 11:47pm.
She had stranded at Studie Head south of Whinnyfold in a position which was twelve miles west of the captain’s intended position. The crew were quickly and safely evacuated as the ship was bumping on the rocks but she was doomed. Jammed between some outlying rocks and the rocky coastline with a list to port she was in a position that made successful salvage extremely difficult. She became a total wreck.
During the captain’s evidence at the subsequent enquiry he stated that the compasses had last been adjusted in February 1911 but that the deviation records produced at the time had later been lost overboard and not replaced. It is possible therefore that the compasses did have a deviation that was not allowed for in the course north. Interestingly, at the enquiry, they referred to two other vessels ashore that same night further south so it is also possible that there was an unusual set of the tide in an easterly direction which pushed the Nymphaea and the two other ships towards the shore.
The wreckage of the Nymphaea was discovered under the wreck of the City of Osaka by Peterhead Sub-Aqua Club in 1994. The position for both wrecks is 57°22.576’N, 001°51.872’W where the seabed is littered with broken plates, girders and other debris making it almost impossible to discern which wreck is which particularly as the site is only twelve metres deep at the maximum and the almost continual swell makes visibility poor at most times.