The Ovington was a small cargo steamer of 444nt., built by Osbourne & Graham at Sunderland and launched in 1873. Her dimensions were 187.0′ x 28.3′ x 14.3′ and her hull was constructed in iron.
The Ovington left Glasgow around 9pm on 28th December, 1889 bound for Hamburg with a general cargo, mainly of charcoal and ammonia. Her captain was William Gorley and she had a crew of twelve. At 11:15pm they landed the river pilot at Greenock and continued down river. As the Ovington reached Toward Point a couple of hours later the weather, which had been poor up to that point, suddenly deteriorated with further fog and snow squalls. Captain Gorley decided to drop anchor and await clearer weather before proceeding. It is curious that Captain Peter McEwan of the other steamer involved in this tragic incident, the 1500 tons SS Queen Victoria, reported the weather dark but clear prior to the collision.
What is certain is that, as the Ovington slowed to a halt and prepared to drop anchor with all lights burning, the Queen Victoria appeared out of the night on her port bow and collided with her, tearing a huge hole between the bridge and the forecastle.
The actual cause of the collision was later revealed as an error made by Captain McEwan and his crew on board the Queen Victoria. They were returning from a voyage to Antwerp and had reached the Clyde the previous evening. On reaching Cumbrae, they took a bearing for Toward Lighthouse. It seems likely from the weather report of Captain Gorley of the Ovington that the lighthouse itself was shrouded in fog and snow, despite the clear weather further south. At around 2am the lookout on the Queen Victoria spotted a light ahead and Captain McEwan, thinking the light to be the Skelmorlie Buoy, turned slightly to port to pass the light to the west. By the time they realised that the light was in fact the stern light of another steamer it was too late and, despite desperate efforts to avoid the collision by reversing engines, they ploughed into the side of the vessel lying across their path.
The two ships held together for a few minutes allowing a number of the crew of the Ovington to scramble onto the bow of the Queen Victoria but, within five minutes of the original impact, the Ovington sank by the bow taking with her five of her crew. As she sank, she was ripped apart by a huge explosion, leaving the surface littered with debris and wreckage. Indeed, a large part of the bridge, including the compass binnacle and bell, was washed ashore on Bute the following day.
The Wreck Today
The Ovington lies in position 55° 51.207’N, 004° 58.203’W, approximately one mile south of Toward Lighthouse. She lies upright in a general depth of 35 metres with deck level at around 32 metres.
The hull is still substantially intact, although the port side, where the collision occurred is gradually breaking apart and falling onto the seabed. The hardwood decking has rotted away, leaving the main supporting deck beams exposed. However, since the wreck was first discovered in March 1984, all the deck beams in the stern section have collapsed. This fact should be considered when descending below deck level in the bow section. The most interesting area of the wreck is the midship section where the bridge area, engine room, galley and stores can be found.
The only hazards associated with diving the wreck are the usual darkness, depth and its generally poor structural condition. At certain states of the tide the site can be subject to currents and it is also quite exposed to swell. The site also lies close to the Wemyss Bay to Rothesay ferry route so good boat cover and a prominently displayed ‘A’ flag are essential.