The Princess Patricia was a steel cargo passenger steamship of 837gt/275nt, built by the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd of Dundee (Yard No.174) and launched in November 1903. The vessels dimensions were 225.2’ x 32.1’ x 14.9’ and it was powered by a triple expansion steam engine of 165 nhp also supplied by the Caledon SB Co. The Princess Patricia was owned by Matthew Langlands & Son of 45 Hope Street, Glasgow and traded on both the west and east coasts of the UK. The vessels official number was – 119070.
The Princess Patricia left Manchester around 9pm on 18 October 1911 bound for Glasgow, under the command of her master, Neil McNicol. Aboard were a crew of 18 in total, she carried no passengers, and was loaded with around 800 tons of general cargo. By 6.45 pm on 19 October she was abeam of Corsewall Point and a course was set to pass to the west of Ailsa Craig, which they did around 8pm. Shortly afterwards they encountered rain with hazy conditions and reduced visibility, but lights were visible at about 3 miles.
When abreast of Pladda around 9pm a further course change was made, and then further some 5 minutes later, coming further to the east away from land, visibility remained poor. Around 5 minutes later at 9.10pm the Princess Patricia ran aground on Dippin Head at full speed.
The engine was stopped and no attempt was made to back the vessel off the rocks. The forward holds were badly holed with 8 feet of water, the pumps were unable to stem the influx. Around 11pm the crew abandoned ship and all got safely ashore, to be met by the Coastguard who had responded to the rocket signals fired by the crew. A few hours later the Campbeltown lifeboat arrived on scene, having been towed across to Whiting Bay by the herring drifter Nightingale. As all the shipwrecked crew had landed safely, the lifeboat remained at Whiting Bay until the following morning before returning to Campbeltown.
The crew of the Princess Patricia were boarded overnight in a local farm at Dippen. The crew returned to their ship the following day to await a salvage tug and lighters that had been dispatched from Greenock, but owing to the poor weather nothing could be done. On 22 October with improving weather, salvage work commenced on the cargo and repairs to the hull. Work continued until the 4 November when the Princess Patricia finally broke up and was abandoned by the Glasgow Salvage Association. The wreck was advertised for sale by public auction in January 1912 by the Glasgow Salvage Association with a closing date for offers of 8 February.
The purchase of the wreck by the West of Scotland Shipbreaking Company was confirmed by mid February with an offer of £525. Work commenced almost immediately with the removal of further cargo and the main ship fittings such as winches, machinery, anchors and chain for re-sale. It is not clear whether the wreck was completely removed but was clearly dismantled to the waterline as no evidence of debris is clearly visible along the coastline at Dippen Head.
A Board of Trade inquiry took place in Glasgow on 18 & 20 December 1911 in an attempt to understand the circumstance of the vessels loss. In the intervening period her master had died of natural causes and the key witness was therefore George MacDonald the Chief Officer and the man in charge at the time of the stranding. The story relating to the courses set by the Chief Officer and the eventual stranding are complex and we attach a copy of the report to let readers make your own assessment. However, the Court’s opinion was, that as the vessel had been navigated in a proper manner by the Chief Officer, the loss could only be explained by the theory that the ships compass was deflected by an electric lamp in the lookout man’s pocket. This man had been standing next to the binnacle before the stranding. By experiment the deflection was 4° with the lamp two feet from the compass and 8° when close by. We will let you develop your own opinion.