The iron steamship River Garry was launched from the yard of Workman Clark and Co Ltd., Belfast (Yard No 19) in November 1883 for James Little and Co Ltd. She measured 240.0′ x 33.2′ x 18.2′ and her tonnage was 1294 gross tons, 826 net tons. She was powered by a compound steam engine by Muir and Houston, Glasgow delivering 99 registered horse power. By 1893 her ownership was registered under the company name of SS River Garry Ltd but this company was still owned and the ship managed by James Little and Co Ltd of Glasgow.
At 8:30 pm on November 17th 1893 she departed from Leith under the command of Captain J R Cavender who had a crew of 17 men aboard. The captain’s son was also aboard and initially the ship was under the charge of a local pilot named Wilson. She was bound for London with a cargo of 1618 tons of coal. The loading of the cargo had taken longer than planned so some of the coal was simply dumped on the deck to be moved into the holds as they travelled because the captain didn’t want to miss the tide and delay his voyage further. The hatches remained off to allow the coal to be stored properly below. When they left port the weather was clear with a moderate WNW wind but it was reported later that the captain was warned of approaching bad weather but still persisted with his plan to start his voyage south. As they passed Inchkeith around 10 pm the pilot said his farewells and handed the ship over to the captain.
The River Garry steamed off into the night at 7 knots with the crew still working to clear the coal from the deck. Events after this point are a matter of speculation as everyone on board was to be lost when the ship sank a few hours later. As the ship streamed south the weather began to deteriorate with the wind veering to the north east and rapidly growing in strength. By 3 am the wind was storm force and continuing to strengthen and by 5 am the ship was caught in a full hurricane. Perhaps the ship had been swamped in the storm with hatches still open. In any case, the next sign of the River Garry was wreckage and finally the bodies of the crew washed ashore along the coast near Barns Ness and Thorntonlch. A watch on one of the bodies was stopped at 5 am. Most likely the ship went down around this time with the loss of all hands.
The wreck of the River Garry was found and identified by the recovery of the ship’s bell in the 1990s. The wreck was heavily salvaged in fairly recent times but the substantial remains lie in position 55° 59.841’N, 002° 25.057’W (WGS84) and are well broken over a fairly wide area in 30 metres of water. One of the boilers is still fairly in tact and is the most recognisable and prominent feature of the wreckage. Anchors and winches are strewn randomly across the seabed. The engine lies off to the port side of the wreck.
We would like to thank Lloyd’s Register Foundation – Heritage & Education Centre for allowing us to reproduce documents from their archive in this article.