The Signal was a steel hulled paddlesteamer built by Caird & Company of Greenock (Yard No. 233) and launched in August 1883. She was powered by a 2 cylinder oscillating steam engine generating 106 hp, also by the builders. Dimensions were 160.1′ x 25.1′ x 11.5′ with tonnage of 345gt / 174nt. The vessels official number was 87392.
The Signal was owned by the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouses and was on one of her regular trips as a tender to the Commissioners’ steamer Pharos, which carried provisions and relief keepers to the lighthouses in the Western Isles, when she left McArthur’s Head, Islay at 3:15am on 28th September, 1895. She had a crew of twenty-two, under the command of Captain Ewing, plus eight passengers aboard. At first, the weather was clear and the night was calm but, around 5am, they ran into a bank of thick fog. Captain Ewing was not alarmed although he could hear the two pitch blasts of the fog signal at the Mull of Kintyre sounding every four minutes in the distance. He estimated it to be two miles to the ENE and, as a result, at 5:55am he made his planned course alteration to the SSE. This change of direction was to be his undoing. As a precaution he slowed from his cruising speed of 10 knots to around 5.
At 6:10am the lookouts suddenly spotted breakers close to the port bow and the captain ordered an emergency turn away from the danger but, before this could be executed, the ship ran aground on a sunken rock three quarters of a mile south of the lighthouse and stuck fast. The engines were run full speed in reverse for fifteen minutes in an attempt to pull her off but she would not move. She was bumping heavily on the rock in the westerly swell and was soon found to be taking water. The captain reluctantly abandoned ship and took the passengers and crew by boat to Carskey Bay. The crew returned to the wreck to remove personal effects and the ship’s papers but did not stay aboard fearing that she would slip off and sink.
Later that day a salvage tug arrived but could not find the Signal in the fog. On the 29th she reached the wreck and began salving what could be removed as it was quickly concluded that the ship would become a total wreck. During the following night the Signal broke in two with the stern section slipping off into deep water leaving only the bow section partly visible above water the next morning. At the Court of Inquiry the captain was absolved of blame for the wreck, which was blamed on the thick fog, although he was criticised for not sounding with lead when he neared the danger area. They also recommended that the four minute interval between signals from the Mull foghorn should be shortened as, in their opinion, a shorter interval would make judgement of distance from the shore easier.
The Wreck Today
The authors have located remains of a steamship approximately 150 metres north of the Mull foghorn in position 55°18.009’N, 005°48.092’W (GPS). Although not positively identified as such we believe this to be the remains of the Signal. The wreckage extends over a reasonable area of rock and boulder seabed between 5 and 17 metres, although the bulk of the wreckage lies in the shallows. The site is also overgrown with thick kelp down to around 15 metres.
This is an exposed site and only diveable in calm conditions. Strong tidal streams run off the point south of the wreck (Rubha na Lice) especially on the ebb, although the wreck site is sheltered from the main flow.