The story of the Ella Brewster is taken from information supplied by Jonathan McColl, Dolly MacDonald and newspapers of the time and was amongst Babsie MacKay’s [Tom] papers which were handed into the hall.
The Ella Brewster was named after the sister of farmer Jim Brewster who was a part shareholder in the boat. The Ella was a 16 1/2 ft opened deck sailing boat built in 1904 and sailed out of Hilton. The crew, who all also had shares in the Ella, lived close to each in Lady Street and Shore Street. There was Charlie MacKay and Alexander MacKay [Sensie], John Patience aged 32, John Tarrel MacDonald [Finnie] aged 32 and Hugh Sutherland [Billy] aged 31. [ Because in the villages there are so many families with the same surname the forename of the parents/ grandparents both on the male and female side as used to identify them, hence John MacDonald [Finnie] his father was Finlay, Hugh Sutherland [Billy] his father was William].
During the summer of 1912 the lug sailed boat was laid up but in September a few repairs were done by Balintore carpenter William MacKay. Only a day or two after these repairs were finished the crew took her out on the 12th of September to go fishing in the Moray Firth, the normal practice was to sail to the Beauly Firth to lift mussels for bait, so the following morning the Ella Brewster was in the middle of the channel off Redcastle in the company of three other Hilton boats loading with mussels. By 10am they had bagged enough mussels and fully loaded in a light westerly breeze they headed for home, still with the other Hilton boats for company, by noon they reached Chanonry Point, the breeze had strengthened and was blowing in squalls but the sea was still smooth, it was decided to take the Ella Brewster down the south side of the firth, while the other three Hilton boats, one belonging to the Ross family, kept to the Black Isle side.
The men had noticed a small leak in the bow, they didn’t think it was a problem until they were a couple miles from the shore in Navity Bay and in about 30ft of water, when the nose began to drop, John MacDonald, who was in the bow and shouted that the water was above the box, that is 2 to 3 feet above the keel, leaving very little forward freeboard. John Patience and Charlie MacKay dropped the sail and rushed forward but then the stern dropped and began filling with water too. She went down by the bow.
They all jumped overboard, all wearing leather seaboots but no oilskins. Alexander MacKay[Sensie] reported to the inquiry that he made it to a floating oar but swam for another oar when John Patience also grabbed the oar he was clinging to. While he was swimming for this other oar someone grabbed his leg and pulled him under but he managed to struggle away and catch the oar, when he looked around John Patience had disappeared and he was alone.
Alexander Ross in his boat 2 miles behind saw the sail disappear and quickly went to investigate, all he found was flotsam and one surviver, Alexander MacKay, nearly unconscious from drowning and hypothermia. They searched for some time but found no one else so they took Alexander home to be looked after.
The fishing villages hadn’t lost so many men in one disaster since the lose of the Linnet, there were two widows, one with two small children, an old mother and a ‘delicate’ sister. The newspapers describe how the women wept on the shore, children wept and clung to their mothers and even the old men wept. All the villagers are inter-related so it affected all families.
As this happened long before the welfare state an appeal was launched for the families by the Free Church Minister and J.G.Young of Cadboll, and donations came from all, from Lady Munro of Foulis and Andrew Carnegie of Skibo to five boys scouts, £120 was collected for the families plus £11 from the The Shipwrecked Fisherman and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society.
The Fatal Accident Inquiry at Dingwall Sheriff Court on the 29th 0f October announced that John MacDonald’s body had been found on the shoreline at Kintradwell, Loth, Sutherland on the 27th of October and that Hugh Sutherland’s body had been found on the Moray coast, Charlie MacKay’s and John Patience’s bodies were never found. The jury returned a formal verdict, but added the boat was not properly inspected after being repaired. Locally it was thought they may have overloaded and with the boat not being in the water all summer it needed at least week in the water for its timbers to swell to make it watertight.