Oban steamer steward was eyewitness to Flannan Isles Lighthouse mystery

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This month we look back at the Flannan Isles mystery from the eyewitnesses account of Oban’s Neil MacPherson.

The Flannan Isles Lighthouse mystery has intrigued people for nearly 120 years. Built in 1899, just a year later it became one of the biggest mysteries never to be solved in Scotland.

The week before Christmas, the steamer Archtor reported the light was not operational and this was passed onto the Northern Lighthouse Board.

The lighthouse tender Hesperus finally arrived at noon on December 26 as it had been storm-bound for 11 days. There was no flag on the flagstaff and the three keepers – James Ducat, Thomas Marshall and Donald McArthur – had disappeared. Joseph Moore, the relief lighthouse man, was landed but he soon reappeared waving frantically.

Neil MacPherson of Oban, who for 39 years was chief steward of the Hesperus, later stated the meals had not been touched in the living room and a big chair had been overturned near the table. They searched the other apartments and found everything to be in order. They proceeded up to the light and it was then they realised the three keepers were missing. They searched the rock but there was ‘no solitary clue’ as to what happened.

On its previous visit, the crew of the boat had found nothing amiss with the keepers.

Until he died, Mr MacPherson believed that something happened to make the keepers rush outside, and a giant wave washed them away.

Theories he was aware of was that they had a quarrel and had fallen 200 feet to their deaths, while another was claimed they had been ‘driven mad by the eerie solitude’, caused by isolation for six weeks followed by being marooned for 11 days by the storm, and committed suicide. Another was that an earthquake had occurred. On hearing the noise, they had rushed outside but were swept away by the giant wave that followed.