Morvern Lines – 31.12.20

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Tall, free-standing, Celtic crosses have been popular memorials throughout Scotland for over a thousand years.

There are many wonderful examples and representations of all ages to be found in almost every graveyard and jeweller’s shop in Argyll.

The Memorial Cross, Lismore, overlooking the spot where Waverley Cameron was drowned in 1891. Photograph: The Oban Times Archives

One of the most poignant and impressive I know of is on a rocky outcrop a little way above the high water mark on the east side of the island of Lismore, looking out over the Lynn of Lorn. At the base of this replica of the original St Martin’s cross, which stands by the main door of the abbey on Iona, is a tablet inscribed: ‘This monument is erected to the memory of Waverley Arthur Cameron of The Oban Times drowned on the 4th of June 1891 by the foundering of a sailing boat off this spot’. [Followed by a quotation from The Treasures of the Deep, a poem by Felicia Hemans 1793-1835]:

‘To thee the love of woman hath gone down: dark flow thy tides o’er manhood’s noble head. O’er youth’s bright locks and beauty’s flowery crown. Yet must thou hear a voice: restore the dead: earth shall reclaim her precious things from thee restore, restore the dead, thou sea. Erected by his sorrowing father’.

Waverley was the second son of Duncan Cameron who, along with his brothers John and Donald, were the owners of the Edinburgh-based printing and stationery firm of Macniven and Cameron. Duncan joined the firm in 1850, and in 1865 received a patent for the ‘Waverley’ nib, with a uniquely narrow waist and an upturned tip designed to make the ink flow more smoothly on the paper. It was named after Sir Walter Scott’s popular novels of the time.

A Waverley Pen advertisement from The Oban Times 1900.

Waverley, the subject of this article, was educated at the High School, Edinburgh and in France. Three years at Edinburgh University followed before he arrived in Oban to take on the management and editorialship of The Oban Times, which the family bought for £4,000 in 1882.

Reporting the accident a week later a contributor, perhaps his father, recorded; ‘He [Waverley] had conducted this paper for the last two years, and has exhibited in this exacting position sagacity and power of mind quite beyond his years. There is no doubt he had a useful and, we might almost say, brilliant career before him had he been spared to continue the work to which he was so much attached, and for which he was so well fitted. Possessed of singularly pleasing and winning manners and of a happy disposition he made hosts of friends, among whom his ever-welcome presence will be sadly missed: while among those who were fortunate enough to come into closer contact with him, he was equally honoured and beloved.

‘Mr Cameron was connected with most of the societies in town, took a prominent part in their work and annual entertainments, in all of which he received unstinted praise for his clever and artistic impersonation of character. He was also on the Executive of the Oban Liberal Association, and young as he was, manifested a keen and intelligent interest in all the political movements of the day. His sad and untimely death creates, therefore, a blank in the social life of Oban that will not be readily filled – in short, he was a general favourite with both old and young in our own little community.’

The fatal accident occurred about 7.30 on the evening of June 4, a little way to the north of Achnacroish Pier, Lismore, where Waverley and three friends – John Sutherland, Allan MacDonald and Donald Campbell had gone in a small half-deck yacht called the Countess – a well known racer carrying a large spread of canvas. The party left Oban about 4pm reaching Achnacroish two hours later.

A yacht similar to the Countess which sank off Lismore, resulting in the deaths of Waverley Cameron and Donald Campbell, June 1891.
Photograph from the Archives of G L Watson & Co Ltd.

On coming alongside the pier, John Sutherland, a land agent with Hosack & Sutherland who had business to transact on the island, disembarked. To pass the time the others amused themselves by tacking backwards and forwards. The wind was then blowing from the northeast in strong gusts, and when some distance to the north of the pier and about 200 yards from the shore, the boat was struck by a heavy squall shipping a large volume of water. She became water-logged and refused to answer to the helm; another wave hit her, filling her completely.

Finding that the yacht was sinking beneath them, the three occupants jumped into the water. The accident was seen by several people on Lismore who immediately sprang into action. Two boats were launched, one by Dugald and Donald Carmichael and the other by Donald MacColl and his son, but it would have been about 15 minutes before they were able to reach the spot.

By this time Waverley had disappeared below the surface; one of the boatmen just managed to get hold of Donald Campbell as he was sinking. Allan MacDonald was picked up almost unconscious from exhaustion. They were pulled into the boat and rapidly rowed ashore. The other boat stayed out to see if they could find any trace of Waverley but all they got was his hat and he was never seen again. MacDonald, an Oban solicitor, and Campbell were carried up to the nearest house, where, under treatment, the former recovered, but all efforts to get his companion breathing again were unsuccessful.

In the course of the same evening Allan MacDonald and John Sutherland were able to return to Oban in a rowing boat, manned by the islanders. On arrival there about eleven o’clock, the relatives and friends of the deceased were told what had happened by Oban’s well known Dr Robert MacKelvie whose memorial stands in Argyll Square. Meantime the steam launch Marchioness of Lorne was made ready and set off for the scene of the accident with Colonel MacDougall of MacDougall, Dunollie (Donald Campbell’s step-father) and one or two members of the Oban Times staff – none of Waverley’s immediate relatives being in Oban at the time.

Coming close behind were a number of fishing boats with gear to look for his body. The search proved fruitless and after waiting some hours it was decided to convey the remains of Donald Campbell to Oban. This was accomplished by the steamer, and on arriving at Dunollie Point, the body was taken ashore and carried to Dunollie House.

The Marchioness again returned to Lismore to assist in the search which was continued till darkness set in, but without result. Even the yacht, owing to the conflicting accounts given by the spectators as to the exact point at which it went down, could not be located.
To be continued.