Morvern Lines – 7.1.21

Waverley Cameron (Credit: Mary Cameron: Portrait of Waverley Cameron, 1891; Private Collection: Photo: Eion Johnson).

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Continued from last week.

According to the Oban Times, ‘The sad news was received by the towns-people with a feeling of deepest regret, and during Friday and subsequent days eager crowds thronged the pier and esplanade on the arrival of boats from Lismore, in the hope of obtaining information as to the result of the search’.

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.

Local boats were out again on Saturday under the direction of Mr John Sutherland and Captain Cecil H Bishopp, Gun & Fishing Tackle Maker of the Sportsmen’s Depot, Oban. Towards noon, the yacht was found, and with difficulty raised and beached. The recovery was mainly due to the forethought of a youth named MacColl, son of Donald MacColl, Balnagowan, who saw it go down, and immediately placed marks on the shore, from which bearings might afterwards be taken. There was still no trace, however, of Waverley’s body, and the search continued on Sunday in a heavy sea, was similarly unsuccessful.

The search party on Saturday and Sunday was accompanied by Rev Dr Blair, Cambuslang, brother-in-law of the deceased, who arrived from the south on Friday afternoon. Duncan Cameron, his father, who was on a visit to Ballachulish from Edinburgh, at the time, was telegraphed for, and arrived in Oban by the Saturday mid-day steamer.

Several Lismore fishermen worked away daily from Kilchearan to the Black Island with grappling hooks but came to the conclusion that as there were strong under-water currents where the boat went down it was possible that the body may have been carried out to sea and that it was futile to prolong the hunt. The search of the sea bed was so thorough that a number of objects, including an old anchor which had been lying under water for about 10 or 12 years, were recovered.

Letters of sympathy poured into The Oban Times office from all parts of the country referring to Waverley’s qualities, his fine business tact and the great loss to the newspaper by his sad and untimely death. He was so popular that on the Sunday immediately following his disappearance he was mentioned from the pulpit of every church and place of worship in Oban and the surrounding districts.

The Oban Boat Club, of which Mr Cameron was an active member, had also taken official notice of the sad occurrence. At a meeting of its Sailing Committee shortly after, it was resolved to minute, ‘The great loss the club has sustained by the death of Mr Waverley Cameron, who had always shown an active interest in, and afforded valuable assistance to, the club. The Committee further desired to express on behalf of the club, their sympathy with the deceased’s relatives in the sad bereavement, and the secretary was instructed to send an excerpt of this minute to Mr Duncan Cameron, senior.’

Out of respect to the memory of the deceased, it was also agreed to discontinue the usual fortnightly sailing races for the rest of the month.

The shock felt by the Cameron family suddenly losing a son so young and vibrant must have been unimaginable. Not having his body to grieve over or a grave to visit would have made it doubly painful as most people need the experience of having both to make the loss real and to enable them to take the next step in the grieving process.

A report from a newspaper correspondent in the Outer Isles eight months later must have brought the family a glimmer of hope in one respect. It read: ‘The body of a man much decomposed and which had apparently been many months in the water, was on 4th inst., washed ashore near Portnalong, Newton, North Uist. It was supposed to be that of Mr Waverley Cameron of The Oban Times who was drowned near Lismore in June last. It was conveyed to Oban and a representative of the family travelled thither on Monday from Edinburgh and along with two of the local medical men, one of whom had been the medical attendant of Mr Cameron, made a careful examination of the body. The task to all concerned was a difficult and painful one, but the result placed it beyond all doubt that the remains were not that of Mr Waverley Cameron.

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

‘That the body of a person drowned off Lismore should have been found seven months afterwards on the Atlantic shore of one of the Outer Hebrides was in itself a very improbable thing, but in all the circumstances of the case, the family considered it desirable to have the remains brought to Oban and subjected to a careful examination by those best qualified to give an opinion on the question of identity’.

From this report, dated 16 January 1892, it would seem the doctors were in agreement that whoever the remains might be it wasn’t Waverley, yet when it was later interred in private ground in Pennyfuir cemetery, Duncan Cameron, Waverley’s brother, and several members of The Oban Times staff were present. Did the family still harbour some doubt?

What of Waverley’s friend who also died on June 4th 1891?

Donald Campbell, 28, was proprietor of the Balliveolan estates in Lismore and Glencreran. He left a widow and two young children. His father was Major Donald Patrick Campbell of the 92nd Highland Regiment and the representative of an old Highland family. His funeral took place the following Monday.

Many relatives and friends met at Dunollie House and from there proceeded to St John’s Church, where part of the Church of England burial service was read by the Rev Arthur Ingilby, assisted by the Rev James L Challis. Leaving the church the procession formed up and walked to Pennyfuir cemetery, where the rest of the service was read at the graveside.

In one of these awful twists of fate, his only son, Donald Patrick Colin Campbell, Lieut, RN, died at sea, aged 23, on February 2, 1912, in the sinking of HM Submarine A3, when he and all 14 of the crew perished as a result of a collision with HMS Hazard during trials in the Solent off the Isle of Wight. The submarine was later raised and the bodies recovered. All were buried in the Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery, Gosport, Hampshire, except Donald Campbell who was interred privately in Pennyfuir alongside his father under a large white marble cross.

Both father and son are also commemorated on a plaque inside the Church of the Holy Cross, Portnacroish, Appin.

In early May 1892, the Cameron family erected the memorial cross on Lismore immediately opposite the place where Waverley was last seen. It is made of Ben Cruachan granite and measures 22 feet from base to the summit. It was designed by Alexander Shairp (1855-1906) and constructed by Messrs D & J MacDougall, the well known firm of Oban builders. By some strange coincidence the North Uist Parish church was also built that year by the same architect.

To be continued.