built by A & J Inglis Pointhouse Glasgow,
Yard No 275 Engines by shipbuilder
Propulsion: triple enpansion engine (first in MacBrayne fleet)
13.5" (HP), 23.5" (IP) and 36" (LP)
Stroke: 27 inches.
Launched: Saturday, 30/01/1904
Ship Type: Steamship
Ship's Role: Hebridean, passenger and mail service
Tonnage: 280 grt
Length: 150.2 feet
Breadth: 23.1 feet
David MacBrayne Ltd Glasgow
Status: Wrecked - 01/01/1927
09/03/1904 Registered Glasgow.
On Saturday 1st January 1927, the fleet of David MacBrayne Ltd lost one of its finest steamers on the rocky shoreline at Cuaig Bay near the mouth of Loch Torridon. One can do no better that to reproduce the history of the stout little steamer Sheila as recounted by Messrs Duckworth & Langmuir in their classic book "West Highland Steamers" (a tribute to Duckworth & Langmuir follows).
The second steamer of the new MacBrayne family was the famous Sheila, which became so closely identified with Stornoway and the inhabitants of Lewis. This was a product of Inglis of Pointhouse, both hull and machinery; she had the distinction of being the first steamer in the fleet to be fitted with triple expansion engines and very neat and trim they were.
The ship was launched at Pointhouse on 30th January, 1904. When finished she was a "good looker". It would be extravagance to apply the epithet "pretty" as in the case of the Claymore, because gone were the days of beautiful clipper bows, bowsprits, carving and ornamentation. Nevertheless her hull was finely modelled, and with well proportioned masts and funnel even this utility ship possessed a grace of outline not so often met with in vessels of her size and class. Sheila was named after a character in William Black's novel "A Princess of Thule". Her trials were run on 9th March, 1904.
Probably few steamers of only 280 tons have fulfilled such an important role and been known and respected in the same way as Sheila. We use the word "respected" with deliberation, because for over twenty years this little ship fought and defied the Minch, summer and winter, on the passage between Kyle of Lochalsh and Stornoway with passengers, cargo and mails, and the occasions when “weather and circumstances" were so utterly outrageous that she did not venture out were few and far between.
All the credit for this does not of course rest with the ship, because without her gallant crew such consistent running would have been impossible. We have heard of the most fearsome passages undertaken on winters' nights with such wind and seas that, steaming to the utmost limit, practically no headway would be made at all for hours, but sooner or later the steamer would be alongside the pier preparing for her next trip, or return passage as the case might be.
The hours involved on this Stornoway run were, and still are, arduous, and it is generally conceded – but not always realised by West Highland travellers – that the Stornoway mail steamer is the hardest worked of the whole fleet. The week–end. rest at Stornoway is little more than twenty–four hours, namely from arrival on the Saturday night to the departure very early on Monday morning.
There will be some who look back on their passages in the Sheila as a painful memory, but they must be fair and admit that her daily crossings of the Minch – actually twice per twenty–four hours – in practically all weathers for over twenty years without mishap was no mean achievement. On many important cross
channel services the volume of traffic and financial side of the undertakings used to permit of sufficient vessels being maintained to allow each ship fairly long periods of rest in the course of the year for reconditioning. Such a condition was not, and is not possible in the West Highlands on the continuous mail services, so that the only rest given to the Sheila was a short spell each year for drydocking and survey in Glasgow. Here was a prominent case of the outstanding reliability of steam machinery.
Readers who are interested in this ship will find two most impressive and amusing descriptions of the Minch crossing from the point of view of the passenger, who is not too good a sailor, in the Stornoway Gazette during May, 1933. These were written by Mr. J. N. McIver of Stornoway.
The Sheila's time on this station was not entirely unbroken, as she was employed on the Kyle, Mallaig, and Outer Islands service in 1921, and was in Oban about the time the Great War concluded. In 1921, when she was otherwise employed, the Gael was Stornoway mail steamer.
In all probability the Sheila, when new, relieved the Gael or Glendale, and the difference in running costs must have been very marked indeed.
The fate of the ship was tragic. Captain Cameron was away enjoying a few days of well–earned rest and the steamer was in the hands of another officer temporarily. Attention has already been drawn to the dangers of navigation on the West Coast and to the great rarity of mishaps on the whole, but it is human to err, and the mistake that was made on the inward passage from Stornoway in the early morning of Saturday, 1st January, 1927, scaled the fate of the poor Sheila and she never reached Kyle.
We do not know the details, but it is possible the officer of the watch never saw the South Rona light, and thinking he had run his distance, altered course with a view to making the Applecross call, and did not discover his error till too late. The result was that the unfortunate vessel ran ashore in darkness in Cuaig Bay just south of the mouth of Loch Torridon, very early on New Year's morning. No lives were lost.
The Claymore was in the vicinity of Kyle at the time and took up the Sheila's sailings until such time as the Clydesdale (II) was available. The latter was then on the service for two and a half years until Lochness (III) came out.
Photo shows Sheila at Kyle of Lochalsh
Previous update by Stuart Cameron
Last updated: by Bruce Allan from the original records by Stuart Cameron
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