Orkney Islands Council Convener Stephen Hagan travelled to the Faroe Islands to unveil a memorial plaque to twenty sailors from Stromness lost in a wreck off the islands in 1786.
The plaque, presented on behalf of Stromness Community Council at a ceremony on Sunday (August 29), is in memory of William Melvin and 19 of his crew of the Stromness seal catcher ‘Rachel’, which was wrecked off the island of Svinoy on November 27, 1786.
Also present at the ceremony was the Mayor of Svinoy and Klaksvik, Gunva vio Keldu.
The ‘Rachel’ was sheltering from a storm in the bay of Svinoy, but its anchor failed to hold. Of the 23 men on board, only three were rescued and subsequently cared for by the people of Svinoy.
Those who were killed in the tragedy were buried in the village. Chair of Stromness Community Council, George Argo, said: “When the Stromness Community Council were first told about this tragedy we agreed it would be a fitting tribute to erect a plaque in the Faroe Islands in memory of those brave Stromness sailors who lost their lives there.
“The motto of the Stromness Community Council is “Per Mare” which means by the sea. Our community has always had a close connection with the sea and many of our town’s folk have made their living from it over the years with some succumbing to its mercies.
“This is a fitting reminder of a crew who perished far from home many years ago and we are delighted that our Island Convener Stephen Hagan could unveil it on our behalf.”
Councillor Hagan said: “I am pleased to have the opportunity to unveil this memorial to the Orcadians who died in this long ago tragedy – and to
remember the care provided by the Faroese for those who survived”.
The following is from the Statistical Account of Orkney 1795 – 1798, United Parishes of Sandwick and Stromness, by Rev. William Clouston;
It was usual for a sloop to go once a year, about Martinmas, to the small isle or rock of Soulsketrry (sic), which lies W.N.W about 10 leagues distant, and there kill seals, which resort to that rock in great numbers. The surge is so great around that rock, that it often happened, they could not effect a landing; or, if the men were landed, they, and the seals, which they killed, could not be got off but with great difficulty, and considerable risk.
In November 1786, a sloop upon this adventure, from the village of Stromness, was driven by tempestuous weather to the North Faro (sic) Isles, and there wrecked with 22 men aboard, 3 of whom were saved, and 19 perished. Since that fatal accident, this perilous fishing had been abandoned.