The Comet Star collides with another boat

This blog post is about my paternal great, great-grandfather who was born in Morayshire in the north-east of Scotland but who lived his whole life in Banffshire in the north-east of Scotland.

My great, great-grandfather George Cowie was born in lodgings in Lossiemouth in 1866, baptised in St Sylvester’s Church in Elgin in 1866 5 days after his birth (perhaps his parents were on their way home to Buckie, I find the different place for his baptism curious), married Mary Cowie (my great, great-grandmother) in 1890 at the Free Church of Scotland in Buckie, died in 1932 at Titness Street, Buckie and is buried in the New Cemetery in Buckpool. The censuses have George living in Cluny Street, Buckie in 1871 and Gordon Street, Buckie from 1881 to 1911.

As with most of my paternal grandmother’s family, George was a fisherman and most of his ancestors were fishermen.

This is George:

George Cowie

A useful tip for fellow family history researchers is to search databases such as digitised newspapers with your ancestor’s address and surname and this is how I discovered the story of George crashing his fishing boat the Comet Star into another stationary fishing boat.

About four o’clock in the afternoon of 3rd August 1908, in clear, good weather, a fishing boat named the Pearl from Lerwick, Shetland was sailing along at a speed of between 2 and 3 knots an hour, when my great, great-grandfather’s boat, the Comet Star, was spotted approaching, under both steam and sail power, at a speed of about 10 knots an hour, ie travelling much faster than the Pearl.

The crew of the Pearl shouted at the crew of the Comet Star to warn them of the danger but regardless the Comet Star crashed into the Pearl and caused such damage that the Pearl sank within 5 minutes.

The joint owners of the stream drifter Comet Star, which was registered in Banff, were George Cowie of 46 Gordon Street, Buckie, my great, great-grandfather, and Alexander Cowie of 68 Seatown, Buckie, with George being master of the boat and Alexander mate. (Cowie is a very common surname in the Buckie area and I have lots of people with the surname Cowie people in my family tree so I’ve yet to work out if George and Alexander were related). The owners of the Pearl were Robert Inkster and Francis Garrioch, both merchants in Scalloway, Shetland. and the Pearl had a crew of seven.

The owners of the Pearl sued for £589 7s 6d each and the crew of the Pearl sued in total for £270 1s 3d to cover their share of the loss of profits, the long time they spent in the water, the shock they suffered from and the value of the loss of their clothing and effects.

George Cowie and Alexander Cowie said that they had a qualified and competent seaman at the wheel, that it wasn’t customary or necessary to have a look-out on drifters and that it wasn’t necessary for the master or mate to be constantly on deck. They denied that the collision was caused by any fault of theirs (I do wonder if this implies they were blaming whoever they had on look-out) and that they lost no time in sending their boat to rescue the crew of the Pearl. They admitted liability for the collision but claimed that the amount they were being sued for was excessive and that legally their liability was limited to £8 per ton ie a total of £477 7s 6d.

George Cowie and Alexander Cowie were sued for a total of £1448 16s 3d, equivalent to approximately £113,250 nowadays.

George Cowie and Alexander Cowie eventually agreed to pay £900 (equivalent to approximately £70,350 nowadays) plus expenses and the case was taken out of court.

There were reports in the newspapers in both January and March of 1909 reflecting 2 sections of the court case brought by the owners of the boat that George Cowie and Alexander Cowie crashed into.

Sources: personal and family knowledge, the Scotland’s People website (birth, marriage and death certificates and censuses), the Find My Past website (George Cowie’s baptism), the British Newspaper Archive website, Aberdeen Press & Journal 14 January 1909, Banffshire Advertiser 18 March 1909, Aberdeen Press & Journal 18 March 1909 The Orkney Herald (which also covered Shetland) 24 March 1909 and the currency converter on The National Archives website.

(For the benefit of anyone else researching families in the fishing communities of the north-east of Scotland, the tee-names or by-names, ie the local nicknames, of my great, great-grandparents were Cowie Pum and Cowie Dosie).

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