The Risks of Visiting a Lighthouse

My direct Hunter line came from the island of Great Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde to Arbroath and then to Govan in Glasgow, and one of my current family history sub-projects is finding out more about my Hunter family’s everyday life in Great Cumbrae.

This blog post is about one of the first stories I’ve discovered about the daily life of my Hunter family on Great Cumbrae, the death of my 4 x great uncle Andrew Hunter.

Andrew was born in 1802 (and baptised on 5 May 1802) on Great Cumbrae to Peter Hunter (second mate on the Royal George cutter, the customs ship that sailed out of Millport Bay to catch smuggling vessels in the Firth of Clyde, a subject for another blog post) and Elizabeth McKirdy.

Andrew married Margaret Crawford on Great Cumbrae on 13 August 1827 and they had 5 children. Andrew only appeared in one census, the 1841 census, when he and Margaret and 4 of their children were living in Kames Street, Newton on Great Cumbrae. In 1841 Andrew was working as a joiner.

In 1849 Andrew died when he went to visit a lighthouse on the island of Little Cumbrae.

Little Cumbrae is noted for it’s three lighthouses. The first lighthouse was built by James Ewing at the top of Lighthouse Hill (the highest point on the island) in 1757, which was only the second lighthouse built in the whole of Scotland. The second lighthouse on Little Cumbrae was built in 1793 by Thomas Smith, sited on a beach with a jetty and slipway half a kilometre from the first lighthouse and the second lighthouse was replaced in 1997 by a new tower on the same site.

This is the first lighthouse:

This is the second lighthouse:

Andrew’s accident during his visit to the lighthouse on Little Cumbrae was reported in 4 newspapers the length of the country from Greenock to London which shows the significance the accident must have had to journalists and readers.

The newspapers are slightly unclear on who exactly Andrew visited Little Cumbrae with but it seems that Andrew visited the island with a friend and fellow professional and his friend’s workmen. That is, I suspect that on Saturday 20 October 1849 Andrew had accompanied his friend Mr Wishart, a mason, to the island along with Mr Wishart’s workmen. Mr Wishart had been doing some work on the lighthouse which was to be finished that day. Having finished the work the workmen were having dinner in a room and Andrew Hunter entered the room warning them to get ready to leave quickly as the wind was was beginning to blow hard and he was concerned there would be a heavy gale.

Andrew Hunter then left the room to get the boat ready for departure and Mr Wishart and his workmen followed him shortly afterwards. However when Mr Wishart and his workmen arrived at the boat they couldn’t find Andrew Hunter anywhere and spent some time searching for him. Eventually they pulled the boat a few yards closer to the land and they discovered his body floating under the boat with a severe wound on the forehead. It was believed that, either when Andrew had been trying to reach the boat or when he had been trying to catch hold of the anchor, Andrew’s feet had slipped on the rocks which were very slippery there, he fell on his forehead and was so stunned he couldn’t pull himself out of the water. It is believed Andrew had been in the water for half an hour and he was quite dead when found. My personal conclusion from the description of the incident is that Andrew, Mr Wishart and the workmen were visiting the second lighthouse and that the photo above of that lighthouse shows a little of the immediate scene with the shore, rocks and water where Andrew died..

Andrew Hunter had an amiable and obliging disposition, left a widow and family, who felt his loss severely, and a large group of friends and neighbours, by whom he was much respected and whom at all times he was willing to aid by his advice and exertions.

Sources: Church and census records from the Scotland’s People website, history of Little Cumbrae lighthouses from the Little Cumbrae wikipedia website, photos of the Little Cumbrae lighthouses from the UK Lighthouse Tour website and Greenock Advertiser dated 23 October 1849, Morning Post dated 25 October 1849, Christian News dated 25 October 1849 and London Evening Standard dated 26 October 1849 all from the British Newspaper Archive website:

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