Annie Jane Memorial, Vatersay
Annie Jane Memorial, Vatersay

A simple concrete obelisk marks one of the most tragic events in the history of Vatersay, and one of the worst disasters in maritime history anywhere in the world. The monument stands at the edge of the machair, looking west over Bagh Siar, where in 1843 fully 348 men, women, and children died when the brig Annie Jane ran aground in a storm.

The Annie Jane was carrying about 450 emigrants from Liverpool to Montreal, as well as a cargo of iron, beef, and pork. Bad weather forced the ship to turn back twice, but the third attempt to cross the Atlantic started well, only for events to quickly turn bad off the Western Isles. Severe weather caused the ship to lose at least one mast, and for three days it was forced to run before the wind.

On the early morning of 29 September, the Annie Jane was driven onto offshore reefs at the entrance to the bay and split apart. Passengers tried to launch lifeboats but a fresh wave struck, sweeping most of them into the sea. Others were crushed when masts and decking collapsed. Miraculously, a section of poop deck and forecastle broke apart from the ship and acted as rafts for those few passengers gathered there.

These few survivors finally made it to land about 15 hours after the ship went aground. They were temporarily sheltered at Vatersay House, whose ruins are still visible on the south side of the bay. There were 102 survivors, including the captain, 28 crewmen, 12 women and one child. Most of the rest were buried in mass pits, as there were no trees on Vatersay with which to build coffins.

The loss of life, and the terrible conditions endured by the survivors, makes the story of the Annie Jane a true maritime tragedy. It is hard to stand beside the simple memorial and look across the wide stretch of idyllic, sandy beach, and imagine how dreadful it must have been on that terrible day in 1843.

To reach the memorial, park at the designated parking area on the neck of land in the centre of Vatersay. Follow the signposted trail west to the coastal path and you will see the memorial at the edge of the machair, to the right of the trail.

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