Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stromeferry - Part 3

Picking up the story from Part 2, many and vocal had been the pledges in support of the proposed railway from Dingwall to the west coast at Kyle of Lochalsh but when it came to calling in these pledges in 1865, the actual cash was a bit slower being forthcoming. Also, one of the landowners along the route, Sir William MacKenzie of Coul (near Contin), refused to allow the railway to pass through his estate necessitating expensive deviations from the planned route.

On way or another, the directors had to cut their cloth somewhat and soon realised they couldn't afford to build the railway all the way to Kyle. Instead the terminus would have to be at Attadale near the head of Loch Carron. Although Attadale was the nearest point on the west coast, it was about 16 miles from the shipping lanes to the south from Portree on Skye and Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides: it was this trade (especially cargo - fish and livestock from the islands) which the railway was banking on intercepting and Kyle would have been a much better place to siphon it off at than Attadale.

Despite this disappointment, work on the railway began in September 1868 but as a result of persuasion by director Sir John Fowler - the railway engineer who would later become responsible for the Forth Bridge - it was soon decided to extend it further down Loch Carron to Stromeferry. The railway was opened to passengers on 19th August 1870. The picture below shows the terminus at Stromeferry viewed from the north side of Loch Carron. From left to right on the far side of the loch are the engine shed, station and pier (wuith steamer alongside), the stationmaster's house, railwaymen's cottages and the hotel. The white building in the foreground is the inn at North Strome on the north side of the ferry across the loch.

The Dingwall & Skye Railway Company (DSR) which had built the line would not operate the trains over it, however. These would be run by the Highland Railway Company (HR) which owned most of the other lines radiating from Inverness under a deal whereby the HR paid the DSR 2 shillings (10p) per train-mile over the line to Stromeferry for up to two runs each way per day and 1 shilling and 10 pence (about 9p) per train-mile for additional runs.  From this would be deducted £200 per year for the DSR's use of the HR's station at Dingwall.

 The building on the right above is the hotel

Another concern to the DSR was steamer connections. The whole point of the line, really, was to capture traffic to the islands of Skye and the Outer Hebrides beyond the terminus of the railway but, perhaps not surprisingly, the principal shipping company in the north west, David Hutcheson & Co (the forerunner to MacBrayne's), declined to divert their steamers to Stromeferry. Hence the DSR was obliged to buy two steamers of their own, the Oscar and the Jura, to sail respectively to Portree (daily ex. Sunday) and Stornoway (twice a week).

The pier with the station on the left. The inn at North Strome visible on the right

The initial timetable was two return trains a day between Inverness and Stromeferry. The down trains (from Inverness) departed at 9.15am and 3.10pm and arrived at Stromeferry at 1.15pm and 7.15pm respectively. The steamers sailed in connection with the morning train arriving at Portree (via Kyleakin and Broadford) at 8.00pm and Stornoway at 10.00pm. The single fare between Inverness and Stromeferry was 4 shillings and 5 pence (22p) or 8 shillings and 10 pence (44p) First Class. This was considerably cheaper than the 6 shilling fare on the mail coach as well as being infinitely quicker and more comfortable.

The station viewed from the branch line to the pier

In the years following the opening of the line in 1870, the steamer services were scaled back with sailings to Stornoway being abandoned: instead passengers would connect at Portree with Hutchesons' steamers to Stornoway. In 1877, the Highland Railway Co. took over the steamer operations but in 1880 Hutchesons' - now trading as MacBrayne's following the retirement of the Hutcheson brothers leaving their junior partner David MacBrayne to carry on alone - relented and agreed to take over the run from Stromeferry to Portree with calls at Plockton, Broadford and Raasay. Also in 1880, the HR merged with the DSR meaning in practice that the former company now owned the railway itself as well running the trains over it.

The following year, 1881, MacBrayne's took over the mail run from Stornoway to Ullapool (which involved passengers making a 5 hour coach journey to connect with the evening train to Inverness at Garve) but in 1885 the mainland terminus of that service moved to Stromeferry as well. 

Stromeferry from the east with a steamer at the pier

The late 1880s, then, were the high water mark of Stromeferry's fortunes as a railway terminus, the only one on the west coast of Scotland north of Oban (to where a railway had opened in 1880). By now, there were three trains a day and daily steamers to Portree and Stornoway connecting with the noon train from Inverness. But it would be all change for Stromeferry in the 1890s as proposals for more railways to the north west were tabled.
                            MacBrayne's Stromeferry to Stornoway steamer SS Lovedale seen here at Lochmaddy

To be continued ...


  1. Well worth the wait Neil.

    In the 1st B&W picture is a steamer. Do you reckon you can date the image from it? In all probability it will be the paddler, CARHAM of 1864 as the funnel and masts seem to correlate with other images I have.

    The 2nd B&W picture also has a steamer in it, although it looks like a screw steamer, unlike the CARHAM. It could be the D&SR's illfated FERRET which serves at Strome between 1874 and 1880.

    Do you know the interesting story of the FERRET?

    Originally owned by G&J Burns, FERRET was sold to the HR for £15000 in 1874. She served Portree, from Strome, with a Stornoway call added once a week, a Gailroch call every two weeks and a Poolewe call once a month.

    When MacBraynes took over the steamer services, they didn't want to use the D&SR steamers so they chartered the CARHAM to various operators before scrapping her in 1886.

    FERRET on the other hand had an interesting 'retirement'. She was chartered to Mr George Smith of London who apparantly had an invalid wife. A doctor had prescribed her a cruise and her husband had chosen the FERRET. The rate was £270 a month for 6 months. FERRET was loaded at Glasgow for the cruise with over 1000 bottles of wine, paid with an old form of credit note, and she sailed from Glasgow bound for the sun! This was late October.

    When the first installment of the charter agreement did not come through, the railway company wrote to Mr Smith at his London adress. The letter was returned as 'adressee unknown'. The credit note for the wine had been repudiated and Mr Smith had emptied his bank account days before leaving on the steamer.
    The railway company enlisted the help of Lloyds to find the boat. She was reported, on the 11th November, as passing East through the straits of Gibraltar, than at Malta on the 24th January 1881. The railway company at once contacted the authorities of Malta to sieze the ship until 4 months charter was paid (£1080). The reply came back that no ship of the name FERRET had been seen near Malta!
    In April reports came of wreckage near Gibraltar which was positively identified as that of the FERRET, and just as the claim for total loss was being processed a message came from Melbourne, Australia. FERRET was being detained there and Mr Smith and associates were under arrest and being held.

    In the trial it eerged that Mr Smith sailed FERRET from the Clyde to South Wales where the crew was chaged. He then set sail fro Gibraltar and made sure he was seen passing East, then in the night he reversed his course and blacked the navigation lights. After passing Gibraltar for the West he jettisoned 2 lifeboats and apparatus bearing the name of the ship.
    By the time the sun was up the funnel had chaged colour and the name was changed to BENTAN.
    Next stop was Santos in Brazil where he stated the ship was bound for londona nd could take a cargo. He recieved 3092 bags of coffee for Marseilles. Once out of sight of land off the Brazillian coast, BENTAN had a facelift to become INDIA. He sailed for Cape Town and sold the coffee for £11000. He planned to sell the ship too, but as no buyer was forthcoming he left for Mauritius, Western Australia and Melbourne. He was discovered because whilst ashore they left the ships fires burning to enable a quick getaway. A quick inspection discoverd a sheet of Highland Railway paper in the log book and the game was up!

    FERRET was sold to an Australian concern and sailed for many more years in the Australian coastal trade!

  2. Thanks for the feedback Rob. I had it in the back of my mind there was some story about one of the Stromeferry steamers so thanks for supplying it. Don't think I can ID the steamers in the pics, though!

  3. A very interesting read, Neil! I'm looking forward to the continuation! By the way, I have now moved the setting of Port na Cailleach (note change of spelling) to South West Syke (opposite side of the headland to Armadale) and will be modelling it as part of the line that was proposed to be built on the Isle of Skye. There's a few bits of history about surrounding that proposal that will make for fun integrating real life with the model.

  4. Ive been looking at History of SS Ferret, Because my Great Great Grandad was at one time the Captain of SS Ferret. Its very frustrating because me and my family have been trying to find out what happened to him. In his Death Certificate, The Death was left completely blank! If anyone knows more information or all the list of Captains of the SS Ferret that will be very helpful. My Great Great Grandads name was Malcolm Carmichael.

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