Beyond Orkney’s Fatal Shore: The Wreck of The Croune, 10 December 1679 #History #Scotland
At nine to ten o’clock at night on Wednesday 10 December, 1679, The Croune was shipwrecked near the Mull of Deerness in Orkney. Attempting to shelter from a winter storm, it had rounded the mull and cast its anchor, but the wind and seas drove it onto the rocks near Scarva Taing. What made The Croune one of the most infamous shipwrecks in Scottish History was its cargo of human beings, their ill treatment and how they were abandoned to their fate, locked below the deck …
The Croune was carrying 257 prisoners of war that were being banished to the American Plantations. They were all Covenanters who had been captured at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on 22 June and endured imprisonment in Edinburgh.
The story of the shipwreck’s mass drowning later became a stalwart of Presbyterian history. It was recorded at the time by an Orkney diarist, but what made the disaster notorious was that some of the prisoners survived to tell their tale.
An account of The Croune’s voyage and wreck was gathered from one of the prisoners who survived:
‘The prisoners were all shipped in Leith Roads (15th November) in an English captain’s vessel to be carried to America. He was a profane cruel wretch, and used them barbarously, stowing them up between decks, where they could not get up their heads except to sit or lean, and robbing them of many things their friends sent them for their relief. They never were in such strait and pinch, particularly through scorching drought, as they were allowed little or no drink, and pent up together, till many of them fainted, and were almost suffocated. This was in Leith Roads [i.e., before they sailed] besides what straits they would readily endure in the custody of such a cruel wretch. In this grievous plight, these captives were carried away in much anguish of spirit, pinched bodies, and disquieted conscience, (at least those who had taken the bond.) They were tossed at sea with great ternpest of weather for three weeks, till at last their ship cast anchor, to ride awhile among the Orkney isles, till the storm might calm. But after casting anchor, the ship did drive with great violence upon a rugged shore about the isles, and struck about ten at night on a rock. The cruel captain saw the hazard all were in, and that they might have escaped, as some did; yet, as I heard, he would not open the hatches to let the poor prisoners fend for themselves. He, with his seamen, made their escape by a mast laid over between the ship and the rock ashore. Some leapt on the rock. The ship being strong, endured several strokes ere she bilged. The captain, and all the rest of the seamen, with about fifty prisoners, some of whom had been above deck before, others had broke out some other way, down to the den, and so up again, so that they wan to land with their life in; one or two died ashore. While these were thus escaping, the rest, who had all been closed up between decks, crying most pitifully, and working, as they could, to break forth of their prison, but to little purpose; and all these, near two hundred, with lamentable shrieks of dying men, (as was related to the writer by one who escaped,) did perish. The most part were cast out on the shore dead, and after buried by the country people.
It was found, by some who examined those that escaped, that many of them had refused to take the bond. Yet a few of those who had not taken it were drowned; albeit this is soberly marked because these outward things fall much alike to all. It was, however, a puzzling dispensation like many others.’ (Blackadder, Memoirs, 230-2.)
Wodrow, who used Blackadder’s manuscripts as a source, also collected letters from James Corson, who drowned in the disaster. Corson recorded his thoughts before departure in letters to his wife near Kirkcudbright. It was Wodrow who added a sectarian dimension to the story:
‘Upon the 15th of November, two hundred and fifty-seven of the prisoners were taken out of the Grayfriars’ church-yard [actually the Inner Yard and Edinburgh Tolbooth], early in the morning, before any of their friends knew of it; and, for any thing I can find, they had no previous intimation given to themselves: yea, such was the cruelty now used, that thirty of them [possibly in Heriot’s School], who were dangerously ill of a flux and other distempers contracted by their hard usage, were hurried away with the rest, and no pity showed them. They were carried down under a guard to Leith, and there put aboard a ship lying in the road; they continued twelve days in Leith road before they sailed. The barbarity exercised upon them in the ship cannot be expressed. They were stowed under deck in so little room, that the most part of them behoved still to stand, to give room to such who were sickly, and seemingly a dying: they were pinned so close, they almost never got themselves moved, and were almost stifled for want of air. Two hundred and fifty seven of them being pent up in the room which could scarce have contained a hundred, many of them frequently fainted, being almost suffocated. The seamen’s rudeness and inhumanity to them was singular: when lying in the road, not only did they hinder their friends to see them, or minister to their necessities, but they narrowed them very much in their bread they ought to have had, and allowed them little or no drink, though the master had contracted to give both; to that pitch were they brought, that divers of them were forced to drink their own urine, to quench the extremity of their thirst. And it may be nauseous to remark, that, when they were about to throw their excrements over board, the seamen were so malicious as to cast them back upon them. It is with much truth then, that I find one of themselves, James Corson, a pious serious person, in some letters of his dated from Leith road, complaining to his wife and friends,‘that all the trouble they met with since Bothwell, was not to be compared to one day in their present circumstances; that their uneasiness was beyond words: yet he owns, in very pathetical terms, that the consolations of God overbalanced all, and expresses his hopes that they are near their port, and heaven is open for them.’
I am told, there was fourteen thousand merks collected for their use by honest people at Edinburgh, and put in the hands of some, to buy clothes and other things for them, and somewhat was to be given to each of them, that might relieve their necessities when in America: but I don’t hear it was so well employed for their behoof as it might have been, and not much of it was ever suffered to come to them by the master and seamen; the most part of them never came to need it.
Upon the 27th of November the ship sailed from Leith, and met with very great storms. Upon the 10th of December they found themselves off Orkney, in as dangerous a sea as perhaps in the world. They then came pretty near the shore, and cast anchor: the prisoners, fearing what came to pass, intreated to be set ashore, and sent to what prison the master pleased; but that could not be granted. Instead of this, the captain [Thomas Teddico], who, by the way, I am told, was a papist, caused chain and lock all the hatches under which the prisoners were.
About 10 at night, the ship was forced from anchor by a most violent tempest, and driven upon a rock, and broke in the middle. The seamen quickly got down the mast, and laying it betwixt the broken ship and the rock, got ashore; yet so barbarous were they, that, upon the cries of the poor men, they would not open the hatches, though it is probable, had this been done, most part would have got ashore. But so far from this was the popish master, and his men, that I have many concurring informations, some of them from persons present, that they hindered them from getting up upon the rock, and struck at them. And yet this villain and his men were never called to an account by the council, though the matter was notourly known; and this was as directly murder, as if their throats had been cut. However, about forty, some say fifty, got hold on boards of the ship, and came ashore, and so about 200 were lost, or rather murdered. (Wodrow, History, III, 130-1.)
In 1888, the anniversary of the Revolution, a monument was erected near Scarva Taing.
Who were the prisoners? And where were they from?
That relies on a list published in Cloud of Witnesses in 1714. It is not clear how that list was obtained or produced, but it does contain the names of the thirty-two prisoners that government records certainly indicate were banished.
The list may be drawn from a manifest of some sort or a record taken of the prisoners at that time, as it does not include the names of Robert Miller or William Richardson, who escaped banishment at the last minute. As it also lists those who drowned/survived the shipwreck, the list was probably produced soon after the event.
Some of those identified as banished in Cloud had previously been ordered to be liberated from Greyfriars by the Council on condition that they swore never rise in arms against the King’s authority as they had signed the bond. Among those listed to be liberated on 30 July were eleven prisoners who were later banished on The Croune:
George Weir in Carmichaell [under Lesmahagow parish in Cloud]
William Millar in Barrony of Glasgow [under Glasgow parishes in Cloud]
Thomas Wylie, tenant to the earl of Lowdoun [under Loudoun parish in Cloud]
George Draphan in Lesmahago [under Lesmahagow in Cloud]
Robert Wallace in Phinnick [under Fenwick parish in Cloud]
George Rutherford in Ancrum [under Ancrum parish in Cloud]
Andrew Snodgrasse in Bridgeend of Glasgow [under Govan parish in Cloud]
Patrick Gilchrist in Kippen [under Gargunnock parish in Cloud]
William McCulloch in Dalie [under Dailey parish in Cloud]
William Younger in Bathgate [under Livingston parish in Cloud]
John Givan, tailor in Neilstoune [under Neilston parish in Cloud] (RPCS, VI, 296-7.)
Those eleven names highlight two issues.
First, that being ordered liberated on conditions did not mean that those individuals were liberated. If the Council’s conditions, swearing to never rise in arms against the King again and acknowledgment of royal authority, were not met, then they were not released. It is possible that those eleven men changed their minds, perhaps after hearing of the opposition of the minister John Blackadder to the oath, or the campaign to resist taking it among the prisoners led by Robert Garnock and others. Blackadder confirms that some of those banished had taken the ‘black bond’.
Second, it indicates that the list of those banished in Cloud of Witnesses may not be as accurate as one might desire. In all of the eleven cases above, Cloud either listed them under the same parish as the council or in a few cases a parish next to the one given by the council. Although the origin of the list in Cloud is obscure, when all of the above is taken into account, it appears to be a relatively accurate list of those banished on The Croune.
The list, below, of the Covenanters wrecked on The Croune is taken from Cloud of Witnesses (1714). I have reordered the list and clarified some names. Those marked “***” are said to have survived the disaster:
Out of Fife:
Out of [Kinross]:
Robert Kirk, cottar in Burleigh, Orwell parish, is one of the few individuals on The Croune that can be pinned down to a specific location. In his case, he lived in the vicinity of Burleigh Castle, beside Milnathort. A cottar was a landless tenant.
Out of Perthshire:
Out of Stirlingshire:
Daniel Cunningham (aka. ‘David’)
Patrick Gilchrist (Listed to be “liberated” 30 July)
James Sands ***
Andrew Thomson probably lived near the seventeenth-century Old Sauchie Tower in St Ninian’s parish.
Montgomerie lived at Jawcraig. He probably knew his immediate neighbours who were forfeited for their part in the rebellion.
Out of Dunbartonshire:
New Kilpatrick parish:
Out of Lanarkshire:
‘—–’ More ***
William Frame ***
William Scular ***
Thomas Swan ***
Andrew Snodgrass (‘in Bridgeend of Glasgow’. Listed to be “liberated” 30 July)
Snodgrass lived at the Bridge-end of Glasgow, which lay directly at the southern end of the bridge across the Clyde at Glasgow, aka The Gorbals.
George Weir (Listed to be “liberated” 30 July)
George Drafin *** (Listed to be “liberated” 30 July)
New and Old Monkland parishes:
John Gardner *** (a ‘John Gardiner’ in Gartlea, ‘son to John Gardiner there’ is listed on 1684 Fugitive Roll)
William Waddell *** (a ‘William Waddel, in Riding’, is listed on 1684 Fugitive Roll)
Gartlea lay at what is now the junction between Tinto Road and Gartleahill.
Riding was probably Ryden on Condorrat Road.
James Penman ***
Bothwellmuir was a barony in the vicinity of Kirk O’Shotts.
Out of Renfrewshire:
John Govan (‘tailor in Neilstoune’. Listed to be “liberated” 30 July)
Out of Ayrshire:
George Dunbar ***
Cumnock parish (inc. New Cumnock):
Hugh Cameron *** (a ‘Hugh Cameron, in Dalmellington’ appears on the 1684 Fugitive Roll)
Walter Humper, younger ***
Quintin McAdam ***
Andrew Thomson ***
Robert Wallace *** (Listed to be “liberated” 30 July)
Thomas Wylie (tenant of the earl of Loudoun. Listed to be “liberated” 30 July)
[Out of Carrick, Ayrshire:]
Dailey parish (Old and New):
William McCulloch (Listed to be “liberated” 30 July)
Out of Galloway, i.e., Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire:
Alexander Murray ***
John Edgar ***
Andrew Clark ***
Out of Nithsdale in Dumfriesshire:
William Ferguson ***
John Milligan ***
John Murdoch ***
John Smith ***
George Rutherford (Listed to be “liberated” 30 July)
John Glasgow ***
William Glasgow ***
James Leydon ***
James Young ***
William Swanston ***
James Aitchison ***
Out of Linlithgowshire:
John Easton ***
John Pender ***
Out of Edinburghshire:
Over Cranstoun, later a house, lay next to Remote.
Thomas Mackenzie ***
Out of Haddingtonshire:
Remember The Croune…
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine