On the 9th of December in 1887, a terrible storm broke over the Shetland Islands off the North coast of Scotland. The sea was terrible in its fury, and a blizzard blew so thick that you could not see a hand in front of your face. In the middle of this was the home fishing fleet from the Shetland Isles.

The storm had blown up so quickly, that the whole fleet had been caught many miles from the shelter of the nearest port. The style of fishing boat used in those days was a four-oared boat, open to the elements, with a fifteen-foot keel. Although the boats also had simple sails fitted, the winds of this storm were too strong for the crews to be able to use them.

These boats held a crew of four men, all of them Shetlanders, and most of them sailing alongside their brothers, sons, or fathers. In one of these small fishing boats, were three bothers, Andrew, Thomas and Lawrence Anderson. They left their fishing port of Whalsey that morning with the boat’s Captain, Laurence Moor.

Although the weather that day had been threatening, the ferocity of the storm caught every captain and crewmember by surprise. Captain Moor had ordered the crew to make for Whalsey less than an hour before the storm hit them, but once it hit, the crew, although rowing for all they were worth, could make no headway.

The sea relentlessly broke over the open boat, soaking the desperate men and chilling them to the bone. The snow blinded them and froze their hands to blocks of ice, but all the men rowed on, while the Captain tried desperately to guide the boat homeward.

For hours the men rowed through the blizzard, desperate to get back to port and their families. Andrew, although he was sixty years of age, was a strong bull of a man. He had been a fisherman all his working life. This storm though, took all his energy to fight through. Eventually, the cold and exhaustion took its toll. Andrew collapsed over the oars, dieing very shortly afterwards, with his brother Lawrence lying beside him, his life also slowly ebbing away.

Night was now upon them, with no letup in the storm. Moor still worked at one set of oars, with Thomas at the other set, struggling to remain conscious at his side. As the storm raged on, Thomas collapsed, and Moor was left alone to bring the boat home.

Moor took the chance of raising the sail, even with such a gale tossing the boat around. He had to get the boat home, or die. In the middle of the night, the boat had taken on so much water, that it was in danger of sinking. Moor managed the impossible task of guiding the vessel as best he could, while bailing out the boat, and trying to row at any opportunity. Anything to get through the dreadful storm, and reach the shelter of land.

Eventually, at five thirty on the Saturday morning, twelve hours after the storm started, the boat made it into Lerwick docks. The exhausted Captain Moore and the unconscious Thomas Anderson lay in the water filled boat, beside the dead bodies of Andrew and Lawrence Anderson.

When the boat pulled into the port of Lerwick, no-could believe it had stayed afloat in such a condition, let alone that anyone had survived. The Captain of the boat was immediately hailed as a hero, but he knew that he had been lucky, and that he would not have made it home if Andrew and Lawrence had not give their lives in the attempt to get home.

Thomas lay critically ill for many days, but eventually recovered. Andrew’s wife, although she always knew the danger to her husband, had the grief of not only losing her husband, but also his brother. Lawrence was a lot younger than Andrew, and had a young wife and six children. The family would have to help bear the burden of this loss. Hopefully the women could take some comfort from the survival of Thomas.

The Andersons were not the only victims of the storm that day. The storm on Friday the 9th of December 1887 claimed the lives of twenty-two people. Twenty of them were Shetland fishermen. Lost at sea in a storm, which is mostly forgotten now.

This storm had been mostly forgotten. until I researched a friend’s family and found the death certificate of Andrew and Lawrence Anderson, That and the newspaper report from 1887. Another revelation on the road to discovering her family roots, another lost history.

Since this story is about lost history, it is only fair that the other two deaths out of the twenty-two lost that day, have their story told. The snow was so heavy that several feet fell in a short time, leaving many trapped and cut off from the rest of the island, and a few unfortunates caught out in the open. An old woman died on the road between the villages of Brae and Voe. Sadly, I have been unable to discover her name, yet. The other victim of this great storm was a young mother. Her name was Jane Nicolson. She was caught out on the road with her toddler. They found the two of them on Saturday. She had died, but the child managed to survive.

These are the stories you trip over while you research someone’s family history. It is these stories that make you realise that it is people you are researching, not just anonymous names on old pieces of paper. It is the discovering of such stories that keep these people alive in the memory, long after the families have forgotten that they even existed.


Tag der Veröffentlichung: 20.02.2010

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