The article reproduced here is taken from the Gallovidian Magazine of 1931. The references to "Scaur" relate to the village now called Kippford.

The Water of Orr: Its Sailors and Shipping

By Samual Murdoch Crosbie ("Scauronian")

THE Water of Orr is called the River Urr by modern geographers, but why they changed its spelling it would he difficult to say. It is also called the Winding Orr because of its numerous bends and twistings, and its valley is called "The Lovely Vale of Orr'," well known in song and story. The river rises in Loch Urr, some eighteen miles away from the Solway, and flows through a part of the country as bonnie as any to be found in all Scotland. It is a tidal river as far as Dalbeattie, where it is joined by the Dalbeattie Burn, and where a quay has been built and a harbour formed that bears the curious appellation, the Dub o' Hass, meaning "The Pool at the Throat." Except at neap tides vessels are able to reach the quay in order to load and discharge their cargoes. The other harbour in the river is at Palnackie, where there is a dock or creek in which several vessels can be moored at one time. Then at Kippford, on its estuary, there is abundant anchorage for a fleet of small vessels either on the Scaur beach or on the banks in the neighbourhood.

The difficulties connected with the navigation of such a tortuous river for the distance of seven miles are known only to those who have had experience of it. Vessels in pre-motor days were frequently grounded on the river banks in dangerous positions, and more than one stranded on the "Importer's" Stone - a big rock at the bend of the river just below North Glen Farm - as well as the schooner whose name it bears. Between Kippford and Palnackie there is a wide bend of the river called the "Deil's Reach." Vessels inward bound were able to get thus far under their own sail with a fair wind, and then they were drawn by horse power to their destination at Palnackie or Dalbeattie. Being dependant on a fair wind between the "Deil's Reach" and the Scaur when outward bound, there was frequently much delay waiting for the favouring breeze. As many as fourteen vessels have been thus held up for some days. What a sight it must have been to see them all weigh anchor and sail down the estuary!

During the half-century prior to the Great War there was a large fleet of vessels connected with the Water of Orr, and these vessels were the training schools for many who afterwards became sailors of renown throughout the mercantile world. Their exploits are epics of the sea, and some of these may be recalled, without fear of iteration, for the benefit of the rising generation.

There was Captain William Wilson, who recaptured his ship, the Emilie St. Pierre, from the United States warship crew of fifteen with the help of only his cook and steward, and sailed her some thousands of miles across the Atlantic to the river Mersey, where he was feted and honoured for his gallant deed. The full story is to be found in the Gallovidian Magazine Summer Number for 1902.

There was Captain William D. Cassady, who, when Commander of the ship Greta, made the voyage from Melbourne to Liverpool in seventy-six days - almost. rivalling the far-famed clipper known as the Cutty Sark.

There was Captain John M'Lellan, who began his sea career in the Elizabeth, popularly called the " Wee Brig," and ended it as a distinguished officer of the Liverpool Salvage Association, in which capacity he salved many ships given up as hopeless wrecks, conspicuous amongst which was the salving of the White Star liner Suevic, broken in two on Lizard Point. The story of Captain M'Lellan's career was given in the Gallovidian Magazine, Winter 1914.

There was Captain Samuel Murdoch, who sailed with his father, Captain James Murdoch, for some years in the sloop Freedom. and afterwards became one of the most successful ship commanders of the Mercantile Marine, and who was respected and honoured alike in San Francisco and Liverpool. between which ports he had traded for many years. There was his son, Lieutenant William M. Murdoch, whose memorial tablet on Dalbeattie Town Hall tells the tale of his heroism as first officer of the Titanic when that vessel, said to be unsinkable, went down with over one thousand souls after colliding with an iceberg.

There was Captain John Aitken, who refused to leave his ship along with his crew when they had taken to the boats thinking the vessel was about to founder, and thereby lost his life. These are only a few who have come within my own ken, and who won renown on foreign - going vessels. There are others that I shall now mention who were in the coasting trade in the years prior to the Great War, and who are deserving of recognition in the pages of this Magazine. In some cases they run in families - the Candlishes, Bies, Murdochs, Cummings, Wilsons, Clachries, Blacks, Hallidays, M'Knights, and Edgars.


Taking the last-named first, there was Captain Robert Edgar, who was skipper of coasting vessels for over fifty years and never lost a ship or a life despite the dangerous nature of the work in which he was engaged. The shoals of the Solway caused as much anxiety as any part of our rock - bound coasts, currents had to be known and studied, sudden storms and fogs had to be encountered and risks had to be run, but Captain Edgar came through them all triumphantly,, thereby surely making a record. His chief commands were the Mochrum Lass, the Maggie Kelso, the Margaret Ann, and lastly the General Havelock, about the only one left of the Water of Orr fleet. She may still be seen in the river Nith. Six of Captain Edgar's sons became sailors. Two were lost at sea - one of them, Captain Robert Edgar, losing his life on the Solway banks when his vessel, the Mary, was wrecked on her voyage from Liverpool to Dumfries. The other four are all certificated masters in the Mercantile Service.

The Candlish family will long be remembered in the Water of Orr. Captain Thomas Candlish bore the palm as the doyen of the skippers sailing from the river. He was born at Palnackie, and began the sea as a boy in the sloop Henrietta, his father being the skipper. At the age of eighteen he was appointed skipper of the Jessie, built at the Scaur, and was said to be "a forbye fortunate young fellow " in getting command of a vessel at that early age. During his long career at sea he owned and commanded several fine vessels in succession - the Lucy End, the Eagle (one of the Montrose and London clippers), the Mantura, and lastly the Margaret and Mary, which was wrecked on the rocks at Rockcliffe during a heavy gale. The gallant captain, who lived until he was ninety-six years of age, had two sons, both of whom began their seafaring life in vessels belonging to the river Orr, but afterwards took to steam. A brother, Captain John Candlish, was master of the Thomas Graham at one time, a vessel that was lost at sea on the night of the storm that caused the Tay Bridge disaster. An ancestor of the Candlishes was the prototype of Mrs MacCandlish, one of the characters of Scott's Guy Mannering.

Another family of sailors sprang from the Murdochs of Colvend. In the middle of the field adjoining Barcloy Mill, and lying to the eastward of its loaning, stood for many years a small thatched cottage. It was demolished a few years ago, and only a flat patch of ground now marks the spot. In that homely, humble dwelling a highly-respected, hard-working, successful shoe-maker, Mr Samuel Murdoch, lived with his wife for half a century and reared a family of seven sons and three daughters, one of whom was the mother of the writer of this article. Two of the sons followed the trade of their father; the others all took to the sea, and so come into this story as Water of Orr sailors. Perhaps the best known was Captain James Murdoch, who was skipper of the large sloop Freedom for many years, and carried on a very successful trade all round the coast. On one very stormy voyage, when nearing the Cumberland coast, he was washed overboard, but a succeeding wave luckily washed him back on deck - one of those providential occurrences we have read about on very rare occasions. He died at the Scaur well over the four-score years, and his remains lie in Co'en Kirkyard.

Captain James Murdoch had three sons, all of whom became commanders of ocean-going ships after being trained in vessels belonging to the Water of Orr. The eldest, Captain Samuel Murdoch, father of Lieutenant William M. Murdoch, has already been referred to in this article. Of the other two sons, Captain John died at sea, and Captain William perished in the Mary along with Captain William Wilson when that vessel was wrecked near Rascarrel.

Another son of Mr Samuel Murdoch was the founder of a family of sailors. This was Captain Andrew Murdoch, who was skipper of the Robert and Helen when she was wrecked on the Mull of Kintyre in a dense fog. The crew escaped with their lives by climbing the precipitous cliffs of that rock-bound coast. Captain Andrew then took command of a new vessel christened the Brothers, but died very suddenly on a voyage up the west coast of Scotland. His son John, who succeeded his father as skipper, was said to be "one of the finest sailors that ever trod the deck." Captain John had three sons who became sailors, one of whom, Captain James Murdoch, made a great reputation as skipper of the Raymond during the war.

Another Colvend family had several representatives in the seafaring line. Hailing from the Boreland Farm, Captain Charles Bie owned the fine schooner William Thompson, and sailed her for many years. His son, Captain John Bie, succeeded him as skipper of this vessel, and afterwards owned and commanded different vessels, including the Annie Heron, Annie B. Smith, and the Bee. The Annie Heron, a pretty model of a schooner, was sold into Wales.

Captain John Bie's animals were always interesting, especially to the Rockcliffe visitors. These were a horse, a donkey, a dog, and a monkey. The two last-named were great companions, and the monkey generally travelled about the district on the back of the dog. The faithfulness of these two to their kind-hearted master may be illustrated by the following incident. Captain Bie had been away for a cargo, and the dog must have seen a vessel enter the river, for it came over from Rockcliffe to Kippford with the monkey on its back and swam across the river to where the vessel was moored, expecting to be welcomed by its master. Unfortunately the vessel was a stranger, and the animals had their journey in vain. An artist painted the monkey, but the animal licked the paint on the canvas and thus brought about its own death, much to the grief of the dog, Rover, who mourned for it some considerable time. Captain William Bie, another son of Captain Charles Bie, after ploughing the seas for some years as a skipper in the Mercantile Marine, also retired to Rockcliffe, where he too became very popular with the visitors.

For several generations the best known schooner connected with the Water of Orr was perhaps the Gallovidian, belonging to the late Captain John Cumming, and sailed by him for a number of years until he was required at home to carry on the ship-building business at The Scaur when his brother, Mr James Cumming, passed away. Many clever sailors received their early training on the Gallovidian. When near the end of her long career she lay on The Scaur beach until she was sold into Maryport, where she was accidentally burned. Two sons of Captain John Cumming became sailors. One of them, Captain Henry, was lost at sea (luring the war. The other, Captain James, began his seafaring life in the Gallovidian, but like so many of our young sailors left the coasting trade for deep-water navigation. After sailing the seven seas in windjammers and steamers, he left the sea in 1914, and since then has made himself useful in many ways at The Scaur, especially in connection with his yachts and with those of the Solway Sailing Club, which he looks after with great assiduity.

Captain Samuel Wilson, of Palnackie and Orchardton, was a well-known skipper, ship-owner, and ship-builder. For many years he commanded the fine schooner Glasgow, a vessel of 160 tons, and was very successful with her, freights being uncommonly good at that time. He built the Almorness and other vessels at Palnackie, which was then the port of Castle-Douglas. He passed away at Orchardton at the patriarchal age of ninety-eight, hale and hearty to the last. His brother, Captain George Wilson, of Dalbeattie, also owned several schooners, the Good Intent being one of his favourites.

Another well-known family of Water of Orr sailors were the Hallidays. Captain James Halliday lived at The Scaur, and had command at various times of the Jessie and the Henrietta. In his early days at sea he had an exciting experience with the press-gang - that nightmare of Victorian times - and only escaped a lifelong service on a man-of-war by the sturdy protestations of his skipper. One of his sons, Captain William, began his career on a brig called the Pilot, of Annan. When sailing as mate on the Breeze the captain died, and young Halliday, though only twenty-three years of age, took charge, successfully completing the voyage to Plymouth.

Another son, Captain John, served his apprenticeship in the Mark, commanded by Captain John Gumming, but was afterwards engaged in the foreign trade. On one of his ships there were three Hallidays, all hailing from Galloway, but not related.

The Clachries were a family of sailors belonging to The Scaur. Captain Charles Clachrie for some years was skipper of the Jane Elizabeth, a well-known Water of Orr vessel. She was built at Dalbeattie, and when being launched the lady who was christening her failed to break the bottle containing the whisky, whereupon her skipper at the time ejaculated "God's Curse," and this nick-name stuck to the vessel. Under Captain Clachrie she escaped shipwreck when the Elbe was lost in the Solway. To save her from being dashed on the rocks at Castle Point, the captain and crew scuttled her on the sands near Rockcliffe. Captain Clachrie's son, Robert, was mate of the Elbe, and one of the seven providentially saved when she struck the cliffs at Glenstocking. The story of the Elbe is to be found in the Spring Number of 1902 Gallovidian Magazine. Captain James Clachrie, a relative of the last-named, began his sea life in the Heart of Oak, one of the Water of Orr fleet, but he afterwards went into the foreign trade, and on his retirement took a lively interest in the Kippford regattas.

Palnackie was the home of sailors. Captain Thomas Black began his career in the Snowdon Lass with his father, Captain John Black, but went into the foreign trade, first in windjammers and for twenty-two years in steamers.

During the latter period he took the racing yacht Caress from Gourock to Boston Bay along with Captain Barr, well known as the skipper of the Thistle in the race for the America Cup. This was before the days of Sir Thomas Lipton's Shamrocks. When Captain Black retired to Palnackie he became a member of the Solway Sailing Club, and regularly took part in its contests with his trim little yacht Water Witch. Captain George Black served his apprenticeship in the employ of Messrs Rae, and became well known on the American side of the Atlantic.

Captain John M'Knight, of Kippford, was skipper of the Good Intent and the Thammas Green, at different times two well-known vessels belonging to the river. His son David was also a sailor until his retirement. Captain John Sloan, of Dalbeattie, sailed the John and Sarah for some time. His son, captain Nathan Sloan, sailed the Heart of Oak, but later took command of coasting steamers.


Thus far I have referred to families. Briefly I would now mention individual eases that come to my memory. Captain John Tait owned and commanded the John and James, which he sailed for many years, trading to all parts of the coast until she was wrecked on the pier at Whitehaven whilst running for shelter from a severe gale. He then skippered the North Barrule for nine years until his retirement to The Scaur. This schooner was the first vessel in the river to have a motor engine installed. Captain Greenway succeeded Captain Tait as her skipper.

Captain James Ewart commanded the fine schooner Ben Gullion, a well-known trader connected with the Water of Orr, and sailed her for many years until he gave up the sea for health reasons and took up farming at the Boreland, Colvend. This vessel left Liverpool in 1929 along with three others with coals for Ireland, but was lost with all hands. The others, having motor engines, all reached their destination. Captain Ewart's father sailed the Billow and afterwards the Euphemia for some years. Captain Thomas Hume commanded the Mary Aqnes, belonging to the Messrs Newall, Craignair Quarries. This vessel was one of the smartest and trimmest vessels that ever sailed out of the Water of Urr, and was chiefly engaged in the trade between Liverpool and Dalbeattie. One of the youngest of our skippers is Captain David Duke, who commanded at different times the Resolution, the Dolphin, the Warsash, and the Enigma. The last-named vessel was lost with all hands off the Cumberland coast after Captain Duke had left her to take command of another vessel. Captain Bryson was the skipper of the Jessie Maxwell for many years. This vessel lay for a long time on The Scaur beach as a sheer hulk after taking fire at sea laden with lime. The New Importer was lost with all hands on a voyage from Liverpool to the Water of Orr in 1891. The Try Again and Balcary Lass, built at The Scaur, went into foreign trade. In the pages of a magazine I can give only a brief sketch of the skippers I have known during my long life of over four-score years, with a reference to the vessels they commanded, it would require a volume to do justice to these hardy sons of the sea. I have not mentioned the crews, as most of them became skippers and thus come into my story. The names of the vessels mentioned disclose the fact that the Water of Orr fleet consisted of over forty sloops and schooners in pre-war days.


"Where are now the captains
Of the narrow ships of old
Oh, the captains lie asleeping
Where great iron hulls are sweeping
Out of Suez in their pride
And they hear not, and they heed not,
And they know not, and they need not,
In their deep graves far and wide."