The following extract is from a newspaper cutting. There is no note of which paper it was taken from or who the author was. It tells the story of a famous rescue in the Solway in 1888.

The Rescue of the Glendalough


About three o’clock on the afternoon of Friday, November 16th, 1888, Mr J.G. Boyes, Secretary of the National Lifeboat Institution at Auchencairn, was seated at his desk in his office trying to finish off some correspondence which he had been unable to attend to that morning because a gale had been raging since the previous day and it had kept him on duty for twenty-four hours. The storm had died down a little shortly after noon, but the skies were still lowering and there was a heavy sea running, while visibility was not very good. On such a day one never knew when an urgent call would come through for the services of the life-boat, and he had to be on the alert all the time. However, nothing out of the way had happened, and when he had finished his letters he would try to get some sleep.

At half-past three, his plans were shattered by the arrival of a telegraph message from Kirkbean to the effect that a large ship had been seen in difficulties about nine miles out on the firth and flying distress signals asking for the assistance of a life-boat. On receipt of the message, Mr Boyes sent off other urgent messages to Auchencairn and Palnackie, where the members of the life-boat crew had their homes, and within a very short time the first of them were reporting for duty at the life-boat station. Eight, including the Coxswain, Captain Black, came from Palnackie, and the other four, including the second Coxswain, J. Riddick, from Auchencairn. Unfortunately, there was not a sufficient depth of water to launch the boat, as the tide was out, but as soon as this was possible, the crew clambered on board her, and she was off. The time was seven o’clock, and the gale was blowing up again with increasing fury.

Sighted in Moonlight.

Captain Black, who had been sailing the Solway for over forty years, knew how to handle the “David Hay” in any kind of weather. It was a clear moonlight night, and as they rounded Balcary Point, they met the full force of the storm. For a minute or two it seemed to the watchers on the shore that she must capsize, or go under altogether, so mountainous were the breakers coming rolling in, but she righted herself again and headed straight for the position in which the unknown vessel had last been sighted from Kirkbean. Every mile of the way was an ordeal, the seas becoming more boisterous all the time, but just before ten o’clock, the moon came racing out from behind some low cloud, and there, directly ahead of them, wallowing deep in the trough of the waves, was a large barque, her sails torn to ribbons. As she plunged about, now with her bows pointing heavenwards, and now with her stern well out of the sea and her bows under water, it was apparent to the approaching life-boatmen that she had lost her rudder. As yet, no trace of her crew could be seen, and when the “David Hay” came bobbing up behind her at ten o’clock, and sent up a rocket to warn her of their approach, there was no answering message from her deck, which was almost continually awash.

Captain Black decided that the best thing to do was to encircle her to find out if her crew were still onboard for with such a sea running it was impossible to draw in close enough to shoot a line across. Accordingly, he swung over the wheel to port, and brought the “David Hay” close under her stern while one of her crew called loudly through a megaphone in passing. The wind carried his voice away. Still there was no sign of life anywhere. The ship’s boat was in its place in the stern, and the only explanations for her being abandoned were that her crew had been taken off by another ship, or they had been washed over the side. The latter seemed to be the more probable for no ship could have approached within a couple of hundred yards of her. As they passed along her port side and turned to starboard across her bows, they saw the figure of a man at the open hatchway waving his arms frantically at them to attract attention. Captain Black waved the oil lamp at his side to assure him that he had been seen, then, as they came down the ship’s starboard side, another figure, then another, a fourth, and then a fifth, showed their heads in the opening. The life-boat’s crew were also able to pick out the ship’s name on the bows. She was the “Glendalough,” obviously an Irish ship, judging by her name, and well over two hundred tons.

Now that there were at least five men on her, Captain Black was determined to be a line across to her somehow and, at half-past ten, the crew braced themselves for a supreme effort to get alongside her. Obviously, her peril was increasing with every minute that passed, and once, when a particularly high wave caught her, she heeled right over so that the top of her masts dipped under the water. Then she righted herself with a shuddering jerk. Closer and closer moved the “David Hay,” under the capable command of her coxswain, but time and again they had to turn aside to save themselves from being dashed to a hundred pieces by her side.

The first attempt having failed, Captain Black took the life-boat round to the stern of the “Glendalough” and edged in towards her from that angle, an inch or two at a time, but once again the force of the waves beat them , and on turning away to port to avoid some big waves, she heeled over and remained that way until it seemed as she would never come up again. It was a narrow escape, and although they made several attempts to reach her with a line, they had to abandon it about midnight and stand by at a safe distance.

Tug Summoned

All night long the “David Hay” showed her lights to the seamen on the Glendalough,” then at daybreak they made two further attempts to reach her, both of which also ended in failure. It was then that Captain Black decided that the only hope for the men in such a sea was to race for Carsethorn and summon a tug from Silloth, so after signalling to the “Glendalough” that they would return later, they set course for Carsethorn. It was a rough passage, but they reached the village in safety and the crew managed to snatch a few hours’ rest while the tug was on its way across.

It was Saturday afternoon before the tug reached the “Glendalough’s” position, but the sea was running as high as ever, and it was soon realised that they could never hope to approach her without help from the life-boat so they turned about and made for Carsethorn where the “David Hay’s” crew were quickly summoned and she set off again with her in tow. The supreme test was to come. Darkness had fallen when the two vessels arrived alongside the barque , to be greeted with loud cheers from her crew, who must have been feeling that their ship could not hold together much longer.

Towing the lifeboat in her wake, the sturdy little tug, the black smoke curling from her tall funnel and her paddles thrashing the waves, nosed her way right up to the “Glendalough” and held her bows against her side until one of the life-boatmen had got a line onboard and into the hands of one of the crew. Then a tow rope was dragged on deck, and when this was secured to the tug, she parted company with the life-boat, which swung round and came up astern. It had been decided that the tug should take the “Glendalough” to Silloth, while the lifeboat returned to her station if her services were no longer required.

As the “Glendalough” disappeared in the night, rolling along behind the tug, Captain Black set about getting the “David Hay” home. The sea was one of the roughest he had experienced in over forty years of trading up and down the Solway, and he was under no delusions about the dangers. Very slowly, picking his way between the breakers, he headed for Balcary Point, in the shelter of which the lifeboat station stood, and he had gone more than half-way across from where the “Glendalough” had been lying when one great wave threw the “David Hay” skywards, so that she heeled over at a sharp angle and shipped a good deal of water. She then righted herself only to go through the same performance a few minutes later.

Early on Sunday afternoon she gained the protection of Balcary Point and came running up towards the life-boat station, where a huge crowd had gathered to welcome her, for her progress had been watched from the hill, and as she grounded and a score of eager hands made her secure, three loud cheers for her crew went ringing across Balcary Bay. Mr. Boyes, the NLI secretary, was there to receive them and to escort them to the Commercial Hotel.

It transpired that the “Glendalough,” a 240 tone barque belonging to Dublin, had been on her way from Tynemouth to Glasgow with a cargo of china clay.

The above is a picture of the “David Hay” which was stationed at Balcary from 1884, when it opened, until 1914. Nearly 35 feet long, she was self-righting and self ejecting water. Her normal crew was a coxswain and twelve oarsmen, eight rowing and four resting. Difficulties in maintaining a regular trained crew led to the Balcary lifeboat being crewed by the Kirkcudbright lifeboat crew from 1908 onwards.

In 1928 Kirkcudbright took delivery of its first motorised lifeboat, the “Priscilla MacBean” which resulted in the Balcary lifeboat becoming unnecessary, and the station was closed.