Oscar shipwreck date marked by Aberdeen exhibition

ONE of Scotland’s worst whaling disasters - immortalised by the man regarded as the world’s worst poet, William McGonagall - is to be marked with the opening of a new exhibition in Aberdeen.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum will play host to the exhibition, which will be officially opened on Monday 1 April exactly 200 years to the day since the whaling ship Oscar was wrecked at Greyhope Bay. The Oscar lost 42 of her 44-strong crew.

The Oscar had been one of five whaling vessels which had set out from Aberdeen, then a major whaling port, when they were suddenly struck by a massive storm . The Oscar was driven ashore and ripped apart by the hurricane-lashed seas.

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Only the first mate and one seaman were saved and the bodies of the 42 men who perished in the disaster were buried in a mass grave at St. Fittick’s Churchyard in Torry.

A spokeswoman for Aberdeen City Council said: “This exhibition uncovers the circumstances surrounding that tragic event as well as exploring other wrecks and rescues along the coast of North east Scotland which have shaped Aberdeen’s maritime history.

“Key items on display for the first time include the City Council register for 1830 in which the Harbour Commissioners formally request ten acres of land for the construction of a new lighthouse at Girdleness; a direct result of campaigns started after the wreck of the Oscar.”

Meredith Greiling, the museum’s curator of maritime history, said: “The loss of this ship, so close to the shore and within sight of relatives of those on board, had a profound effect on the city. Even 200 years later the name Oscar is remembered in place names such as Oscar Road in Torry and in one of Aberdeen’s most famous landmarks, Girdleness Lighthouse.”

The exhibition runs until Saturday 17 August .

The Wreck of the Whaler “Oscar” by William Topaz McGonagall, poet and tragedian.

’TWAS on the 1st of April, and in the year of Eighteen thirteen,

That the whaler “Oscar” was wrecked not far from Aberdeen;

’Twas all on a sudden the wind arose, and a terrific blast it blew,

And the “Oscar” was lost, and forty-two of a gallant crew.

The storm burst forth with great violence, but of short duration,

And spread o’er a wide district, and filled the people’s hearts with consternation,

And its effects were such that the people will long mind,

Because at Peterhead the roof was torn off a church by the heavy wind.

The “Oscar” joined other four ships that were lying in Aberdeen Bay,

All ready to start for Geeenland without delay,

While the hearts of each ship’s crew felt light and gay,

But, when the storm burst upon them, it filled their hearts with dismay.

The wind had been blowing westerly during the night,

But suddenly it shifted to the North-east, and blew with all its might,

And thick and fast fell the blinding snow,

Which filled the poor sailors’ hearts with woe.

And the “Oscar” was exposed to the full force of the gale,

But the crew resolved to do their best, allowing they should fail,

So they weighed anchor, and stood boldly out for sea,

While the great crowds that had gathered cheered them encouragingly.

The ill-fated “Oscar,” however, sent a boat ashore

For some of her crew that were absent, while the angry sea did roar,

And ’twas with great difficulty the men got aboard,

And to make the ship allright they wrought with one accord.

Then suddenly the wind shifted, and a treacherous calm ensued,

And the vessel’s deck with snow was thickly strewed;

And a heavy sea was running with a strong flood tide,

And it soon became apparent the men wouldn’t be able the ship to guide.

And as the “Oscar” drifted further and further to leeward,

The brave crew tried hard her backward drifting to retard,

But all their efforts proved in vain, for the storm broke out anew,

While the drifting snow hid her from the spectators’ view.

And the position of the “Oscar” was critical in the extreme,

And as the spray washed o’er the vessel, O what a soul-harrowing scene!

And notwithstanding the fury of the gale and the blinding snow,

Great crowds watched the “Oscar” as she was tossed to and fro.

O heaven! it was a most heart-rending sight

To see the crew struggling against the wind and blinding snow with all their might,

While the mighty waves lashed her sides and angry did roar,

Which to their relatives were painful to see that were standing on shore.

All eagerly watching her attempt to ride out the storm,

Especially their friends and relatives, who seemed very forlorn,

Because the scene was awe-inspiring and made them stand aghast,

For every moment seemed to be the “Oscar’s” last.

Oh! it was horrible to see the good ship in distress,

Battling hard against wind and tide to clear the Girdleness.

A conspicuous promontory on the south side of Aberdeen Bay,

Where many a stout ship and crew have gone down passing that way.

At last the vessel was driven ashore in the bay of Greyhope,

And the “Oscar” with the elements no longer could cope.

While the big waves lashed her furiously, and she received fearful shocks,

Until a mighty wave hurled her among large boulders of rocks.

And when the vessel struck, the crew stood aghast,

But they resolved to hew down the mainmast,

Which the spectators watched with eager interest,

And to make it fall on the rocks the brave sailors tried their best.

But, instead of falling on the rocks, it dropped into the angry tide,

Then a groan arose from those that were standing on the shore side;

And the mainmast in its fall brought down the foremast,

Then all hope of saving the crew seemed gone at last.

And a number of the crew were thrown into the boiling surge below,

While loud and angry the stormy wind did blow,

And the good ship was dashed to pieces from stern to stem,

Within a yard or two from their friends, who were powerless to save them.

Oh! it was an appalling sight to see the “Oscar” in distress,

While to the forecastle was seen clinging brave Captain Innes

And five of a crew, crying for help, which none could afford,

Alas! poor fellows, crying aloud to God with one accord!

But their cry to God for help proved all in vain,

For the ship and men sank beneath the briny main,

And out of a crew of forty-four men, only two were saved,

But, landsmen, think how manfully that unfortunate crew behaved.

And also think of the mariners while you lie down to sleep,

And pray to God to protect them while on the briny deep,

For their hardships are many, and hard to endure,

There’s only a plank between them and a watery grave, which makes their lives unsure.