Posted by: pirliebraes | January 10, 2018

Shipwrecked on Flotta

Shipwrecks were once fairly commonplace on Flotta, with a number of vessels drifting onto the rocks around the West Hill as they attempted to get to the shelter of Long Hope.  Ships also ran ashore in Kirk Bay.  Pan Hope was normally a place of shelter, but not on the night the French barque, Anita, went ashore there.  Older folk in Flotta often spoke about the An-I-ta getting wrecked in Pan Bay.

When my great-grandfather, James Sutherland of Windbrake, died (50 years afterwards), there was mention in the newspaper that, of the three people who had been seriously injured from a falling spar on the Anita, he had made the fullest recovery.  No idea why he was there, though; was he helping to rescue distressed crew or was he part of a later raiding party?!

Anyway, the following are some articles relating to the wreck of the Anita in December 1858:

Example of a French barque (three or more masted ship)


The beautiful French barque ‘Anita’, of Bordeaux, 1700 tons register, and having on board 2500 tons of deals (timber) for Valparaiso, has just been wrecked on the Island of Flotta.  It appears that the ‘Anita’ had got a considerable distance to the westward, and that during a gale she was struck by a heavy sea, which unshipped the rudder and did other damage.  She then bore up, passing between Orkney and Shetland, and was boarded by Caithness pilots on Monday week, off Noss Head.

The ‘Anita’ was travelling from Umea to Valparaiso when she got into difficulties

The Captain expressed a desire to have the vessel taken to the nearest harbour, to obtain the necessary repairs, and offered the pilots a handsome sum to conduct him to Stromness.  Accordingly, on Tuesday the ‘Anita’ was taken through the Pentland Firth, and when off Flotta she became unmanageable and drifted on the east side of that island, where, by this time, she has become a total wreck. Though the hour was about two a.m., the inhabitants flocked to the spot, and the crew and pilots, thirty-nine in number, were got ashore in safety.

Painting of a French barque in a gale 1850s

The ‘Anita’ is a very fine vessel, and is only three years old.  She was built of the best material, well rigged, had a magnificent cabin, was fitted up for the passenger trade, and was provisioned for twelve months.  She is said to have cost £24,000 when new.  She is the largest ship that has been wrecked in the north for many years.

Note:  £24,000 in 1859 is the equivalent of over £2,000,000 today.

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We hadn’t thought about the potentially lucrative business a shipwreck on the island could be, until we saw the following reports from June 1859:


The sale of the hull and cargo of the French ship ‘Anita’, which was stranded on the island of Flotta, Orkney, is likely to have drawn together on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, a large concourse of persons from the mainland and islands of Orkney, as well as from Caithness and the south.  The great difficulty likely to be experienced by the visitors to the island is how to get lodgings for the hundreds that are probably to attend, in a place where there is no inn, and barely the covering of a roof of any kind for so many.  Some have gone in the expectation of having to take for the night the side of a peat bank, and in this, at least, they are not likely to be disappointed.  It is thought that the hull, being not quite three years old, of fine timber, and copper fastened, will bring some L.600 or L.700.  It is estimated that the copper to be obtained on breaking up may amount to ten or twelve tons, worth about L.80 per ton.  There will also be a large quantity of fine iron.  The timber in a ship of 1400 tons will be something prodigious, but may be all required to cover the expense of breaking up.

Some clubs have been formed in Kirkwall, South Ronaldshay, &c., to say nothing of our Caithness wreckers, who will endeavour to have a hand in, and the competition is likely to be keen.  The cargo, which is all deals, is of a size not very suitable for the north, a large portion of it, at least, being too thick; and it is expected that it will be sold on moderate terms, but the whole ship and cargo will realize a large sum, probably L.3000 to L.4000, or upwards.  The sale would last two or three days.  Some particulars we may be able to give in our next.


The great sale of wreck and timber mentioned in our last took place at the island of Flotta last week, beginning on Tuesday and continuing till Saturday evening.  There was a large attendance of persons from all parts of Orkney, and many from Caithness, with two or three merchants from the south.

The timber was sold first, and brought various prices – from ½d to 2½d per running foot.  A good deal was bought by Mr Davidson, timber merchant, Leith, with a view to shipping it for that port.  Ropes, stores, &c., brought high prices, and the copper sheathing, of which about four or five tons were stripped off, brought 9d per lb.

The ship was sold on Thursday, and brought £360 after tolerably keen competition, but the price was less than expected, owing to the apparent difficulty of getting her broken up.  There are about 300 tons of stone ballast in the vessel which is some four feet under low water.  The vessel was purchased by a Kirkwall club of some ten individuals.

Flotta has not in its history presented such a scene nor could reckon such a gathering as took place on last week.  Numbers of persons who could not obtain sleeping quarters left each night by boat for other islands or the mainland, and returned in the morning.

Mr J. H. Baikie, of Kirkwall, Vice-Consul for France and agent for the underwriters, provided largely the creature comforts, and there was no lack of eating and drinking.  Mr and Mrs Barnet, whose domicile was nearest the place of sale, did everything in their power to make their visitors comfortable.  He was a fortunate man who could reckon upon being one of three in a bed, while others betook themselves to couches, chairs, and the softest plank in the floors.

Pan House, home of Mr & Mrs Barnett

Mr Hewison, Kirkwall, was auctioneer, and he must, during the five days of incessant bawling and knocking down, have spoken more than any parish clergyman will be called upon to do in twelve months.

The fine ship, little more than two years old when stranded, lies in the corner of the pretty bay of Panhope, perfectly quiet and safe, so that the purchasers run no risk of losing the wreck as it may be broken up.

**   ***   **

October 2016:

We are delighted that Mrs Margaret Clouston, a descendant of Mr & Mrs Barnett, donated to the Flotta Heritage Centre some of the Anita‘s tableware, that had once been in Pan House.

Mrs Margaret Clouston and tableware from the ‘Anita’

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  1. Very interesting and informative

  2. Craig – glad you enjoyed the story, and Best Wishes to you and your family for the New Year too.

  3. A very interesting article! Thank you 🙂

  4. Irvine – We don’t know of any of the crew staying on but the Barnet(t)s of Pan House had a son on 6 February 1859 and called him Peter Dupuy Barnett, supposedly named after a French sailor on the Anita. Peter called himself Pierre, and he eventually emigrated so we don’t know of any other French connection. Peter/Pierre emigrated to Argentina, then returned to Flotta, before emigrating again to Chicago around 1903.

  5. What an interesting story, and a lovely picture of Mrs Margaret Clouston. Being in the states, I love getting this kind of historical information about Flotta. I seem to have a very fond connection to Flotta and always enjoy reading new posts.
    Best wishes to everyone on Flotta for a very happy new year.

  6. did any of the crew stay put or did all head home ?

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