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The Eilean More Island Missing Lighthouse Keepers

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Eilean More, meaning “big island” in Gaelic, is one of the Flannen Islands and is located 15 miles west of the Lewis in Scotland. In 1895 construction of the lighthouse began on the deserted island and 4 years later, it was opened for business. Staffed by three men, James Ducat, Donald McArthur, and Thomas Marshall, the lighthouse served as a beacon of safety – until December 15, 1900 when the light mysteriously stopped burning.

Eilean More LighthouseOn December 15th, The steamer Archtor on passage from Philadelphia to Leith passed the islands and noted that the light was not operational. Local residents also noticed the light had gone out on Saturday. Patience turn to concern when the light had not been reignited by nightfall. On Sunday, the weather turned bad so an attempt to reach the island could not be made. The weather stayed bad for 12 long days before the residents could make the crossing and land to investigate. The North Lighthouse Board steamer the Hesperus, crossed the straight to the island to investigate On December 27. Upon landing they found a perfectly calm lighthouse – lamps were ready to be lit and a half eaten meal of salted mutton and potatoes was sitting on the kitchen table. The only thing missing was a toolbox and two sets of oilskins and boots (belonging to James Ducat and Thomas Marshall). The final entries in the log (which were read and recorded in a later court investigation) were indeed mysterious and puzzling:

Dec 12th: gale north by northwest. Sea lashed to fury. Never seen such a storm. Waves very high. Tearing at lighthouse. Everything shipshape. James Ducat irritable.

Dec 12th (later): storm still raging, wind steady. Stormnbound. Cannot go out. Ship passing sounding foghorn. Could see lights of cabins. Ducat quiet. McArthtur crying.

Dec 13th: storm continued through night. Wind shifted west by north. Ducat quiet. McArthur praying.

Dec 13th (later): Noon, grey daylight. Me, Ducat and McArthur prayed.

Dec 14th: no entry.

Dec 15th: Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.

It was on the date of the last posted entry that the light in the lighthouse went out.

Investigators were puzzled as to what had so terrified the men. They noted that on the island of Lewis, less than 20 miles away, there were no storms of any sort during the days in question. All three men were seasoned veterans of storms. Ducat, at age 43, had over 20 years of lighthouse experience and McArthur and Marshall were seasoned mariners. Their unusual emotions described in the journal entry were perplexing indeed.

Several theories arose. Some thought that one of the men had gone mad, killing the other two before throwing himself into the sea. Possibly they ate something or were somehow contaminated with a poisonous substance that drove them out of their minds. Rumors that a strange “seaweed” was found, one that had never been seen before nor identified.

In 1940, journalist Iain Campbell had visited the area and noted a swell rising over two stories in the air during perfectly calm weather. Geologist note a large natural “crevice” exists on the side of the island and that unusual currents can result from this formation.

Even stranger, the crew of the Fairwin were in the area on the night that the light had gone out (they were investigating why the light was out). They noted a “ghostly longboat across the bow” crewed by men with faces the color of bone, three men dressed in heavy raingear rowing a boat. Thy called out to the men and blasted the horn but there came no reply. This fueled the already existing belief that the island was haunted.

The mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on Eilean More in the Flannen Isles in 1900, is probably the best-documented mysterious disappearance to have occurred in Britain. The lighthouse continued to be manned until it was automated in 1971. It is still in operation today.

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