The Peggy Wreck Bottle. ht 26.5 cm dia 9 cm

Object of the Month: May 2017

The Peggy Wreck Bottle

Its rock bound coast and many skerries meant that Lismore was the scene of many wrecks in the days of sail, to the extent that there was allowance for “wreck money” in the rents on the Campbell of Airds estate.

In the winter of 1742/43 the London, carrying 700 hogsheads of tobacco and 90 tones of iron, went aground on Creag Island, the most southerly of the Kilcheran Islands. There was apparently no loss of life and the owner, John Saunders, tried to enlist the help of Campbell of Airds and Campbell of Glenure in saving the stranded ship and its valuable cargo. Clearly, this was unsuccessful as, later in the year, Duncan Campbell was writing from Achnacroish to complain that Captain Andrew Glesgow, who had bought the salvage rights, had not paid him for six weeks of shipbreaking. Officially, most of the tobacco was now fit only for use as manure, but it is difficult to imagine that Lismore pipes were not supplied for many months of that year. [Copies of this correspondence in the museum archive].

Charting the history of wrecks is complicated by the fact that a great deal of the traffic round the island in the 18th century involved smuggling of alcohol and tobacco. In 1784, the barque Peggy, carrying contraband French claret (in barrels) and brandy (in bottles), anchored off Eilean Dubh and the crew prepared to supply Appin gentlemen. Warned that the Fort William revenue cutter had been alerted, they loaded the brandy in the ship’s boat with the intention of hiding it on the island. However, in a rough sea, the boat overturned, with the loss of the cargo.

Two hundred years later (1981) R& J Grieve, Diving and Salvage, Onich, found the wreck at around 18m off Eilean Dubh and recovered at least 200 bottles, sadly empty. They were curiously weathered by seawater, with a grey and golden coating, and some were encrusted with barnacles. The bottles were provided with a certificate of authenticity and auctioned in Yorkshire. They occasionally return to the auction rooms – for example, a single bottle sold in February 2017 in an Essex saleroom for £248. The bottle illustrated, by the generosity of the owners, was displayed, with its authenticity, in Lismore Museum in 2013.

The Peggy Wreck Bottle (ht 26.5 cm dia 9 cm)

The Peggy Wreck Bottle ht 26.5 cm dia 9 cm
(in private ownership but available for display)

The treacherous south end of the island, scene of many wrecks and drownings, was made safer in 1833 when Robert Stevenson built Eilean Musdile lighthouse. Elsewhere round the island, the various hazards are now marked with a variety of beacons.

Eilean Musdile lighthouse

Eilean Musdile lighthouse

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