The Isle of Whithorn Maritime History

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An old photograph of the Isle of Whithorn Harbour
The Isle of Whithorn

The Isle of Whithorn

The Lifeboats

The LifeboatOn the way to the Cairn, there are the remains of an old building, all that is left of the old lifeboat house. When it was cleaned up to accommodate the Witness Cairn, a cobbled floor, with runners on which the wheels of the lifeboat bogie ran, was revealed.

The building had a roof until well after the Second World War although the station was closed in 1919, when a motor lifeboat was placed on station at Kirkcudbright.

The Lifeboat Station was set up in 1869 in the days when lifeboats were not fitted with engines and had to be rowed. This meant that if the casualty was in Wigtown Bay it was a long row against invariably strong tides. In those circumstances the lifeboat was hauled through the village, past Isle Farm and down to Cairnhead, where there is still a wide gate leading to a small shore, and from where the lifeboat was launched.

The LifeboatTaking the boat through the village was a major task, not least because there were houses standing on what is now the car park by the telephone box, resulting in a very tight turn into the Portyerrock road. The bogie had enormous iron wheels, and because of the difficulty of rounding the corner a granite pillar was erected at the corner of the end house so that the bogie could be pivoted round it without causing damage.

It’s believed that when the maroon was fired the local farmers were each required to send three pairs of horses in case it was necessary to take the boat to Cairnhead.

During the 50 years that the lifeboat station was operating there were three lifeboats: Charlie Peake (1869 - 1886), 7 launches and 10 lives saved. Henry and John Leighton (1886 - 1901), 12 launches and 22 lives saved. George and Margaret (1901 - 1919), six launches and six lives saved.

The LifeboatIn all, 25 launches and 38 lives saved. After the station closed, the boat was sold off for £50 in 1920. To quote from a report compiled when the Charlie Peake was on station: “These lifeboats were placed in a small bay on the eastern ridge of a promontory which protrudes outward from the general run of the coast divided by the bays of Wigtown and Luce.

The boat is kept in a house built on a small neck of land connecting the so called Isle of Whithorn with the mainland and has the advantage of good launching places with the wind in any direction either on one side or the other of the island. The coast is wild and exposed and the Charlie Peake has performed some excellent service at different times although there is not a very extensive oversea traffic from that coast”.
The Lifeboat


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