The steamship SS Dinnington was travelling from Shields to Stornoway with a cargo of coal when it was wrecked on the evening of 16 February 1906 on the west end of Switha. Nine of the crew were saved in a difficult rescue mission. Two men could not be saved.
As SS Dinnington came through the Pentland Firth, in stormy weather and heavy snow showers, she was flooded so frequently that the captain considered it advisable to put into Longhope, a harbour between South Walls and Hoy. The navigation became difficult while the vessel drew near to the entrance between Cantick Head and Switha. An exceptionally heavy snow shower was coming on and she ended up striking the reef at Pool Ting on the west end of Switha.
Heavy seas were crashing over the ship and in just a few minutes the fore part of the ship had broken off. Several of the crew were in their bunks at the time and, because the vessel parted so suddenly, they had to swim for their lives. Instant action was imperative. The lifeboat became freed by the surging of the ship and the action of the waves, rather than by the men, who were doing their utmost to save their lives.
It is believed that about this time – with the breaking of the ship and the tempestuous seas running – two of the crew lost their lives. They were George Boyd from South Shields and William Templeton from Brechin. The remainder of the crew had no sooner got into the lifeboat than it was upset. With great difficulty and at the risk of severe danger and injury, the men made it to the island of Switha.
Many of the crew were partially dressed and, as there was no place to shelter on the island, their ordeal was far from over. People on South Walls saw the lights of the ship and heard the steamer whistling. They launched their fishing yawl with six men aboard and a dramatic rescue ensued in the darkness through the storm and blinding snow. Unable to approach the wreck, they searched in different directions but could find no signs of life. Thinking the crew might have run before the wind to Flotta they made their way there, but found none of them there.
Hoping to save the lives of the wrecked ship's crew, the men set sail for Switha again. They found the nine men partially dressed and huddled together for protection in a creek. They were taken into the boat and landed at Flotta.
The crew who were saved include: William James Muir, captain; Wm M’Comba, mate; William Lane, second engineer; Alexander Gunn, A B; William Good, steward; George Herr, fireman; George Rottgart, fireman; Gust Samuel, donkey-man.
All that was left of the SS Dinnington the next morning was two widely-separated parts. The after part of the ship was fixed on the rock but was expected to move in the next high tide. The bodies of the drowned men were found, not far from the wreck, washed ashore on Sunday, and were taken to Flotta for interment (Orkney Herald, 21.2.1906; Orkney Herald, 28.2.1923; The Scotsman 19.2.1906.
- Nationality: British
- Date built: 1873
- Builder: Coulson, Cook & Co, Newcastle
- Type: Steamship
- Purpose: Cargo Ship
- Weight: 366 tons gross
- Length: 159.4ft (48.6m)
- Beam: 21.3ft (6.5m)
- Draught: 12.1ft (3.7m)
- Material: Iron
- Cause lost: Stranded in gale and wrecked
- Date lost: 16 February 1906
- Captain: WJ Muir
- Engine: Compound
- Registration: Messrs Cuthbert & Wilkinson, Sunderland