On New Year's Day 1866, 10 lives were lost when the Albion was wrecked off the Point of Oxan on Graemsay in Hoy Sound.

The ship had left Liverpool bound for New York 12 days previously and had experienced unrelenting stormy weather throughout the journey. She narrowly escaped being wrecked on St Kilda, and bore up for Orkney after a desperate but abortive effort to reach Stornoway. The ship's sails were torn to shreds and the cordage worn out.

The crew was exhausted when Hoy was finally sighted and a heavy sea was breaking along the Atlantic coast of Orkney. Occasional blinding showers of hail and snow accompanied the strong winds.

The Albion was spotted standing in for Hoy Sound from the west about noon. The ship had very little canvas set but, on reaching the mouth of the dangerous sound, a foretopsail was set. At this critical moment a fierce hailstorm came on, hiding the ship from the view of those who were anxiously watching its progress.

When the hail cleared the Albion was seen to be in a dangerous position in Hoy Sound, opposite the island of Graemsay. Two pilots from the island rapidly made their way on board. On their advice the cables were cut, but the ship began to drag anchor and became unmanageable. She struck violently on the Point of Oxen and in no time at all the hatches had sprung up and the deck planks had split from stem to stern.

A number of women and children were among the passengers on board. Several boats made for the ship from Graemsay, Hoy and Stromness. The mail steamer, which was fortunately at hand, also approached to help. The stricken vessel appeared to be rapidly breaking up and the women, children and male passengers got into the boats without delay. The majority of them, after considerable effort, were landed safely.

However, the second trip of one of the rescue boats ended in catastrophe. The rescue boat was lying alongside the mail steamer, which itself was lying as close as possible to the Albion. Fourteen people were on board, nine of whom were male passengers. In their anxiety to be taken out the passengers rushed to one side and the boat capsized in the process. Ten of the passengers perished. Seven of these were male passengers, two others belonged to the crew of the Albion and the final victim was Joseph Mowat from Graemsay. Mowat was buried in the Graemsay Kirkyard. Two passengers and two seamen were alone saved out of the boatload.

When the boat capsized, Mr JAS Shearer and others put off in the small boat of the mail steamer to do what they could to rescue the drowning men. They picked up four, but a fifth – who appeared to be a good swimmer – was followed until it was found impossible to go further amid the rough sea into which the strong current had dragged him. The captain, mate and steward were the last to leave the Albion and reached the shore in safety.

Before 5pm the once stately Albion was completely broken up. The beach of Graemsay was strewn with wreckage and cargo. The passengers and crew stayed the night in the two lighthouses of Graemsay. The following day they were taken off by the mail steamer and landed at Stromness, where they were taken in charge by Messrs. Mowat and Hay.

Many of the passengers were in an utterly destitute condition. The people of Stromness supplied them with food, shelter, and comfortable clothing.

Some of the cases were particularly distressing. A German woman, with two children, had lost her husband who had all of their money. Another German woman had also lost her husband. Two sisters had each lost a brother.

Most of the crew of the ship arrived in Kirkwall on Wednesday night, awaiting the arrival of a steamer to carry them south. On Thursday the passengers left in the packet ship Reaper.

Owing to the speed with which the vessel broke up, little has been recovered from the wreck. Some crates of stoneware were carried by the current to Houton Shore, a distance of six miles from the scene of the wreck. 

It was recorded on 2 April 1866 that a good deal of steel and some iron and tin were recovered from the wreck (Dodsworth, 9.11.2011).

  • Nationality: British
  • Date built: 1855, America
  • Type: Full-rigged ship
  • Purpose: General cargo and passengers
  • Weight: 1,245 tons
  • Length: 182.3ft
  • Beam: 39.7ft
  • Draught: 23.0ft
  • Complement: 24 crew and 43 passengers
  • Cause Lost: Stranded in gale and wrecked
  • Date lost: 1 January 1866
  • Propulsion: Sail
  • Power: 14,000 shp
  • Captain: Thomas Williams
  • Registration: Hill & Co, Bristol