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The Disappeared of Flannan Isle - Mystery Files

Updated on February 4, 2016
Flannan Isle (Eilean Mor)
Flannan Isle (Eilean Mor) | Source

Flannan Isle.

The Flannan Isles, also known as The Seven Hunters, are a little group of Islands situated in the Outer Hebrides to the North of Scotland in the UK. Their name is probably derived from St. Flannan, a 7th century Abbot and preacher. Their alternative name of The Seven Hunters derives from before the lighthouse was built - they had a fearsome reputation for destroying ships en route to the Scottish Ports.

The islands have no permanent residents, the last having left in 1971 when the lighthouse was finally automated. This lighthouse is the scene of one of the most puzzling mysteries of modern times, when seventy-one years earlier, in the year 1900, all three of the resident lighthouse keepers simply vanished without trace. The incident was the inspiration for Wilfred Wilson Gibson's famous haunting poem Flannan Isle

The Location of Flannan Isle.
The Location of Flannan Isle.

The Flannan Lighthouse

The Flannan lighthouse, is known as the Eilean Mor (Gaelic for "Big Isle") lighthouse, after the particular isle it is built on. It is a desolate rock clinging to the outer limits of the British Isles with the nearest land being the Island of Lewis, some twenty miles to the east, and after this, thousands of miles of sea - The next land being North America.

In 1900 the lighthouse was manned by four retired seamen - Thomas Marshal, James Ducat, Donald Mc Arthur, and Joseph Moore, who would work three at a time, with a shift of six weeks on the island, followed by two weeks ashore on the mainland.

Once a fortnight, the supply ship Hesperus would arrive to drop off mail and supplies, and one lighthouse keeper returning from his two weeks off. It would also pick up one of the other lighthouse men who was due his leave on the mainland.

Joseph Moore, was due to be relieved on December 6th 1900, and when asked if he was looking forward to his leave from the island by the skipper of the Hesperus, he replied "Aye, 'tis pretty lonely there sometimes"

And a lonely place it was. The lighthouse was barely a year old, and the four keepers had already experienced a bitter winter there - none looked forward to the next.

The huge stone tower that comprised the lighthouse protected them from the vicious wind and raging sea, but provided little diversion through the long lonely hours. Apart from reading, and re-reading books interspersed with perhaps a game of cards or Draughts (Checkers), there was precious little to do to while away the tedium of the long weeks on duty.

Joseph Moore was aware that the mood of his fellow keepers had been growing more morose. Over time, their sociability had deteriorated and conversation had dried to a trickle with the men spending ever increasing periods of time engaged in solitary brooding - He was not looking forward to returning to the Isle.

Flannan Isle Lighthouse
Flannan Isle Lighthouse | Source

The Return To Flannan Isle

Much as he might have not wanted to return, Joseph Moore's leave was over and on 21st of December, he once again boarded the Hesperus to travel back to Eilean Mor.

The calm and benign weather that had continued through his two-week leave, deteriorated almost as soon as the ship had left port. Before long they were riding a full-scale storm. For three days the storm raged, making a landing impossible and forcing the Hesperus to weather the storm out on the fringe of the Hebridian coast.

By the 24th, the storm was showing signs of abating and the Hesperus was able to make way to Eilean Mor lighthouse, but it was to be another two days before the weather was calm enough to dock at the island. During this time, Moore was becoming increasingly anxious, as he realised that something must be amiss at the lighthouse, because the 140,000-candlepower light was not lit.

The Discovery.

As they made their way to the Island's East Dock, no activity was visible ashore. Despite the skipper giving a number of blasts on his foghorn, no keepers came out to greet the ship, and it was evident, looking at the dock, that nothing had been made ready for their arrival.

Joseph Moore was first ashore. He entered the lighthouse and called out, but was met only with silence. The place was cold and desolate. The clock on the shelf had stopped. Moores blood ran cold. Fearing that he might well find the keepers dead, perhaps in the light turret, he ran down to the jetty to find help.

Two members of crew returned with him and all ascended the stairs to the lighthouse turret, but they found no one. The lighthouse was completely uninhabited. Everything within the lighthouse however, was in perfect order. The lamps wicks had been cleaned and trimmed and their reservoirs filled with oil. The last entry on the lighthouse's record slate was dated December 15th. The only things found to be missing were two sets of the Keeper's Oilskins and seaboots.

They searched the entire island, but to no avail. The West dock showed extensive storm damage, with a tool chest some 110 feet above sea level having been pummeled by waves. Could it have been possible, suggested one of the men, that one of the hundred foot high waves carried all three keepers to their deaths? This suggestion was dismissed - No experienced keeper would have ever been stupid enough to venture out of the Lighthouse in such conditions - besides, if that was the case, all three sets of oilskins and boots would be missing, not just two.

Path from the Jetty to the Lighthouse
Path from the Jetty to the Lighthouse | Source

The Examination of the Lighthouse Log

Joseph Moore and the Captain of the Hesperus examined the house Log. The entries were unusual and seemed to hint that some dark fear was inhabiting the place.

"December 12: Gale, north by northwest. Sea lashed to fury. Stormbound. 9pm. never seen such a storm. Waves very high. Tearing at lighthouse. Everything shipshape. Ducat irritable." However, no such storm had been reported at Lewis, 20 miles away, and it was certainly not usual to refer to keepers moods in the log.

The next entry from midnight the same day read "Storm still raging. Wind steady. Stormbound. Cannot go out. Ship passing sounding foghorn. Could see lights of cabins. Ducat quiet. McArthur crying". Donald McArthur was a veteran seaman of enormous experience, What could have happened, they wondered, to reduce him to tears?

They continued to read: "December 13: Storm continued through the night. Wind shifted west by north. Ducat quiet. McArthur praying". When Joseph Moore testified before the board of enquiry that had been set up to investigate the incident, he asserted that he had never known any of his companions to pray, and yet here was the veteran seaman Donald McArthur, crying one day and praying the next. Fear of the storm was dismissed as a reason as all were very experienced seamen who would have sailed through many a storm during their careers at sea.

They read on: Strangely, there was no log entry at all for the next day, the 14th, and no explanation as to why. Finally, .Moore and the Captain gazed down at the last entry in the log, "December 15: 1pm. Storm ended. Sea calm. God is over all".

It came out in the inquiry that during the night of December 15th, the SS Archer had narrowly escaped running aground on the jagged rocks of Eilean Mor because the lighthouse was in darkness. It was assumed that all three keepers had disappeared by this time.

What Happened to the Men?

The only plausible explanation that has been put forward is that one of the men may have gone insane, killed his fellow keepers, and then himself - Did the unreported storm of December 12 actually happen? - or did it exist only in the fevered imagination of the writer - Did the log reports of crying and praying suggest a keeper on the verge of religious mania?

If murder, followed by suicide is the answer, it raises other questions such as how were the murders carried out? An inventory of the lighthouse showed that all knives, hammers and axes remained untouched and in their proper places.

No one knows what really happened there, and it's unlikely that anyone ever will. As time moves on, the lighthouse on Eilean Mor clutches ever tighter to its horrifying and mystifying secret.


Submit a Comment
  • EsJam profile image


    4 years ago from Southern California

    Oh, how intriguing! Gives me the chills! I adore your photo, "path from the jetty to the lighthouse". It is breath-taking!!

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @nemanjaboskov Thanks. I remember learning "Flannan Isle", Gibson's poem about this incident,in school. It gave me the shivers even then.

  • nemanjaboskov profile image

    Nemanja BoŇ°kov 

    7 years ago from Serbia

    A great hub, Bill!

    Your work is indeed a pleasure to read, just like Electro-Denizen said.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    Indeed, scarytaff. If the situation or company is driving you nuts and there is nowhere to go, I suppose that something is going to blow eventually.

  • scarytaff profile image

    Derek James 

    8 years ago from South Wales

    Strange things happen when men are locked in together.Another good mystery, Gaizy.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ bethperry - Yes, I had always fancied being a lighthouse keeper - I'm not so sure now!

  • bethperry profile image

    Beth Perry 

    8 years ago from Tennesee

    Fascinating! It seems lighthouses very often are magnets for tragedy and mystery.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ Alastar Packer - Yes, it's a sort of land-based "Marie Celeste" story.

  • Alastar Packer profile image

    Alastar Packer 

    8 years ago from North Carolina

    Awesome unsolved unknown Gaizy. Probably would never have known about it, thanks. If all those possibility's are largely ruled out, what's left? Got an idea or two but shall remain quiet in the name of the almighty mystery.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ Disappearinghead - It's certainly weird enough!

  • Disappearinghead profile image


    8 years ago from Wales, UK

    Sounds like one for the "Tales of the Unexpected".

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    Thanks Electro Denizen. I love a good mystery.

  • Electro-Denizen profile image


    8 years ago from UK

    Good tale. Your hubs are always a pleasure to read!


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