The Ellan Vannin

In the small hours of 3rd December 1909, into the teeth of a full gale, the steamship Ellan Vannin left Ramsey harbour for Liverpool. It must have been an awful journey for the fifteen passengers, one an infant, and twenty-one crew.

Her cargo included one and a half tons of turnips owned by the Quayle family, the entire year’s crop from their farm at Rhenab. They had waited to take advantage of high winter prices in Liverpool, but did not think to insure the consignment against the perils of the sea.

The vessel was eventually found in two pieces in shallow water by the Mersey channel. Navy divers inspected the wreck and then blew it up as a navigation hazard.

A Board of Trade inquiry found that the fifty-year-old vessel was overwhelmed by mountainous seas near the Mersey bar and sank by the stern, with all aboard lost.

One of the report’s recommendations was that by law all passenger vessels should be equipped with sufficient lifeboats for all the passengers and crew. More lifeboats would not have helped the thirty-six people aboard Ellan Vannin, but would certainly have helped those on Titanic two years later.

The report was not binding on the English authorities, and until April 1912 they ignored it. It was extensively quoted in the Titanic inquiry.

One of the items put in evidence was a glass HP sauce bottle stopped with a cork. This was washed up in Morecambe bay a few days after the storm. Inside was a message hastily scribbled in pencil on a page torn-out of a diary.

The message was apparently from Edward Burke, cook on Ellan Vannin. Evidence was given that he kept a diary like this and had bottles and corks like this in his galley. His son gave sworn evidence that this was his father’s handwriting and signature. It read:

“Ellan Vannin been in collision with an unknown steamer. Just going down. Goodbye to all. E. Burke”

The report dismissed this evidence with the comment that it was not unusual for people to take advantage of a tragedy to play a prank like this.

The report did not quell speculation on the Island that she was run down in the storm and cut in two by a British naval vessel.

On the quayside in Ramsey there is a graceful memorial to the Ellan Vannin and those lost with her.

Chris Thorpe

Chris Thorpe is a respected independent lawyer in the upstream oil and gas industry, and an established lecturer and author. Chris has a LLB in law from Magdalene College, Cambridge and trained as a barrister in London. He worked for eight years' as an in-house lawyer for BP and Marathon. Since 1991, Chris has run his own upstream legal practice, CPTL, which has acted for many upstream clients. He has extensive experience of international upstream transactions, principally in the North Sea, the FSU, Africa and the Middle East. Chris has spoken at many UK and International Conferences and Seminars, both public and in-house. His most popular current lecture is Fundamental of Upstream Petroleum Agreements, a two-day course with accompanying book.