The history of the SS Dunara Castle is as interesting as the many sites devoted to its history.  For seventy odd years, weather permitting, the SS Dunara Castle brought supplies and conveyed passengers to and from the outer Islands of the West Coast of Scotland.

The Old Style of celebrating New Year on 12 January is also interesting, a custom that in January 1879 seemed to be losing favour and was not observed by every village or town in Argyleshire.  New Year festivities in Oban, celebrated in the New Style, were temperate which, according to the author, was usual while Oban’s publicans received a hearty commendation for the early closing of public houses – “for which act of self-denial they merit thanks”.  By Wednesday the fine weather allowed people to indulge in outdoor walking for its’ own sake as well as visit friends.  However, on the island of Iona, the decision to celebrate New Year in the New Style alienated the minority.


On Monday 30 December, Iona residents convened to discuss New Year celebrations.  Objections against the departure from a time honoured custom were raised however, it was apparent the majority were in favour of the New Style celebrations and befuddled by the minority who remained attached to old established customs.

One reason, probably characteristic of Iona residents as with most people worldwide, was that the principle element conducive to Highland felicity during New Year was still on board the SS Dunara Castle.  Given the weather at this time of the year, there was little doubt the SS Dunara Castle could land the liquor, essential to New Year celebrations.  As it was customary not to order the New Year beverages until the end of the year, because, even in well-meaning families the best Islay whisky disappeared in hot haste, Iona residents were disadvantaged by geographic and meteorological conditions.  Not all was lost.  The correspondent from Iona wrote – “Our absent friends will no doubt be glad to hear that the New Year was held again on the 12th, as usual by the other half”.

Letter to Editor 25 Jan Old Style New Style pg 2
The Oban Times, 25th January 1879

Written on the 17th and published the 25th January, H.A.B. of Tobermory endowed with a morally superior attitude wrote – “I am glad to find that a large proportion of the inhabitants of Iona have led the way in giving up the observance of Old Style.  I hope all other islands will follow and when 1880 comes, no Highlander will be found lagging twelve days behind the rest of the kingdom”.

Whether cousin John McKinnon son of Catherine McTavish and her husband, Morven born seaman, Alexander McKinnon was on board the SS Dunara Castle during Christmas-New Year 1878-79 period is unknown.  What a nuisance from a research point of view that If the vessel is trading exclusively between Scottish Ports, the law does not require the Master to keep an Official Log.  The 1881 Scottish Census enumerated on 3 April, for the SS Dunara Castle docked at Tarbert, Harris, recorded John age 25 and born Oban as the Ship’s Cook.  The crew of the SS Dunara Castle were lucky, reports of wrecks and drownings during the stormy season were usual.

Saturday 11 January 1879

  • Stornoway: Communication with Harris again interrupted; heavy fall on mainland; Ondine did not arrive Friday.
  • Mull: Salen – Severe storm from the south-east with keen frost, not experienced for several years; “Clansman” from the north unable to call at pier last Tuesday.

Saturday 18 January 1879

  • Islay: Lloyd’s telegram stated the schooner Witton of Stralsund, Germany, F H Boortman, Master bound from Lorne to Liverpool in ballast was wrecked on the Stremnist, near Mull of Oa, Islay at about 10pm on the 7th inst.  The master, his wife and the ship’s cook, Fritz Garbash drowned while four people were saved.
  • Islay: The accidental drowning of Lachlan Kennedy who fell overboard the Nations of Glasgow occurred on the 4 January off the Mull of Oa.  The Master, John Kennedy of Bowmore (father) and his brother were unable to render assistance.
  • A report from Ardrishaig revealed the Crinan Canal was frozen and shipping could not get through.  The Struggler lied panting at Auchindarroch while the Plover was icebound at Miller’s bridge.