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The Life Story of the "Lebanon"

by Tom Hughes

When we were restoring our old stone cottage, Bayview, on Papa Westray we found that a piece of timber with a neatly carved inscription had been used as the inner lintel of a window. The visible part of the timber reads

121650.REG. TON.

It still has patches of old sky-blue paint on it. Clearly the builder had taken some care in placing the timber where it is, but why?

When a British ship is registered she is given a number and measured, and her tonnage is calculated. The number and "registered tonnage" must then be carved on her main beam, which is usually across the ship under the deck, fairly well forwards. The ship is given a Certificate of Registry, rather like a car logbook, which describes her in detail and records where she was built, all her successive owners and eventually how she meets her end. She is registered as belonging to a particular port, but this may change during her life. A copy is kept in the Registry of British Shipping. Our lintel must have been the main beam of a ship, and from the number it was possible to find out more about her.

She first appeared on the Registry on 17 July 1908 at the port of Lerwick, in Shetland, as entry number 5 in 1908. Her name was the "Lebanon". She was built by Alexander Weatherhead, but the registry didn't tell us where or when. She was a two-masted, smack rigged sailing ship, carvel built of wood with an elliptical stern, 61.2 feet long and 17.6 feet in beam, and her registered tonnage was 25.68. So she was a good sized ship.

The ownership of a vessel is always divided into 64 shares. This can be awkward if you have for example three owners. At the time of registration the "Lebanon" belonged to six fishermen from Dunrossness in Shetland, divided into two groups of three with each group owning 32 shares. They were:

James Johnson of Scousburgh
Robert Leslie of Scousburgh
Magnus Johnson of Lud
James and William Mainland of Brake, Hillwall
Adam Johnson of Lud.

By 1911 many fishermen had replaced their big sailing smacks by steamships, which were more efficient. In September 1911 the "Lebanon" was sold to an Orkney carpenter, John Mowat, of Dundas Street, Stromness. Her registration was then transferred to the port of Kirkwall as entry Number 4 in 1911, and she was probably used as an inter-island cargo vessel.

In July 1919 the "Lebanon" was sold to David Drever, of Mount Pleasant, Links, Westray, who intended to use her as a sailing packet boat between Westray and Kirkwall during the summer months. The Orcadian reported that she made her first regular run to Kirkwall in April 1920 and returned with the furniture of the newly elected Minister of the parish Church. The Orkney Herald reported that during September, while on the voyage from Westray to Kirkwall, she went ashore on Vasa Skerry near the west side of Shapinsay.There was no wind at the time, and the strong current running rendered the vessel unmanageable, with the result that she was carried on to the skerry, where at ebb tide she lay high and dry. The weather was fine, and there was no immediate danger to the boat which, as the tides were still "making", was expected to be got off. She lay stranded for nearly five days, but was successfully refloated by the s.s. "Iona", which towed her off at the first attempt, and brought her to Kirkwall. Externally, the vessel did not appear to be much damaged, but it was reported that she was making water all the time. She was taken into the inner harbour, where pumping operations were continued. Presumably she was repaired successfully.

David Drever died in June 1921 after falling from Gill Pier, Pierowall, Westray. Ownership of the "Lebanon" then passed to his wife Jessie McKay or Drever. In March 1922 Jessie sold the vessel to George Nicol Rendall of North Rendall, Papa Westray, who used her as a shop boat, but unfortunately for only eight months. The closing entry in the Kirkwall register is laconic:

"Vessel wrecked at Linkataing, North End, Eday on 1st November 1922. Certificate of Registry lost with the vessel"

We can learn more about her sad end from local newspapers. The Orkney Herald's local and district news of 8th November reported:

"Kirkwall Smack Wrecked.- The ketch "Lebanon", belonging to Kirkwall, broke adrift from her moorings at Papa Westray in the height of the gale on Wednesday of last week. The vessel is, we understand, a total wreck at Linkatoon, on the west side of Eday. All the crew are safe."

and in the same column:

"Severe Storm.- On Wednesday afternoon a severe storm broke over the whole of Orkney. High winds, accompanied by torrential rains, were experienced and continued till Thursday, when the elements subsided to a considerable extent. Harvest operations had to be suspended, and in many instances farmers report heavy losses. The "Earl of Zetland" which is taking up the run of the "St Ola", at present undergoing her annual survey at Aberdeen, proceeded to Stromness on Wednesday evening. Owing to the heavy gales she was unable to make the passage across the Firth on Thursday and Friday. With inproved conditions she left for Wick on Saturday. The "Orcadia" was also unable to make the journey from the North Isles on Thursday, but she arrived on Friday."

It is not often that an Orcadian will acknowledge the occurrence of a "severe storm" - "a bit fresh" is the usual description! The "Lebanon" was probably moored on the east side of Papa Westray, near the old stone pier, and for the wind to take her to the north end of Eday the wind must have been from the north north west. The crew would have left her on her moorings and gone home. Even if she broke away during the day they could have done nothing to save her under those weather conditions, and at night they might never have known she had gone until the next day dawned. Would she have been insured?

To find out more about the origins of the "Lebanon" we asked for help from the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust at Anstruther. The curator, Linda McGowan, kindly sought expert advice from Mr Tarvit, and he provided me with the following valuable information.

Mr Tarvit went on to say that because she had an elliptical stern the "Lebanon" was neither a "Fifie" or a "Zulu". She may have been rigged initially with a dipping lugsail on the foremast and a standing lug on the mizzen. This not a handy rig for sailing in confined waters, and it was normal at that time to alter to smack rig with all sails fore and aft when a vessel was sold to Shetland.

When she was sold to John Mowat at Stromness she was not entered on the Orkney fishing boat register. John Mowat probably used her as an inter-island trading vessel. (To avoid confusion it shuld be mentioned that about this time there was another, smaller, fishing boat, also called the "Lebanon" but only 43.5 feet long, registered at Fraserburgh as "FR521". She too was transferred to Orkney, being owned by John Tulloch of North Ness, North Ronaldsay, but appears only on the Kirkwall fishing boat register, as "K403", and was not used for fishing after 1907). By that time the big sailing fishing boats were rapidly being replaced by the more cost-effective steam drifters. The "Lebanon" was always purely a sailing vessel, but by 1908 she had a steam capstan with a small coal fired boiler, which became standard equipment in large fishing vessels after 1900, many being made to a patented design by Elliot and Garrood of Beccles. The output power of these capstans was about 5 horse power, which not only reduced the manpower needed to haul drift nets, but also made it easier to raise the masts and sails.

During the months while the "Lebanon" was owned by George Nicol Rendall her Papa Westray crew may have varied, but included Robert Rendall, a blacksmith who lived at Bayview and also operated a small shop there. After the "Lebanon" was wrecked he and others of her crew probably went over to Eday to salvage what they could, perhaps towing pieces of timber home behind small boats. In 1925 he rebuilt and improved Bayview, and it seems very probable that as well as using the main beam as a lintel he also made other lintels and much of his new roof from timber rescued from the "Lebanon". Robbie died in 1980, aged 88. When we rebuilt Bayview recently quite a bit of this timber, now more than a hundred years old, was in good condition and was re-used.

I should like to thank the staff of the Orkney Archive as well as the experts at Anstruther mentioned above for their advice and help, for which I am very grateful. I have been unable to find a photograph of the "Lebanon", and if any reader knows of one I should be very pleased if they would tell me. Also, does anyone know if sky-blue paint was popular below decks?

© T P Hughes 2003

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