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‘Cursed’ ship was wrecked on its way from Russia

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Thurso's Heritage by a Thirsa Loon

The Linkmoor beached at Scarfskerry Harbour with (inset) the salvage sales advert.
The Linkmoor beached at Scarfskerry Harbour with (inset) the salvage sales advert.

For this article, I am venturing beyond the confines of Thurso parish into Dunnet, uncovering shipwreck connections that tie back to the town. The story’s subject is the SS Linkmoor, a vessel that had its fair share of trials before it met its fate because of a curse – according to superstitious sailors.

In the chilling fjords of Tromso, Norway, in October 1930, the Linkmoor, en route from Russia to Liverpool, found itself stranded on unforgiving rocks. With the wounds to its bows patched with wood and three tons of cement, the ship set a course for Liverpool, only to be met with another challenge – a loss of steering in a raging gale. With repairs carried out, business resumed, the ship now destined to traverse the treacherous Pentland Firth, a passage notorious for its perilous waters.

As the Linkmoor lay anchored off Scarfskerry, a fierce northerly gale combined with a turbulent westerly sea descended upon it. Thunder and hail added to the poor weather conditions, leading to a disastrous event. The port anchor cable snapped in the early hours of November 10, 1930. The violent storm pushed the 5600-ton ship onto the rocks at Scarfskerry, just three miles east of Dunnet Head, around 3am. The steamer, owned by Sir Walter Runciman and Co of Newcastle, housed a crew of 30. Among them was a Thurso native, George Campbell.

The Linkmoor found itself opposite the poles the Scarfskerry Lifesaving crew used for practice, aiding the rescue despite the gale. Within 20 minutes of the alarm, the Lifesaving crew deployed their lifeline, successfully rescuing all the ship’s crew members by breeches-buoy. Captain Ridley commended the swift and heroic work of the lifesaving crew, expressing his astonishment at their efficiency, as did Thursonian, George Campbell who recounted how the ship had dropped anchors, but the gale led to them giving way, ultimately driving the vessel ashore.

In the aftermath, rumours circulated among old Tyneside sailors, who attributed the grounding to the “curse of Allah.” They believed that Arab seamen who were denied the opportunity to sign on by the captain as crew members had cast a spiteful spell on the ship.

As adverse weather persisted, the stranded steamer suffered further damage. After a week of relentless salvage efforts, the case was abandoned, and salvors returned to Leith. In January of the following year, Thurso auctioneer James Miller Calder conducted the sale of salvage from the ship, as instructed by D Coghill, Thurso’s Lloyds Agent. The auctioned items included a substantial quantity of timber, various hatches, furniture, a ton of paint, boats, ropes, canvas covers and drum oil.

A year later, local residents faced a challenge – rats infiltrating their premises from the shipwreck. In response, the owners agreed to sell the wreck for a mere 10 shillings to anyone willing to take it off their hands. By 1933, the Thurso Council had become the ship’s owners. In 1934, a Mr Bracewell from Lancashire purchased the vessel for a single pound.

The ship was subsequently dismantled and, with the scrap materials, transported to Thurso harbour on lorries. As the wreck obstructed the small Scarfskerry harbour, the bow section had to be blasted apart in 1935 to reopen the harbour. Today, remnants of the Linkmoor can still be seen, with some parts exposed during low tide.

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