The strange mystery of the ship and the cursing stone
- On 26/03/2010
- In Famous Wrecks
From the Derry Journal
The six survivors of the sinking of the HMS Wasp at Tory Island in 1884 were given a rousing welcome when they got to Derry afterwards.
Was the shipwreck the result of a catalogue of errors - or were dark otherworldly forces called up by the islanders ?
Ken McCormack investigates. Did the Cursing Stone of Tory sink the Wasp ?
It is one of the country's great unsolved mysteries. How could a sound ship, in familiar waters and in good weather conditions, be lost on rocks at Tory Island ?
Despite an Admiralty enquiry, no logical reason has ever been given. On Tory the story is still as alive as it was on that fateful night of September 1884. And you'll meet island folk who'll tell you outright that HMS Wasp perished because Tory's famous 'Cursing Stone' was turned against the vessel.
HMS Wasp was a 145 foot long gunboat powered by steam and sail. She was built in 1880 and based in Queenstown (Cobh, Co.Cork) with a complement of sixty crewmen. Her main functions were to convey parties for fishery and lighthouse inspections or other official duties.
And while she had delivered relief foodstuffs to the offshore islands, she also had the more distasteful task of ferrying bailiffs and constabulary for rent collections and evictions.
The talk on Derry Quay was that the sailors were not at all happy with these missions to the islands. Certainly such raids were the source of major discontent – landlords and the agents of officialdom were despised in equal measure and not welcome on Tory or anywhere else along the coast.
In the 1880s Derry was a thriving city and popular with the crew of the Wasp. She berthed at the port frequently throughout 1883 as did her sister ship HMS Valiant. And such were the high spirits on one visit that the sailors of both vessels opted to have their photographs taken at Hugh Kerr's new studio in Carlisle Road. How strange fate is – I'm sure both sets of crewmen never suspected they'd be in the throes of a major disaster within a year.
It happened that early on the morning of Sunday 21 September 1884 HMS Wasp left Westport in Mayo with instructions to sail up the coast to Moville on the Foyle to collect personnel for evictions on Innistrahull Island just off Malin Head.
The crew of the Wasp were familiar with the passage and the trip was going well as the small hours of the following morning approached.