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This article was published in the Friday, 1 April 1887 edition of the The Ross-Shire Journal.


On Thursday morning between eight and nine o'clock, as the boats were proceeding to sea, from the township of Reef, on Lochbroom, to prosecute the cod fishing, the last boat to leave was observed from the shore to sink under an enormous wave, the occupants - four in number - being carried down by the boat, and they were not seen to rise again. The sad accident happened within a quarter of a mile from the shore, under the notice of a number of people, but it was utterly impossible to render any assistance, as the swamped boat was the last to leave the shore, and the others were already far out to sea. The bodies have not been recovered owing to the great depth of the loch at the place. The names of the four men are Roderick Ross, Senior, (40); Roderick Ross, Junior, (26); Hugh MacDonald,(29); George MacDonald, (27). The deceased were all fishermen belonging to Reef.

Donald MacLennan (email is a genealogist in Scotland with access to old newspapers from the area. He has provided the abover transcription from the Ross-Shire Journal of Friday, 1st April, 1887. The Ross-Shire Journal is still published, their website is;

In the Coigach district of Lochbroom Parish the families shared small single masted open fishing boats, mainly for herring, but at different times of the year other fish, including cod. Most of the boats had as crew four to six fishers, usually brothers or other close relatives. As well there were a few larger boats, such as the fourty ton "Tonsor of Reiff", which would go to the fishing off Wick or the east coast, away from home for months at a time. (In 1883 there were two such larger boats at Reiff)

In 1883 Duncan MacKenzie, an old crofter and brother of the mother of Roderick Ross, testified on behalf of the young fishers of Reiff to the Commission on the Plight of the Crofters and Cotters of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I have been sent by Alan McKenzie, newsletter editor for Clan MacKenzie Canada (CONTACT INFO), an article he wrote that includes a transcription of a large part of Duncan's testimony, see duncan.htm

Duncan said the harbour at Reiff was rocky and lacked a good quay, and that the fishers had to drag their boats up onto the beach. He said that though the fishing was some of the best on the west coast, there was a strong south-west wind and the fishers were always in danger.

As noted in the above Ross-shire Journal article (Top of file), 24 March 1887 the ten to twelve boats from Reiff set out between 8 and 9 in the morning. The last boat out had as crew two MacDonald brothers; George and Hugh, their brother-in-law Roderick Ross (husband of Maggie MacDonald), and Roderick's younger first cousin, another Roderick Ross.

The boat was swamped, and when the deaths were registered a week later only the body of George had been recovered. Descendants Diyanne and Duncan Ross say there is a geologic fault line through the area, and suggest a small earthquake occured, and the particular formations on the seafloor focussed the waves in one spot; right where the hapless boat was. Reportedly, eggs rolled over on the table at the same time. Some say Roderick's wife Maggie watched the disaster from her window.

Following the tragedy there was a spate of naming of children after the lost fishers, both by relatives of the two Rodericks, and the two MacDonald brothers;

John McDonald was a brother of George and Hugh, he had emigrated to New Zealand along with two other brothers (Donald Brown and Alexander). Margaret Grant (CONTACT INFO) is a descendant of John, she says John named his first son in 1890 Hugh George Brown McDonald.

Chirsty MacDonald was a sister of George and Hugh, and already had two sons with those names. She had married Andrew Ross at Lower Arboll in Tarbat Parish, and in 1891 named her 11th child, my grandfather Ross MacDonald Ross, to honour her relatives. The double barrelled name has since become hyphenated.

Roderick Ross's sister Janet "Jessie" married Alexander McLeod at Reiff. They had named their son born in 1884 Roderick W. After the tragedy Jessie chose to name her next son in 1889 Roderick as well! You can see both Rodericks in the 1891 census at Reiff 91-34.

Roderick's widow, Maggie MacDonald, had her fifth child born the year of the tragedy. Andrew Muir (CONTACT INFO) is married to a descendant of the Reiff Ross family. Andrew has told me that the fifth child was named Margaret when born, but renamed Rodina, a dimunitive for Roderickina, after her father Roderick Ross.

Andrew Muir's mother in law, Iba MacPherson Ross, says after the tragedy Maggie took her young children home to her parents, but was told by her father (my own gt-gt-grandfather Donald MacDonald) to return to her own home "Burnside" on the point above Reiff; "Roderick built it for you and so that's where you'll stay". Maggie raised her five children there, though one of them, Donald Ross, shows up on the 1891 census living at Badenscallie with his aunt Ann (Ross) Stewart, and Ann's husband, Duncan Stewart, see Badenscallie 91-26. The home is still in the family, occupied by Diyanne Ross.

The four fishers appear in my 1881 web files, see;

This file, and others dealing with history and genealogy of Coigach, links from my homepage at:

Any suggestions for additions or edits please feel free to email me,

Donald MacDonald-Ross, at:

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