Loss of the Ariel

Loss of the Ariel

The Ariel, official number 19611, was an old schooner built in Cowes in 1844. She came to Shetland in 1860, and the Register of Shipping gives William Bruce, Master Mariner, as the first owner. She was to pass through a number of hands after that. Thomas Edmondston of Buness was one, William Gilbert Mouat of Baltasound another, and the Harrison family of Lerwick were also involved. For a time she was deployed at the Faroe fishing in summer and autumn, and cargo work as far away as Spain in the rest of the year.

She went on fire in December 1887 while lying off Freefield Docks, Lerwick. It took some time for the fire to be put out, and she had to be scuttled. The hull was still good despite everything and the Ariel was rebuilt, and went to sea again. She was a survivor.

By 1917, the Faroe fishing era being over, she was working in cargo and was owned by J W Robertson, a star among the Lerwick businessmen of the Edwardian and World War One eras.

The Ariel seems to have been held in some affection in Shetland. Her story was written up in a Shetland Times series of 1919 "Interesting Stories of the Great War". By that time, of course, the Ariel’s story had ended. On the 1st of July 1917 bound from Methil to Lerwick she encountered a German submarine. She was shelled, and the 85 ton ship was eventually sunk by a boarding party. The crew, Captain Thomas Tait of Quarff, William Laurenson of Cunningsburgh, Samuel Johnson, and the boy cook, Bob Bonnar, were saved from the Ariel’s small boat.

Skipper Tait left an account preserved in the Reid-Tait Collection in the Shetland Archives. It’s a document called a "Ship Protest" – wherein a crew or officer give an account of loss or damage to substantiate that it was not result of negligence or their conduct. The language is necessarily legal, but it’s an immediate eyewitness account nevertheless.

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R00697 Shetland Museum Ariel at Albert Wharf 1890s
Ariel at Albert Wharf, 1890s. Shetland Museum.