This is a copy of an account given in the Ayr Advertiser of the third week in June 1910. Seven years after the tragic events described here, in July 1917, Rev John Kellie was killed at Ypres, while serving as chaplain with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders during the First World War. He was thirty four years old. John Kellie was "in the chair" of Lodge No 11 at the time of his death. Contributed by Alistair Hastings.
FIVE SUNDAY SCHOOL TRIPPERS DROWNED. RECKLESS USE OF AN OLD BOAT
The tragic result of a boating episode indulged in on the Carrick shore on Saturday by a party of Sunday School trippers from Kirkmichael, created great consternation all over the county when it became known on Saturday evening. Eleven persons, mostly children were involved, and five lives were lost, the victims being a ploughman and four children.
The circumstances attending the catastrophe were peculiarly sad and painful. The picnic was the annual excursion of the Kirkmichael Parish Church Sunday School, and among other adults accompanying it were the Rev. John Kellie, the recently ordained minister of the parish, and Mr John Anderson, A friend of Mr Kellie, from Glasgow.
The scene of the accident was Croy shore, below Knowside Station, on the Turnberry Railway. It is about midway between Culzean Castle, the seat of the Marquis of Ailsa, and the fishing village of Dunure, and some nine miles south of Ayr, and is a favourite spot for picnic parties. The coastline is marked by a series of cliffs and the shore dips rapidly into the sea. As compared with the sea at Ayr, the 75 fathom line is readied in about a fourth of the distance.
STORY OF AN OLD BOAT.
The Sunday School excursion had journeyed from Kirkmichael, nine miles distant, in carts. Between twelve and one o'clock the children and those with them were having tea on the shore just above high water mark. There was an old boat lying there, described as a lug and jib sail centreboard yacht, 16 feet long by 5 and a half feet beam, and it has a rather curious history. It is stated that it was brought there from Greenock about nine months ago by William Lee, a Clydebank bank clerk, who in November last was sentenced to penal servitude for embezzlement. After it had lain high and dry on the beach for some time some relatives of Lee came and tried to make it seaworthy, but it was leaking badly and they could not do that, so just had to leave it on the beach, and the sails and oars were taken to a neighbouring house. The planks had got very much loosened, and daylight could he seen between them. The yacht lay above high water mark until Sunday, June 19 when some young men moved it down below the high water mark, and it was lying there when the picnic party came on it.
While the children and others were playing about the old boat a surfaceman, Hugh Watson,. Balchriston, came along . He knew that the craft was not seaworthy, and he cautioned them against taking it out to sea. They said they had no intention of taking it out to sea. At that time the tide was flowing, and was lifting the stern of the yacht.
THE BOAT ADRIFT.
Shortly after Watson had passed and given his friendly caution eleven of the party got on board, and some others pushed the boat into the water. There were no oars or any other poles available. A strong east wind was blowing down the gully of the Knoweside Burn, and it rapidly blew' the boat out to sea. Two of the party took fright, and jumping out of the boat got ashore. When the yacht got about 100 yards out those on shore saw that it was rapidly filling and sinking.
GALLANT RESCUE WORK.
The minister Mr Kellie, and Mr Anderson threw off some of' their clothing and went to the rescue, but before they could reach the boat it sunk in 6 or 7 feet of water, and the occupants were left struggling in the water. John Fitzsimmons, ploughman, Auchenairnie. Kirkmichael, came to the assistance of the rescuers, and the schoolmistress of Kirkmichael gallantly waded into the water up to the chin in her endeavours to be of some practical use. The strenuous and gallant efforts of Fitzsimmons were crowned with success to a certain extent, for he managed to get three persons ashore, while Mr Kellie rescued another. But the five remaining occupants of the boat disappeared before the eyes of those who were attempting to reach them and were drowned. The four who got ashore were revived by means of artificial respiration. Information was sent to Constable Morris, Dunure, and to the police at Maybole. Before going to the place Constable Morris informed some of the Dunure fishermen of what had occurred. They at once set off in boats with grappling irons, and proceeded to trawl for the bodies. In a short time they recovered the whole five bodies, but Dr Walker, from Maybole, who was then present found that it was impossible to resuscitate them.
The names and designations of those drowned :-
Caldwell (about 33). ploughman.
All the victims of the disaster resided in Kirkmichael village, and are stated to have been related to one another.
The rescued were :-
All of the rescued also resided in Kirkmichael. Naturally the greatest distress was occasioned among the excursionists on shore, and the return of the party was in sad contrast to their joyful departure in the morning.
DETAILS OF THE DISASTER
A press representative on Monday interviewed a number of persons who were involved in the accident and others who were on the scene and took part in the work of rescue.
It was learned that the excursion consisted of scholars from the day school and also from Kirkmichael Parish Sunday School. Including parents, the party numbered 200. They left Kirkmichael in about thirty carts, and proceeded to Croy shore on the Maidens Bay. Accompanying them were the Rev. John Kellie, Ph.D., parish minister, and Mr John Anderson M.A., an engineering student. who resides at 10 Iona Place, Mount Florida, and who had gone on a week-end visit to Mr Kellie.
While the majority of the excursionists were being entertained to tea on the grass flats above the high water mark on the shore, a number of them proceeded to the old boat which was lying close to the water. There were only two grown-ups among the latter party, a man and a woman. Eleven persons entered the boat, while someone pushed it into the water. A strong east wind was blowing from the shore, and it is thought the current had got underneath the boat's deck, giving it a fictitious buoyancy for the lime being. When about forty yards out the position of the boat was observed by Mr Kellie, who immediately ran down to the water edge and shouted to the occupants of the boat to strip and to pull or push the boat ashore again.
One of them, David Findlay, post runner, belonging to Kirkmichael, jumped out and turned the stern of the boat towards the shore, and then tried to pull it in, but failed. Only five minutes had elapsed from the time the boat had left the shore when the bow was seen to rise and the vessel then sank by the stern.
The greatest credit reflects upon the subsequent conduct of the minister, Mr Kellie, his friend Mr Anderson, and a ploughman named John Fitzsimmons, of Hillhead cottage Kirkmichae. They made the most strenuous and gallant efforts to rescue the whole party, and succeeded in bringing four ashore. Mr Kellie divested himself of part of his clothing and swam out as far as he could. On his way out he meet the post runner, Findlay, who was in a very exhausted condition, having sunk twice. Catching hold of the boy, he assisted him to the shore. By this time Mr Anderson, and Mr Fitzsimmons had also gone to the rescue. Fitzsimmons, who is a very strong swimmer, got in touch with the struggling party in the water. Turning on his back, he managed to keep three of the children afloat. While in this position he was joined by Mr Anderson, who also had swum out. Fitzsimmons shouted to Anderson "I have got three of them here." Anderson replied, "give me one." In the operation of giving one boy over to Mr Anderson, one of the remaining boys slipped from Fitzsimmons' grasp and was drowned. Fitzsimmons swam ashore with the other hoy.
Meanwhile the minister, Mr Kellie had ventured out, and this time succeeded in recovering another boy named Alexander Clowes, and swam ashore with him. By this time, however, the three rescuers were in a terribly exhausted condition, and although they turned in the hopes of seeing the remaining members of the party in the water, they were absolutely unable to swim out, owing to their exhausted condition.
Fitzsimmons afterwards was extremely modest in speaking of the sad affair. His only regret was that he had not been able to retain hold of the third boy, who had slipped frorn his grasp. Both he, Mr Kellie, and Mr Anderson were thoroughly done up in their heroic exertions. Numbers of the men and women on the shore rendered valuable assistance to the gallant rescuers by wading out into the shallow water and relieving them of their charges.
Mr Kellie, the minister, was very reluctant to speak of his own share in the work of rescue, contenting himself with stating the bare facts of the case. He said he was up on the bank with Mr Bone, and called his attention to the boat out on the water. He immediately went down to stop them, and shouted to them to strip and try and pull hack to the shore. He (Mr Kellie) stripped with the intention of going out to give them a hand with the boat, but when he entered the water the boat had sunk by the stern. All that he could see was a few hands appearing above the water. He swam on and met Findlay. He had sunk, and he (Mr Kellie) contrived to get hold of him by the hand, turned him on his back, and swam back to the shore with him. Mr Kellie then re-entered the water and swam out for the boy Clowes, who was standing up to the breast in water on the brow of the boat. Mr Kellie told the boy to turn on his back, and he did so quite coolly, and his rescuer succeeded in getting him ashore. "I felt,"said Mr Kellie, "that I wanted to go back." He also described how Mr Anderson and the ploughman Fitzsimmons had gone to the rescue . He said that the man Caldwell and the boy James Anderson, who were drowned were both able to swim. Valuable assistance, Mr Kellie stated, was rendered by Mrs Baird, school mistress, and her daughter Miss Baird. And also by Mr Robert Whiteford, and Mrs Drummond, the mother of one of the rescued boys.
The calamity has naturally created widespread grief in the parish of' Kirkmichael. On Sunday the Rev. Mr Kellie preached a special sermon dealing with the accident. The funeral of the victims took place yesterday afternoon to Kirkmichael churchyard, and was preceded by a public service in the church, at which the congregation were visibly moved.