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A severe storm struck Scotland on the night of January 16th 1912 destroying over 300 feet of the new sea wall at Methil.  Such was the severity of the storm that a steamer, SS Ashgrove, out from Middlesbrough to Methil in ballast, was driven onto the sea wall and wrecked with the loss of three lives – the Chief Engineer, Mr. William Anderson, Glasgow, Mr. George Ferri, one of the Spanish crew and one passenger, a stowaway.  The crew discovered the stowaway out of Middlesbrough and put him on as assistant cook.

Originally built as the SS Holderness by Earle & Company, Hull in 1882, the SS Ashgrove was an iron hulled twin-screw vessel of 1,702 tonnes gross, with a length of 286.94 m, width 10.51m and depth 5.35m.  Powered by a two cylinder compound steam engine of 141 hp, she carried a crew of nineteen, most of whom were Spanish.  At the time of the accident she was owned by the SS Ashgrove Company of Glasgow, sailing under the orders of Captain Magnus Anderson also from Glasgow.

The Leven Advertiser and Wemyss Gazette published the following report of her sinking.

“Shortly after 8pm on Tuesday the 16th January 1912, Mr. Robert McAlpine jnr. and Mr. Thomas McMillan were proceeding to the pier head at Methil for the purpose of seeing how the cofferdam was standing up to the storm.  When they left the engine shed at Innerleven, Mr. McMillan observed the lights of a ship.  He thought that it looked to be too near the sea wall to be in a safe position, and he remarked that to Mr. McAlpine, also saying that they would be better able to see when they got further along.

When they got opposite the gates of the new dock, a flare was burned on the deck and a rocket was fired.  They crossed the new gates, entered the boiler house, and enquired of the three men there if they had not noticed the ship was in distress and they replied that they had.  He then asked them why they had not gone out, and the old watchman employed by Armstrong, said it was hopeless and that the sailors would all be drowned, nothing could save them.   

A man, Mitchell, gave Mr. McAlpine his acetylene cycle lamp, and told him to run to Messers McAlpine’s office and telephone to the Police Station, to tell the Coastguard and to get a doctor.   Mr. McAlpine and Mr. McMillan then set out towards the breakwater, but their progress was slow owing to the huge waves that washed over the parapet.  When they reached the ship they could hear someone on board shouting for a lifeboat, and they in turn shouted for a rope to be passed ashore

With every wave, the steamer rolled and struck the sea wall, and they could get a glimpse of persons on the bridge.  Something came off the bridge, struck the parapet and fell into the channel behind.  Mr. McAlpine thought it was a coil of rope, but it turned out to be a young sailor and he was quickly followed by another two.  They seemed to be “quite off their head”, hung on to Mr. McAlpine and Mr. McMillan, and shouted.  One of them, a middle-aged man, seemed to be worst and they took him by his arms and told the others to follow while they made back to the boiler house 

Prior to this, the lamp had gone out, so that the two who followed were missing when Mr. McAlpine and Mr. McMillan got there.  When they entered the boiler house, the sailor collapsed, but the boilerman gave him some hot tea, while Mr. McMillan relighted (sic) the lamp and again with Mr. McAlpine set out to look for the others.  They got these crouched behind a crane.  They then got back to a point opposite the ship, and found three or four more men who had jumped off.  They guided these inshore and put them behind a wall.

About this time, two young men arrived.  David Lawrie and John Hutchison, and one of them assisted Mr. McMillan in carrying a young sailor, (who had only on a pair of trousers and a bit of a shirt), who was weeping bitterly and complaining about his foot.   While the young man and Mr. McMillan were carrying the sailor, they met Mr. Bonnar, Messers McAlpine’s plant manager, and Mr. Templeton, the firm’s foreman engineer.  Mr. Bonnar took the sailor on his back, and the young man and Mr. McMillan returned to the spot opposite the ship.  On their return, they found beside Mr. McAlpine and the other stranger, five or six of Mr. McAlpine’s cranemen.

Previous to leaving the injured sailor, one of those who jumped ashore had a rope round his waist, and it is thought that this was the rope that broke when the engineer jumped short.  The steamer was now 10 or 15 feet off the wall, and a new rope was passed ashore, and as the first man to be drawn off stuck badly on the curved top of the parapet.  Two of the cranemen, T. Louth, Buchan’s Building, East High Street, and Allan Walker, got on the top and lay there while the rest of the crew were drawn off, those behind pulling on the rope as directed by Louth and Walker.

One of the first men to come ashore would not leave the back of the wall, so Mr. McMillan took him on his back and carried him about 20 yards, when he met Sergeant Clydesdale and another constable.  The Sergeant at once relieved Mr. McMillan of the man.  The second mate was drawn off, and he sat down on the parapet beside Louth and Walker, and helped to draw off the Captain, whom he declared to be the best man on board.

All then made for the building where is situated Messer’s McAlpine’s office and the ganger’s houses, where most of the sailors got warm clothing and a bed for the night.  Dr. Murray, Leven, attended the men.”

Additional reports were published in the week following the account of the sinking.

Reward for Gallantry

“Mr. Robert McAlpine jnr., marked his appreciation of the great gallantry by the two cranemen, Allan Walker and Tom Louth – bravery which he personally witnessed at considerable risk to himself – by presenting them with a sovereign each.”  

Ashgrove and the Coastguard

“In our report last week, the fact that the Coastguard on seeing the signals of distress at once assembled the Life Saving Brigade was omitted.  Although the summons was obeyed with the utmost promptitude, all the crew had been landed by the time the Brigade got on the scene of the disaster – a feat which speaks volumes for those actually present.”

This article is based on a report in the Scotsman dated Thursday 18th January 1912.

"In the darkness and confusion of the night it was believed that all crew of the Glasgow steamer Ashgrove, with the exception of the chief engineer, managed to leap ashore after the vessel struck on Methil pier.  On the roll being called yesterday morning, however, it was found that two others had perished - one a Spaniard name George Ferri, and the other a stowaway, who had been found after the vessel left Middlesborough on Saturday and was put on as assistant cook.  The crew were mostly Spaniards, and they were in a panic.  Captain Anderson and the mates had much difficulty in getting them marshalled and ready to leap for the parapet as the steamer rolled against it.  The two missing men, it is thought had gone back to the forecastle.  One of the crew, named Dowie, broke his leg as he sprang from the parapet to the pier, and others also were injured.  The second mate, Mr. Clarkson, Leith, distinguished himself in life saving, and Mr Thomas McAlpine , jun., also took a prominent part in the operations. 

Captain Anderson stated yesterday that he would have left earlier in the day for Aberlady Bay, but the barometer indicated improved weather.  At nightfall he saw they were to have a wild night, and decided to run for shelter.  Steam was up, and the anchor heaved but, finding the Ashgrove was going to leeward, he let go the anchor again.  Neither the steam nor the anchor could stay her.  The gale reached its height, the tide was rushing with great fury upon the sea-wall, and the Ashgrove, being in ballast, was helpless.  Every one lost everything, and some got ashore only patially dressed. 

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