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Published in John O' Groat Journal on 25-December-1896
SAD FATALITY AT SEA - WICK SHIPMASTER KILLED
The frosty settled weather of last week gave up on Sunday evening and for 2 days the wind blew strongly from the sea. Early on Monday morning, the well known trading schooner, Ban-Righ left Sunderland with a coal cargo for Wick. Although the weather was stormy and the sea heavy the ship made a fairly good passage as far as Buchan Ness, which was reached about 7 o'clock on Tuesday morning. The Ban-Righ was then sailing along with a beam wind. There was a double reef in the main sail, but the boom foresail, double topsails, jib and 2 staysails were all set. It was the captain's watch and Donald Bremner A. B. was at the wheel. Capt. Miller's son who acted as cook was then in the cabin. The rest of the crew were in their bunks. In similar circumstances Capt. Miller used to take his seat on the skylight and then watch the course of the ship while he gave directions to his crew. He was probably in that position when a sudden, sharp but terribly destructive wave broke on board knocking the steersman, violently from the wheel, which was broken to pieces. It unshipped the skylight and hurled Capt. Miller to the deck. Both he and the steersman were swept along the deck with the rush of water. As the sea poured in through the cabin skylight, George Miller rushed on deck. But some short time elapsed before the mate (Wm. Calder) could get out of his berth. In fact, the water had to subside before the door of his berth could be opened. All hands, however, were soon on deck. The Capt. was picked up near the main hatch, badly bruised and unconscious. Donald Bremner, the steersman, was found almost over the lee side through the broken bulwarks with left thigh and right arm badly broken. As far as circumstances would permit everything was done for the relief of the captain, but he expired in 2 1/2 hours after the accident. The mate, along with Chas. Calder, Murdo MacLean and the captain's son immediately set to complete the voyage with as little delay as possible. The ship had broached to for want of steering gear. With aids of blocks and tackling attached to the rudder head fairly good progress was made until an improvised wheel was constructed with some of the broken spokes.
About 10 o'clock on Wednesday morning the Ban-Righ appeared off Wick Bay flying a signal of distress. Notwithstanding the heavy swell at the quay head, the pilot boat put off to the ship, when the foregoing sad particulars were learned. After reporting Capt. Miller's death, the pilots again returned to the ship and landed his body along with the injured man. Dr. Martin, who was apprised of the occurrence, was in waiting at the harbour when the boat came ashore. Between 12 and 1 o'clock when the tide had flowed the Ban-Righ was enabled to enter the harbour and was moored at the north quay.
Of the deceased captain we cannot speak too highly. He was one of the most energetic and pushing shipmasters that ever commanded a vessel sailing from Wick. During the time when he was in charge of the "Kate" and since he became captain of the "Ban-Righ" he made his passage to and from coal ports with almost the regularity of a steam 'packet'. He has frequently run into Sunderland and into Pultney Harbours during storms that tested his seamanship to the utmost. Barring the loss of the 'Kate' on Nairn sands 2 years ago, he encountered few mishaps. In Sunderland he was nearly as well known among the sea-faring community as he was in Pultneytown.
A few years ago he was caught in a S. E. gale off Sunderland. The storm was increasing at such a fast and furious rate that to remain at sea would be hazardous in the extreme, and to run across Sunderland Bar through the breakers seemed equally dangerous. Captain Miller who was then on the 'Kate' determined, however, to make the port at all risks. Hauling down his fore and aft sails he squared away his top sails and set the foresail. When it became known that a schooner was making for the harbour the pier heads were soon lined with spectators who raised a hearty cheer when the gallant captain, by pluck and skill brought his ship safely to port.
He leaves a widow and a large family to mourn his loss for whom great sympathy is expressed from all classes. Out of 11 of a family, nine survive. Two years ago, his eldest son, who also followed the sea, died in Australia.
DEATH NOTICE - Killed at sea on the 22nd. ult. Alexander Miller, shipmaster in his 42nd year. Deeply regretted.
LOCAL NEWS 1.1.1897
The funeral of Capt.
Miller of the Ban-Righ took place last Friday to the new cemetery and was
largely attended. The steersman who got severely injured when the captain
lost his life is recovering slowly.