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The sinking of the Cospatrick off the southern tip of Africa in 1874 cost the lives of 500 people sailing from Britain to a new life in New Zealand.

The Thomson family from Killean, Kintyre, Argyll tell their story below.

Among the families lost in the SS Cospatrick tragedy were my grandmother's cousins John Thomson, 38, his wife Barbara Black, 35, and their four young children: Ephemia aged 7, Lachlan aged 5, 3 year old John and little Sarah who was one year old. Travelling with them and going out to marry John's brother, (who had already emigrated to New Zealand) was a girl whose name we do not know.

John was the eldest son of John Thomson, meal miller in the village of Barr, and his wife Sarah Currie, known as Mysie (and my grandmother's cousin.) They had a family of six boys and a girl, and in the 1861 census young John was described as a "wright" or joiner and his brother Charles as an "apprentice wright".

Barbara was the daughter of Lachlan Black and Effie Hamills or Hamilton who were farmers in Keppoch, a 300-acre farm across the Sound of Islay in Kilberry.


Thirteen years later it seems Charles was the brother already in New Zealand, though just possibly it may have been a younger brother, Duncan.

The Cospatrick passenger list, put on the internet by Denise and Peter, gives only seven "Colonial Nominated Emigrants" who came from Argyll: the six Thomsons and 17-year old Emily Doughton.

The assumption is that it was Charles who nominated them. Doughton is not a Kintyre name, but it's possible Emily came to Argyll as a servant in one of the big houses, and so met Charles.

However before emigrating John and Barbara had been living in Govan, Glasgow, where John had probably gone in search of work.

There were three other young single Scotswomen on the passenger list, Margaret McQueen aged 21 and Margaret and Jane Scarff, 19 and 16 respectively, who all came from Lanark: it's just possible one of them may have been Charles's prospective bride.

All these hopes and dreams, like so many others, came to a brutal end when flames burst out of the forward hatch and engulfed the ship.

According to contemporary British newspaper reports, the inquest held by the Receiver of Wrecks for the Port of London concluded from the evidence of the three survivors that the fire had started in the bosun's locker, in the forward part of the ship, which held large amounts of inflammable material including ropes, tar, cotton waste, oil and paint.

Whatever its cause, the tragedy left heartbroken relatives across Europe and New Zealand. In Kintyre the widowed mothers of John and Barbara Thomson mourned their irretrievable loss, and the Thomson gravestone in Killean records it; nobody knows what became of poor Charles, grieving alone on the other side of the world.

Nevertheless the hope still continues that Charles may have married later and left children. There are relatives of the Thomson and Black families still living in Scotland, including in Kintyre, and if anybody reading this thinks they may have a connection, or finds that it "rings a bell" in any way, we would be delighted to hear from them!

Pat McDougall MacLachlan, Inverness