Sharing aspects of Orkney's and Shetland's Maritime Cultures
Recalling a story of shipwreck and sanctuary with no sanction in Yell, Shetland
On 26th April 1924 the Bohus, under the command of one Captain Blume with a crew of 38, mainly cadets, and one stowaway, was driven, due to bad weather and very poor visibility, broadside on to the lee shore of the Ness of Queyon, on the east side of the island of Yell in Shetland. Through the help of local men most of the crew managed to reach shore, but four died. One of these, a cadet Josef Anton Eberth (Tom), had already saved four of his fellow crew mates before being swept to his death.
The Bohus crew members who died were buried in Mid Yell. My grandfather Andrew J. Sandison (Addie), who was receiver of wreck for Yell, was involved with much of the organisation after the wreck. Throughout the remaining duration of that year he received several letters from Frau Mathilde Eberth, Tom’s mother.
On 1 November 1924, being All Saints Day, he had garlands of local flowers placed on the graves as Frau Eberth had requested. She also wished to put up a gravestone but sending one from Germany would have been too expensive. Eventually it was decided she would send a brass plaque and my grandfather would arrange for it to be placed on a locally-source stone. Addie organised a stone to be brought from the island of Hascosay, close to Yell, onto which the plaque was placed.
The survivors of the wreckage of the Bohus were taken in and given shelter, food and clothing by Yell folk before they were then able to return to their own homes in Germany. My grandfather struggled with the local Customs and Excise Office, advocating that they send money to pay the men he had set on watch at the site for the first few days after the wreck. He was extremely annoyed at the delay in payment, and wrote several letters, knowing the poverty in which the families in Yell were living. The watchmen eventually received their pay.
The figurehead of the ‘Bohus’ was washed ashore in September 1924. She was rescued by local men and placed on the headland to commemorate the wreck. She is known as ‘The White Wife’.
All those who had helped in the rescue received the document of thanks from the German government. The document is important for it shows the impact wrecks have on the lives of people living locally. Although the countries had been at war only six years earlier, the German seaman were taken in and cared for by the local people. They were provided with food, clothing and shelter despite it being a time of poverty. It is also a reminder that islands, which can be considered remote places on the periphery, are in fact linked to the wider world.
Please cite New Connections Across the Northern Isles (2019) when referencing materials from this virtual museum.