Recalling a story of shipwreck and sanctuary with no sanction in Yell, Shetland

Framed appreciation from Germany to Henry Hoseason. Date: 1920s 
This document of appreciation is written in German. Translated into English it reads:
Thanks and appreciation are given to the fisherman Henry Hoseason for the assistance he gave to the crew of the wrecked German barque ‘Bohus’ Berlin, August 14, 1924, The German Imperial Government, on their behalf – De Haas.

All those who helped in the rescue received such documents. It is a reminder of how wrecks impact people living in islands such as Yell and shows how islands like ours are linked to people and events worldwide.
Old Haa Collection 1992/0007  

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.

Letter from Frau Mathilde Eberth, January 1925
Frau Mathilde Eberth was the mother of Josef ‘Tom’ Anton Eberth, a cadet on the German barque Bohus, wrecked off East Yell in April 1924. Tom rescued four of his crew mates before being swept away. He was buried in Mid Yell.
From the personal collection of Andrina Nisbet

Envelope containing a letter from Frau Mathilde Eberth, January 1925
Frau Mathilde Eberth, the mother of Josef ‘Tom’ Anton Eberth, who rescued four of his crew mates from the Bohus before being swept away. Frau Eberth corresponded with Andrew J. Sandison (Addie) about Tom’s grave, in Mid Yell. Addie was my grandfather. The letters are an important link for me to the tragedy.
From the personal collection of Andrina Nisbet

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.

Photograph of the grave of Josef Anton Eberth in Mid Yell
Known as ‘Tom’, Josef was a cadet on the German barque Bohus, wrecked on the Ness of Queyon, Yell on 26th April 1924. He died after bravely rescuing four of his crew mates. His mother commissioned the plaque, which was sent from Germany and placed in a stone taken from the island of Hascosay, which lies between Yell and Fetlar. It is important to me as my grandfather was her contact in Yell.
New Connections Across the Northern Isles Photographic Archive

Commemorative plaque on the grave of Josef Anton Eberth in Mid Yell
Josef Anton Eberth’s mother commissioned this plaque, which was sent from Germany for her son’s grave in Mid Yell. Josef was known as ‘Tom’.
New Connections Across the Northern Isles Photographic Archive

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.

Photograph of the ‘White Wife’ Queyon, East Yell. Date: September 2018
The White Wife is the figurehead from the Bohus, wrecked on the Ness of Queyon, Yell, in April 1924. When the figurehead washed ashore in September 1924 it was rescued by islanders and placed on the headland to commemorate the wreck. Renovated in 1989, it was re-erected in the same spot. Her preservation and creation as a monument signifies the impact a wreck has on the lives of people in Yell, and how they feel about ships wrecked on their shores.
New Connections Across the Northern Isles Photographic Archive


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’.

Photograph of the ‘White Wife’ Queyon, East Yell. Date: September 2018
New Connections Across the Northern Isles Photographic Archive

Wreck of the ‘Bohus’. Date: 1920s
This is a photograph of the wreck of the German 3-masted barque Bohus, which was driven ashore on the Ness of Queyon, Yell on 26th April,1924. Taken from the sea it shows the bow sticking above water near the shore.
Shetland Museum and Archives NE05680

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.

Photograph of the ‘White Wife’ Queyon, East Yell. Date: September 2018
New Connections Across the Northern Isles Photographic Archive

Please cite New Connections Across the Northern Isles (2019) when referencing materials from this virtual museum.

Find out more

To visit the Old Haa Museum website click here.

To visit the Shetland Museum and Archive’s online gallery click here.

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Further Reading:

The story of the wreck and its aftermath can be found in the book ‘Wrestlers with the Troubled Sea’ by Louis Johnson, published 1994, ISBN No. 0 9517667 6 7.