Descendants set to mark fishing tragedy

Crail harbour
Crail harbour

Efforts are under way to commemorate a little-known tragedy in the East Neuk.

The ‘Crail Fishing Disaster’ happened on January 21, 1765, at the mouth of the harbour when eight fishermen lost their lives.

Now, this May, it is intended to commemorate those who perished with a ceremony at the harbour and at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther.

Despite extensive research by descendants there is no record of what exactly happened on that fateful winter’s day. It is not even known if all the bodies were recovered with four funerals and graves unaccounted for.

But there is more information available on the immediate aftermath with locals all pulling together to raise funds for the families.

The main event was a fundraising ball in Crail with tickets costing a half crown (2/6d – 12.5p).

The resulting ‘kitty’ maintained the widows and children for three years afterwards at a time when there was no such thing as state support or benefits.

Now, 250 years on, descendants of one of the men who drowned, William Runciman, are behind the plans to hold the public commemoration in May.

For months they’ve been poring over old records and speaking to local people and organisations.

Gradually some of the gaps in knowledge have been filled.

But what they would dearly love is to find living descendants of the other victims to invite them to the commemoration.

Alan Runciman explained: “With 30 children left behind and about six generations further on, there’s likely to be thousands of descendants, now in all corners of the world... but they’re proving to be quite elusive. There’s a record of those who bought tickets in advance for the ball so many people will find evidence of an ancestor who attended the event.”

Mr Runciman said anyone interested in the commemoration ceremony on Saturday, May 16, would be welcome to attend.

For the commemoration an engraved public seat, to be sited at the harbour, is to be donated from funds collected by the Runciman family and flowers will be thrown into the sea off the harbour. Then there’ll be a small memorial ceremony at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther when a calligraphed entry will be put in the Museum’s Memorial Book.

The names of those who drowned are Brown, Burns, Cunningham, Dewar, Kay, Ramsay, Runciman and Taylor. But daughters of these lines introduced other surnames to the direct descendants, so many others will be connected too.

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