Light's Out at Flannan Isle

The lighthouse was constructed between 1895-1899 by George Lawson of Rutherglen. It was a challenging and dangerous undertaking. But it was completed and lit on December 7th 1899.

 

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Myth had always surrounded Flannan Isle, it’s been said, as you sail near it’s shore, you can feel it’s presence, you could feel it pull you closer and you could hear it’s call. The only ones known to regularly visit would be the Sheep Herders. They had a name for Eilean Mor, “The Other Country”
 

They believed it to be populated by elves, spirits, fairies and other supernatural beings. The Herders, as well as other fisherman had “Special” Rituals. One ritual known was they would remove their hats and turned sunwise after coming ashore. It was also long believed that if you did not follow the rules of the “Little People” you would never leave alive and the many who have disappeared were said to have fallen victim to these spirits.

While these are just myths, one of the keepers assigned to the island, took them to heart. He requested not to be sent, stating that Eilean Mor was “Not the most suitable place for a man with a young family” as if he had a premonition of what was to come.

But away the three men were sent to man the lighthouse, and according to the logbooks, everything at first seemed to be running smoothly. It wasn’t until December 15th, when a passing ship noticed that the light wasn’t on at the lighthouse that the mystery began.

A short storm broke out near the islands, the crew of a passing ship called the Fairwind saw that there was no guiding light coming from the newly built Lighthouse, they were angry and disturbed. Another ship called the Archtor also saw that the light was out and reported it when they docked at Oban, but nothing was done about it at the time.

Maybe the authorities thought it was best to wait a few days, since a relief ship was due to sail to the Isle on the 20th. But, due to severe weather, the Hesperus didn’t make it to the isle until the 26th.  Something seemed wrong as the lighthouse came into view, and when it was discovered that the keepers had disappeared, Captain Harvey returned to port and sent a telegraph to the Lighthouse board


Telegraph From Captain Harvey
“A dreadful accident has happened at Flannans. The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. On our arrival there this afternoon no sign of life was to be seen on the Island.

Fired a rocket but, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went up to the Station but found no Keepers there. The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows they must been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane or something like that.

Night coming on, we could not wait to make something as to their fate.

I have left Moore, MacDonald, Buoymaster and two Seamen on the island to keep the light burning until you make other arrangements. Will not return to Oban until I hear from you. I have repeated this wire to Muirhead in case you are not at home. I will remain at the telegraph office tonight until it closes, if you wish to wire me.”

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There were rumors about what happened to the three keepers, that they might have been lured to their deaths by the sprits of the hundreds of fishermen and freightermen who were lost to the sea off the shores of the isles. That they heard calls for help, and while they were coming to aid those calls from those long dead, that they died themselves.

Another rumor was that one of the keepers murdered the other two. That he threw them, then himself off the cliffs. Unfortunately, when the investigating party located the Keepers log book. Nothing was answered, it just caused more questions.
 

“December 12. Gale north by northwest. Sea lashed to fury. Never seen such a storm. Waves very high. Tearing at lighthouse. Everything shipshape. James Ducat irritable”

Followed later that day by:

“Storm still raging, wind steady. Stormbound. Cannot go out. Ship passing sounding foghorn. Could see lights of cabins. Ducat quiet. Donald McArthur crying”.

 “December 13. Storm continued through night. Wind shifted west by north. Ducat quiet. McArthur praying”.

Followed later by:
“Noon, grey daylight. Me, Ducat and McArthur prayed”.

On December 14th no entry was made in the log and on December 15th the final entry was made which read only:

“December 15. 1pm. Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all”
 

It was a mystery, because no one knew these men to either cry nor pray due to bad weather. These were strong men of the sea, who grew up on the coast of Scotland. Something else had to of had them scared. What was also worrisome, was there were no reports of bad weather in the area on the 12th, 13th and the 14th of December.  While the weather was said to have been “Calm, but stormy” it wasn’t the magnitude of what was described in the Logbook. But one thing was for sure; regulation was broken. One man was to stay at the lighthouse always. But, with one of the oilskins left behind. He must have heard something that made him leave in a hurry.

Still some believed the ghost stories, one of the Investigating party, who was required to remain at the lighthouse for two days before relief keepers could man the light; During the night, above the sound of the sea and wind, he claimed to hear men’s voices calling out to him. He was convinced that it was the lost souls of the Lighthouse keepers.

 

The official report was that the men were washed away to sea. Superintendent Muirhead also added:

Superintendent Muirhead:

“I visited them as lately as 7th December and have the melancholy recollection that I was the last person to shake hands with them and bid them adieu”.

Even though that was the official word on what happened. The disaster at Flannan isle is still one of Scotland’s greatest mysteries, save one other mystery that happened almost 100 years earlier.

Lighthouses did not always have three keepers. Until the early nineteenth century, two was all that was needed. Until a horribly incident happened at a smaller lighthouse to the west of St David’s peninsula in South Wales

The two keepers, Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffiths, were known to argue regularly. So, when Griffins died in a freak accident Howell, fearing that he might be accused of murder, decided to keep the body, tied to the outside railing. The coffin Howell made was destroyed by the wind, leaving the body fully exposed. The arm fell in such a way that, moved by the wind, it gave the impression to passing vessels that the dead man was beckoning. When relieved the surviving keeper was unrecognizable, having gone mad. But, that’s a story for another time
 

Poem of Flannan Isle Written by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

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Jane Toppan- Angel of Darkness, Angel of Death

Jane Toppan

Birth Name: Honora Kelley
Born: 1857
Parents: Peter & Bridget Kelley
Siblings: Delia, Nellie, (Others unknown)
Mothers Cause of death: Tuberculosis

It was 1863 when Peter Kelley took two of his daughter (6-year-old Honora, and 8-year-old Delia to Boston Female Asylum. He was abusive, a drunk and unable to care for his girls after the passing of his wife, Bridget.

Detail of 1846 Map of Boston, showing Female Asylum on Washington St. in the South End; map engraved by G.G. Smith

Detail of 1846 Map of Boston, showing Female Asylum on Washington St. in the South End; map engraved by G.G. Smith



A few years later Honora was placed in an Indentured Adoption to the Toppan Family, with the clause that if at any time they became dissatisfied with her before the age of 18, they could return her to the orphanage. The Toppan’s were quick to change her name to Jane and they passed her off as a French orphan whose parents died at sea. Because, to be Irish, was an embarrassment.

Jane excelled at school and was liked by her peers, but she had also been known for her exaggerated lies. Some of her peers remembered the stories she told:


She told me that her father sailed across the world and lived in China
 

Jane said her sister was a renowned beauty who married an English Lord


But what they didn’t know was in reality, her true father Peter, was also known as “Kelley the Crack” Soon went mad after he abandoned his girls and was institutionalized after attempting to sew his eye lids shut.

Her sister, by her twenties was also institutionalized

It would have seemed that Jane was lucky to get away from the insanity of the Kelley Family. Unfortunately, The Toppan’s didn’t make her life any easier.


Ann Toppan was strict, and despite sharing the Toppan name, she treated Jane like a servant. While Jane was sweeping the floor, Ann was giving a present to Her foster sister Elizabeth. She came over to Admire the gift and Ann became mad.

The only one in the family who treated her with respect and kindness was Elizabeth. But as they grew up, Jane became jealous of her. Elizabeth was incredibly beautiful, not only loved by her adopted parents but everyone else.

When Jane turned 18, she was released of her servitude, but she stayed with the Toppan family. Exchanging housekeeping services for room and board. She graduated high school and was set to marry her sweetheart. But, life had other plans: He Left her at the altar.

 

She began to believe no man would love her, and she decided then to become a nurse. She was accepted into the Cambridge Hospital Nursing school in Boston. Janes fellow nursing students remembered her as gregarious and jolly. Loved by the school staff and patients. They had given her the nickname “Jolly Jane”. She wasn’t however, well-liked by some of her peers. They saw a darker side to her.

 

With the rumors, came consequences to those who were affected. They were dismissed from the school, with no chance to prove their innocence. It was said that Jane would celebrate their dismissal. There were some students who suspected Jane of stealing from the Hospital and patients. But No charges were ever made.

 

After Ann Toppan passed away, Elizabeth inherited everything. Which deepened Janes hate for her. But it was when Elizabeth got married to a wealthy vicar that drove Jane to madness.

Jane began to experiment with medications at the hospital, often testing them on her patients, watching them drift in and out of consciousness. Jane admitted after being arrested that She would often climb into bed with them as they were dying that she got sexual satisfaction watching them be so close to death and her bringing them back to life. Jane left Cambridge for a time and went to

She lost her position at Cambridge due to over prescribing opiates to patients and decided to work as a private nurse.

Jane killed her landlords, and went on to Kill her foster sister Elizabeth with Strychnine. Thus, starting her poisoning spree.


 

Jane moved in with an elderly man named Alden Davis and his family 1901 in Cataumet. She was to take care of him after the death of his wife- She was also a victim of Jane’s poison. Within weeks, the whole family was dead, and she moved back to her hometown. Jane began to court her late foster sister Elizabeth’s husband, killing his sister and poisoning him just to prove herself by nursing him back to health. She went as far as to poison herself to win his sympathy. It didn’t work and he kicked her out of his house.

The remaining members of the Davis family ordered a toxicology exam on Alden’s youngest daughter. IT came back to find that she was poisoned. Jane Toppan was arrested on October 26th 1901 for the murder of the Davis Family.

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Except from Jane's Trial:

Superior Court

Barnstable ss. June 1902

Commonwealth by Indictment,

VS

Jane Toppan

And now in this case, the Jury having returned on said indictment a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity it is now ordered by the Court here that she, the said Jane Toppan, be committed to the Taunton Insane Hospital at Taunton, in the County of Bristol, during her natural life, and that she be and remain in the custody of the Sheriff of the county of Barnstable until she be removed pursuant to this order.

Taunton State Hospital

Taunton State Hospital

It was documented that in the final years of her life, Jane went truly mad. Refusing to take her medicine, she believed the nurses and doctors were trying to poison her. But, unlike her, they were truly trying to help her get better.

Jane died in 1938 at the age of 84

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She was remembered by those who cared for her as “a quiet old lady” But those who were there for much longer remembered her smile as she beckoned them into her room

Get some morphine, dearie, and we’ll go out into the ward. You and I will have a lot of fun seeing them die


 

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