Faithful Servants: Mystery of The Mountstewart
Lady Londonderry had a passion for photography and sailing and regularly enjoyed sailing on Strangford Lough, from her home at Mount Stewart, County Down. It was Theresa’s yacht, the Mountstewart, that went missing on Strangford Lough on 11 April 1895 in a tragedy which has largely been forgotten.
On 11 April 1895, the Thursday before Easter weekend, Theresa, 6th Marchioness of Londonderry and her family travelled to Belfast to open the Arts and Industrial Exhibition in the White Linen Hall in the city centre. A group of senior staff had requested leave to enjoy a picnic on Strangford Lough and were granted use of the Mountstewart. Four of the Londonderry staff and two staff from Florence Court, County Fermanagh were accompanied by two boatmen from the neighbouring village of Kircubbin. The Florence Court staff were visiting in attendance of Lord Enniskillen and his daughter, Lady Kathleen Cole.
The Mountstewart goes missing on Strangford Lough
On the day they set sail the weather was fair with a moderate northwesterly breeze. The group sailed from Mount Stewart’s jetty located on the Sea Plantation on the shore of Strangford Lough, south to Kircubbin and then in a westerly direction. They headed across the Lough to Bird Island for the picnic, after which they began their return journey to Mount Stewart, sailing to windward. The vessel was sighted briefly from the western shore mid-afternoon and then disappeared.
Some concern was raised when the picnic party did not return on the Thursday evening. Access to the jetty was not possible later in the day due to low tide, so the hope was that the group had become stranded and would return on the next high tide, early on Friday morning (12 April). When they failed to return the worst was feared and search teams were deployed on land and sea to locate the missing boat and its party. A few items were recovered from around the Lough, including an oar (now at Mount Stewart), a picnic basket and a hat, but the boat was never found, despite attempts to locate it with drag lines.
Eight people lose their lives on Strangford Lough
Easter Saturday dawned with the certainty that the whole party was lost, no-one had been found around the shores or on the many islands and pladdies in Strangford Lough. Mr Newton Apperley, the 6th Marquess’ private secretary arrived, having been summoned from his office and home in Durham. He had to manage the loss of the core of his senior staff - House Steward, Housekeeper and Cook, together with the Marquess’ valet. Mr Apperley was also responsible for meeting family members who arrived at Mount Stewart during the weekend. The event was reported widely in the national press and prompted a telegram of concern from Queen Victoria to Lord Londonderry.
A Memorial Service was held in the Chapel at Mount Stewart on Sunday 21 April, conducted by the Reverend Oliver Goldsmith, incumbent of Greyabbey Church of Ireland with responsibility for the household chapel.
Eventually, four bodies were recovered albeit sometime after the event during June-August of 1895.