Mystery of the Mountstewart

The mountstewart yacht with Theresa, Lady Londonderry on board

Lady Londonderry had a passion for sailing on Strangford Lough. It was Theresa’s yacht, the Mountstewart, that went missing on Strangford Lough on 11 April 1895 in a tragedy which took the lives of eight people, including six servants from Mount Stewart. Now an exhibition at Mount Stewart is shining the light on what happened that fateful day.

The Mystery of the Mountstewart Exhibition

Opened 29 June 2021. Admission free to ticket holders and National Trust members.

This exhibition tells the story of what happened on 11 April 1895 when the Mountstewart yacht went missing on Strangford Lough, taking with it the lives of eight people. Much of the information displayed was discovered by a group of dedicated volunteer researchers who have made it their mission to find out more about the circumstances of the disaster and the lives of the people who died.

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The Mystery of the Mountstewart starts with a picnic...

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 Theresa's yacht, 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 north-westerly 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. 

View across Strangford Lough from the Mount Stewart Jetty
View across Strangford Lough from the Mount Stewart Jetty
View across Strangford Lough from the Mount Stewart Jetty

Staff fail to return and the boat can't be found

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 displayed at Mount Stewart as part of the exhibition, discovered thanks to Frank Weir and family), 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.

Acknowledgements 

The research team and Mount Stewart would like to extend their thanks to the many people who have assisted with this research here

Mount Stewart staff including Joseph Grainge pictured outside the house

The people who perished in the Mountstewart boating disaster 

Meet the staff who were on board the Mountstewart yacht when it sank in Strangford Lough on 11 April 1895

Video

Mystery of the Mountstewart

Thanks to the work of a team of research volunteers from Mount Stewart we are now able to tell some of the story of what happened that fateful day back in April 1895 and shine a light on the lives of the people that died in the boating tragedy. Play the video to find out more...

Mystery of Mountstewart Activity Leaflet Image

Children's Activity Leaflet

Test your knowledge of the Mystery of the Mountstewart exhibition with the children's activity leaflet.

The volunteer group research the Londonderry papers at PRONI

Mystery of the Mountstewart – Research project timeline

Follow in the footsteps of the volunteer research team who have been delving into the archives to discover the truth behind what really happened to the Mountstewart yacht when it went missing on the 11 April 1895 on Strangford Lough.