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The mystery of the Mountstewart yacht and its people

Historic photograph of the Mountstewart yacht with Theresa, Lady Londonderry, William Hagan (standing) and another boatman on board.
Historic photograph of the Mountstewart yacht with Theresa, Lady Londonderry, William Hagan (standing) and another boatman on board. | © The Estate of the Marquess of Londonderry

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. Discover more about the yacht and the eight people who lost their lives, including six servants from Mount Stewart. Learn how a volunteer team researched the national archives to uncover facts about the disappearance.

Key moments from the mystery

The yacht is launched

On the morning of 11 April 1895, boatmen William and Robert Hagan would have taken the yacht from the boathouse by the pier for the day trip on Strangford Lough. Lady Londonderry was known to sail almost daily when the family were residing in County Down, accompanied by William. The yacht was thought to be two years old and was delivered from a boatyard in Cowes during 1893.

An Easter picnic

On 11 April 1895, the Thursday before Easter weekend, Theresa, 6th Marchioness of Londonderry and her family travelled to Belfast. A group of senior staff had requested some leave to enjoy a picnic on Strangford Lough and were granted use of Theresa's yacht.

Four of the Londonderry staff and two staff from Florence Court in County Fermanagh were accompanied by the 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.

Sailing from the jetty

On the day the group 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.

Bird Island

The party headed across the lough to Bird Island for the picnic. When they began the return journey to Mount Stewart the yacht would have been sailing to windward. This means the yacht would need to perform multiple tacks (turns) to propel forward. The vessel was sighted briefly from the western shore mid-afternoon and then disappeared.

Staff fail to return

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. The hope was that the group had become stranded and would return on the next high tide which was 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 people and the yacht. A few items were recovered from around the lough, including an oar, a picnic basket and a hat. The boat was never found despite attempts to locate it with drag lines.

Eight people lose their lives

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.

Joseph Grainge (top left) standing with members of staff outside Mount Stewart, County Down
Joseph Grainge (top left) standing with members of staff outside Mount Stewart, County Down | © The Estate of the Marquess of Londonderry

The people who perished

Joseph W. Grainge, aged 43, House Steward

Joseph was in service with the Londonderry family for approximately 12 years. He had previously worked as a footman in London and as the house steward at Saltram House, Devon (the historical seat of the Earls of Morley).

Married to Kate they had five children and their home was based in Battersea. He was well known in the area around Wynyard Park. Joseph sat on the Parish Council of Thorpe Thewles and was a keen local cricketer.

Highly thought of by the Londonderry family, Joseph was complimented by the Prince of Wales in a letter to Lord Londonderry after a visit to Wynyard. He was regarded as an excellent manager running all the Londonderry’s houses and was greatly respected by the other staff.

His body was found by the steamship Walrus on its way to Kircubbin, near Gransha Point (between Kircubbin and Portaferry) on 26 May 1895. His keys, a gold hunting watch and a champagne knife identified him. He is buried in Hillingdon and Uxbridge Cemetery, near his birthplace.

Eliza Taunt, aged 46, Head Cook

Eliza’s father was a coachman employed by Lord Eglinton at Eglinton Castle, Ayrshire. In 1861 Eliza, her parents and siblings lived in Redburn Cottage on the estate. The 1871 census records Eliza was working as a kitchen maid at Critchel House in Devon.

She was in employment as cook to Lord and Lady Castlereagh (later the 6th Marquess and Marchioness) at their home at Langham Lodge, Rutland, possibly from the time of their marriage in 1875.

She became the head cook to the Londonderry family at their residences. This was a highly responsible and skilled role which will have enhanced Theresa’s reputation as the premier hostess in high society gatherings.
Eliza’s body was never found.

Elizabeth Dougal, aged 43, Housekeeper

Elizabeth Dougal was employed by the Londonderry family just two weeks before the boating expedition. She was born in Leith in 1851. Her father was a porter and she was the eldest of eight children. By 1881 she was working as a 29-year-old housemaid for an elderly vicar and his wife in a village in Yorkshire.

By 1891 she was a housekeeper for the Duke of Athol in Eaton Place, Belgravia, and at Blair Castle. Her new job with the Marquess of Londonderry at Mount Stewart seems to have been one with excellent prospects. The invitation to join the picnic outing would have been a great opportunity to get to know the other senior staff.
Elizabeth’s body was never found.

William Rowe, aged 32, Valet to Lord Londonderry

William Rowe was married on 4 March 1895 five weeks prior to the accident. He married Emily Anne Hearn, also aged 32, in the Parish of Upper Teddington, Middlesex. William’s address at the time is recorded as Park Lane (Londonderry House), but he was brought up in Huntspill, near the coast in north Somerset. Other sons in this family also went into service.

One of William Rowe’s notebooks is held at Durham County Records Office. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of a valet and records all payments made by William on behalf of the Marquess. Items such as buttonholes, train tickets and taxi cabs are noted and dated. William is described in newspaper accounts as ‘a gentleman who had made many friends by his urbanity and goodness’.

William’s body was never recovered. Emily Ann, his widow, married again in 1901.

Historic photograph of boatman William Hagan (pictured right) in a boat on the jetty at Strangford Lough, Mount Stewart, County Down
Historic photograph of boatman William Hagan (pictured right) in a boat on the jetty at Strangford Lough, Mount Stewart, County Down | © The Estate of the Marquess of Londonderry

William and Robert Hagan, aged 46 and 17, Boatmen

William and Robert Hagan were father and son. They were both employed by Lady Londonderry as boatmen. They were the only locals lost in the tragedy and had been living in Kircubbin. William was married to Charlotte for over 22 years. Robert was the third of seven children and the eldest boy.

William was a highly capable and experienced boatman. The newspaper reports at the time placed great emphasis on his skill and also commented on the excellent condition of the boat.

William’s body was found on 3 June at Ringdufferin on the west side of Strangford Lough. He is buried at Trinity Parish Church, Kircubbin.
Robert’s body was never recovered, although his cap was found on the shore near Kircubbin almost three weeks after the accident.

His mother, Charlotte, was reported as being extremely distraught after the tragedy. Charlotte received a regular pension from the Londonderry family and died in 1902 at the age of 50.

Jane Cheshire, aged 19, Lady’s Maid to Lady Kathleen Cole

Jane Cheshire was visiting Mount Stewart from Florence Court with her mistress Lady Kathleen Cole. Very little information is confirmed about her although the English census of 1891 records a Jane Cheshire of the right age as a dressmaker’s assistant living in Paddington, London. This is probably the right Jane.

Her hat was found on the shore at Gransha Point shortly after the accident. Her body was found at Ringburr Point, Lower Priest Town, near Portaferry on 8 June. She was identified by her initials sewn into her clothing. Her grave is located at Ballyphillip Parish Church graveyard and the Londonderry family paid the funeral expenses.

Lady Kathleen is recorded as having been very upset at news of the loss of her personal maid. She was 22 years old and though from very different backgrounds, she and Jane may have been good friends.

William Start, aged 26, Lord Enniskillen’s Valet

William Start was valet to the Earl of Enniskillen of Florence Court. He attended as a house guest at the Easter House Party in Mount Stewart with his daughter Lady Kathleen Cole. Very little is known about him.

His body was recovered on 24 August at the barmouth of Strangford Lough by the crew of Lord Bangor’s yacht. The death certificate states that he was 26 years old but there is no other lead as to his family or where he came from.

It has recently been discovered that he is buried in an unmarked grave, alongside his Florence Court colleague, Jane Cheshire, in Ballyphilip Parish Church graveyard, Portaferry.

Volunteer research team

Follow the progress of the volunteer research team who’ve been delving into the national archives to find out what really happened to the Mountstewart yacht when it went missing on the 11 April 1895.

Latest research updates


Finding the oar

It was understood that an oar from the Mountstewart was stored on the estate. On speaking to a former farm resident it was understood that the oar was last seen in a barn during the 1940s. After checking the estate maps and records the team located and visited the barn. Amazingly the oar was still there after all these years. The oar has since been removed and is in safe storage with improved conservation conditions.

Assessment of seafloor conditions 

Seafloor conditions around 'target' areas are identified as possible locations to find the remains of the yacht and are assessed for future diving investigations. The seabed mainly consists of mud and small shells in the lough. In some areas the mud is so fine that it forms a suspension in the water. This greatly reduces visibility making conditions harder for the divers to see any evidence on the seabed.

Connections with Blair Castle confirmed 

Correspondence with Keren Guthrie, Archivist at Blair Castle. It was discovered that Elizabeth Dougal, Housekeeper at Mount Stewart had been employed by the Londonderry family for two weeks prior to the boating tragedy. 

The records at Blair Castle included wages ledgers for the servants. Elizabeth’s signature was found on the ledgers and shared with the team. 

Member of staff holding the oar from the Mountstewart yacht at the edge of the Strangford Lough, Mount Stewart, County Down
Member of staff holding the oar from the Mountstewart yacht at the edge of the Strangford Lough, Mount Stewart, County Down | © National Trust Images / Andrew Corkhill


Volunteer research team

Much of the research was discovered by a group of dedicated volunteers who have made it their mission to find out more about the circumstances of the disaster and the lives of the people who died.

Thank you

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

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