A Rockall centenary


Another centenary for this year: the Royal Irish Academy may do something to commemorate the expedition which it sponsored in June 1896 to Rockall, way out in the north Atlantic. It is given in some detail by Lloyd Praeger in his enduring The Way That I Went, recently re read. In those days he could write "Rockall is a name known to few, familiar to none. So a group of enthusiasts set off from Killybegs on a 250 mile voyage, going north west a third of the way to Iceland - and finding themselves in vile weather conditions. Their ship was the Granuaile of the Congested. Districts Board, and the hopefuls W.S. Green, R.M. Barrington and J.A. Harvie Brown; Praeger, M.F. de Vismes Kane and H.L. Jameson, to note and preserve specimens of biological and geological interest. They had a photographer, Charles Green who brought back the first pictures of Rockall. Also on board were trawls and dredges, sounding mesnine, a harpoon gun for fixing a rope ladder, they hoped, on to the rock.

They didn't get on to the rock, and coal was running short. Back to Killybegs. That was from June 3rd. They decided to have another go when weather, was better, and started off once more on June 14th. It was much the same experience. The seas were such that when a boat was put out, the men in it reported later that the ship disappeared up to the top of its mast, in the first deep swell. Praeger wrote "I can still remember my extravagances of sea sickness". This time they made for St Kilda, where they anchored on June 17th.

Though much of their gear was lost or damaged, they did bring back samples of rock and vegetation and specimens from the bottom of the sea. And the photographs, of course, the first taken. They show a lone rock which has been likened to an old fashioned, pointy haystack (but something like seventy feet high), white topped from bird droppings. In 1956, James Fisher, an ornithologist wrote a book on Rockall including his own landing on it, by helicopter, with the British Navy.

Up to then, only three landings had been recorded: HMS Endymion in 1811, HMS Porcupine in 1862, a French research ship Pourquoi Pas? in 1921 and then in 1955 James Fisher from HMS Vidal. Claiming the rock for Britain. No doubt many visits since. But the Academy expeditions are worth a modest cheer. When did Rockall vanish from weather forecasts?