This story is not about a castle, it’s about a sailing vessel named after a castle – Dunnottar Castle. First, a little about its name.
In the 5th Century, St Ninian brought Christianity to Scotland, and chose Dunnottar as a site for one of his chain of Churches. In the 12th Century Dunnottar Castle became a Catholic settlement with the first stone chapel being consecrated in 1276.
William Wallace (“Braveheart,”) Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II, all called the Castle home. Here a Scottish garrison once saved the Scottish Crown Jewels from destruction by Cromwell’s invading army.
In 1874, ‘Dunnottar Castle,’ a three-masted 258-foot British iron-hulled ship, was launched in Glasgow, Scotland.
She rests in the Pacific, lost at Kure Atoll on July 15th, 1886 while bound for Wilmington, California from Sydney, Australia with a cargo of coal.
A malfunctioning chronometer put the Dunnottar Castle off course and onto the reef. Though efforts were made to jettison the cargo and repair the damaged hull, the stricken vessel could not be refloated, and the crew abandoned ship for the nearby deserted island. The castaways would have to take charge of their own rescue. (PMNM)
Seven of the crew members, including its Chief Officer, took one of the surviving tender boats and sailed, for 52 days, to Kauaʻi. Upon being informed of the tragedy, the British Commissioner in Honolulu organized a rescue mission. (HawaiianAtolls)
Under the reign of King David Kalākaua, the Hawaiian Kingdom, suspecting that the British might use the occasion to annex the island, shared the expedition expenses and instructed Commissioner James Boyd to take formal possession of Kure. On September 20, 1886 he took possession of the island, then-called Moku Papapa, for the Hawaiian government. (PMNM)
The rescue mission came back to Honolulu with the same amount of people it had sailed out with. No survivors were found on the atoll, except for two fox terriers and a retriever. All of the survivors had been picked up earlier by a passing vessel and were on route to Chile. (HawaiianAtolls)
Before the mid-19th century, Kure Atoll was visited by several ships and given new names each time. Many crews were stranded on Kure Atoll after being shipwrecked on the surrounding reefs and had to survive on the local seals, turtles and birds.
The King ordered that a crude house be built on the island, with tanks for holding water and provisions for any other unfortunates who might be cast away there. But the provisions were stolen within a year, and the house soon fell into ruins.
Thus, the wreck of the Dunnottar Castle precipitated the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi’s official presence at Kure Atoll, Hawaiʻi’s most remote coral atoll at the northwestern extreme end of the entire archipelago. (PMNM)
The Kure Atoll refuge staff (State of Hawaiʻi DLNR-Division of Forestry and Wildlife) came across the wreckage by accident while transiting through the lagoon. Atoll staff radioed the NOAA archaeologists who were surveying two other locations at Kure (The New Bedford whaler Parker and the USS Saginaw), and a preliminary survey was initiated. (PMNM)
The Dunnottar Castle lies adjacent to a shoal area in the vicinity of the atoll reef, accessible only in calm weather. Many of the wooden components, loose materials, and organic fabrics have been swept away, but the heavier elements remain. No small or movable artifacts were encountered. (PMNM)
Large sections of iron hull plate, iron frames, rigging, masts, auxiliary steam boiler, keelson, anchors, windlasses, winches, capstans, davits, rudder and steering gear, cargo hatches, bow sprit, hawse pipes, chain locker, ballast stone, deadeyes, chains, stringers, bitts, ladders etc. are fixed in place on the sea bottom. (PMNM)
The site is approximately 250 feet in length, corresponding to the ship’s original size. The industrial nature of the artifacts and the general lack of coral cover makes the location well-suited for standing up to the power of the winter storms and seas which pound the atoll. (PMNM)
The wreck of the Dunnottar Castle is a nearly complete assemblage of a late-19th century commercial carrier, an incredible heritage resource from the days of the sailing ships like the Falls of Clyde (Honolulu,) Balcalutha (San Francisco Maritime Park) and Star of India (San Diego Maritime Museum) when our maritime commerce was driven by steel masts and canvas, wind power, and human hands. (PMNM)
Kure Atoll is the most northwestern island in the Hawaiian chain and occupies a singular position at the “Darwin Point:” the northern extent of coral reef development, beyond which coral growth cannot keep pace with the rate of geological subsidence. Kure’s coral is still growing slightly faster than the island is subsiding.
North of Kure, where reef growth rates are even slower, the drowned Emperor Seamounts foretell the future of Kure and all of the Hawaiian Archipelago. As Kure Atoll continues its slow migration atop the Pacific Plate, it too will eventually slip below the surface.
Kure is the northern-most coral atoll in the world. It consists of a 6-mile wide nearly circular barrier reef surrounding a shallow lagoon and several sand islets. The only land of significant size is called Green Island and is habitat for hundreds of thousands of seabirds.