Mr. David MacBrayne, owner of the celebrated Fleet of West Highland Steamers, 119, Hope Street.—
By far the best and largest fleet of steamships now trading with local Scottish ports is that of Mr. David MacBrayne of the “Highland Steam Packet Office”. Mr. MacBrayne commenced business about thirty-seven years ago as one of the partners of the firm of David Hutcheson & Co. The offices of the firm were in Jamaica Street, and they had a fleet of steamers, &c., trading with local ports in the Firth of Clyde and in the West Highlands. The senior partner retired in 1876, and Alexander Hutcheson, the other partner, retired in 1879, leaving Mr. MacBrayne sole proprietor of the concern. Mr. MacBrayne now carries on the business in his own name.
The saloon steamer Iona, which was built in 1864 by Messrs. J. & G. Thomson, of Glasgow, and measures nearly 260 feet in length, and is furnished with engines of 180 horse-power, was the finest of the Clyde steamers of that time. But Mr. MacBrayne, just as he entered upon the full responsibility, eclipsed the Iona by the Colmnba, a magnificent saloon paddle steamer of the same form, but much larger, and constructed wholly of steel. The Columba is 316 feet in length, 50 feet in breadth across paddle-boxes, and 9 feet 4 inches in depth, and is capable of. attaining a speed of 22 miles an hour. Mr. MacBrayne also added a new screw steamer of 200 horse-power to the fleet in 1881—the Claymore —and another lighter screw steamer, the Cavalier, in 1883 ; and the latest but not least important addition to this already splendid fleet was the fine steel-built saloon paddle steamer Grenadier (150 horse-power), in 1885. The Columba, as is well known, plies, during the summer months, between Glasgow and Ardrishaig (Locbfyne), via Kyles of Bute, calling at Rothesay, East Tarbert, and all the other intermediate ports, leaving Glasgow daily about 7 a.m., and having several important railway connections both, for mail service and passengers, and returning from Ardrishaig dally about 1 p.m. in connection with the Chevalier or other steamer from Banavie, Fort William, and Oban, thus completing a daily journey of about 180 miles,
It would be the height of folly to attempt here to describe the scenery, or even to mention all the objects of special interest along the various routes traversed by Mr. MacBrayne’s steamers. That, indeed, would be to write a guide-book to the Highlands. Mr. MacBrayne himself, in 1878, published a very handy booklet, giving very good outlines of his various direct and circular tours. The writer well remembers his first trip through the far-famed Kyles of Bute ; when the steamer had rounded the point at Port Bannatyne, and fairly entered the Kyles beyond Colintraine Pier, he was quite lost in speculation as to whether the steamer would find an opening either to the right or to the left a few hundred yards ahead, or go bump up against one or other of the grey ledges of rock that skirt the base of the Glen-Caladh property. The tourist who takes full advantage of Mr. MacBrayne’s unrivalled programme has many similar experiences. The rugged, stem, and lofty grandeur of the mountains enhances the magnificence of the ever-varying sheets of loch and bay, and sounds traversed by the various steamers ; while the romantic picturesqueness of the wooded dells and of the ancient, and, in most cases, ruined, mainland and island fortresses, and the wild, bleak, and awe-inspiring scenery of some of the glens—such as Glencoe —or the eerie ravines and dismal caves, of which there are several, play very telling accompaniments to the many thrilling tales of love, and feud, and tragedy with which every part of the West Highlands so richly abounds.
Mr. MacBrayne gave an additional daily service from Glasgow to Ardrishaig and back, the two last seasons, by the Iona, which left Glasgow at 1.30 p.m., connecting at Greenock with trains from Glasgow Central and St. Enoch stations at 2.40p.m., and from Edinburgh at 1.5 p.m., arriving at Ardrishaig at 7.30 p.m., and leaving Ardrishaig for Glasgow the following morning about 6.20, connecting with train from Greenock, and landing passengers in Glasgow about 11.20 a.m. ; thus enabling business men to leave their offices or places of business between two and three o’clock in the afternoon, have the benefit of the sail, spend the night with their families in Ardrishaig, and be back at business by 11.30 the following day. The paddle steamer Inverary Castle makes three runs per week from Glasgow to Ardrishaig and Inverary and back, carrying both goods and passengers, and calling at all the intermediate ports. There are two routes from Ardrishaig to Oban. The most direct route is by the steamer Linnet on the Crinan Canal, and joining the Chevalier, or other appointed steamer, at Crinan, on Loch Craignish. This steamer crosses Loch Craignish at the upper reach of the Sound of Jura, passes through the Scarba Sound into the Firth of Lorn, and sails direct to Oban, passing several islands large and small, calling only at Black Mill Bay, Luing, and at Easdale, and arriving at Oban about 4.45 p.m. The second route from Ardrishaig to Oban is by coach from Ardrishaig to Ford, on Lochawe, thence per steamer on Lochawe, and rail to Oban, arriving at Oban at about 6.25 p.m. This can also be made a circular tour from Oban, leaving Oban about 8 a.m., via Lochawe, and returning to Oban by Crinan and the Firth of Lorn the same afternoon about 4.45, or passengers from Glasgow to Oban or vice versa, may go via Lochawe and return via Crinan, or vice versa ; or by Mr. MacBrayne’s other direct route to Oban via Mull of Kintyre and Sound of Jura, by steamers with heavy goods and passengers from Glasgow every Monday and Thursday outwards, and every Tuesday and Friday inwards.
Mr. MacBrayne has two steamers occupied all the year round in connection with the Island of Islay. The most popular route for passengers from Glasgow to Islay, and vice versa, is by Columba or other morning steamer (from Glasgow during the summer, and from Greenock during the winter months in connection with trains) to East Tarbert, Lochfyne, thence per coaches or brakes to West Tarbert Pier, or West Loch Tarbert, and thence per royal mail steamer to Islay, Port Askaig, every Monday, and to Port Ellen daily except Monday. This steamer returns from Port Askaig to West Tarbert every Tuesday morning, and from Port Ellen daily, except Tuesday, in connection with the Columba or other steamer. The steamer Islay plies between Glasgow and Islay, via Mull of Kintyre, with goods and passengers as follows:—Glasgow to Islay, Port Ellen and Port Charlotte every Monday, returning on Tuesday ; Glasgow to Port Ellen, Port Askaig, and Jura every Thursday, returning on Friday. The diversity of operations necessary in the field Mr. MacBrayne occupies is rarely to be met with in connection with one shipping house however large.
From Oban, then, we observe that one swift passenger steamer plies between Banavie (Corpach) and Orman, leaving Corpach daily at 5 a.m. and Fort William at 5.10 a.m. and Oban about 8.30 a.m. for Crinan, in connection with the Linnet on Crinan Canal and Columba from Ardrishaig to Glasgow ; returning from Crinan on the arrival (per Linnet) of Columba passengers, and reaching Oban, as already mentioned, about 4.45 p.m. and Banavie about 8 p.m., and calling at the intermediate ports. Another swift steamer (the Mountaineer) makes two runs daily from Oban to Fort William and Banavie, and vice versa, leaving Oban at 5.45 a.m., carrying passengers from Glasgow or Oban for Inverness, in connection with the steamer Gondolier, or Glengarry, which leaves Banavie for Inverness every morning at 9.30 The Mountaineer returns from Banavie (Corpach) about 9 A.M., and reaches Oban before the departure of the 12.40 p.m. train from Oban; leaves Oban about 12.45, and reaches Banavie in time to receive passengers from Inverness, on arrival of Inverness steamer, about 3.30 p.m., and returning to Oban, arriving there about 6.45 p.m. Other two swift steamers, as already hinted, ply between Inverness and Banavie, leaving Inverness at 7 a.m., and arriving at Banavie about 3.30 p.m., and returning from Banavie the following morning at 9.30, and arriving at Inverness about 6 or 6.30 p.m., calling at the Falls of Foyers on this journey, and each steamer making three return journeys per week. Thus passengers by Mr. MacBrayne’s swift passenger steamers from Glasgow to Inverness, leaving Glasgow, say on Monday morning, arrive at Inverness (via Crinan and Caledonian Canal) about 6.30 on Tuesday evening, and have the option of passing Monday at Oban, Ballachulish (Glencoe), Fort William, or Banavie, and have the privilege of landing at Falls of Foyers on Tuesday. Return could be made from Inverness on Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., the option again being had of passing Wednesday night at Banavie, Fort William, Ballachulish, or Oban, and Glasgow would be reached, via Crinan, and Columba from Ardrishaig, between 6 and 7 p.m. on Thursday, the trip being thus completed comfortably in four days.
In addition to these already mentioned Mr. MacBrayne has two screw steamers plying between Glasgow and Inverness (direct) via Mull of Kintyre, and Sound of Jura, carrying heavy goods and passengers from Glasgow every Monday and Thursday outwards, and every Monday and Thursday from Inverness inwards, and calling at all the intermediate ports from Crinan northwards both going and returning. The Cavalier, which leaves Glasgow every Monday and Inverness every Thursday morning, has got good passenger accommodation. Another steamer, carrying light goods and passengers, plies between Inverness and Fort Augustus, leaving Inverness daily at 3 p.m., and Fort Augustus daily at 6 a.m., in connection with the limited mail trains to and from Inverness. Another route from Oban to Inverness, and which forms a circular tour, is via Sound of Mull, Skye, and Gairloch (Ross-shire) thence per coach to Tollie, and steamer on Loch Maree, and coach to Auchnasheen Station—Dingwall and Skye Railway. Another swift steamer leaves Oban daily about 12.45 p.m. for Tobermory, and the Sound of Mull, and intermediate ports, returning from Tobermory daily about 8 a.m. A swift steamer leaves Portree (Skye) daily at 7 a.m. for Strome Ferry, in connection with the Dingwall and Skye Railway, for Inverness, and returns about 3.45 p.m. from Strome Ferry. A swift steamer leaves Stornoway daily for Strome Ferry, in connection with the Dingwall and Skye Railway, to Inverness at 1 a.m., and returns from Strome Ferry about 3.45 p.m. Two splendid screw steamers, the Claymore and Clansman, ply between Glasgow and Stornoway, and other ports (and vice versa) via Mull of Kintyre, Sound of Jura, and Sound of Mull (calling at Oban) ; from Glasgow every Monday and Thursday outwards, and from Stornoway every Monday and Wednesday inwards. These vessels have very superior sleeping accommodation, and passengers can live comfortably on board during the week’s trip.
There are many other odd runs and occasional calls, in connection with the direct runs mentioned—such as Lochinver, Lochmaddy, Tarbert (Harris) and Ullapool—of which we have not taken notice. These steamers are all manned by a superior class of servants, and about twenty agents are appointed throughout the districts to look after the receiving and forwarding of goods, &c.
Mr. MacBrayne is a gentleman of great force of character and commercial foresight, prompt to recognise the practical utility or uselessness of any innovation, and to adopt or encourage it, or cast it aside. Mr. MacBrayne is not only a man of good business parts, he is a man of sterling integrity and straightforward character, inspiring confidence in all with whom he comes in contact. It is also worthy of remark that he holds the great monopoly of West Highland shipping with a very liberal hand, never making or allowing unreasonable charges to be made, and always easily accessible on all subjects relating to the comfort or interests of travellers or traders.
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