The River Urr: Its Sailors and Shipping

These stories have been taken from sections of articles from The Gallovidian Annuals and by an article by Mr James Copland, Dumfries.

Winding River UrrThe River Urr was once called the "Waters of Orr", but why the name was changes is not known. It is also referred to as the "Winding Orr" or "Winding Urr", due to the number of tight bends in the river from Kippford to its start at Loch Urr some 18 miles away. The river is only tidal as far as Dalbeattie, where it is joined by the Barr Burn, which runs through the centre of Dalbeattie. The two rivers merge as one at Dalbeatties harbour. Also known as the "Dub O Hass", meaning "The Pool at the Throat". The difficulties connected with navigation on such a tortuous river for the distance of so many miles are known only to those who have had to experience it. Ships in pre-motor days were frequently grounded on the river banks in dangerous positions, and more than one stranded on the "Importer's" Stone (a large stone at the bend of the river just below North Glen Farm) was not an unusual sight. Another bend between Kippford and Palnackie  is called " Deils Reach". Inward vessels could get this far under their own sail with a fair wind, then they were towed by horse to their chosen destinations. Outward bound vessels on this corner would some times be met by as many as 14 other ships waiting on favourable winds.

Sailing From KippfordDuring the half-century prior to the Great War there was a large fleet of vessels connected with the River, and these ships were training schools for many who afterwards became sailors and renown throughout the mercantilo world.

There was Captain William Wilson, who recaptured his ship, the Emilie St. Pierre, from the United States warship crew of 15 with the help of only his cook and steward, and sailed her thousands of miles across the Atlantic to the river Mersey, where he was feted and honoured for his gallant deed. 

Captain William D. Cassady, who, when commander of the ship Gretamade, voyaged from Melbourne to Liverpool in 76 days, almost rivalling the far fanned clipper known as the Cutty Sark.

Captain John McLellan, who began his sailing career on the Elizabeth, popularly called the "Wee Brig", and ended up as a distinguished officer of the Liverpool Salvage Association, in which capacity  he salved many ships given up as hopeless wrecks, one of which was the White Star Line Snevie. This ship was broken in two at Lizard Point.

Captain Samuel Murdoch, who sailed with his dad Captain James Murdoch for some years on the Freedom. Afterwards becoming one of the most successful ship commanders of the Mercantile Marine and who was respected and honoured alike in San francisco and Liverpool, between which these ports he had traded for many years. There was his son, Lientenant William McMaster Murdoch, whose memorial tablet on Dalbeattie town hall tells the tale of his heroism as first officer of the Titanic.

Captain John Aitken, who refused to leave his ship along with his crew. When they had taken to the boats thinking that the boat was about to founder they thereby lost their lives.Kippford

The next names in the shipping world were coastal traders in the years prior to the great War and who are deserving of recognition.      Candlishes, Bies, Murdochs, Cummings, Wilsons, Clachries, Blacks, Hallidays, McNights and Edgars.

Taking the last name first was Captain Robert Edgar, who skippered for over 50 years and never lost a ship or life despite the dangerous nature of the work. He commanded The Mochrum Lass, about 90 tons, Maggie Kelso, Margaret Ann and lastly The General Havelock. Captian Edgar had 6 sons who all became sailors. Two were lost at sea, one of them Captain Robert Edgar lost his life on the Robinrigg Sandbank on the Solway, when his vessel "Mary", was wrecked on her voyage from Liverpool to Dumfries. The other four sons were certificated masters in the Mercantile service.

Captain Thomas Candlish, born in Palnackie, to a well known family. When he was a boy, he was on board Henrietta, his father being the skipper. At 18 years of age, Thomas was appointed skipper of the Jessie, built at the Scaur and was said to be "a forbye fortunate young fellow", in getting command of this vessel at a young age. In his long career he owned and commanded  the Lucy End and Eagle, and the Mantura and lastly the Margaret and Mary, which was wrecked on the rocks at Rockcliffe during a heavy gale.Palnackie Harbour Thomas lived till he was 96 years of age and had two sons. Both sons began seafaring on the river Urr, one of the sons Captain John Candlish was a master of the Thomas Graham at one time, a vessel that was lost at sea on the night of a storm that caused the Tay Bridge disaster. An ancestor of the Candlishes was the protetype of Mrs MacCandlish, one of the characters of Scott's Cry Mannering.

Another family of sailors sprang from the Murdochs of Colvend. In the middle of the field adjoining Barlcloy Mill and lying to the eastward of its loaning stood a thatched cottage, in that building was a highly respected, hard-working, successful shoe-maker called Samuel Murdoch. He lived here with his wife for half a century and reared a family of 7 sons and 3 daughters. Two of the sons followed the trade of their father: the others all took to the sea. Captain James Murdoch, one of Samuels sons was the skipper of the Freedom for many years and carried out many successful trades all around the coast. On one very stormy voyage when nearing Cumberland coast, he was washed overboard, but  a succeding wave luckily washed him back on deck. He died at the Scaur well over the four-scour years and his remains lie in Co'en Kirkyard.  James had 3 sons all of whom went to sea but commanding ocean going ships. Of the other two sons of Samuel, Captain John died at sea. Captain William perished in the Mary along with Captain William Wilson, 1904, when that vessel was wrecked at Rascarrel.  The Mary was a schooner, able to carry 70 tons.She traded between Kippford and Maryport carrying coal. Another son of Samuel was a founder of a family of sailors, this was Captain Andrew Murdoch, who was skipper of the Robert and Helen. This ship was wrecked on the Mull of Kintyre in a dense fog. Captain Andrew then took command of a new vessel christened the Brothers, but died very suddenly on a voyage up the west coast of Scotland. His son John who succeded his father as skipper, was said to be "one of the finest sailors that ever trod the deck". Captain John had 3 sons who became sailors, one of whom Captian John Murdoch made a great reputation as a skipper in the war on board the Raymond.

Captain BieAnother Colvend family who hailed from Boreland Farm was Captain Charles Bie owner of the schooner William Thompson, he sailed her for many years. His son Captain John Bie succeded him as the skipper of this vessel. Captain John also owned and commanded the Annie Heron, Annie B. Smith and the Bee. Captain John also kept many animals, these were a horse, donkey, dog and monkey. More on the stories of the dog and monkey call be read on our other pages called Captain Bies animals. Captain Charles Bie's other son William, skippered in the Mercantile Marine before retiring to Rockcliffe where he became popular with the visitors.

For many generations the best known schooner connected with the river Urr was perhaps the Gallovidian, belonging to the late Captain John Cumming, and sailed by him for a number of years until he was required home to carry on the ship-building business at The Scaur, (this ship yard was in the middle of the village at Kippford, in 1860), after James Cumming passed away. Two of the best known schooners they turned out were Try Again and Balcary Lass, both well over 150 tons. The Gallovidian schooner was late sold to Maryport where it got accidently burned. Captain John Cumming had two sons, who both went to sea and one of them Captain Henry Cumming was lost at sea during the war. The other, Captain James first sailed on the Gallovidian, then went on to deep-water navigation. After sailing on the seven seas in windjammers and steamers, he left the sea in 1914 and since then lived in the Scaur making connections with his yachts and with those in the Solway Sailing Club. The ship yard was also owned by Mr Collins of Birkenhead, who ran it for several years until the outbreak of war in 1914. No ships were made in the time of Mr Collins, but his big jobs were to install engines into schooners, most famous of which was the North Barrule in 1909.

Captain Samuel Wilson from Palnackie and Orcharton was a well known skipper, ship owner and ship-builder for many years. He commanded the schooner Glasgow ,a vessel of 160 tons, and the schooner called the Elbe. During a heavy south-west gale in the month of December 1866 this vessel was driven ashore near the mouth of the river, and the crew of 7 were able to jump off onto the rocks but the schooner sank in deep water.  A monument of stone commemorates the incident to this day. Samuel also built the Almorness and other vessels at Palnackie, which was then the port for Castle Douglas. He died at Orcharton at the age of 98. His brother Captain George Wilson owned several schooners, the Good Intent being his favourite.

Another well known family from the Scaur were the Hallidays. Captain James Halliday had command at various times the Jessie and the Henrietta. In his early days at sea he had an experience with the press-gang -that nightmare of Victorian times- and only escaped a lifelong service on a man-of-war by the sturdy protestations of his skipper. One of his sons Captain William began his career on a brig called the Pilot, of Annan. When sailing as mate on the Breeze the Captain died and the young Halliday, thought to be about 23 years of age took charge and successfully completing the voyage to Plymouth. Another son served his apprenticeship in the Mark, commanded by Captain John Cumming, but was afterwards engaged in the foreign trade. On one of his ships there were to be found 3 Hallidays but none were related.

The Clachries were a family of sailors belonging to the Scaur. Captain Charles Clachrie was skipper of  the Jane Elizabeth. This ship was built at Dalbeattie and when being launched the lady who was christening her failed to break the bottle containing whiskey, whereupon her skipper at the time ejaculated " God's Curse", and this name suck with this vessel. Under Captain Clachrie she escaped shipwreck when the Elbe was lost in the Solway. To save her being dashed on the rocks at Castle Point, the Captain settled the Jane Elizabeth on the sands near Rockcliffe. Captain Clachries son was on the Elbe and one of the seven saved when she struck the rocks at Glenstocking. Captain James Clachrie, a relative of the last-named, began his sea life in the Heart Of Oak. This sloop caried coal betweem Maryport and the Urr. Later James Clachrie went on to forgeign trade. After retirement went on to take an interest in Kippford regattas.

Palnackie was the home of sailors. Captain Thomas Black began his career in the Snowdon Lass, with his father, Captain John Black, but he went into foreign trade, first in windjammers for 22 years then steamers. During the latter period he took the racing yacht Caress from Gourock to Boaston Bay, along with Captain Barr, well known as the skipper of the Thistle, in the race for the American Cup. When Captain Black retired he became a member of the Solway Sailing Club, he regularly took part in contests with his yacht Water Witch.

Captain John McKnight from Kippford was skipper of the Good Intent and the Thammus Green. His son, David was also a sailor, until his retirement.

Captain John Sloan from Dalbeattie sailed the John and Sarah for many years. His son Captain Nathan Sloan, sailed the Heart of Oak, but later commanding steamers.

Captain John Tait owned and commanded the John and James, which sailed for many years and was about 100 tons. This vessel was later ship wrecked in June 1897, at Whitehaven whilst running for shelter from a severe gale. He then skippered the North Barrule for 9 years. The North Barrule was the first vessel on the Urr that was powered by motor engine installed by Captain Greenway who succeded Captain Tait as her skipper. Captain Greenway also owned the Solway Lass. This vessel today is a tourist attraction in Sydney, Australia.

Bengullion shipCaptain James Ewart, commanded the Bengullion, a well known trader. The Bengullion was a topsail schooner, 66 tons, built by Paul Roger and Co, Carrickfergus, in 1877. Captain Ewart had to give up sailing due to health reasons, and took up farming at Boreland, Colvend. This vessel left liverpool in 1929 along with 3 others with coal for Ireland, but was lost with all hands. The other ships having motor powered engines all made it to their destinations. Captain Ewarts father sailed the Billow and afterwards the Euphemia for some years.

Captain Thomas Hume commanded the Mary Agnes, belongings to Messrs Newall, Craignair Quarries.This vessel was one of the fastest and trimmest vessels what ever sailed out of the Waters of Urr. It mostly traded between Dalbeattie and Liverpool.

Captain David Duke was one of the youngest sailors, who commanded  at different times the Resolation, the Dolphin, the Warsash and the Enigma.The last vessel names was lost with all hands off the Cumberland coast after Captain Duke had left her to take command of another vessel. The Dolphin was a topsail schooner, 65 tons, built in Liverpool, in 1867. Owned by Mr Carswell & Sons, millers, Dalbeattie. This ship was commanded by Captain Sharp, who was killed by a fid falling on him from the foretop. Later this ship was commanded by Captain D Dukes, later was sold to Channel Isles.

Captain Bryson was the skipper of the Jessie Maxwell for many years. This vessel lay for a long time on the Scaur beach. This vessel carried lime. The New Importer was lost with all hands on a voyage from Liverpool to the Water Of Urr in 1891.  The Try Again and Balcary Lass built at Kippford went into foreign trade.Dalbeattie Harbour


The Waters of Urr fleet consisted of over forty sloops (one-masted sailing  boat with a mainsail and jib rigged fore and aft) and schooners in pre-war days.






The Bardsea was a schooner connected to the Urr and the Dalbeattie harbour trade. It sailed between Liverpool and Dalbeattie in 1860's. It was owned and commanded by Captain J Garmory of Dalbeattie, who it was said to be the leading seamen of his time. This schooner when on a voyage from Liverpool encountered a terrible gale and it floundered in Morcambe Bay near Walney Isle.

Captain Nathan Dalling, who had been a mate to Captain J Garmory, captained the Thomas and Eliza previous to the Bardsea

Captain Nelson sailed the Economist, a two mastered schooner, carrying 120 tons. It carried coal and lime to Burnfoot of Rerrick.

Captain Rae, of Colvend sailed the Mayfield. Built in 1862 and carried 168 tons.This ship was a foreign trader. She was later sold to Captain John Murdoch, Dalbeattie, who converted her to a brigantine.

Captain Stitt sailed the Utopia, which carried 200 tons. She was built in New Brunswick in 1854, and a well known trader in the Solway. Her skippers were Captain A Stitt and Captain Kissock. She was nearly lost at Carsthorn but was saved by her crew. The Utopia was sold to Ireland and Captain Stitt was never seen in the Solway again.

The Witch of the Wave was a ketch, which was built in Garlieston in 1854. This ship was owned by Mr Marchbank of Buittle, near Dalbeattie. It was recorded that this ship was still afloat in 1919, but had an owner in Ireland by this time.