Flannan Lighthouse: New online records of keepers’ lives and more

More than 2,000 scanned images of Northern Lighthouse Board records provide details of the 1,300 lighthouse keepers who worked at 92 lighthouses between 1837 and 1921.

The records cover the whole of Scotland, from Muckle Flugga near Shetland to the southernmost town of Drumore, Mull of Galloway.

This includes Bell Rock, the world’s oldest working sea-washed lighthouse, and details of the three keepers of the Flannan Islands, which disappeared without a trace after a storm in 1900.

Employment data from the National Records of Scotland is now available online for the first time on the ScotlandsPeople genealogy website.

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Lightkeepers had hard working lives: long days and nights maintaining light and fog signals, as well as cleaning and maintaining their isolated stations in harsh conditions.

For a long time, animal keepers lived in cramped spaces, often with only basic washing facilities or toilets. They could be isolated from family and friends while they went about their important work and kept shipping safe on the Scottish coast.


Bell Rock guard on duty

The records can be studied either by searching for a person’s name or by looking at the individual lighthouse.

On display are the records of Flannan Lighthouse, the location of one of the most famous and ultimately unexplained lighthouses.

The lighthouse is on the largest of the archipelago on the 38-acre Eileen Mor (Big Island), 21 miles west of the Isles of Lewis.

Flannan Lighthouse had been in operation for just over a year when the keepers disappeared in December 1900. On December 15, a passing steamer noted in its log that the light was not working.

When a relief boat arrived, it was found that the station was deserted, the lights trimmed and ready, the lens and machinery cleaned, the kitchen tidied and two sets of outdoor clothing missing. No trace of the men was ever found.

James Ducat was the chief lightkeeper on duty at the time. Fireman records indicate that he entered service on November 21, 1878, at the age of 22.

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As assistant lighthouse keeper he worked in Montroseness, Inchkeith, Rhins of Islay and Langness. On May 2, 1896 he was promoted to chief warden at Loch Ryan, eventually serving on the Flannan Isles. The last entry in the register reads: “Disappeared on or about December 15, 1900”.

At the time Ducat was serving alongside assistant light keeper Thomas Marshall and occasional goalie Donald McArthur filling in the duty for another assistant goalie – William Ross – who was ill. All are gone.

All three are on the Carloway County death register, with the cause of death listed as “probable drowning.”


Jocelyn Grant, NRS Outreach and Learning Archivist, said: “The last lighthouse was automated in 1998 and these records shed light on the working lives of over 1,300 men in a profession that has largely passed into history.”

“The Northern Lighthouse Board’s records are frequently requested by visitors to our buildings. If your ancestor worked in a Scottish lighthouse, there’s a good chance you’ll find them here.”

“This is the latest in a series of popular records being added to the National Records of Scotland’s ScotlandsPeople genealogy service, as part of our broader program to make more of our archive holdings accessible to people across the country and around the world.”

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