In the days before the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Bannockburn was one of the most famous ships to mysteriously vanish on the Great Lakes. She’s one of the more commonly sighted ghost ships of the lakes, often seen struggling through the November storms, a victim of the Witch of November.
The Bannockburn was a 245-foot, all-steel steamer, built in England in 1893 in the shipyard of Sir R. Dixon and Co., which was recognized as one of the best shipyards in the British Isles at that time. Rated A-1 by Lloyd’s of London, the ship, along with several sisters, made the transatlantic crossing, and went to work for the Montreal Transportation Company.
“Kingston, Ont., April 27. — The English built steamer BANNOCKBURN, bound to this port from Toledo with 60,000 bushels of corn, ran on the rocks near Snake Island Light this morning, while going at full speed. The steamer was badly wrecked. It was floated after 30,000 bushels of the cargo had been lighted. Nearly all of it is damaged.” Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin, Tuesday, April 28, 1897
“St. Catharines, Ont., Oct. 15. – The steamer BANNOCKBURN, Capt. John Irving, grain laden, Chicago for Kingston, struck the wing wall of Lock No. 17, Welland Canal, this morning and sprang a leak. She now rests on the bottom below Lock 11 with nine feet of water in her hold. Navigation will not be interrupted.” Buffalo Evening News, Friday, October 15, 1897
On Nov 20, 1902 she left Thunder Bay with a load of grain bound for Midland, Ontario.
Late in the afternoon of Nov. 21, the upbound steamer Algonquin noted in its log that they had passed the Bannockburn about 50 miles southeast of Passage Island and northeast of Keweenaw point. Capt. James McMaugh of the Algonquin noted that the Bannockburn was ‘making a good sea’, meaning that she was making good speed despite the weather.
“Chicago, Nov. 29. – A special to the Record-Herald from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., says: The steamer BANNOCKBURN with her crew of twenty men is given up for lost by local marine men. The report received last night that she was ashore near Michipicoten seems to be without foundation. The belief that the steamer has met with disaster is strengthened by the fact that the steamer ROCKFELLER, which arrived here today, reported passing through wreckage off Standard Rock. This is supposed to be from the missing boat. The wrecking tugs BOYNTON and FAVORITE have made a search along the north shore of Lake Superior without finding any trace of the Canadian steamer. The accepted theory is that the BANNOCKBURN foundered in mid lake and went down with all on board.” – Buffalo Evening News, November 30, 1902
“The first authentic evidence bearing on the fate of the steamer BANNOCKBURN which sailed from Fort William over a month ago and never seen again, came to light on Friday when the Captain of the Grand Marais Lifesaving Station found a life preserver from the missing boat on the beach.” – Port Huron Daily Times, Saturday, December 13, 1902
Normally, in a shipwreck, this is the end of the story…
Immediately after the disappearance, relatives of the crew received telegrams telling them not to worry despite rumours of the ships loss.
Starting in November, 1903, the first report of the Bannockburn, coated with ice, near Caribou Island is reported by a passing steamer. Sightings reached such a number in such a short time that Curwood, in his Great Lakes writes, in 1909: “And now, by certain superstitious sailors, the Bannockburn is supposed to be the Flying Dutchman of the Inland Seas and there are those who will tell you in all earnestness that on icy nights, when the heaven above and the sea below were joined in one black pall, they have descried the missing Bannockburn—a ghostly apparition of ice, scudding through the gloom.”
The most recent (reasonably believable) reported sighting of the Bannockburn was in 2001, supposedly reported to the head of one of the wrecks organisations on the lakes by the sailors that saw it.
Other myths surrounding the Bannockburn:
According to legend, one of the thing to wash ashore was a single, bloodstained, oar from the wreck.
Supposedly, on the day of the wreck, two of the children of the Bannockburn’s engineer also died.