September 2022: on a short break in Banffshire with my wife Sian, we visited auld Cullen. In the churchyard we came across this memorial:
We were struck by the unusual name Burrish Lyons, Captain of a vessel that was shipwrecked off the Cullen Coast on the night of the 7th September 1807. Sadly, all on board perished:
“Sacred to the memory of Burrish Lyons one time Shipmaster in Leith aged 41 years who was lost on the Brig Mary of London of which he was owner wrecked on this coast on the night of 7th September 1807”.
The following material comes from Cullen & Deskford Church of Scotland:
Dr William Cramond, Cullen’s noted 19th century historian records in his book “Old Memories” that the night the “Mary” was lost was very stormy with a strong wind from the south – east. The lights of a vessel were seen in Cullen Bay. Next morning the rocks at the Scaur Nose near the Bow Fiddle were strewn with wreckage with rigging, logs, spars, webs of silk, etc., scattered about. All the crew had perished.
It is reported that no body was found entire. The raging seas and the jagged rocks had seen to that. The body of the ship’s master, Burrish Lyons, could be identified.
It is said that he was a man like Esau and, from the Bible, we know that Esau was a very hairy man. Burrish Lyons was known to be a Christian and his body was buried in the Churchyard. What remains of the crew that were recovered were buried behind the jail which was adjacent to the Churchyard gates.
One particularly sad part of the story is that it is recorded that, when Burrish Lyons’ body was found, clasped around his neck were the arms of a boy – no doubt the cabin boy whom he had been trying to save.
But some of the spars washed ashore were used to make a bridge across the mouth of the Cullen Burn which previously had had to be forded. The bridge could not have been a very sturdy structure for it came to be known locally as the “Shooglie Briggie“. (For those not acquainted with the Doric, that’s the Shaky Bridge.)
And some benefit – if that is the right word – came to this Church too. The pulpit needed repair. The Earl of Seafield of the time was Vice-Admiral of Scotland and as such had the right to all wrecks on the Moray Firth coast. He gave permission for some of the fine oak panelling from the saloon of the “Mary” to be presented to the minister, the Rev. Robert Grant, for renovation to the pulpit of the Church.
The wreck of the “Mary” was bought by local businessman Mr. Thomas Rannie who saw to the burial of the bodies of the crew. When the brother of Burrish Lyons came to Cullen some years later to erect the marble stone in memory of his brother he publicly thanked Mr. Rannie presenting him with an inscribed silver cup.