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Sunday, 11 February 2018

Book Review

Life and Death on Little Ross: The story of an island, a lighthouse and its keepers

By David R. Collin
Whittles Publishing, Scotland £18.99/$24.99
231 pp, color illustrations
ISBN: 978-184995-359-7

Little Ross, off the southern coast of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, is a 29-acre island with a lighthouse located at the mouth of Kirkcudbright Bay. Accessible only by boat or air, the island has a natural harbor, a rocky beach and a craggy green coastline.

David Collin, a retired architect and author of four additional books and numerous articles about Kirkcudbright, grew up across the bay from Little Ross and continues to live within view of the island. His boyhood fascination with this place of “mystery and allure” is apparent in this extraordinarily detailed book.

Little Ross Lighthouse, built in 1843 by Alan Stevenson of the famous “Lighthouse Stevensons”, was built to fill the gap between the lighthouses at the Mull of Galloway and Southerness. It has been in continuous operation ever since and was only darkened once in its long history.

The book tells the history of the island and the early attempts to mark the entrance to Kirkcudbright Bay. The author includes extensive excerpts from Thomas Stevenson’s geological survey of the island as well as the author’s own detailed descriptions of the island’s flora and fauna. Also included are excerpts from the diary of Assistant Keeper George Mackie that give wonderful insights into the family life of an island lighthouse keeper. Collin goes to great effort to provide the reader with every detail imagined about the island and its lighthouse. His knowledge of and love for the area in which he spent so much of his life is apparent in the writing of the book.

Collin leaves the most intriguing part of the book for near the end when he shares the details of the tragic events of 18 August 1960 involving the murder of Relief Keeper Hugh Clark, who was shot by Assistant Keeper Robert Dickson. The author’s personal account of the tragic events and the part he played in it were fascinating and well worth the wait.

The last two chapters of the book describe the later automation and de-manning of the lighthouse along with the eventual abandonment of the island. He also includes details of the subsequent purchase of the island and its buildings (with the exception of the tower which continues to be owned by the Commissioners for Northern Lights) by a couple who restored and converted it for use as a single home.

At the back of the book is an Appendix containing a list of the Duties of Light-Keepers, taken from a transcript of the 1847 By-laws and Rules and Regulations of the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses. Also included are lists of the Keepers and Assistant Keepers at Little Ross Lighthouse, along with some notes of scientific interest.

Altogether, Life and Death on Little Ross is a comprehensive and thoroughly researched history of the island and its lighthouse. Although at times it may appear to go into too much detail in some areas, the book is very well written and a tribute to a bygone way of life.

Reviewed by Donna Suchomelly

Little Ross Lighthouse
Photo by Ian Cowe
Note: Little Ross Island and its cottage were offered for sale in July 2017. The property listing included a six-bedroom cottage, three “ruinous” barns and a courtyard. It was reportedly sold in August 2017 for an amount significantly over its asking price of £325,000.

The following is a link to a YouTube video showing the island and its lighthouse:

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