What Happened to the Flannan Isle Lighthouse Keepers?


The waves of the Atlantic Ocean can be unforgiving near Northern Scotland. Ships rely on lighthouses to approach the rocky shores if they intend to enter the UK from the north.

One such lighthouse sits on the remote Flannan Isles, far from civilization and isolated from most of the UK. Scottish folk tales suggest the largest Flannan Isle, Eilean Mor is haunted by a specter that stalks the barren hills.

It’s easy to see how this myth could spread: Eilean Mor is an eerie, rocky patch of land that sits alone in the turbulent Atlantic Ocean. It serves a time-tested purpose: in 1899, officials completed the construction of a lighthouse on the island to help guide ships through the constant storms that buffet the region. 

In 1900, all three of the lighthouse’s attendants vanished without a trace. What happened to the Flannan Isle lighthouse keepers?

Working the Lighthouse

Four men worked at the lighthouse in 1900, though they have staggered, six-week shifts that allowed them to each get two weeks off. There would only be three men in the lighthouse at any given time, and the fourth man would return to his family for two weeks. In December 1900 the three attendants, James Ducat, Donald McArthur, and Thomas Marshal, were caught by unusually rough storms.

Records from the era indicate that a high volume of powerful storms buffetted Scotland in December 1900. During one of these storms on December 15, a passing vessel noticed the light on Eilean Mor wasn’t active. When the vessel came ashore, its captain warned the authorities that something was wrong with the Flannan Isles lighthouse.

Investigating the Disappearance

The fourth keeper, Joseph Moore, accompanied a vessel called the Hesperus to check on his coworkers. He discovered that the doors were all closed and there was no sign of the other men inside. He found McArthur’s coat and oilskins still hanging up within the lighthouse, and journal entries that noted the increasing intensity of the December storms.

Moore concluded that the men had likely been washed away while trying to rig down cargo during a thunderstorm. McArthur likely stayed behind in the lighthouse while Ducat and Marshall went to the dock to tighten the rigging. McArthur may have seen a wave approaching the shore and rushed outside without his jacket to warn his coworkers. Then, all three could have been swept away by the wave. 

Some investigators have speculated more outlandish fates for the lighthouse keepers. For instance, some suggest that one of the men may have lashed out in a fit of rage and killed his coworkers before jumping into the sea. Others have even blamed the specter that supposedly haunts the Flannan Isles. However, investigators will likely never know Ducat, McArthur, and Marshal’s fate for certain.