'Widows and Bairns' - Atlas Obscura

'Widows and Bairns'

A poignant memorial shows the widows and children left heartbroken by the worst fishing disaster in Scottish history. 


On October 14, 1881, a great storm battered the East Coast of the United Kingdom. The small community in Eyemouth, Scotland, was hit particularly hard during what’s said to be the worst fishing disaster in Scottish history. Fishing boats were overcome by the fierce weather and stormy seas. A total of 129 men from Eyemouth perished, leaving 78 widows and 182 fatherless kids behind.

Many of the fishermen drowned just offshore within sight of the families anxiously awaiting their safe return. Because of the rough seas, the women and children could do nothing but watch as their loved ones’ boats were smashed by the waves. It’s said some of the onlookers could even hear the men screaming as their vessels succumbed to the storm.

Widows and Bairns is a strikingly poignant bronze sculpture by Jill Watson honoring the tragedy, which is locally referred to as “Black Friday.” Tiny figures of women and children line a roughly 16-foot-long wall on the Eyemouth promenade. The artwork depicts the exact number of women and children the drowned men left behind. They all stare out toward the harbor in anguish, just as the real families did.

A total of 189 fishermen perished that fateful day. Though most came from Eyemouth, men were also lost from nearby St. Abbs, Cove, and Burnmouth. These small fishing villages have similar commemorative sculptures by the same artist, each depicting the number of women and children left brokenhearted by the disaster.

Know Before You Go

While in Eyemouth check out the local harbor, as there are often a couple of seals basking there.

The local museum, which is a few yards away, contains several artifacts pertaining to the disaster. There is also a memorial in the local graveyard, which is adjacent to the public parking area next to the public toilets. 

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