Tragedy at Fearn Abbey


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A harrowing article from the Ipswich Journal reporting on the collapse of the roof of Fearn Abbey during a service.

27 November 1742

Scotland

Edinburgh, Nov 16. By a letter from the North, we have the following Particulars about the falling down of the Kirk of Fearn, viz.

That the North wall clove asunder for five-foot deep almost all the length of it; on hearing the noise, the people looking up, the inside of the wall being entire they saw almost the whole roof coming down on their heads, which happened so quickly that no cry was heard till the noise of the fall was over, and then indeed pitiful were the cries, shrieks and groans, of those that were under the rubbish.

People flocked from all corners to their relief and saved as many as possibly they could. As the sarking came down almost entire, they had great difficulty in getting the people out. After they had done all they could some groans were still heard, but they could not find out the person till Monday Morning, they discovered it to be a poor woman, then dead; thirty-five killed on the spot, three died of their wounds. The few houses near the church fill of dead bodies in one end and bruised people in the other, lamenting their being alive, being in so great a misery; a melancholy Spectacle! Notwithstanding most of these that were bruised are now in a fair way of recovery; such as the Laird of Auchinloch, the Minister, Mr Fraser, &c. What saved many was their falling under the tables of their seats, where they remained till dug out; thou where the roof stones fell it crushed all to pieces.

There happened to be a Sermon at Balmuckie, an Episcopal Meeting House, where Mr Stewart preached to a numerous audience, else many more had probably been at Fearn, and lost their lives. It is likewise remarkable that this misfortune happened while the Minister was preaching the English Tongue, and all the Highlanders, as the Custom is, had gone out. The Laird of Cadboll came from the Meeting-house, with numerous Assistance, and was of great service, sparing neither Pains nor Costs for the relief all night, several families were entirely ruined, both husband and wife being killed… Those that were without the church say that when it fell, it was surrounded with a great Flash of Lightening.