The mystery of the wreck of the Herald

Went out to the Point of Ness in Tankerness today in search of flint - there's not a great deal of flint in Orkney, apart from some dragged in by the glaciers, but a ship called the Herald wrecked at the Point of Ness in the 19th century and her ballast was flint, so the beach is still littered with nodules. Easy to find, and soon had carried three rucksacks worth back to the Landy, although not without some sweating - another beautiful hot day in tropical Orkney and I'd forgotten how heavy flint is, but worth it - what a haul!

Flint from the wreck of the Herald at the Point of Ness
Flint from the wreck of the Herald at the Point of Ness

In case you're wondering what the flint was for, we're going to be doing some displays at the dig at the Knowe of Swandro and I wanted some suitably Neolithic raw material.

I then sat down and idly Googled the wreck of the Herald and eventually came up with an online dictionary of shipwrecks in Scotland, which had the following entry: ''The 385 ton American frigate Herald was carrying immigrants from Holland to America when she was driven ashore at Ness, Tankerness, Orkney, on 24 May 1847''.

I don't know much about naval history but I did wonder why a frigate was carrying presumably fare-paying passengers, and did a bit more judicious googling for the USS Herald but couldn't find her. I did eventually find the official US Navy online dictionary of Naval fighting ships (DANFS) which lists a 279 ton ship called the Herald of 18 guns, sold out of the navy in 1801:

The first Herald was built at Newburyport, Mass., and purchased at Boston from Edward Davis 15 June 1798. Wearing a splendid figurehead of a man, she sailed from Boston 22 August 1798. She cruised in the West Indies from 1799 to 1800, protecting American commerce; and, after the treaty of peace with France had been ratified 18 February 1801, returned to the West Indies 23 March 1801 to recall the U.S. naval force. Herald was sold at Boston in 1801.

There are no details of the new owners, but if this is our Herald then it's clear she wasn't a frigate in 1847 when she ran aground at Ness, and also that she must have been refloated as she's not eventually scrapped until later - the DANFS records her ignominious end in 1861:

''Herald, a ship-rigged sailing ship, was one of a group of 16 old whaling vessels purchased at New Bedford 27 September 1861. This "Stone Fleet" was towed to Charleston and sunk inside the main bar to obstruct the channel in December 1861''.

It looks like the ballast that litters the beach at Ness was thrown overboard to lighten the ship, rather than having been ripped out of the hull of the wreck, hence 'driven ashore' rather than wrecked - and it also explains the mystery of fare-paying passengers on a US 'frigate'!