Alastair Charles Nicol Farquhar
Died 16th June 1916
Lieut. A.C.N. Farquhar – Royal Navy
Several members of the Farquhar family of Drumnagesk are commemorated at Christ Church in plaques on the north wall and in the burial ground. A brass plaque in the chancel commemorates Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar KCB (b.1815 d.1908), recording that the church bell was given by his children. The Admiral had thirteen children. One of those was Albert Farquhar. Albert married Alice Jane Nicol, daughter of the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, at St Andrews Episcopal Cathedral in Aberdeen in 1887, and went out to Iowa to be a ranchman, which is where their son, Alastair Charles Nicol Farquhar, was born on 4 March 1888. In the summer of 1900, Albert travelled to Kalgoorlie along with Alice to take up an appointment as assistant general manager of the Lake View and Ivanhoe Mines. A new residence was built specially, but in November of the same year Alice died, and later that month Albert sailed for London. The following year, the Census found young Alastair at school at Segensworth in Hampshire.
It is an understatement to say that there was a strong naval tradition in the family, and it seems highly likely that the future Lieutenant’s choice of service was influenced by the glittering careers of his great-grandfather, Sir Arthur Farquhar (Knight Commander of the Hanoverian Guelphic Order and Knight Commander of the Sword of Sweden b.1772 d. Carlogie 1843) who joined the Navy in 1787 and ended his career as Rear Admiral of the White, and his illustrious grandfather, Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar of Drumnagesk, not to mention uncles who were also officers in the Royal Navy. He joined the navy in 1904 as a cadet at the age of 16, shortly after became a Midshipman, and rose to the rank of Sub-Lieutenant in 1907 and Lieutenant in 1910.
At 00.45hrs on the morning of 17 June 1916, at the age of 28, Farquhar was the Commander of the destroyer HMS Eden as it escorted a troopship, SS France from Southampton to Le Havre. The France had been launched in 1910 as an opulent trans-Atlantic liner (but with a notorious rolling tendency) pre-war. The vessels collided, about 15 miles from Le Havre, in poor visibility (neither showing any lights) and in heavy seas. Eden found herself across France’s bows and France cut her in two, so that she sank with her three senior officers and 39 of her crew, though 31 crew members were saved. France was holed on the port side forward and her steering gear disabled.
An inquiry taking the form of a court martial of the surviving officers and crew took place at Portsmouth the following month, presided over by the Deputy Judge-Advocate of the Fleet, and its papers now lie in two neatly bound bundles in the National Archives at Kew. The terrible events of the night were vividly recorded in a statement by the only surviving officer, Artificer Engineer Herbert G. Ram, of which the following is a slightly edited version:
HMS Eden left Portsmouth Harbour about 7pm on the 16th June 16 and proceeded off Bembridge to await Transport due about 7.45pm. About 8.00pm HMS Eden took up position about 1 mile ahead of Transport France & proceeded to sea, the average speed being about 19 knots. I left the deck about 9.30pm. About 12.45am the following morning speed was reduced & I proceeded to the Engine Room hatch in readiness for any further evolutions. I also observed the Transport approaching us amidships starboard side about 50 yards distant & no lights showing. The Engine Room Telegraphs at the same moment being put “Full Speed Astern” port and starboard…. Within 30 seconds of the order by telegraph for “Full speed Astern” the collision occurred. Both port and starboard main steam pipes were severed, all steam pressure had gone and all electric lights put out, leaving the secondary lamps alight in the engine room only. I went on deck to ascertain further the extent of the damage & if possible to localise & use any steam pressure for emergency purposes, finding the breach some 12 feet forward and aft and extending inboard beyond the centre line of ship, also the forward and aft parts of the ship working and straining in opposite ways & sinking in the vicinity of the breach ….When I went on deck to ascertain the damage I saw the Transport backing out of the breach & gradually let us drift away. Being on the aft part of the ship I assisted to get the Carley Floats overboard. The Gunner Mr O’Brien was attending to lowering the Whaler & Dinghy which was manned; also everybody I could see had “life-belts”. After the Whaler & Dinghy & Floats had left the ship Mr O’Brien & myself with 15 Petty Officers and men were left on the aft part being some 10 to 15 Minutes after the collision. We stood by to await any assistance which may be sent us. About 20 Minutes from the time of the collision the fore part of the ship heeled to port and broke away then up-ended & stood bows uppermost quite 40 feet high out of the sea for about ¾ of an hour. By this time the Transport was quite 1 ½ miles away. We waved an electric torch and hoped by this means to attract attention to our position but no assistance came from the Transport. Between 2 & 2.30am three ships passed about 1 mile away. We hailed & used our torch but no assistance was given us. About 3.15am HMS Teviot came in sight & we asked if she could tow us stern first into harbour. After difficult effort a line was secured but just as that had been done the after part settled down. The Teviot had lowered her Whaler & taken 5 men I believe when the remainder of us had to jump. Owing to the very heavy sea running we were scattered which made rescue very difficult. The Teviot by means of buoys & lines did the very best they could under difficulties……
The court found in light of all the available information that, twelve minutes before the collision, SS France signalled she was easing down with her steering gear out of order, in response to which Eden reduced her speed but France did not. About 8 minutes before the collision, both vessels altered course to starboard to avoid colliding with a steamer, but the troopship altered course to a lesser extent than her escort and resumed her course sooner. It concluded that the primary cause of the collision was that SS France was doing 16 and a half knots when HMS Eden was doing only 10. There was no doubt that the troopship transmitted a signal that she was reducing her speed, but the Master of the France denied giving any order for the signal to be made, and the court found there was no evidence that such an order had been given. No blame was found attributable to any of the surviving officers or crew.
The Master of the SS France said he tried to rescue people from the bow as he could see the aft section remained afloat. He lowered one of his lifeboats, but only one as France was rolling heavily and he was afraid of losing all the troops that were on deck, as with the boat lowered there was nothing to stop them sliding overboard. He was carrying 838 troops and 17 officers and there was insufficient room for the men on decks to be accommodated below. Also, given the weather, there was a risk of the boats being smashed against the ship’s side. They had lights out in accordance with sailing orders. He told the destroyer Teviot escorting the Bellerophon to go to the aft part and render assistance.
Lieut. Farquhar was never found and the official papers record him as “Drowned 16th June 1916”. This loss must have been all the more distressing to Albert following news the previous month that his brother Capt. Hobart Brooks Farquhar was missing in action (see Newsletter December 2014). The disaster in the Channel made international news, but as usual the Aberdeen Journal helpfully supplied the local angle in a report on 19 June 1916 – “Lieut. Alistair (sic) C. N. Farquhar, the Commander of the Eden who is missing, is 28 years of age, a son of Mr Albert Farquhar and a grandson of the late Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar K.C.B. of Drumnagesk, Aboyne. His mother who died in 1900 was the second daughter of the Late Lord Provost Alexander Nicol, Aberdeen. The family of Farquhar is very well known in the Navy, having given no fewer than three Admirals to the British Fleet. Admiral Sir Arthur Murray Farquhar, who received his knighthood in November of last year, and whose residence is at Granville Lodge, Aboyne, retired only the other day with two others in order to make room for the promotion of younger men. He is a son of the late Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar K.C.B. who was a son of Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar K.C.B. of Garlogie (sic). The family has also provided another officer of high naval rank in Rear-Admiral R.B.Farquhar, brother of the present Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar”.
Alastair Farquhar is commemorated both by a brass plaque on the north wall of the church and in the Christ Church burial ground, and he is also listed on the war memorials at Banchory and Aboyne. Following the death of the old Admiral at the age of about 93 in 1908, Drumnagesk was sold and came into the ownership of Herbert Lawford, Wimbledon Champion of 1887, who retired there.
In 1917 some excitement among lawyers ensued when the Admiralty, having been rebuffed in a claim for compensation directed against the owners of the SS France, raised proceedings, but as the owners were the French State Railways (effectively the French government), from whom the Admiralty had chartered the vessel, appointing their own English Master, it was thought best as a matter of policy not to proceed with this. The wreck of the Eden now lies off Fe’Camp on the eastern end of the Seine Bay at a depth of 34 metres. It was one of a class of torpedo boat destroyer of which 34 in total were built in the early years of the 20th century and was launched in 1903. SS France continued her war service as a hospital ship in the Dardanelles and after the war returned to her former trans-Atlantic activities which continued into the 1930s