Jane Whyte – Aberdeenshire’s Own Grace Darling

Discover the tale of the heroic Aberdour woman being commemorated this week


A surviving photograph of Jane Whyte

In 1884, Jane Whyte saved 15 crew members when their steamer was run ashore at Aberdour Bay, Aberdeenshire.

To commemorate her, a memorial event will be hosted by her descendants and the New Aberdour, Pennan and Tyrie Community Council, on New Aberdour beach.

Robbie Kelman, Jane’s great, great grandson, told us: “She was an amazing lady who single-handedly saved 15 sailors’ lives. It’s overdue to celebrate this uniquely brave and forward-thinking woman.”


Disaster Struck


The Dundee vessel, William Hope, left Fraserburgh for Burghead at 6:00am on Tuesday, October 28, 1884. She was light, carrying only ballast and ready to pick up cargo from Burghead.

When the steamer reached Troup Head at 8:00am, according to the captain’s report, the weather shifted and “started blowing a hurricane”. The vessel began to be blown towards the rocks because it was so light.

At 10:00am, after two hours of struggling in the heavy seas, the captain decided to find the safest place to run it into. This was at Aberdour Bay. He hoped the crew’s rescue, and salvage of the ship, might be possible.

The captain of the William Hope headed for Aberdour Bay in an attempt to save the ship


A Heroic Act


Jane Whyte lived near the beach with her nine children, and saw the ship being grounded. She was the only one around and bravely waded into the sea to save the crew. The captain’s report details this was at “great risk to her own life”. She caught a rope thrown to her by the men and wound it round her waist. By planting her feet into the gravel beach, she created a safety rope along which the 15 men belayed along to safety.

If this act wasn’t heroic enough, she then took the men into her home for warmth. The next day, the men then made their way home to Dundee.

Jane Whyte

The RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry

Jane received a RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry, pictured right, along with the Board of Trade’s Bronze Gallantry Medal. Soon after, her story was publicised all over the country, including in the London Evening Standard.

Unfortunately, the William Hope could not be salvaged and was sold as a wreck.


The Sailors’ Friend


A memorial event will be hosted on New Aberdour beach at 3pm on Saturday, August 11. This marks 100 years since Jane Whyte passed away. Members of the RNLI and sea cadets are expected to attend, as well as Jane’s descendants from all over the world, and parishioners of New Aberdour, Pennan and Tyrie.

A permanent storyboard will be unveiled detailing the story of this remarkable woman, next to the ruins of her house, which still sits on the beach. June Macleod, who is a World Champion Piper in Edinburgh City Pipe Band, will also play an accompaniment to the event.

Jane great-great-grandson Robbie has also written a song to commemorate the relative he never got the chance to meet.

“‘Jane Whyte, the Sailor’s Friend’  will be released on iTunes soon,” he said, “with all proceeds doing towards housing an exhibition in Fraserburgh Heritage Museum or Lighthouse Museum.”

You can listen to the single below by Robbie and The Average Whyte band and choir, who will be performing live at the event.