Story of Steamships Exhibition

Story of Steamships Exhibition

Today (August 31st) Morag Jeffrey (nee MacKinnon), a relative of John MacKinnon, the first Captain of Steamship Sir Walter Scott, opened a new exhibition celebrating the history of Loch Katrine Steamships which go back 180 years.

Sir Walter Scott’s 1810 poem The Lady of the Lake, set at Loch Katrine, put the Trossachs on the map. The landscapes described so vividly in that poem and the dramatic paintings of Victorian artists such as John Knox inspired early tourists to visit Loch Katrine to see them for themselves. This resulted in Loch Katrine being credited with being the birthplace of Scottish tourism.

Rowing boats and galleys took visitors out onto the loch until being replaced by the arrival in 1843 of Gipsy, Loch Katrine’s first Steamship which was quickly sunk by oarsmen who saw the first steamship as a threat to their jobs. Two Rob Roy steamers followed in succession, the second of which Queen Victoria sailed on in 1859 to open the new waterworks which supply water for Glasgow and Central Scotland before the Steamship Sir Walter Scott began sailing in 1900.

The new exhibition at the Trossachs Pier under cover walkway is ideally located for passengers to enjoy as they wait to board the newly restored Steamship Sir Walter Scott for one of its three daily cruises. The exhibition was funded with grants from Stirling Council and National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The iconic 123-year-old Steamship resumed sailing earlier this summer following a major £750,000 restoration project which involved replacing cracked boilers, new decking, and other major repairs with funding from a successful public appeal, grants, Steamship Trust reserves and a bank loan.

Morag, who lives in Stirling, provided valuable information for the exhibition, making available a range of family documents about the roles of both Captain John MacKinnon, the skipper of Steamship Sir Walter Scott from its launch in 1900 until he died in 1939, and his son Donald, (Morag’s great uncle), who succeeded him following his death.

As Morag explains, Steamship Sir Walter Scott is a massive part of her family story:

‘Like many of the day, Captain John was fascinated by the 1810 poem Lady of the Lake, set at Loch Katrine, and written by Sir Walter Scott, whom the Steamer is named after. He would read extracts of the poem to passengers and regale them with legends of the loch, such as clan chief turned outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor, who was born nearby. It must have been difficult for son Donald to become captain after his father’s sudden death; however, I am pleased that the MacKinnon involvement continued despite the tragedy.

I am also fascinated by the roles of John and Donald’s daughters, who assumed responsibility during the two World Wars. John’s daughter Rachel steered the boat during the First World War, falling in love with a U.S. serviceman who came for a sail, eventually eloping with him to Missouri in the United States. Donald’s daughter Helen carefully hid the Steamship by one of the islands during World War II, camouflaging her to ensure she wasn’t a target for German bombers. 

I am thrilled to open this exhibition on behalf of the MacKinnon clan. I am sure John and Donald would have been surprised but delighted to know she’d still be sailing 123 years after her launch.’

Gordon Allan, Managing Director of Steamship Sir Walter Scott, who led the restoration works of the Steamship, was delighted a member of the MacKinnon family was here to open the exhibition.

‘Having secured the Steamship’s future with the public appeal’s success and her return to passenger sailings a few months ago, we wanted to showcase the rich history of Loch Katrine steamships in a new exhibition. As we considered the stories to include, it quickly became apparent that the crews and people involved in her were as interesting as the Steamers themselves. The MacKinnon story is a fascinating part of the exhibition.

For the first half of Steamship Sir Walter Scott’s long years of service, a MacKinnon captained her. It was almost a family business with other relatives selling heather sprigs, postcards and lemonade, plus the amazing contribution of the two daughters. We know Morag well through her own company, which supplies items for our gift shop, so the MacKinnon legacy at Loch Katrine has endured as well as the Steamship!’

The stories told in the exhibition are presented through classic pictures, words, video, and audio. Through short audio stories, local historical actor David Kinnaird has brought to life, with amazing dramatisations, some of the key historical moments at Trossachs Pier.

The exhibition also includes a wooden model of the Steamship Sir Walter Scott, with braille interpretation, providing a tactile element for visually impaired visitors. This element of the exhibition is part of a range of positive improvements to the inclusivity of the site, with many disabled guests delighted that the Steamship is back sailing, as she is wheelchair friendly.