The White Wife of Otterswick

by Elizabeth Atia -

On April 23rd 1924 a German iron barque (a three masted ship with an iron hull) named Bohus set sail from Gothenburg, Germany to Taltal, Chile. The Bohus was a sail training vessel and there were 39 crew on board, mostly young cadets (and one stowaway).

Three days later Captain Hugo Ferdinand Blume made a navigational error which set her 60 miles off course.

Captain Blume mistook the Out Skerries lighthouse for that of the Fair Isle lighthouse, and as our tempermental weather had it - a fierce storm developed in the Ness of Queyon off Otterswick, Yell on 26th April 1924. The Bohus was dashed broadside on a rocky spur called The Point of the Hatt and was grounded. Within half an hour, most of the ship had broken up.

Local Yell men quickly came to the aid of the crew still on board who hadn't swum to shore, with Willie Thomson of Wirliegarth demonstrating his expertise at throwing a line. He threw a line from the slippery rocks on shore into the gale to the Bohus and all but four of the crew managed to make it ashore safely. Cadet Tom Eberth was credited with saving four of his shipmates from the sea before being swept away himself.

The dead were buried in the Mid Yell Cemetery and a black marble slab has been set there to commemorate them.

In September of 1924 the figurehead of the Bohus washed ashore and she was erected on shore overlooking the area the Bohus was lost as a memorial to those lost at sea. Over the years locals painted the figurehead white and she became known as The White Wife, or the Wooden Wife, and in 1986 the Shetland Amenity Trust refurbished the figurehead, officially unveiling her on the 22nd of April 1989.

The White Wife can be seen if you follow the signposts in Yell to Otterswick. It's only a short walk from the road to the shore.

To find out more about the White Wife there is a fairly detailed article on the Northlink Ferries website which includes more history on the ship itself. Artefacts from the ship can be found in The Old Haa museum in Burravoe, Yell as well as the Shetland Museum in Lerwick.