The Great Gale of 1921

This gale was the most destructive gale that ever hit the island.

At daybreak on Wednesday 16 March the wind was blowing gently from the south east. Around 9am the wind veered suddenly into the south and with startling suddenness the storm burst.  By 10am the strength of the wind had reached hurricane force and continued to blow for over three hours.  The havoc wrought on property was unprecedented and there was hardly a building in the island that was not damaged in some way.  In many cases whole buildings collapsed.  Most of the boats in Stornoway harbour were wrecked.  One of these, a large motor fishing boat “Miss Scotts”, belonging to Mr James Crockett, sank in the harbour.  But the greatest tragedy happened in Aignish where four people lost their lives.  The roof of a white house was blown off and the walls collapsed killing outright a young mother with her infant baby in her arms and her father in law.  The husband died from his injuries before the doctor arrived.

Fortunately there was no loss of life in Tolsta but there was extensive damage to property.


We are reprinting notes from the Tolsta correspondent, which give an account of the storm in the village.


Tolsta News 24 March 1921

Tornado in Lewis – Widespread Destruction of Property

A hurricane of alarming violence spread over this district on the forenoon of Wednesday 16 March.  A large number of outhouses were demolished and about a dozen of the thatched dwellings were unroofed.  Two of the houses recently built and roofed with felt were also destroyed and the occupants lost all their belongings.  The dressers with the dishes were tossed about and the bedclothes were carried off.  The two who suffered most in this respect were, widow Mary Campbell, 30 North Tolsta and Mr Donald Macmillan, Glen Tolsta.  Widow Jessie Campbell, 47 North Tolsta had a very trying experience.  Her eldest son was lying in bed seriously ill and when the house was unroofed the very bedclothes were carried away.  She, with some help, managed to get her son removed to the barn, until he could be brought to the nearest house.

The Free Presbyterian Church was razed to the ground and the corrugated sheets , as they were wrenched from the debris, caused much damage by striking against other houses and corn stacks.

A chimney stalk in the house of Mr John Murray, 30 North Tolsta, was brought down by a large piece of the roofing of the church, but no one was hurt although the stones crashed through the thatched roof.  It is said that pieces of the roofing of the church were flying through the air two hundred feet high, indeed some of them were carried half a mile.  The walls of the Free Church cracked in several places.  The school buildings were badly damaged.  The roof of the old Post Office was also carried away.  Four of the six windows in the west side of the teachers’ hostel were broken.  It is estimated that the damage done to property and corn in the district amounts to £5,000.

A hurricane of such velocity, it seems, had never been experienced in this district before and 16 March  is a day to be remembered!  Peats were flying through the air and stones weighing several pounds were tossed about.  A large number of carts were smashed and many corn stacks were carried into the sea.  There are not a dozen families in Tolsta that will not have to spend money to replace the damage caused by the storm.  There were several people slightly hurt, but there were no cases of serious injury.  Had the storm occurred during the night there would have been more serious loss.  Many people will never forget their experience that day.  People living in the vicinity of the F.P. Church must have had a very anxious time, when with such force pieces of the wreckage were striking against their houses.  It is now past and we hope we will never have a similar experience again.


31 March 1921

After the Storm

During the past week local people have been busy repairing their houses.  There are however many householders, several of whom are widows, whose houses have been so very badly damaged, that they have not the means to get them repaired.  Last Sabbath the Free Presbyterians, whose Church was destroyed by the recent storm, worshipped in the local school.  The walls of the Free Church have cracked in several places and the congregation has been advised to buttress them on both sides of the building.


11 August 1921


As will be remembered, the Free Presbyterian’s of North Tolsta had their church razed to the ground by the tornado of last March.  The congregation at once began to quarry stones and to get them gathered to the site of the former building, with the result that the mason work of the new Church is now completed.  So well is the mason work getting on that the people hope to be in this new Church by the first Sabbath of October – the date of their half-yearly Communion.  It is noteworthy that all the labour so far has been voluntary.  Most of the men have given from two to three weeks of free labour, besides what they have given of money.


(The Church was officially opened on Thursday 29 September 1921.)



Lord Leverhulme sent a telegram to the chairman of the Lewis District Committee, “Distressed to hear of terrific gale and damage done especially loss of life.  Sincerest sympathy.  Can I be of any service.  Leverhulme.”