An Arbroath lighthouse keeper whose death is surrounded in mystery is set to be portrayed by Hollywood A-lister Gerard Butler in a new film.
Butler will play James Ducat, who was one of three men to vanish without a trace from the island of Eilean Mor in the Outer Hebrides in 1900.
Ducat, a 43-year-old with more than 20 years’ experience in lighthouse keeping, had arrived on the deserted island to man the lighthouse with two other men, Thomas Marshall and Donald McArthur.
Just a few weeks into their stint, on December 15, a passing steamer on passage from Philadelphia to Leith noticed that the light was not working, which it reported three days later when it docked in Oban.
A relief vessel, the Hesperus, carrying supplies and a relief lighthouse keeper Joseph Moore, had been due to arrive on Eilean Mor on December 20 but had been delayed until Boxing Day due to rough seas and dangerous weather.
Mr Moore rowed to shore and found the lighthouse which was in complete darkness.
Inside the beds were unmade and the clock had stopped. A chair had been overturned and a pair of oilskins was still on its hook, indicating that one of the three men had gone outside without dressing for the wild winter weather.
There was no sign of Ducat or the other men.
In the days after the discovery of the abandoned lighthouse, the crew of the Hesperus made thorough searches of the island, hoping to find a clue.
At one of the harbours they discovered considerable damage, with part of an iron rail wrenched out of the concrete and a rock estimated to weigh a ton dislodged.
Turf on top of a 200ft cliff had been ripped away from the edge but there were no sign of any of the men.
The lighthouse log was kept up to date until December 15. The final entry read: ‘Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.’
However in the days running up to the men’s disappearance some strange entries had been made. One said ‘James Ducat irritable’ another said ‘Donald McArthur crying’.
At the time an investigation concluded that they had probably be swept away; however an investigation in 2014 by historian Keith McCloskey speculated that their deaths may have been the result of a physical confrontation between the principal lighthouse keeper Ducat and McArthur a part-timer who would have been treated as a dogsbody.
He suggested that Thomas Marshall attempted to come between them and caused all three to lose their footing on the cliff.
Filming is expected to start early this year for Keepers, based on the mystery. It will also star Scots actor Peter Mullan and will be directed by Kristoffer Nyholm, a director of Danish television drama The Killing.
The plot of Keepers suggests that the men stumble upon something that isn’t theirs to keep. A battle for survival ensues as personal greed replaces loyalty and three honest men are led down a path to destruction.
Director Nyholm calls the film “a journey from innocence to animalistic survival”.
The mystery of Eilean Mor has previously inspired an episode of Doctor Who entitled Horror of Fang Rock, which explained the mystery with an alien abduction.
“An unprecedented calamity”
The Courier reported the Eilean Mor lighthouse mystery in its paper on December 28 1900, describing it as an “unprecedented calamity” in the history of the Northern Lighthouse Commission.
The article speculated that the incident happened during the day and that it is possible the men had been blown off the cliffs.
The report said: “As the regulations enforce that one man must remain in the lighthouse at night, this would seem to point to the disaster having taken place during the day.
“The unfortunate fellows must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure the crane on the island.
“It is also possible that they might have gone to the relief of some fishing boat in distress.”
It added that the view that the men had met their fate by trying to secure a crane was also the thoughts of the Northern Lighthouse Board commissioner.
That night’s Evening Telegraph revealed that one of the men was from Arbroath, stating he had been a ‘pupil-teacher’ at Chapelton School in Inverkeilor before working as a clerk at coal merchants Messrs Thomas Muir, Son & Patton in Arbroath.
He was then a clerk for Mr Lackie, ironmonger, in Montrose before working for 20 years as a lighthouse keeper.
He had worked in the role at St Abb’s Head, Girdleness, Scurdyness, Loch Ryan and the Isle of Man.
It noted that Mr Ducat had a wife and four children as well as a father who still lived in Arbroath.
The family later received the proceeds of certain life insurance policies and Mr Ducat’s wife also received a small pension.