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Hugh Falkus and the tragic events making "Shark Island" - 01/04/15

This piece has been produced for the Angling Heritage website of the tragic events of 12th May 1951 when Hugh Falkus lost his wife and comrades making a film called Shark Island. There are many more photographs now available which I am sure will be of interest, accompanied by a synopsis of the events of the day (This tale is told in full detail in Chris Newton’s excellent book “Hugh Falkus; A Life on the Edge” published by Medlar Press in 2007.)


It all started when Hugh Falkus heard a programme on the BBC in 1950 by Charles Osborne about marine life. It concerned the fishing for basking shark off the west coast of Ireland.


 The “hot spot” being Achill Island, where the sharks are harvested, or butchered, dependant upon your perspective.  The fish are caught for the oil from their liver, “squalene”, and each fish can produce up to 100 gallons.



Whilst the fish were then caught in nets, the traditional method was for a man to harpoon them from a small boat. Hugh quickly realised that this would be a much more dramatic visualisation of the process and make better footage. (The fuzzy picture below is of Hugh Falkus harpooning a basking shark)




He approached Sam Lee who became Director, with the filming done by Bill Brendan from Bude accompanied by Hugh who starred in the film, his wife of four weeks and Charles Osborne using his boat Pride of Cratlagh to film from.


Hugh chose the right year as over 1630 sharks were taken that year.


The tragic accident started as the boat was out and at around 3pm as the tide turned the wind picked up. Shortly afterwards, as the fisherman were finishing their days work, they heard a faint shout and saw an unclothed man clinging to one of their boats. The rowed out in a small boat and tied a rope around the man taking him to shore by which time he was unconscious; it was Hugh. Help was sent for a doctor but upon his arrival, Hugh was regaining consciousness and told of the boat being damaged and his party needed rescuing. The Price of Cratlagh had gone down on Daisy (Dysahgy in Gealic) rock. (Marked in the white box)



As the locals arrived, the found Diana and Sam Lee, both dead but found no trace of Charles or Bill Brendon was ever found.

They tried to swim to other rocks 250 yards away, but Hugh thought nobody from shore would see them so stripped off and swam over 1.25 miles in water of only 10 degrees, a superhuman effort for which he was long admired by the locals.


As a footnote, the locals do not fish around the rocks which are partially submerged due to the danger, a medium sized wave could easily smash a boat on the rocks, and Hugh said they were caught by an outsize freak wave.


Hugh retuned to finish the film, a copy of which is in the AH archive, but we have not been given permission to put it onto the website for viewing by the general public by Canal, the copyright holders who may reproduce it.