Tobermory Galleon


Artist impression showing the general appearance of the San Juan de Sicilia

Following their defeat at the hands of the English Navy in the summer of 1588, the surviving ships of the Spanish Armada were forced to make their way home around the north and west coasts of Scotland. Several ships were lost along the dangerous coastline in stormy weather. One ship, the San Juan de Sicilia, mysteriously blew up in Tobermory Bay on the Isle of Mull.

It is said that, in October 1588, the critically-damaged San Juan de Sicilia anchored in Tobermory Bay to take on supplies and make repairs. There are several theories as to what happened next, one of which is as follows:

After sailing into Tobermory the captain demanded food and aid from the local islanders. The chieftain of Clan MacLean said that if the Spanish captain gave him 100 men-at-arms he could have all the food he liked, provided he paid for it.

The Spaniard agreed and MacLean and his newly-acquired mercenaries set out to attack MacLean’s enemies, the MacDonalds. When MacLean returned the Spanish captain announced that he was ready to sail. The Spaniard said that he would only pay once his men were returned. MacLean handed over the men at arms but kept three officers as hostages. MacLean then sent his young kinsman Donald MacLean over to the galleon to collect the gold.


Merlindown deepscan image showing the remains of the shipwreck as she is today

Once on board the young Donald was taken prisoner. Even though there were still officers being held by MacLean, the Spanish began to set sail. A short while later there was a huge explosion and the galleon sank to the bottom of the bay. Donald MacLean, realising he had no escape, and not wanting to let the greedy Spanish leave, had touched off the powder kegs in the magazine. The survivors and the three Spanish hostages were locked up in the dungeons of Duart Castle.

The whole of the lower deck and keel of the Tobermory wreck currently rests on the sea bed on the coast of Tobermory awaiting its first visit for over four centuries . . .