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Smuggling and shipwrecks are synonymous with this part of the world. Robert Burns, Scotland's National Bard, spent part of his life as an exciseman and much of what was worth risking life and limb for was, needless to say, alcoholic. As late as 1840, South West Scotland still had four Revenue Cutters, mainly engaged in the prevention of smuggling between Scotland and Ireland. One of these ships was The Harriet, crewed by 14 men and operating out of Portpatrick.
In 1850, the house that would become The Waterfront Hotel, was owned by a Lieutenant Okes, Mail Agent for a North-American shipping company and based at Liverpool. At 1.00am on the 15th June 1850, John Samson Rusden Okes was sitting up reading in bed, when he heard the sound of a steamer coming from the south. He went to his bedroom window and looked out. The window of his bedroom was in the garret (Room 5 or 6) and commanded an expansive view seawards. It was from this window that he witnessed one of the worst disasters in the area. A passenger ship, the 'Orion', was sailing from Liverpool to Glasgow on a calm, dark night.
He could see nothing but could still hear the steamer. In a short time he saw the lights of a steamer coming round to the south of the harbour, heading north. The inner lighthouse (at the site of the present (lighthouse) was lit. The vessel passed the pierhead about two minutes after he first saw her, then the vessel's lights disappeared as she passed the unlit outer lighthouse (later removed and erected at Colombo, Sri Lanka). The steamer then passed the harbour mouth at speed and appeared to be too close. He started to dress. Whilst dressing. he heard a crash. followed immediately by a second crash. He called out 'A steamer ashore!'. and ran out of the house to the quayside to help in the rescue.
Local fishermen were soon at the scene of the wreck and brought survivors to shore. There were survivors who were taken on to Glasgow by passing steamers, but sixty souls were lost. Many of these who drowned are buried in the Old Churchyard to the rear of the hotel.