DESCENDANTS of a ship stowaway who miraculously survived starvation, beatings and sub-zero temperatures are marking the anniversary of his remarkable story.

John Paul was one of seven young boys who had ambitions to become sailors and hid on The Arran when it left Victoria Harbour for Quebec in 1868.

But he and the other youngsters - Hugh M'Ewan, 11, Hugh M'Ginnes, 12, Peter Currie, 12, James Bryson and David Brand, who were both 16, and Bernard Reilly, thought to be 22 - were thrown off the vessel on the ice fields of Newfoundland.

Tragically, M'Ewan and M'Ginnes didn't survive the scramble to safety and perished.

John Paul, who was only 11 at the time, was rescued and returned to Greenock, where he later married and went on to have a large family.

Morag Connelly, 61, from Gourock, is his great-great granddaughter.

She is appealing for members of the family to meet at Victoria Harbour at 1pm tomorrow to celebrate John Paul's life and also remember the other boys who didn't return.

Morag said: "If he hadn't survived, none of us would be here.

"He came back to Greenock, got married and had 12 children."

John became a foreman riveter and it's believed he later moved to Southampton for work.

The ship's captain Robert Watt and first mate James Kerr were originally charged with murder but Watt only served 18 months for culpable homicide and Kerr four months for assault.

Morag, a retired primary teacher, has researched what happened, looking at old newspaper cuttings and books.

She said: "It is absolutely tragic that they only served these sentences and two boys perished.

"The articles described what they were wearing and John Paul had bare feet and a wee blue coat on.

"The fact I knew his daughter and used to visit her, makes it more real to me even though it happened 150 years ago.

"She talked about her father walking on the ice.

"The whole family have been brought up on the story."

Morag recently invited family members to gather at the heritage hub in Cathcart Street, where an exhibition is being held about the tragedy, and she was thrilled when relatives she had never met turned up.

Brothers Robert and Jim Paul - who are great-grandsons of John Paul - heard about the get-together and were keen to find out more.

Robert, 67, who now lives in Greenock after spending 20 years in England, said: "It's great to know the history of it all."

Jim, 70, of Port Glasgow, added: "I had the original book about it, it was passed down through the family."

A new graphic novel published last year - based on John Donald's 1928 book The Boys on the Ice - highlighted the shameful episode and caught the imagination of the local public, including several young family members who attend St Ninian's Primary in Gourock.

Morag's granddaughter Chloe Louise Wilkin, seven, is one of five pupils of the school related to John Paul.

Paul Bristow, of heritage group Magic Torch, who was involved in producing the graphic novel, says that highlighting the sad story has resulted in something good.

He said: "One of the boys was buried in an unmarked grave and now there are moves to erect a proper grave stone, which is nice.

"It is tragic what happened to them but these families not only remember but honour these boys."

Aside from John Paul, it is understood Bernard Reilly settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia, James Bryson lived in America and became a street car conductor and David Brand made a life for himself in Townsville, North Queensland and founded his own engineering firm.

Morag says a memorial will dedicated in Newfoundland in May at the spot where the boys were found by a woman named Mrs McInnes.

She said: "Her great-great-grandson will unveil the memorial."