British history books are filled with accounts of wars and great commanders. The names of generals such as Marlborough, Wellington, Montgomery, Slim, Havelock, Clive and Wolfe spring from the pages, faces that peer from the powder-smoke and reap the rewards of bravery and skill.  However, until relatively recently, the ordinary soldier was not considered. He filled the ranks, obeyed orders, endured incredible suffering and was then discarded to die in poverty.

In the days of the scarlet-coated solder, a few, a tiny percentage of the whole, might have been unbelievably fortunate and survived years in the ranks to come home with sufficient money to live a comfortable old age.  The vast majority did not.  Disease killed many more than shot and shell. Bad diet, harsh discipline and extremes of weather wore out men so the Army was constantly searching for recruits to take the King or Queen’s fatal shilling. Few of these men told their story. Their lives were often tragic, brutal and short.

However, there is always an exception to the rule.  Sergeant Donald McLeod began his career in the Royal Scots, the First of Foot, Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard and the oldest line regiment in the British Army. He must have been effective for at the age of 17 McLeod was promoted to sergeant. He was never to rise higher. McLeod was no parade-ground soldier, for he fought at Marlborough’s battles of the Schellenberg  in 1704, Blenheim in 1704 and Ramilles in 1706.

With the outbreak of peace between the King of Scotland and England and King Louis XIV of France, McLeod improved his fencing, becoming the champion swordsman of the Royal Scots.  He had various contests with famous opponents, defeating a French officer, a French sergeant, a German officer  and a famous Irish giant named MacLean. This last bout took place in Dublin and was preceded by a handshake when the giant squeezed McLeod’s hand so hard he could barely use it. Naturally angered, MacLeod entered the fray with his temper high and lopped off the Irishman’s arm.

According to legend, McLeod fought at the Battle of Sheriffmuir, during the Jacobite Rising of 1715, but as the Royal Scots were in Ireland at the time, he either transferred to the Royal Scots Fusiliers or was not present. Legend says he killed two Frenchmen at the battle, and was wounded himself.  McLeod was also said to have cut the sporran-strap from Captain MacDonald of Knoydart, a prominent Jacobite.

In 1730, with the rank of drill sergeant, he transferred to what was then known as the Independent Companies.  These formations had originally been raised in 1667 from Highlanders to keep down cattle raiding in the Highlands. They were disbanded in 1717 but raised again. Unlike other British regiments, known to the Gaels as Saghdearan Dearg, ‘red soldiers’, the Independent Companies sported a dark-coloured tartan which earned them the name of am Freiceadan Dubh, or Black Watch.  Altering from a quasi-military police force to a regiment of the line, the Black Watch, then the 43rd Regiment of Foot, fought at Fontenoy in 1745, where McLeod was wounded.  For some reason McLeod later transferred to Fraser’s Highlanders, where he fought at the siege of Louisbourg in 1758 and the Plains of Abraham the following year. According to a history of the old 78th, Fraser’s Highlanders,  Sergeant Donald McLeod (spelled Macleod in the history book) was heavily involved at Louisbourg, helped capture the Lighthouse Battery and was prominent in repelling a French sortie led by an Irishman, Colonel O’Donnel.  Once again McLeod was wounded, this time by a musket ball on his nose.

If legend is to be believed, when Wolfe was mortally wounded at the Plains of Abraham,  McLeod’s plaid was used to carry away the general. The sergeant helped guard Wolfe’s body back to Great Britain, where McLeod, now over seventy, became a Chelsea Pensioner.  However, retirement did not suit him and he re-enlisted in Campbell’s Highlanders and fought in Germany where he was again wounded. He was nearly ninety when he eventually hung up his sword, and lived to be a hundred and three.

If even half the legends are correct, Sergeant McLeod had an impressive life. Most ranking soldiers would not see as much action, or live so long, but when service was for life, there are tens of thousands of stories that will never be known.  In my Windrush series, I have tried to include the lives of private soldiers as well as the officers. Without them, there would have been no Army.


Malcolm Archibald

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The British Empire threw up an amazing array of colourful characters and none more so than David Ochterlony. With such a name it is obvious that he has a Scottish background. His father came from Forfarshire, now Angus, north of Dundee, while his mother was a native of Boston in Massachusetts, where our David was born.

In 1777, when the American War of Independence was sputtering across the New World, Ochterlony sailed to India and joined the Honourable East India Company as a cadet. The following year, aged 19, he became an ensign (equivalent to a second-lieutenant) and then a lieutenant in the Bengal Native Infantry, one of three private armies that the East India Company ran. Ochterlony fought in the Second Mysore War, where he was wounded and captured. Surviving that ordeal, he was released on the outbreak of peace and slowly climbed the ranks. That in itself was no mean feat, given the horrendous death rate by disease among British soldiers in India.

As a Lieutenant-general, he took part in his second major war in 1803 when he was with Lord Lake in his campaign against the Marathas. Ochterlony was no armchair soldier, fighting at the battles of Koil, Aligarh and Delhi. As Resident at Delhi, he held the city against the very able Yashwantrao Holkar, a feat that saw him later sent to the border with the Sikhs, one of the major powers in India.

Ochterlony was promoted to Major-general in 1814; the same year war broke out between the East India Company and the expanding power of Nepal. After successfully commanding a column, Ochterlony took over the Company’s army in this war and defeated the Nepalese – the always-formidable Gurkhas.

All fine and dandy and good for him. There is no doubt that Ochterlony was an able officer, but the British Army in India had many able officers. If they had not, there would have been no Empire. So what made Ochterlony different to any of hundreds of other British commanders?

Perhaps it was his eager acceptance of local culture. Such a thing had been commonplace in the 18th century, but as the 19th century wore on, the old happy-go-lucky attitude of the British was fading and they became more rigid. Perhaps it was the influence of more British women that altered things, but barriers appeared between British and Indian, particularly in regard to sexual relationships between the two peoples.

Ochterlony was said to have thirteen Indian wives, or at least thirteen Indian women who lived with him. He was the British Resident at Delhi, where the old Mughal Empire had its capital, and in the evening, Ochterlony took all his wives around the walls of the Red Fort, each woman riding her elephant.

I used parts of Ochterlony’s life for my character, General Jack Baird, in Jayanti’s Pawns, one of my Windrush series. I did not use the full man, for truth would be too strange to alter into fiction.


Ochterlony’s wives could be women of strong personality, rather than the milk-and-water variety that some writers claim women of that period should be. For example, there was Mubarak Begum, who had been a dancing girl before she married Ochterlony. She converted from Hinduism to Islam, made the hajj to Mecca and dominated Ochterlony’s household and, possibly, also dominated Ochterlony. Known as Generalee Begum, she nearly converted Ochterlony to Islam, called herself lady Ochterlony, but offended both the British and the Indians, so became very unpopular.

Ochterlony is barely remembered now, but perhaps he should be. He was a soldier who fought very able enemies and a man who embraced a different culture. Perhaps above all, Ochterlony should be remembered for winning the respect of the Gurkhas, who have fought on the British side for more than two centuries.  Well done, that man from Boston.



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This crazy ideas about nationality

People fight wars over national boundaries. One set of people kill and maim another set of people because of some silly line drawn on a map by some politician or king or other jumped up self-important yahoo. How crazy is that?

I once knew a man from Coldstream in the Scottish Borders. He was born in England so was technically and legally English. Two of his sisters were also English born while the other two were Scottish-born. Same blood, same house, same parents yet two different nationalities. Does that make any sense at all? I don’t think so.

It is worse abroad, where nations have re-drawn their boundaries over centuries, thus creating all sorts of problems. Poland is one example of a state with fluid borders. Parts were once Germany, other parts were once Russia. Or even Alsace and Lorraine in France, which were also once part of Germany. Are the inhabitants meant to alter their allegiance at the stroke of a politician’s pen?

Following that there are the states created after the 1914-1918 War. Kuwait, for instance, or Syria, Transjordan and Iraq. Old places reborn with strange boundaries and sometimes even stranger leaders. No wonder there are wars when the indigenous inhabitants were less considered than the geopolitics and the spoils that the winners of that monstrous war demanded. Wouldn’t the world be better without artificial boundaries? I have no idea what sort of government there would be, but a world with one reason less to create the sheer obscenity of war must be better than the present set-up, where ranting idiots set themselves up as important and then prove their stupidity by starting a war where tens of thousands of people could be killed.

Wars are the results of politicians’ failures. Given the number of wars throughout history, politicians are pretty poor at their job and always have been. Time for a new system, perhaps?

Malcolm Archibald




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December in Scottish History


01 December

1768: The first volume of Encyclopedia Britannica was published in Edinburgh, edited by William Smellie.

1787: The lighthouse at Kinnaird Head, Fraserburgh began operations.  It was built by Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson.

02 December

1848: Mary Slessor born in Aberdeen.  After a youth spent as a mill girl in Dundee, Slessor became a missionary in West Africa.  She was the first white woman to enter many African villages, and became very popular with the villagers, who called her ‘Ma.’ She passed on her high moral and hygienic standards to her converts, married a local man and brought up her children. A woman of great courage, she once defended intended human sacrifices by standing over them for days. Slessor was known as the ‘White Queen of Okoyong’. She died in 1915, much mourned.

03 December

1894: Robert Louis Stevenson died of cerebral haemorrhage at Vailima, Samoa.  One of Scotland’s best writers, his works included Treasure Island and Kidnapped. However his best work may have been Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that may have been based on the life of Deacon Brodie, while his unfinished Weir of Hermiston may have surpassed all his other writings.


04 December

 1799: This was the third consecutive day of storms along the East coast  that led to seventy shipwrecks. Many of the vessels ran aground as they attempted to avoid the dangerous Bell or Inchcape Rock about 12 miles off Arbroath, so the authorities decided to build a lighthouse there. The Bell Rock lighthouse, one of the engineering marvels of the age, has since saved hundreds of lives.

1214: King William the Lion died at Stirling and was succeeded by his son Alexander II

1795: Essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle, best known for his “French Revolution” born in Ecclefechan.

05 December

1973: Sir Robert Watson Watt, inventor of Radar, died.

06 December

1757: Sir David Baird was born in Edinburgh. He was to become one of the most notable soldiers of the late eighteenth century, enduring imprisonment in Serangipatam, a city that he was to capture for Britain in 1799.

1593: Battle of Dryfe Sands, one of the most bloody clan battles fought, when 400 Johnstones defeated 2000 Maxwells.

 1214: King Alexander II crowned at Scone


07 December:

1892: James George Scott began an exploration of the Wild Wa country on the Burmese-China border. Fife born, Scott sailed East in 1875. As acting headmaster of St John’s College, Rangoon, he is said to have introduced football to Burma.  He explored the Kachin and Shan areas, and reported on French expansion in Tonkin, travelled through Vietnam and worked with the Burma Commission. He helped map the eastern Burma border, explored the Wa region that was populated by head-hunters and attempted to halt French influence in South East Asia.

1570: The citizens of Edinburgh stopped a clan fight between Pringles and Elliots in the High Street

1775: John Paul Jones, Scottish born, was commissioned a senior lieutenant in the United States Navy

1899: Lighthouse on the Flannan Islands completed. From this day at the ‘going away of daylight in the evening till the return of daylight in the morning’ a light would warn mariners away from the Flannan Islands.

08 December

1959: a storm broke the cables holding the North Carr Lightship off Fife Ness. There were seven men on board. Gales and the state of the tide prevented the Arbroath and Anstruther lifeboats from being launched, but Mona, the Broughty Ferry lifeboat sailed, clearing the bar about quarter to five in the morning. She was never seen afloat again, and was washed ashore on Buddon Sands with five bodies on board and another close by. The seventh member of the crew was never found. A helicopter rescued the crew of the lightship.

1542:  Mary Queen of Scots born in Linlithgow Palace. Her father, on his deathbed said “It cam wi’ ane lass; it will pas wi’ ane lass” – a reference to the Stuart line starting when Marjorie Bruce, daughter of King Robert the Bruce, married Walter, High Steward of Scotland.

09 December

1165 King Malcolm IV died at Jedburgh Castle



10 December

1679:  after their defeat at Bothwell Bridge, many Covenanter prisoners were confined at Greyfriars Churchyard in Edinburgh. Two hundred and fifty seven were put into an English vessel to be transported to Barbados as slaves. On the night of 10th December, the ship was wrecked off Deerness, Orkney and 200 Covenanters drowned.

1747: Duncan Forbes of Culloden died. As Lord Advocate he had tried to alleviate the barbarities of Butcher Cumberland

1616: ordinance for establishment of parish schools in Scotland. At the same time the Privy Council commended the abolition of Gaelic

1845 civil engineer Robert Thomson patented the pneumatic tyre, but the process was so expensive that it did not catch on until the time of Dunlop in 1888

1967: Queen Mary docked at long beach California at the end of the final cruise, became floating 1868

1824: artist, architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh born

11 December

1899: Battle of Magersfontein: Boers defeat the Highland Brigade. Amidst the panic and confusion, Corporal James McKay of the Argylls earned renown by standing up to the Mauser bullets and playing ‘The Campbells are Coming’ while Corporal John Shaul won a Victoria Cross by leading a section toward the enemy.

1781: David Brewster, inventor of the kaleidoscope born.

13 December

1820: Comet, Europe’s first sea-going steam ship wrecked at Craignish Point, at the disturbance known as the Dorus Mhor between Jura and scarab

1585: William Drummond, poet, born.

14 December

1896: Glasgow district electric subway opened

1967: University of Stirling instituted by Royal charter.

15 December

1530: Afraid of contagion, the Edinburgh authorities banned the plague stricken to Borough Muir, just outside the city walls. James Barbour, the master and governor of  ‘the foul folk on the mure’  collected the possessions and clothes of many of the stricken as they lay in the chapel of St Roque on the moor. He said that anybody that had a claim to the clothes should bring them forward, but clothes of small value were to be burned or given to the poor.

16 December

1838 Thomas Blake Glover, founding father of Japan’s industrialisation (including Mitsubishi) and Japanese Navy, born in Fraserburgh

17 December

1332: when the pro-English puppet king Edward Balliol settled at Annan, intending to spend Christmas in his power base, the Scots patriots under teenaged Sir Archibald Douglas and the Earl of Moray raided. They attacked at dawn, dispersed Balliol’s men, killing Sir John Mowbray and Sir Walter Comyn among others. King Edward Balliol fled in his shirt, riding bare-backed.

1862: McDouall Stuart’s exploring party reached Adelaide after an expedition lasting one year and twelve days

1907 Lord Kelvin, scientist and inventor, died.

18 December

1745:  Skirmish at Clifton Moor, Lord George Murray and Jacobites defeat Hanovarians under Cumberland on the retreat from Derby. Cumberland tried to prevent the withdrawal, but the MacPhersons charged Bland’s dragoons, sending them running, while MacDonalds ambushed Cobham’s dragoons.

1780: Society of Antiquaries founded

1661: Many Scottish historical records were lost when the ship Elizabeth of Burntisland sank off the English coast. The records had been taken to London by Oliver Cromwell and were being returned to Edinburgh.

20 December

1560: establishment of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland

1846: Linlithgow born Robert Liston  performed the first operation in a British hospital using anaesthetic (ether)

1988: Pan Am 747 blew up and crashed at Lockerbie, Dumfries, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 Lockerbie residents.

22 December

1813: Edinburgh grants freedom of the city to Sir Walter Scott. Born in Edinburgh, Scott grew up there and in the Borders. He became an advocate, but is best remembered as one of the most successful novelists of his century. His books, such as Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, became household names and were enjoyed by Queens and commoners alike. Scott’s romantic image of Scotland put the nation firmly on the tourist track and created an image of tartan and mist that has never really been lost.

1860: Robert Napier died. He could be termed as the first man to build ships on scientific and mathematical principles.

1983: Donald Caskie, the Tartan Pimpernel who had rescued many Allied servicemen from the Germans, died at Skelmorlie, Ayrshire

23 December

1859:  National Museum of Antiquities inaugurated

1831: Major outbreak of cholera in Scotland.

24 December

1165: King William I crowned at Scone.

1724: General George Wade was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British army in Scotland after he had reported on the need for military roads in the country.

1856: Writer and geologist Hugh Miller died.

1828:  Trial of Burke and Hare, mass murderers, began

25 December

1950: Four students from the University of Glasgow liberated the Stone of destiny from Westminster Abbey in London. Questions remain unanswered: was the Stone that was recovered only a copy of that which was removed? And was the original Stone stolen in the first place, or did Edward of England take away a forgery?

26 December

1900: The supply ship Hesperus investigated reports that the lighthouse on the Flannan Islands was not operating and to bring a relief keeper. There was no sign of the keepers, and no clue as to their fate. Speculation has ranged from a sudden storm to abduction by aliens, but the mystery has never been solved.  There were signs of massive waves and the log confirmed a storm around the 13th December, but the log was completed until the morning of the 15th. The relief keeper, Joseph Moore remained to operate the light.

27 December

1591: Archibald Wauchope of Niddrie, helped by the Earl of Bothwell, Douglass of Spott and others raided Holyrood Palace and attempted to assassinate King James VI. The king’s supporters repulsed them after an exchange of pistol fire.

28 December

1879: Tay Bridge Disaster. Completed the previous year, Thomas Bouch’s Tay Bridge was a single span railway bridge, one of the longest in the world. Since its completion the previous year, people had complained about the vibration in the central ‘high girders’ section. That night, in a force 10 gale, the bridge collapsed as the mail train from Burntisland crossed. Witnesses reported seeing the lights of the train disappear, followed by flashes of fire. Seventy-five people, all the crew and passengers, died, with no survivors. Thomas Bouch died the following year and a new bridge was started in 1881.

1734: Rob Roy MacGregor died

29 December

1766: Charles Macintosh, who invented, who patented waterproof fabric, born.

31 December

1918: Iolaire disaster. When hundreds of servicemen returned to Lewis after the First World War, the Royal Naval seamen crossed the Minch in Iolaire. However the vessel ran onto the rocks of the Beasts of Holm. Two hundred men drowned, but John MacLeod of Ness swam to the wreck with a cable and helped rescue seventy.

1292: Edward I of England repudiated all previous promises that he had made to Scotland

1448: Franco-Scottish alliance renewed at tours

1929: fire at Glen cinema, Paisley kills 70 people

1954: Alex Salmond born





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Dundee at a Glance

Dundee is a most dynamic city, always changing, always innovative. Once a major linen centre, then, as Juteopolis, the centre of the world’s jute trade, it was also the port where the best Arctic ships in the world were built, the home of a line of clippers and the city where the Beano is still written and published.

Yet there is far more to Dundee; this is a city of sieges and battles, of castles and witches, of amazing universities and the most welcoming and accepting people anywhere.

From twelve noon on Saturday 03 December 2016 I am signing copies of my book, Dundee at a Glance in Waterstones, Dundee. Highly illustrated, the book looks at the streets, public buildings and people of Dundee. Given such a subject, the research was fascinating and far more was left out than could ever be included- yet there is much to interest.

Please come along, make yourself known and, Dundee being what it is, have a blether!



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November in Scottish History

01 November

1889: A Belgian named Professor Albert attempted to become the first man to swim the Firth of Forth. Setting off from the shore of Fife, he reached about half way to Inchkeith before he gave up, disappointing the crowds gathered at Portobello who hoped to cheer his arrival.


1695: Bank of Scotland founded


02 November

1869:   Bad weather drove an 82-foot long whale ashore at Longniddry, East Lothian. Local men promptly shot it dead and the North British Railway organised special trains to view the dead whale, with one train on the 8th having 40 carriages and 1200 passengers. However, by the 11th the whale smelled so badly that it had to be auctioned off.

1792: United Societies of Paisley held a parliamentary reform meeting at the Saracen’s Head Inn

1698: Darien Expedition landed at New Caledonia in what is now Panama


04 November 1803

Extract was taken from the Journal of Jessy Allan, published in the Book of the Old Edinburgh Club:

‘There is now little else talked on than the French invasion and everyone seems to think they will attempt to land at Leith very shortly from Holland. I have heard much of the same subject all summer but never took alarm till now; however I must say I feel extremely anxious about it particularly on account of my Husband and Brother, who I fear will be called out to fight against these hell-hounds…but God Almighty in His infinite Goodness will, I hope, protect us all.’


05 November 1877

Opening of the original Mitchell Library, Glasgow, now the largest public reference library in Europe.

05 November 1879

Death of Edinburgh-born mathematician and physicist James Clerk Maxwell.


06 Nov 1746:

James Reid execited at york for playing the bagpipes

1887 Celtic Football Club formally constituted in Calton, Glasgow, to alleviate poverty in Glasgow’s East End parishes.

08 November 1308

Scholar and philosopher  John Duns Scotus died. His dry subtleties led to the word “Duns” or “dunce” meaning dull and incapable of learning. Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993.

09 November  1847:

In Edinburgh, Sir James Young Simpson delivered Wilhelmina Carstairs while chloroform was administered to the mother, the first child to be born with the aid of anaesthesia. November 9 1841 Edward VII, eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was born.

10 November 1528

James V issued letters of fire and sword against Clan Chattan, who had been causing trouble in Moray. The king ordered the various authorities in the north to gather their men and move ‘upon the said Clanquhattane, and invaid thame to thair uter destructioun, be slauchtir, byrning, drowning, and uthir wayis; and leif na creatur levand of that clann, except preistis, wemen, and barnis.’

( upon the said Clan Chattan, and invade them to their utter destruction, by slaughter, burning, drowning, and ither ways; and leave no creature living of that clan, except priests, women and bairns).

1871 Journalist Henry M Stanley found the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone with the classic “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”


11 November 1918

Armistice Day. At eleven o clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh hour, hostilities ceased in the Great War, the First World War that had been fought to end all wars. Scotland had lost around 150,000 men killed, plus scores of thousands maimed and wounded. The death rate alone was about 10 percent of all male Scots between 16 and 50


November 12 1869

Edinburgh University became the first in Britain to allow women to study medicine (though not graduate). But a woman, masquerading as Dr James Barry, actually took a medical degree at Edinburgh University in 1812 and became an army surgeon


13 November 1715

Battle of Sherrifmuir. The Earl of Mar’s 8000 strong Jacobite army met the Earl of Argyll’s 3000 redcoats at Sherrifmuir. The right wing of each army was successful but as the Jacobites withdrew, Argyll could claim the victory although he had over 700 casualties to Mar’s 232.

1850, Robert Louis Stevenson born

1939 The first bombs dropped on British soil in the Second World War fell on the Shetland Islands.


14 November 1770. The Town Council of Glasgow offered ‘a bountie of 42dhillings sterling, or two guineas, to each able-bodied seaman not under 20 nor above 50 years of age, who shall, betwixt now and the 16 December next, voluntarily inlist himself as a sailor in His Majesties Navy with Captain Pasley, commander of His Majesties ship the Pomona, now at Greenock.’

1770 James Bruce discovered the source of the Blue Nile, Lake Tana in north-west Ethiopia.

1896 Speed limit for horseless carriages was raised from 4mph (2mph in towns) to 14mph.


16 November 1248, a meeting of six Scottish and six English knights met ‘and corrected, according to the ancient and aproved custom of the March, such matters as required to be addressed.’ The first recorded day of truce on the Borders


17 November 1292:

English court pronounced judgement in favour of John Balliol as King of Scotland

1959 Prestwick and Renfrew airports in Scotland became the first in the UK to offer duty free goods for sale.



1941, break-out of British garrison at Tobruk, 35 officers and 300 men of the 2nd battalion Black Watch killed or wounded


November 19 1672:

Entry in a note book of Sir john Foulis, Bart, of Raverstoun:

‘lost at Golfe with the Chancellour, Duke Master of Saltoun, etc …£5 10/-

Golf had long been a popular, and democratic game in Scotland, being banned by an act of parliament in 1457 for interfering with archery practise. Sir John Foulis seems to have played on Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh, where there is still putting, and the Golf Tavern exists. Wagers were not uncommon.


20 November 1788:

Glasgow magistrates appointed an inspector of police. He had a clerk and eight men under him. The ex-bailie Richard Marshall was appointed inspector. He had a gold chain and carried a white rod while on duty. His men wore a red uniform with badges numbered and inscribed ‘police’ they had to take an oath for  their good behaviour and were paid 1/6d a day.



21 November 1918 German High Seas Fleet ails into internment in Scapa Floe. The German officers were later to scuttle the ships as a protest against the Versailles peace treaty.

24 November 1331 David II (aged 7) crowned at Scone November 24 1542

25 November 1835 Steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie born in Dunfermline.



29 November 1681: Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, granted its charter by King Charles II.



30 November 1335: Battle of Culblean. A crucial battle in the Second War of Independence, when Sir Andrew Murray and William Douglas defeated a pro-English force led by David de Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl.


1872, first international football match between Scotland and England played at the West of Scotland Cricket ground at Partick. The result was a nil-nil draw

1996: Stone of Destiny, stolen from Scone by King Edward I of England in 1296, returned to Scotland and installed in Edinburgh Castle.

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Autumn is usually a busy period. I have just returned from giving a presentation in Stornoway in the Island of Lewis and now am preparing for a book launch in Dundee.

The island of Lewis was pretty spectacular, with some amazing historical sights, sea and landscapes to take the breath away and very friendly people. If you have not been there yet, add it to your list of places to visit.  The Standing Stones of Callanish alone are worth the trip! 063.JPG

But now, the launch of my latest book, Golden Voyage, dominates the horizon. The third in my Sergeant Mendick series of Victorian detective stories, it is based partly on two true crimes: the theft of a Scottish steamship named Ferret, and an attempted attack on an Australian clipper ship. . . the details I will not mention here. Add a crazed captain, a fiddle playing woman who is one of my favourite female characters and a few twists in the plot and we will let Mendick work his way through things.

The Golden Voyage is being launched this Thursday, 6th October 2016 at Waterstones in Dundee at about seven in the evening. If you happen to be in the neighbourhood, please pop in and say hello!



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There is quite a furore about sea bathing and sea bathing attire in Europe at present, with riots in Corsica and political troubles in the south of France. 

Well, in Scotland it is not that long since we had our own disputes about the rights and wrongs of the practice. Dundee is perhaps not best thought of as a sea-bathing centre, yet in the nineteenth century men and women, girls and boys would flock to the shores of the Tay to dip into the healthy waters. One area for this was the Stannergate.

The name extends back at least to the fifteenth century while the street extends from the docks to West Ferry, with the name perhaps coming from stanner or stoney gait. The name would be more logical without the suffix, for as gait means road, Stannergate Road means Stanner-road Road. According to David Dorward; stanner is the Scots for shingle and suggested it was where people collected shingle for building.

During the Second World War there was a defensive gun battery here, with two six inch guns and a set of torpedo tubes. The guns were never used in earnest as no German surface craft tried to force the Tay, but when the guns fired in training they damaged plasterwork and cracked windows in nearby houses. To go much further back in time, in 1878 workmen dug up some stone coffins that were around 2,000 years old. They also found kitchen middens that were dated to around 6,000 BC, which would make Stannergate the site of one of the earliest settlements in Scotland. Dundee is indeed a city of many discoveries.

All that is fine to set the area in context but has little to do with the topic on the headline, so to return to that. In the 1870s this was a popular spot for sea bathing with the council putting up a hut so that women could get changed away from prying male eyes and a rescue boat at sea to ensure the safety of all. Sea bathing was a popular pastime in Dundee, and at a meeting of the Commissioners of Police in July 1877 the following byelaws were announced:

1: No male above age of 14 to bathe ‘at or near any part of the Esplanade or at or near the Marine Parade between 8 am and 10 pm

II No male permitted to bathe at or near the place set aside for female bathers at the Stannergate, or to loiter or stand in the neighbourhood thereof

III No bathing at or near protection wall, docks, tidal harbour, Edinburgh slip or Craig pier

IV No female will be permitted to bathe except at the Stannergate, and no female shall bathe there without wearing a gown or other suitable bathing costume or covering

V No profane or indecent language

Number IV above suggests that there had been occasions when females had taken to the water without wearing a bathing costume. No wonder there was male interest. Some males of course, also swam without a costume.

In the Police Committee meeting of 5th December that year, Archibald McFarlane, who operated the rescue boat at Stannergate, reported that:

the notices posted up by you have aided me materially in what I have been doing gradually – that is the complete separation of the males from the females

Segregation was the order of the day then, and that is less than 150 years ago. Things change but a lot remains the same – although I doubt that anybody would wish to swim from the Stannergate in Dundee now.



Posted in Dundee, family life, history, humanity, Life experiences, nudity, Scotland, Uncategorized, Victorian values | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


01 August

1798: Battle of the Nile:  ‘There were some of the women wounded, and one woman belonging to Leith died of her wounds, and was buried on a small island in the bay. One woman bore a son in the heat of the action; she belonged to Edinburgh.’ John Nicol, HMS Goliath

1747: Proscription Act banned tartan and the carrying of weapons, penalty for first offence was six months in jail and second offence meant 7 years transportation

1849: David Livingston discovered Lake Ngami

02 August

 1922: Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, died in Nova Scotia.

03 August

1460: King James III killed by exploding cannon at siege of Roxburgh

04 August

1914: First World War started. Before it ended in 1918, around 150,000 Scotsmen would be killed and tens of thousands wounded.


05 August 1388

James, Earl Douglas defeated Henry Percy and English at Otterburn, but died in the battle. Percy surrendered to  a dead man.

1704: The Scottish Parliament established a General Post Office.


06 August 1812:

The steamboat Comet sailed the 20 miles from Port Glasgow to Broomielaw in three and a half hours

1678: First Glasgow/Edinburgh coach service began from White Horse Inn, Edinburgh.

1820: Donald Alexander Smith – later Lord Strathcona – born in Forres. A pioneer of the Hudson Bay Company in the North-West, he later championed the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway across Canada and drove the last spike at Craigellachie, British Columbia.

1881: Birth of Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin.


08 August

1296: King Edward Plantagenet removed to England the Stone of Destiny on which generations of Scottish kings had been crowned.

1503: King James IV married Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England. The marriage was known as the Union of the Thistle and the Rose.


09 August

1757 Civil engineer Thomas Telford born in Dumfries.


11 August

1560:  Latin Mass prohibited in Scotland by Parliament as Protestant faith gained the ascendancy.


12 August 1812

Advertisement in the Glasgow Chronicle for what was the first regular steamship service in Europe

‘The Steamboat Comet

Between Glasgow, Greenock and Helensburgh

For passengers only

‘The subscriber, having at much expense, fitted up a handsome vessel to ply upon the river Clyde from Glasgow, to sail by the power of air, wind and steam, intends that the vessel shall leave the Broomielaw on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays about mid-day, or such an hour thereafter as may suit the state of the tide and to leave Greenock on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the morning to suit the tide.

The terms are for the present fixed at 4s for the best cabin and 3s for the second.

The subscriber continues his establishment at Helensburgh Baths (Hotel) and a vessel will be in readiness to convey passengers by the Comet from Greenock to Helensburgh.

Henry Bell’

13 August

1826: Gordon Laing, Edinburgh born explorer, reached and rediscovered Timbuctu

1888: Birth of John Logie Baird, developer of television.


15 August 

1771: Sir Walter Scott born

1856: John Keir Hardie born , coal miner and founder of the Labour Party

1963: The last hanging in Scotland – 21-year-old Henry Burnett who was executed at Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen for the murder of seaman Thomas Guyan.


17 August

1947: First Edinburgh International Festival opened.


18 August

1685: The Privy Council sat in Leith Tolbooth to interrogate 72 Covenanter prisoners. While those who took an oath of allegiance to the Crown were freed, the people who refused were banished to ‘His Majesty’s Plantations and charged never to return to the kingdom without the king’s or council’s special leave.’ They were sent to the infant Scottish colony of New Jersey.

1966: Tay road bridge opened

19 August

1561: Mary, Queen of Scots arrived in Leith after a five-day voyage from Calais.  John Knox recorded her arrival: ‘Tthe nineteenth day of August, the year of God 1561, betwixt seven and eight hours before noon, arrived Marie Queen of Scotland, then widow, with two galleys forth of France…the very face of heaven, the time of her arival, did manifestly speak what comfort was brought unto this country with her, to wit, sorrow, dolour, darkness and all impiety…the mist was so thick and so dark that scarce might any man espy another the length of two pair of boots.’

1745: raising of the Standard at Loch Shiel as Prince Charles Edward Stuart begins the 1745 Rising

1932: Scottish aviator Jim Mollinson landed after the first East/West solo flight of the Atlantic from Portmarnock, Ireland to Pennfield, New Brunswick.

1994: Graham Obree, from Irvine in Ayrshire, broke the world record and became the world pursuit cycle champion over 4,000 metres in Hamar, Norway.



20 August

1640: Battle of Newburn, Covenanters invade England when King Charles tried to impose bishops on Scotland. They brushed aside an English force at Newburn and advance toward Newcastle.

1897: Ronald Ross, the first Scot to win a Nobel prize (in 1902) dissected a mosquito and established the link with malaria.


21 August

1689: Battle of Dunkeld; ameronians repelled the Jacobite Highlanders.

1917: armed trawlers Jacinta, Thomas Young and Chirkata sink German submarine Ub-41 in the Firth of Tay

1754: birth of William Murdoch who pioneered the use of coal-gas lighting in 1792 in partnership with James Watt and Mathew Boulton.

1937: birth of Donald Dewar, former Secretary of State for Scotland and First Minister in the new Scottish Parliament.

22 August

1282: Devorgilla, Countess of Galloway founded Balliol College, Oxford. She was mother of John Balliol (who acceded to the Scottish throne in 1292).

23 August

1305: after a mockery of a trial, where he was accused of treason against King Edward Plantagenet of England, the monarch of a foreign and enemy nation, William Wallace ‘a Scotsman born in Scotland’ was murdered by being tortured to death.

1914: four Scottish battalions involved in the battle of Mons


24 August

1482:  Berwick Upon Tweed finally ceded to England (Edward IV) after changing hands 12 times.

1776: the philosopher David Hume died.

1819 James Watt, developer of steam power, died.

25 August

1819: birth in Glasgow of Alan Pinkerton, founder of the Chicago-based detective agency which bore his name.

1930:  Sean Connery born.

26 August

1875: novelist and statesman John Buchan born in Perth.

27 August

1784: first balloon ascent in Britain by James Tytler, Edinburgh

28 August

1296: Edward Plantagenet of England receives homage and fealties of some 2000 freeholders in Scotland

29 August

1930: St Kilda evacuated.

1901: Scottish born Hubert Cecil Booth patented his design for a vacuum cleaner which sucked in the dust and retained it by means of a filter.

30 August

1793: Thomas Muir trial for sedition; he supported parliamentary reform:

“I have devoted myself to the cause of the people. It is a good cause – it shall ultimately prevail – it shall finally triumph.”

Posted in Australia, Battles,, Books, Edinburgh, Exploration, First World War, history, Military history, Scotland, Scottish battles, Uncategorized, Walter Scott | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scottish Women

Having been married to a Scottish woman, and having a brace of daughters who are also Scottish women, I have first hand experience of how capable they are. However it appears that they have always been a formidable bunch.

I was reading a book entitled Women of Scotland by Helen Susan Swift, that gives thumbnail sketches of Scotswomen from away back in time to the present day, from warriors to scientists, writers to fisherwomen, witches to politicians. Fascinating stuff.

With that book in mind my own Scotswoman suggested that we visit Corrimony Cairn, which is a four thousand year old chambered cairn in Glen Urquhart, a few miles from Loch Ness and about a 45 minute drive from Inverness. At present Cathy is in ‘visiting’ mode, trying to look at every site run by Historic Scotland, so we have spent time in castles, churches, ancient sites and what-have-you all across northern Scotland.

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The cairn from outside, with hints of the standing stones.

In saying that I was intrigued by Corrimony. It is a passage grave within a cairn, which means one is able to get down on hands and knees and crawl inside what was a burial chamber. Corrimony Cairn is amazingly preserved, surrounded by eleven standing stones and has been excavated. At some time in the fairly recent past the cap stone and roof has been removed, allowing one to see inside the chamber, with the skillful stonework on view.

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The entrance.

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Cathy looking inside the entrance passageway.

This cairn was created some four thousand years ago, so it was ancient when Christ was a boy. The workmanship is remarkable, and the sheer amount of labour involved in hauling the stones here to surround the grave is breathtaking.

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Now, you may be wondering what this cairn has to do with Scottish women? Well it seems that it was built for a female. That will not be surprising in Scotland, where women are at least equal to men, but other nations may be intrigued. I wondered who this woman may have been? What had she done? Was she a queen? A religious leader?  A prophet? A engineer? A merchant?

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I doubt we will ever know. We can guess that she was important. One of the many Scotswomen who have left their mark on the nation: I wonder if any walking around today will leave a legacy that survives for four thousand years?

Posted in Books, Celtic History, history, inspiration, literature, Scotland, Scotswomen, Uncategorized, women, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment