On this week in Scottish history

01 March 1546,

George Wishart, Scotland’s first martyr of the Reformation strangled and burned in front of St Andrews Castle. Wishart was the son of an Angus laird and was sometime a teacher in Montrose. He had spent some time with the Protestants in Switzerland and wrote Confession of the Faith in which he acknowledged only Christ as the head of the church. On his return to Scotland around 1543 he preached to crowds in Lothian and Ayr and allegedly daring a plague to preach in Dundee. His bodyguard was John Knox, who carried a two handed sword. When he was arrested Wishart refused Knox’s help ‘one is enough for sacrifice’. Cardinal Beaton watched his execution, unmoved as the executioner asked for forgiveness and Wishart kissed his cheek.




02 March 1848

After a riot by Irish railway navvies at Gorebridge that left a policeman dead, 1000 Scottish navvies and 150 colliers marched on the Irish camp at Fushie Bridge. The Scots burned every hut they could find, departing before the Dragoon Guards arrived. The Herald reported the riot, but commented that ‘from seventeen to twenty-four families were accommodated in this manner in a temporary building of very small dimensions. It is not to be expected that people who are subjected to such a degrading condition, and familiarized with all the indecent habits incident to it, will feel any great respect for the laws enacted for the preservation of social order.’

1860, John McDouall Stuart of Dysart in Fife, with 13 horses and two men on his first attempt to cross Australia from south to north


03 March 1847

Alexander Graham Bell born in Edinburgh. Moving to Canada in 1870, he later moved to the United States. On the 5th June 1875 he created the world’s first audible telephonic transmission and the following year he patented the telephone. He was also to invent the photophone in 1880 and the gramophone in 1887.


04 March 1890

Forth Bridge opened in front of thousands of spectators. Designed by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Drake, an international labour force of 5000 men, known as ‘briggers’ had built the bridge. Over a mile and a half long, cantilever built, the Forth Bridge was the marvel of its day and has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World. It has experienced German submarines in the First World War, witnessed the first German air attack on Great Britain in Hitler’s War and never shuts for bad weather.


05 March 1830

Sir Charles Wyllie Thomson born at Bonyside, West Lothian. After an Edinburgh education, Thomson became Lecturer on Botany at Aberdeen, then Professor of Natural History at Cork, Professor of Geology in Queen’s College, Belfast and of Natural History at Edinburgh. He was also Director of the Challenger Expedition and a skilled meteorologist. One of the pioneers of deep-sea exploration, he was first to discover that there was life in the deepest parts of the ocean. The zoologist Sir Ray Lankester said of the Challenger expedition ‘Never did an expedition cost so little and produce such momentous results for human knowledge.’ The Thomson Ridge, 300 fathoms deep between Cape Wrath and the Faeroe Islands, was named in his honour.


06 March 1800

With the French Revolutionary War continuing, every voyage around the Scottish coast was hazardous. This is an extract from a report by Fox, a Leith privateer:

‘Last night at 11 PM Dungeness NNW three leagues, I observed a lugger lying on my lee-bow; the moment he saw me he made sail and ran ahead to windward, and hove to until I came up. I observed his motions, hoisted a light on my maintop and hailed the Jane of Kirkcaldy, Mr James Condy, who came from Leith Roads along with me, and kept company all the way, to keep close by me, as he was under my convoy; which he immediately did – also two colliers. All my hands lay on deck, and were prepared to receive him (the enemy), being well loaded with round and grape shot from my small battery. He, with his great, or lug mainsail, bore down on my quarter within pistol shot. I immediately gave him our broadside, which, from the confusion and mourning cries, gave me reason to suppose he must have had a number killed and wounded, and he lay-to, with all his sails shaking in the wind, as long as I could see him. I am truly happy that the Fox’s small force has been the means of saving herself, as well as the Juno and the two colliers, from a desperate set of thieves that so much infest this channel’.

 1457 King James II decreed in an Act of Parliament that there should be regular target practice and military parades and that “football and golf be utterly cried down and not used”. This was the first time that the games had been mentioned in Scottish documents.  1608, James VI delivers his scheme for the Scots plantations in Ulster; 1707, Royal Assent to Act of Union given; 1725 Henry Stuart, last legitimate male Stuart heir to Scotland born in Rome; 1895 Professor Blackie, scholar and nationalist, died in Edinburgh.  1923 BBC Scotland founded.


07 March 1793

From the accession of William of Orange until the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Scotland gave tens of thousands of men to fight in Britain’s wars. After the 1745 Rising, many regiments were raised from the Highlands. One of the most famous was the Seaforth Highlanders. This passage was taken from a letter to Francis Mackenzie of Seaforth

‘The corps is to consist of one Company of Grenadiers, one of Light Infantry and eight Battalion Companies. No man is to be enlisted above thirty, or under five feet five inches; but well made growing lads between sixteen and eighteen years of age may be taken at five feet four inches. The recruits are to be engaged without limitation as to the period or place of their service; but they are not to be drafted into any other Regiment; and whenever a reduction is to take place, they shall be marched into their own country in a Corps and disembodied there’.


About malcolmarchibald

Happily married for 34 years to Cathy, I have three grown children and live in the depths of Moray in northern Scotland. I was educated in Edinburgh and Dundee and work as a lecturer in Inverness, while writing historical books, both fiction and fact.
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