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





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.
This entry was posted in Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, Australia, Battles,, Boer War, Books, Edinburgh, Exploration, Historical Crime, history, Inventions, life, maritime, Military history, murder, publication, books, author, publishers, royalty, Scotland, Scotswomen, Scottish battles, Shipping, South Africa, tragedy, Uncategorized, Walter Scott and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s