On this day in history….23rd August 1305

On this day in history : 23rd August 1305 – Sir William Wallace, Scottish patriot, is hanged, drawn, beheaded and quartered in London….

Statue of William Wallace, Aberdeen

After the English had been defeated at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 Wallace was appointed Guardian of Scotland and remained so until his defeat in the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298….

In 1305 he was captured and handed over to King Edward I and brought to trial on the charge of treason – to which he responded “I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject”….

Wallace’s trial in Westminster Hall – by Daniel Maclise – Public domain

Following the trial Wallace was taken to the Tower of London…. Here he was stripped naked and then dragged through the streets of the city behind a horse….to the Elms at Smithfield…. He was hanged, drawn and quartered…. He was also emasculated and eviscerated – his private parts and bowels burned before him…. Wallace was then beheaded and his body cut into four parts…. His head, dipped in tar to preserve it, was displayed on a pike on top of London Bridge…. His limbs were sent to Perth, Stirling, Newcastle and Berwick to be displayed separately….

On this day in history….27th June 1746

On this day in history : 27th June 1746 – Flora MacDonald helps Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to the Isle of Skye, dressed as an Irish maid, following his defeat by the English at the Battle of Culloden….

The Battle of Culloden by David Morier – Public domain

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was the grandson of King James II of England…. Charlie was to lead the Second Jacobite Uprising to overthrow King George II in 1745…. But 1746 saw the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden Moor….and Charlie was forced to run or face certain death….

After two months he arrived at the outer Hebridean island of South Ulst – and it was here that he was to meet 24-year-old Flora MacDonald…. Even though the man she was due to marry and her stepfather were both loyal soldiers under King George she agreed to help the Prince – even if somewhat reluctantly to begin with….

Portrait of Flora MacDonald by artist Allan Ramsay – Public domain

Flora managed to persuade her stepfather, who was in charge of the local militia, to allow her to travel to the mainland accompanied by a couple of servants and half a dozen boatmen…. Only one of the ‘servants’ – an Irish spinning maid by the name of ‘Betty Burke’ – was actually Bonnie Prince Charlie in disguise…. And instead of travelling to the mainland the little boat made its way to Kilmuir (now known as Prince’s Point) on the Isle of Skye….

They spent the night hiding in a cottage and the following day made their way on foot to Portree…. From here Charlie was able to find a boat to take him to the island of Raasay – and then he was able to escape to France….

Portrait of Charles Edward Stuart by artist Allan Ramsay – Public domain

Flora however faced arrest and was imprisoned at Dunstaffnage Castle in Oban – before being moved for a short time to the Tower of London…. She was eventually released in 1747 and she returned to Scotland….

“Speed Bonny boat like a bird on a wing,
Onward the sailors cry,
Carry the lad that’s born to be King,
Over the sea to Skye”....

On this day in history….13th April 1880

On this day in history : 13th April 1880 – The death of Scottish botanist and plant hunter Robert Fortune – who brought to us some 250 new species of ornamental plants – and tea to India….

Public domain

Fortune was born in Kelloe, Berwickshire on the 16th of September 1812…. Little is known of his early years and to those who knew him he volunteered little information…. However, we do know he was an apprentice in the gardens of Moredun House and showed promise from the start…. He managed to gain a place at Edinburgh’s Botanic Garden and trained under William McNab, a man who was not easy to impress…. But impress him Fortune did – and with McNab’s backing around 1840 he became Superintendent of the Hothouse Department at the Horticultural Society’s garden at Chiswick, London….

A few months later fortune was granted the position of the Society’s new species collector in China…. He was sent off to find, amongst other things:- double yellow roses, blue peonies, true mandarin oranges, tea plants and information on the peaches that grew in the Emperor’s garden – which were said to weight 2lb each!

Arriving in Hong Kong on the 6th of July 1843 Fortune wasted no time in starting his search…. Over the next three years he made excursions deep into the northern provinces of China…. As plants and seeds were seen as property of the Chinese Empire Fortune would not have been particularly welcome…. He was to encounter many hazards including being threatened at knifepoint by angry crowds, as he went about collecting species such as wisteria and weigela…. He also faced horrendous storms and even pirates on the Yangtze River…. To blend in and avert suspicion he disguised himself as a local Chinese merchant…. He learnt to speak Mandarin, shaved his head and even sported a pigtail…. With this disguise Fortune was able to collect his species to transport back home…. He did this by using Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward’s Wardian cases, an early type of terrarium….

Public domain

He finally returned to London in May 1846 and the following year published his book ‘Three Years’ Wanderings in the Northern Provinces of China’…. Using the journals he had kept he detailed Chinese gardening and agriculture and the history of China’s tea culture…. He had brought back with him a vast array of beautiful exotic ornamental plants and flowers, which were subsequently introduced to the gardens of Europe, the USA and Australia….

Fortune was to set off for China again…. This time for the East India Company, with the mission of securing the best possible tea plants with which to establish plantations in India…. Once more he disguised himself as a local merchant…. He hired an interpreter and ventured into the tea regions of China…. He managed to collect over 2,000 plants and some 17,000 germinating seeds, which were taken to the Himalayas to establish India’s tea industry….

Fortune was to make a further two trips to China and a trip to Japan…. He was to introduce hundreds of trees, shrubs and flowers to us…. From the Kumquat….to many varieties of azaleas, tree peonies and chrysanthemums…. Even the Dragon tree – and camellias, including the ‘Robert Fortune’ which was named for him….

Public domain

Fortune died in London and was buried in Brompton Cemetery….

On this day in history….5th January 1993

On this day in history : 5th January 1993 – The oil tanker MV Braer runs aground off the coast of the Shetland Islands, spilling its 84,700 tons of crude oil….

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Location of the wreck – Eric Gaba, NordNordWest, Uwe Dedering CC BY-SA 3.0

The 800ft ship, which had been built in Japan in 1975, did not have the more modern double hull, which would have offered more protection from spillage…. The Liberian-registered tanker was travelling from Bergen in Norway to Quebec in Canada when it ran into trouble after being caught in Force 11 gales…. At 5.19am the Lerwick Coastguard was first notified that the vessel had lost power….

Desperate efforts by salvage teams were made to try and avert disaster…. Anchor handling vessel Star Sirius was brought in to attempt to tow the stricken ship….but was unsuccessful – and so the crew of the tanker had to be airlifted to safety by helicopter….

At 11.19am MV Braer was confirmed at having run aground on rocks at Quendale Bay, at the southern tip of Shetland…. From the moment of impact oil could be seen pouring into the sea – in an area renowned for its sea birds and marine wildlife…. A week later, during the most intense extratropical cyclone ever recorded in the northern Atlantic, the tanker broke up….

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Bow of the Braer visible in June 1993 – Mike Pennington CC BY-SA 2.0

A later report into the disaster chiefly blamed bad weather but also held the Greek captain, Alexandros Gelis, to account for lack of basic seamanship….

On this day in history….28th December 1734

On this day in history : 28th December 1734 – The death of Robert MacGregor – a Scottish outlaw and folk hero of the early 1700s – better known as ‘Rob Roy’….

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Engraving of Rob Roy by W.H.Worthington – Public domain

Born in February 1671, in Glengyle, Trossachs, on the southern edge of the Highlands, Rob Roy was the son of Colonel Donald MacGregor – one of the MacGregor clan – and who won his commission through loyalty to King Charles II….

Robert MacGregor acquired his name ‘Rob Roy’ at an early age – on account of his mop of curly red hair – which he inherited from his mother’s side…. At the age of 18 he joined the Jacobite rising of 1689, along with his father – whom he fought alongside with the aim of restoring King James VII, the last Catholic King, to the Scottish throne…. Rob’s father was caught and imprisoned for treason for two years….during that time his mother suffered ill health and subsequently died…. Rob moved to Glen Shira, living under the protection of the Duke of Argyll – and was permitted to build a house upon land granted to him….

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The Duke of Argyll – Public domain

In January 1693 Rob Roy married Mary Helen MacGregor of Comar – his cousin – and they had four sons…. He became a cattle drover, buying and selling Highland cattle…. The MacGregors were a wild clan – cattle rustling and running what was effectively a protection racket…. By the early 1700s Rob Roy had established his own flourishing protection racket….charging landowners around 5% of their annual rent to ensure their cattle remained safe…. Those who didn’t pay could expect to lose everything…. Nowadays this would be seen as criminal – but in those times it was actually considered a respectable way of making a living….img_4923

In 1711 Rob Roy borrowed £1,000 from the Duke of Montrose, a land owner at Murdock Castle, north of Glasgow – he planned to purchase cattle for the following year’s market – and had taken investments from various local chieftains…. In early 1712 he gave his head drover the task of purchasing the cattle on his behalf…which he did…. But the drover then sold the cattle on….and disappeared with the proceeds….

Rob Roy returned home to find he had been made bankrupt and outlawed by the Duke of Montrose…. His land had been seized – and his wife and young family evicted from their home – thrown out into the depths of the savage Highland winter – their home burned to ashes…. The Duke of Montrose was also settling an old score with the Duke of Argyll – who was his sworn enemy….

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What remains today of Rob Roy’s home at Upper Glen Shira – CC BY SA 3.0

Rob Roy set out to seek revenge – he had never even been given the chance to repay the original loan….he felt he had been unfairly treated…. He set out on a campaign of ‘cattle lifting’, targeting Montrose’s stock…. He became an expert – he excelled in theft and banditry…. He even kidnapped Montrose’s rent-collector, who happened to have £3,000 of rent money upon him at the time…. He was a thorn in the side for the Duke of Montrose – and all the time he had a powerful ally in the Duke of Argyll…. Gradually his attentions began to turn to other landowners in the area and he started to target them too…. Those not willing to pay him protection money would find themselves relieved of their stock…. Now a fully fledged outlaw the ‘law’ were out to find him….but he roamed the hills of Loch Lomond, always in hiding – rather like a Scottish Robin Hood….

Kneller, Godfrey, 1646-1723; James, 1st Duke of Montrose (1682-1742), Secretary of State for Scotland (1714-1716)
The Duke of Montrose – After Godfrey Kneller – Public domain

During the November 1715 Jacobite Uprising Rob Roy was used as a guide for the Jacobite army – as it marched from Perth to Stirling….resulting in the Battle of Sheriffmuir – with the Jacobites against the government army, led under the Duke of Argyll…. Eventually the government army prevented the Jacobites from reaching the Lowlands…. Rob Roy was torn between his Jacobite beliefs and his loyalty to the Duke of Argyll….

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The Battle of Sherriffmuir – John Wootton – Public domain

At the end of this escapade he emerged with a price on his head – both for his earlier banditry and now for treason for his part in the uprising…. He was captured several times – but always managed to escape…. Tales of his exploits began to circulate….

In 1722 he was finally caught and imprisoned for five years…. But his tale had spread to those with influence…. In 1723 Daniel Defoe published ‘Highland Rogue‘ – based upon his story….and so his popularity rose…. Just before he was due to be transported to Australia Rob Roy was granted a Royal pardon…. After which he settled down, gradually returning to live a normal life among his own people in Balquhidder, north of Trossachs….

Rob Roy died on the 28th of December 1734, in Balquhidder Glen – and was buried in the Kirkyard – later to be joined by his wife and two of his sons – who were buried beside him….

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Since then, in 1818 Sir Walter Scott wrote the novel ‘Rob Roy’ – and he has been the subject of two Hollywood films….