A Brief History of Bass Rock

The Bass Rock is an island on the outer part of the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. It is a steep sided volcanic rock reaching 107 metres high. Although uninhabited now it was for a long time used as a prison.

In the 17th Century during Oliver Cromwell’s invasion the castle became a notorious prison, at the time it would have been called a gaol, and for decades was used to keep religious and political prisoners especially Covenanters. Alexander Shields a Covenanting preacher who was imprisoned on the island described it as having “no fresh water nor any provision”. No less than 39 Covenanting Martyrs were imprisoned on the Bass Rock.

In the reign of King William III, the Bass Rock was used to imprison Jacobite’s intent on endless wars of resistance in Scotland and Ireland. In 1691 four captured Jacobite officers were sent there and managed to seize the castle while a coal ship was being unloaded. When the news spread Jacobite supporters made many boat trips with supplies and men to join the defenders holding the rock, word also reached the exiled King James and ships from France were sent with supplies including rowing boats. The Jacobite’s used the boats to raid the mainland.

King William III sent ships to take the castle back, but it was almost impregnable in its location. A naval blockade was then attempted which made it very difficult for the Jacobite’s to access supplies, this resulted in a deadlock between the two parties.

In 1694 the Bass Rock prisoners’ leader negotiated a visit by the Government to find a solution. They negotiated free transport to France and release from prison for the people who had been caught helping them from the mainland.

The fortress was abandoned by the Government in 1701 and in 1706 Hew Dalrymple, Lord North Berwick acquired the Bass Rock, and it has been in the Dalrymple possession since.

If you are ever visiting Edinburgh, it could be worth while travelling the 30 mile journey to see the small Island with a big history.

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