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THE BASS ROCK.
Who has ever sailed into the Firth of Forth and has not been struck with that bold islet yclept the Bass Rock ? Holy Island has a castle bearing rock that rises out of its sands, and the Isle of May has a light-house bearing cliff, on which we have ofttimes sat, laughing in merry concert with the clouds of gulls that, sweeping in eddies at our feet, tilled the very air, and silenced the turbulent ocean with their plaintive cries. But no other islet on this rock-bound coast has so stern an aspect, or is so precipitous, or so lofty, as the Bass. It is to the east of Scotland what Ailsa Craig is to the west, and both are, probably from the same peculiar features, the seats of colonies of one of the largest and most interesting of the British aquatic birds, the gannet or Solan goose. So identified is the Bass Rock with its great winged tenant-the pelican of our shores—that the bird itself was known to all the old naturalists as Pelecanus Bassanus, of which the French, through M. Buffon, made euriously enough le fou de Bassan, and the Germans Der bassanische Pelikan. Naturalists, who are, however, too apt to think that they have made a discovery, when they have merely changed a name, were not content till they had distinguished it from the pelicans by its old name among the northmen of Sula Bassana.
Hector Boece, whose “ History of Scotland" was published in 1526, gives a detailed account of this singular colony of birds.
Certes, there is nothing in this rocke that is not full of admiration and woonder; therein also is great store of soland geese (vnlike to those which Plinie calleth water-eagles, or (as we saie) sea-herons) and nowhere else but in Ailsaie and this rocke. At their first comming, which is in the spring of the yeare, they gather such great plentie of sticks and boughs together for the building of their nests, that the same doo satisfie the keeper of the castell for the yeerelie maintenance of his fewell without anie other provision. These foules doo feed their yoong with the most delicat fish that they can come by, for though they have alreadie preied vpon anie one, and have it fast in their beake or talons, yet if they happen as they flie towards the land to espie a better, they let the first fall againe into the sea, and pursue the later with great and eager swiftnesse vntill they take hold thereof.
The venerable author, whose narrative is copied from Holinshed's translation, has erred in supposing that the gannet is confined to the Bass and Ailsa Craig. The bird is very extensively distributed, although the localities where it breeds are apparently few in number, on our own coasts, it builds at Lundy Island off the coast of Devon, on the Isles of Borea and St. Kilda, on the Suliskerry, or Gannet Rock, near the Orkneys, the Skelligs off the coast of Kerry, and other places. It is met with along the coast of Norway, Iceland, and North America, and probably takes most extensive flights. We have ourselves seen it off the coast of Portugal. The fact that the gannet when it has secured its prey disposes of it in its gorget, and then takes wing to repeat the operation, is what has also led Boece into the mistake that the bird lets his prey for other of a daintier kind.
It is Hector Boece, also, who gravely records the production of geese from shells found attached to wood in the sea. The author of " Hudi
bras,” has, however, erred, when he supposes that the legend in question
And from the most refined of saints
In the islands of the Arcades.
you. And further on he remarks,
If you sail round the island, and look up, you see on every ledge and shelf, and recess, innumerable flocks of birds of almost every size and order : more numerous than the stars that appear in the unclouded moonless sky: and if you regard the flights that incessantly come and go, you may imagine that it is a mighty swarm of bees you have before you.
In the “Ornithology" of Willoughby, edited 1678, by Ray, it is stated, that “on the Bass Island, in Scotland, lying in the middle of the Edinburgh Firth, and no where else that I know of in Brittany, a huge number of these birds (Solan geese) doth yearly breed.” The celebrated author of “ The Wisdom of God in the Creation,” visited the Bass Rock on the 19th of August, 1661 ; yet he does not appear to have been more aware than Willoughby, that Ailsa, and other remote and rocky islets, were also, in one respect, equal to the “Solangoosifera Bassa” (what Latin?) of the Firth. Audubon, Selby, Wilson, Jardine, Macgillivray, all the great ornithologists of modern times have visited the Bass to see the Solan geese.
Mr. Selby appears to have found the colony in a peculiarly peaceable and confiding temperament, when they allowed “ themselves to be stroked by the hand, without resistance or any show even of impatience, except a low guttural note.”
Dr. John Fleming estimates the yearly number of breeding pairs of gannets at the present time to amount to about 5000. Ray relates that, in his time (1661), the young of the Solan geese, were esteemed a choice dish in Scotland, and sold very dear (1s. 8d. plucked), but he remarks the flesh smells and tastes strong of fish. From the “ Household Book of James V.," published by the Bannatyne Club in 1837, it appears that the purchases of gannets for the royal table were regularly every day from one to thirty-six birds. Among the remnants of olden ecclesiastical privileges is one, that twelve Solan geese, entire, with the feathers on, are annually paid to the minister of North Berwick —the Vicar of the Bass. We have ourselves tasted the Solan goose, smoked and dried, and found it exceedingly palatable. The name of Barnacles, as applied by Butler to the Solan goose, explains what Cleaveland in his satire upon the Scotch means by feeding on Bernacles.
Many other birds congregate on the Bass, more especially the Kittiwake gull, the razor bill,
and the scout, or foolish guillemot. The cormorant, the shag, the herring gull, the common gull, the black-backed gull, the coulterneb, eider-duck, falcon, turtle-dove, jackdaw, raven, and hooded crow, are also met with, and it is justly remarked of the island by the Rev. Thomas M'Crie, that to the visitor in summer, when the darkbrowed rock is encircled with myriads of sea-fowl, wheeling around it in
all varieties of plumage, and screaming in all the notes of the aquatic scale, when it may be said,
The isle is full of noises,
The scene appears like enchantment, and leaves an impression not easily forgotten. If we were to speak of the impressions produced on our own mind, by a visit made to this interesting spot, we should say, never to be forgotten.
But besides this Solan goose, of which a biographer of one of the prisoners of the Bass quaintly enough remarks, that it was probably the most ancient inhabitant of the rock, and its other winged congeners, there are also remains of humanity on this wave-beaten islet, and that, too, in its saddest and most ungenial forms of asceticism, despotism, and persecution. About half-way up the southern slope of the rock are the remains of an ancient chapel, the abode of anchorites as far back almost as the times of the introduction of Christianity into Scotland. At the base of the same slope, clinging, as it were, to the sides of the precipice, are the mouldering walls of a fortification, within which a number of zealous Covenanters were, for principle's sake, incarcerated during the reigns of the last Stuarts.
The first hermit of the Bass, driven there probably by persecution, or by the wars between the Scots and the Picts, was Saint Baldred. was of Scottish descent, and flourished at the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century, having died in the year of our Lord 606. Bede has termed him Bishop of Glasgow, and the successor of Saint Kentigern, or Mungo, the patron saint of that city, but it is
supposed that neither Mungo nor Baldred were ever bishops. Baldred of the Bass appears," says the Rev. Thomas M‘Crie, “to have been a simple Culdee presbyter, residing for safety and retirement in the island, as Columba did in Iona, and Adamnan, another presbyter, in Inchkeith, but sallying forth occasionally to teach the rude natives on the mainland the doctrines of Christianity.” In the time of this holy man there was, according to the monkish chroniclers, a great rock between the Bass and the adjacent land, which remained fixed in the middle of the passage, often causing shipwrecks. The blessed Baldred, moved by piety, ordered himself to be placed on this rock, which, being done, at his nod the rock was immediately lifted up, and, like a ship driven by the wind, proceeded to the nearest shore, and thenceforth remained in the same place, as a memorial of this miracle, and is to this day called Saint Baldred's Coble, or Cock-boat. At Saint Baldred's death, the honour of having the dead body of the revered anchorite became an object of competition to three different parishes, who, coming to take away the same by force, the body was found all whole in three distinct places of the house where he died, so each community was miraculously gratified.
The“ parish kirk in the craig of the Bass,” was consecrated in honour of St. Baldred in 1542, and the old chapel appears to have been occasionally frequented as a place of worship from that time till the Reformation. In 1677, we read in the statistical account that “Below the garden there is a chapel for divine service ; but in regard no minister was allowed for it, the ammunition of the garrison was kept therein.”
The earliest proprietors of the island on record were the Lauders, May.-VOL. LXXXIII. NO. cccxxix.
usually designated the Lauders of the Bass. The island continued with this ancient family for about five centuries, and the crest they assumed for it was quite characteristic--a Solan goose sitting on a rock; but the motto was rather a burlesque on the original, Sub umbra alarum tuarum.
The first time we hear of the Bass being employed as a “strength,” or fortified place, is in the year 1405, when it afforded a temporary retreat to James, the youngest son of Robert III., and on the succession of that prince to the throne, in 1424, Walter Stewart, eldest son of Murdac, or Murdo, Duke of Albany, who had acted as regent, was arrested and “sent prisoner to the castle of the Bass,” while his mother, the duchess, was committed to the towers of Tantallan, which overlook the Bass in gloomy strength from the adjacent mainland. “A lively fancy," says M-Crie, "might draw an affecting picture of the old duchess, as she gazed from the opposite towers of Tantallan on the ocean prison that held her wayward son, and describe her feelings as she saw him conveyed away to suffer an ignominious death." But Scottish ladies of that period were made of sterner stuff. “ There is a report current,” says the bistorian Buchanan, “that the king sent the heads of her father, husband, and children, to Isabella, on purpose to try whether so violent a woman, in a paroxysm of grief, as sometimes happens, might not betray the secrets of her soul ; but she, though affected at the unexpected sight, used no intemperate expressions." M‘Crie says that he has an old manuscript which records this piece of savage brutality, and adds that the old lady " said nothing, but that they worthilie died, gif that whilk wes laid against them were trew !”
The Bass continued to be one of the strengths or fortresses of Scotland during the sixteenth century. James the Sixth paid a visit to it in 1581, and coveted the possession of the island, probably from his partiality for Solan geese.
In 1626, Charles I. also instituted a claim for the possession of the same rock.
In the time of Cromwell, the public records of the Church of Scotland were removed for safety's sake to the Bass, but the rock yielded to the Protector the same year (1650), and the records were packed up in casks and sent to the Tower of London. “ The auld crag” now began to change masters. Having fallen into the possession, first of the Laird of Waughton, and after of Sir Andrew Ramsey, Provost of Edinburgh, it was, in October, 1671, purchased from the latter by Lauderdale, in the name of the government, to become a state prison, and, as Kirkton observes, “ a dear bargain it was” (40001. sterling).
Lauderdale thus became, among his many other titles of honour, Captain of the Bass ; and the “auld crag,” garrisoned by a rude and licentious soldiery, bristling with cannon, and frowning defiance on all around (like a castle in the moon,” old Kirkton describes it), was converted into a prison for the persecuted Presbyterian ministers, with whom it became a rule of practice that whenever any of them was called before the council, where either they behoved to satisfy the bishop or else go to the Bass, to prefer the latter alternative ; and the Rev. James Anderson records the imprisonments of no less than thirty-nine martyrs to this abominable persecution of the early Presbyterians and Covenanters.
Among the most interesting of these martyrs of the Bass, may be noticed the austere and gloomy Alexander Peden, who, according to the chronicles of the time, was gifted with foresight. Peden had joined the Covenanters who were defeated in the Pentland Hills on the 28th of November, 1666, and he was confined in the Bass for upwards of four years, at a time when there were there also several other eminent ministers of the same principles as himself
, but they were confined in separate cells, and only at times allowed to assemble together for devotional exercises.
It is related, that when Peden was a prisoner in the Bass, being engaged in the public worship of God, a young woman came to the chamber door "mocking with loud laughter." He said, “Poor thing, thou mockest and laughest at the worship of God ; but, ere long, God will work such a sudden surprising judgment on thee, that shall stay thy laughing, and thou shalt not escape it.” Very shortly thereafter, as she was walking upon the rock, there came a blast of wind that swept her into the sea, and she was lost.
Such was the bold and awakening tenor of Peden's addresses, and which, according to his biographer (Walker in “ Biograph. Presb."), reminded his listener of Elijah or of John the Baptist, that he converted a soldier, who refused afterwards to lift his arms “ against Jesus Christ's cause, or to persecute his people.” It is also related of Peden, that on the day on which the Covenanters were discomfited at Bothwell Bridge, the 22nd of June, 1679, he was near the border, forty miles distant from the scene of action. Yet when he was informed that the people were waiting for sermon, he replied, “ Let the people go to their prayers, for me, I neither can nor will preach any this day, for our friends are fallen and fled before the enemy at Hamilton, and they are hagging and hashing them down, and their blood is running like water.” He is also reported to have spoken in a similar strain at the defeat of the insurgents at Pentland Hills.
In 1682 he united in marriage John Brown of Priesthill, to Isabel Weir, his second wife. At the close of the ceremony the gloomy fanatic is said to have addressed the bride as follows,“ Isabel, you have got a good man to be your husband, but you will not enjoy him long; prize his company, and keep linen by you to be his winding-sheet, for you will need .it when you are not looking for it, and it will be a bloody one.”
Brown was shot by Claverhouse in the beginning of May, 1655, that is, three years afterwards.
After taking refuge for some years in Ireland, Peden returned with a few followers to Scotland, where they were hunted about by the dragoons like wild beasts. On one occasion, having sought refuge in a moss where the cavalry could not easily follow them, Peden fervently prayed to God to “ cast the lap of his cloak” around them, and forth with a dark cloud of mist is said to have come on, and to have completely screened them from their pursuers. For a long time Peden wandered from one lurking place to another till he grew weary of such a life of persecution, and an affecting incident is related of his visiting the grave of Richard Cameron, who, with eight of his followers, was killed at Airs Moss by a party of dragoons under Bruce of Earlshall. Harassed and vexed, he sat down by the grave, and, as he thought of the happiness of his beloved friend, who had exchanged all his sufferings for the martyr's crown, while he himself was still enduring “the scorching heat of persecution,” meekly raising his eyes to Heaven, he prayed “O to be wi' Ritchie!"
At length Peden's bodily infirmities rendering him unable to wander about, he caused a cave to be dug, with a willow bush covering its mouth,