The Inuit Discovery of Scotland in 1682

The Inuit discovery of Scotland certainly took place in 1682, but it may have happened earlier. How much earlier is not clear.

Inuit Hunter

James Wallace (d. 18 September, 1688), a minister in Kirkwall, recorded the arrival of two Inuk in Orkney, a group of islands which lie just off the north coast of the Scottish mainland. He drafted his account of the event at some point between 1685 and 1688, but it did not appear in print until the posthumous publication of his A Description of the Isles of Orkney (1693). (Diary of Thomas Brown, 53.)

Wallace recorded the Inuk as ‘Finnmen’, a local term that associated them with Finland, but he had read widely and correctly identified their origin as Inuit from Greenland.

Wallace’s account is as follows:

‘Sometime about this Country are seen these Men which are called Finnmen; In the year 1682, one was seen sometime sailing, sometime Rowing up and down in his little Boat at the south end of the isle of Eda[y], most of the people of the Isle flocked to see him, and when they adventured to put out a boat with men to see if they could apprehend him, he presently sped away most swiftly: And in the Year 1684, another was seen from Westra[y], and for a while after they got a few or no Fishes: for they have this Remark here, that these Finnmen drive away the fishes from the place to which they come.


These Finnmen seem to be some of these people that dwell about the Fretum Davis [i.e., the Davis Strait], a full account of whom may be seen in the natural & moral History of the Antilles [by Rochefort], Chap. 18. One of their Boats sent from Orkney to Edinburgh is to be seen in the Physicians hall with the Oar and the Dart he makes use of for killing Fish.’ (Wallace, A Description of Orkney, 34.)

It is not clear from Wallace’s account whether Inuk had previously visited Orkney. Some writers have speculated that the individuals found in the 1680s had escaped from European captors. That may be true, however, Wallace’s account indicates that they appeared with their boats on three occasions and that, in at least in two of those cases, they had the hunting implements needed for fishing. Further sightings in Orkney were reported in 1701 and Aberdeen in 1728.

The Inuit encounter of 1684 may have taken place during the Great Frost of the winter of 1683 to 1684, but no month is given. It is also possible that it was a long-range summer hunting expedition.

UPDATE, August 2016

Right now, Olly Hicks and George Bullard are using a kayak to retrace the epic Inuit journey from Greenland to Scotland.

Wallace’s Source on European Encounters in Greenland

Charles du Rochefort’s Histoire naturelle et morale des iles Antilles de l’Amerique (Rotterdam, 1658) was translated into English as The History of the Caribby-Islands. In the eighteenth chapter of the English version, from page 110 onwards, is an account of a voyage in 1656 to the Greenland coast of the Davis Strait.

There are parallels between Rochefort’s and Wallace’s accounts. In both cases the arriving party was greeted by curious locals launching boats. They were also both in pursuit of resources. The European voyagers left with what they hoped was silver ore – they were to be disappointed by the results – the two Inuk hunters left with fish.

For other wonders of the 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

~ by drmarkjardine on July 26, 2015.

15 Responses to “The Inuit Discovery of Scotland in 1682”

  1. Interesting that these dates would appear to correspond with the Little Ice Age, also I recall seeing a sealskin boat in the Aberdeen museum at Marischal College, that had washed up along with its owner at Peterhead, the man was apparently extremely fatigued and died soon after.

  2. Click to access archiveDownload

  3. Tantalising fragments … John MacAuley has done an interesting wee book about the Finnmen, and others: SEAL FOLK AND OCEAN PADDLERS – Sliochd nan Ron (White Horse Press).

  4. […] The Inuit Discovery of Scotland in 1682 […]

  5. […] via The Inuit Discovery of Scotland in 1682 | Jardine’s Book of Martyrs. […]

  6. […] In North and Central America, only the tiny French territory of Saint Pierre et Miquelon remains on zero hits. Cuba, presumably, continues to hide behind some kind of political firewall. However, Greenland has leapt into the chart and on to the map with 251 hits, which was connected to this story on the Inuit Discovery of Scotland. […]

  7. […] millennia that a potentially significant sign of climate change appears in Scotland, when Inuit hunters were discovered in Orkney in 1682 and again in 1684. At the same time, the winter of 1682 was described as ‘rather like a spring for mildnes’, […]

  8. […] The Inuit Discovery of Scotland in 1682 James Wallace, a minister in Kirkwall, recorded the arrival of the Inuit in Orkney, a group of islands which lie just off the north coast of the Scottish mainland. He drafted his account of the event at some point between 1685 and 1688, but it did not appear in print until the posthumous publication of his A Description of the Isles of Orkney (1693). Even more surprisingly, the Inuit got to Europe without any (anti-societalist or capitalist) royal funding, just like another not so famous explorer, who made the opposite-to-Columbus voyage, but in the twentieth century instead of the fifteenth. [] […]

  9. Fascinating article.
    FYI, the government of Canada provides guidance on the use of the singular and plural nouns, Inuk and Inuit, and the adjective form, at this link:
    Interestingly, French usage has moved away from Inuk as the singular form, and includes the definite articles. cheers, ajk

  10. According to oral tradition in my family I am the descendant of an Inuit. There were 7 Inuit brothers who left Greenland as crew on a Whale ship. 5 of the brothers drowned at sea of the 2 who were left 1 settled in Denmark and my ancestor settled in Scotland. The story is from my grandmothers family some of whom were Thomson from Orkney. I have tried to examine and contacted various sources to establish some credence to this but so far I have hit a brick wall. The last thing to do is to have my DNA analysed.

    • Dear Reg Knowles, I just read your comment in “The Inuit discovery of Scotland in 1682”. Please contact me at I research Inuit history, and have done some research in Orkney. I’d like to hear your story. Kenn Harper (Canada)

  11. […] On sait par ailleurs que les kayaks des Inuits pouvaient faire le voyage jusqu’en Europe – des Inuits sont aperçus dans les îles orcadiennes en Écosse en 1682 –, mais il est fort probable que d’autres expéditions inuites aient eu lieu avant. Une […]

  12. […] contacts. For example, Somalia and China had set up a trade relationship by 200BCE; Inuit people made contact with the Nord-Gaels of Orkney in the 1600s;  Roman roads brought Jews, Syrians, and a variety of […]

  13. […] – namely, the Inuit ‘discovery’ of Orkney in 1682 or thereabouts, a tale told on Dr Mark Jardine’s always fascinating blog. Among other things, this raises the intriguing philosophical questions of who, exactly, […]

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