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.
James Wallace (d. 18 September, 1688), 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). (Diary of Thomas Brown, 53.)
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 Inuit 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 Inuit hunters left with fish.
For other wonders of the 1680s, see here.
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