The bay would have been known as an excellent anchorage back to antiquity, although the first mention as "a sufficient raid (roadstead or anchoring place) for schippis" is in 1549. A map of the whole of Scotland produced about 1590 distinctly shows Calve Island, and the big event of 1588 was the explosive sinking, in the bay, of an Armada ship escaping from defeat in the English Channel. Her first landfall was Islay, so her arrival in Tobermory Bay was from choice, not accident.

There was little or no settlement near the shore when the Royal Navy used the anchorage during the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6 except for a small inn, later described by Johnson and Boswell when they landed from Coll in 1773.


In 1788 the British Fisheries Society chose to establish a fishing station to be known as British Harbour. Neither the fishing schemes nor the name caught on, but under the old name of Tobermory - (St) Mary's Well - the new village developed commercially, taking advantage of the increasing coastal shipping anchoring here. The first pier ("Fishermens") was not built until 1814 constructed with advice from Thomas Telford. With the opening of the Crinan Canal in 1817 Glasgow was reachable in two days, steamboats started to run regular services in the 1820s and tourism began to flourish.

Considerable emigration from the West of Scotland and the Isles took place in the 19th Century. Chartered sailing ships with holds roughly fitted to carry passengers would from time to time anchor in the bay to pick up parties of emigrants sailing mainly for Canada or Australia. After the 1850s, emigrants mostly left by steamboat for Glasgow to join better regulated ships from major ports.

In 1847, the royal yacht "Victoria and Albert" with the owners on board, anchored here. Yachting was becoming popular, another pier ("MacBrayne's") was built to serve the steamers and such notables as Felix Mendelsson and J M W Turner followed in the wake of Sir Walter Scott and Daniell who had visited earlier in the century. The shipping magnate, Alexander Allan, built an improved estate pier at the southern end of the bay and his demolished mansion once stood in the now public park of Aros.

Full regattas were started by the Mull, Morvern and Ardnamurchan Regatta committee in 1894. Just before the turn of the century, a bathing station had been founded in Port na Choit, the bay east of the "God is Love" rock and the swashbuckling Lt Col Kenneth Mackenzie Foss attempted to salvage what was left of the Tobermory galleon. But then, divers have been busy since 1645!

Mull, along with most of the west of Scotland became a Restricted Area and the bay became a naval base with HMS "Western Isle" under Commodore Stephenson giving training to over 1000 escort vessels, going straight into active service in the Battle of the Atlantic .

The opening of the Craignure pier in 1964 began the slow decline of the deep water pier in Tobermory though goods still came into the pier until 1973 when Craignure acquired its linkspan. Perhaps the last commodities to be off-loaded at Tobermory were coal and calor gas, but now these too come by road through the Craignure connection. Visitors, too, come this way and the steamers that used to bring them have disappeared, but cruise liners still call and anchor within Tobermory Bay and a number of small vessels run day trips to catch fish and watch wildlife.

The old Tobermory Pier, built for a herring fishery that never materialised, now serves growing a number of shellfish boats. A large number of yachts still come, because Tobermory Bay is one of the three best harbours on the West Coast and far prettier than either of the other two

"God is Love"? Well it might be for a child miraculously saved when he fell from the cliff. On the other hand, the evangelical Captain Otter was the first to survey the Bay for the first Admiralty chart in 1847.


history_tobermory bay

history tobermory bay

history mull map

history tobermory bay
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