The nineteenth century was a time of great political and industrial change for Scotland. The industrial revolution was in full swing, and various labour movements were beginning to form. Laws were passed to reform and improve such things as poor laws, sanitation, and education, and Scotland's major towns and cities saw many changes. The highlands, too, were not immune from change, as the Clearances took hold, evicting crofters from their land. Sport, science and the arts also flourished during this period.

Industrial change

The industrial revolution brought railways and canals to Scotland as elsewhere during the 1800s. This was the time when the Caledonian was built, as was the Forth Rail Bridge. The Tay Bridge disaster would be commemorated by the famous (or infamous!) poet William McGonagall. Iron and coal were very important to the Scottish economy, and the dangers of coal-mining could be seen in the Blantyre mine explosion in 1837. Scottish engineers and inventors like Telford, Macintosh, and Mcadam became famous.


In politics, Scotland was to see a rise in various labour movements. Weavers held a strike in Glasgow and the west of Scotland in 1812. Radicals called for a Scottish government but were crushed by troops at Falkirk in 1820. The Scottish Reform Act of 1832 led to 64,000 Scots having the right to vote. Five cotton spinners were transported in 1838 for belonging to a worker's association. Chartist support was also strong in Scotland around this time. 1853 saw the formation of the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, and in 1859 work began on the Wallace monument. The Scottish Office in Whitehall opened in 1887. One of the most important political events was the founding of the Scottish Labour Party by Keir Hardie, a forerunner of the modern Labour Party. He became the first Labour MP in 1892, and in 1893, the Independent Labour Party was formed. 1894 saw the formation of the Scottish Grand Committee to debate Scottish issues, and in 1897 the STUC (Scottish Trades Union Congress) was founded.

Reform and improvement

Throughout the century, many reforms and improvements were made which would have a major impact on Scottish life. As well as the reforms to voting rights mentioned above, there were Royal Commissions on sanitation, the Poor Law, and coal mines, with resulting legislation. Education, local government, policing, public houses, and universities were also covered by new laws.

Glasgow and Edinburgh

Links between Scotland's major cities were developed during the period, with both canal and rail links being established. The completion of Edinburgh's Charlotte Square in 1800 marked the birth of its New Town, although many buildings in the old town were damaged by fire in 1824. Playfair's National Gallery was completed in 1859, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery opened in 1882.

Glasgow saw the building of a reservoir for drinking water, Loch Katrine, in 1859, and in 1866 the Glasgow Improvement Act was passed, aimed at removing slum properties, and the city was already known for its efforts to improve health and sanitation.

The Highlands

In the Highlands, the highland clearances were to lead to many crofters being placed on boats to America and Canada in conditions worse than those for slaves. Potato famines worsened the plight for those who stayed, and in 1882 the Crofters' War broke out in Skye.


Scotland was at the leading edge of scientific advances in the 1800s. William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, studied at the University of Glasgow when making his important studies of heat, electricity, and magnetism. Botanist Robert Brown discovered that the cell nucleus was present in plant life. Joseph Lister pioneered antiseptic surgery in Edinburgh in 1867 using carbolic acid to prevent infection. Female students first appeared in Scottish universities, and James Young Simpson demonstrated the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic. Another Scot, Alexander Graham Bell, invented the telephone in 1876.

The arts

In literature, Scotland produced writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and James Hogg, the "Ettrick Shepherd", as well as poets like Thomas Campbell. The Royal Scottish Academy was established, and the first National Mod, a Gaelic music festival, took place. The artist Henry Raeburn was knighted for his contributions to painting.


Scotland's sporting traditions were also shaped by the events of the nineteenth century. Football clubs like Queen's Park, Rangers, and Celtic were founded, and the first "international" match between Scotland and England was played in Glasgow. The SFA (Scottish Football Association) and SRU (Scottish Rugby Union) were established. Golf, too, saw its first Open competition, played at Prestwick.

A 19th-century Scottish timeline

The timeline below lists some of the major events in Scotland during the century:

1800: Edinburgh's Charlotte Square is completed; Robert Owen becomes manager of the New Lanark mills
1801: Scottish population 1,625,000
1802: Edinburgh Review published
1803: Thomas Telford begins work on the Caledonian Canal
1804: Episcopalian Church of Scotland re-unites after a hundred years; Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville appointed First Lord of Admiralty
1805: Impeachment and resignation of Melville
1807: The Sutherland clearances begin
1809: A General Association of Operative Weavers is formed to campaign for better wages
1810: First railway in Scotland opens between Kilmarnock and Troon; Walter Scott publishes Lady of the Lake
1811: The Scottish population is 1,804,000
1812: Weaver's strike in Glasgow and West of Scotland; Henry Bell launches steam-propelled Comet on River Clyde
1813: Tron riot in Edinburgh; Robert Owen of New Lanark publishes his New View of Society; Kildonan clearance
1814: Publication of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley; public meeting in Edinburgh protests West Indian slavery
1815: English radical Major Cartwright visits Edinburgh to encourage Hampden Clubs for political reform
1816: Robert Owen opens an infant school for his employees at New Lanark
1817: The Scotsman newspaper is established; William Blackwood publishes the Tory Magazine in opposition to the Whig Edinburgh Review; sedition trials in Edinburgh
1818: Rob Roy makes first crossing between Belfast and Glasgow
1819: Charles Macintosh and Thomas Hancock perfect a manufacturing process for a waterproof fabric; John Loudon Macadam publishes a A Practical Essay on the Scientific Repair and Preservation of Public Roads; steam pioneer James Watt dies
1820: Radical posters in Glasgow call for support for a provisional Scottish government; troops crush abortive radical insurrection at Bonnymuir near Falkirk; Edinburgh crowds protest George IV's treatment of Queen Caroline
1822: George IV makes a state visit to Edinburgh; Caledonian Canal opens to traffic; first Highland and Agricultural Show is held; the artist Henry Raeburn is knighted
1823: Sir Henry Raeburn dies; Sir Walter Scott is president of the new Bannatyne Club which publishes Scottish history and literature sources; the Excise Act reforms whisky production
1824: A major fire in Edinburgh destroys many buildings including the steeple of the Tron church, and the east side of Parliament Square; the "Ettrick Shepherd" James Hogg publishes The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
1825: The Clydesdale Bank is established
1926: The Royal Scottish Academy is founded; Robert Owensees the failure of Orbiston co-operative village; Colliers' Association lose strike battle in Glasgow
1827: Sir Walter Scott admits he wrote Waverley novels
1828: James Beaumont Neilson invents hot blast iron-smelting; highlanders face slave conditions on Atlantic ships; trial of William Burke begins; John Dunlop founds Total Abstinence Society
1829: Burke is convicted of trading in corpses, and hanged, following evidence from William and Margaret Hare
1830: Francis Jeffrey, a founder of the Edinburgh Review, is appointed Lord Advocate; botanist Robert Brown discovers cell nucleus in plant life
1832: Sir Walter Scott dies; Reform Act(Scotland) is passed, 64,000 (1 in 8) can vote; cholera epidemic
1833: Passing of Burgh Reform Acts
1834: Engineer Thomas Telford dies; James Chalmers invents an adhesive postage stamp; The Church of Scotland passes a Veto Act giving congregations the right to reject ministers
1835: James Hogg, the "Ettrick Shepherd" poet, dies
1836: Failure of Highland potato crop; John Loudon Macadam dies; Forth-Clyde canal flourishes; cotton spinners' strike
1837-39: Outbreaks of typhus and typhoid
1837: Accession of Queen Victoria; an underground explosion at Blantyre colliery kills 297 miners
1838: Five cotton spinners sentenced to transportation; Court of Session rules Church of Scotland is subject to the state; Thomas Carlyle publishes book on philosophy
1839: The Chartist newspaper Scottish Patriot is published; the first Aberdeen clipper ship is launched
1840: The Chartist Fergus O'Connor speaks at a demo on Glasgow Green; Irish-born immigrants are 5 per cent of Scottish population
1842: Typhoid and typhus outbreaks; Chadwick's Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain; Royal Commission on Coal Mines; opening of Edinburgh-Glasgow railway line; Victoria makes her first visit to Scotland
1843: The Disruption: the Scottish church splits - formation of the Free Church of Scotland; Charles Macintosh dies
1844: Royal Commission on Poor Law (Scotland); the poet Thomas Campbell dies
1845: Poor Law (Scotland) Amendment Act; completion of New Statistical Account of Scotland
1845-50: "Railway mania"
1846: Potato famine in Highlands; repeal of Corn Laws; in Edinburgh, the North British Railway Line is opened, but ends its Sunday Glasgow-Edinburgh service after pressure to observe the Sabbath
1847: The United Presbyterian Church is formed by the merger of the Burgher, Anti-Burgher and Relief churches; James Young Simpson demonstrates the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic in Edinburgh; Thomas Chalmers, leader of the Free Church of Scotland dies; Educational Institute of Scotland is founded
1848: The last Chartist demonstrations take place; a cholera epidemic breaks out
1850: Prince Albert lays the foundation stone for William Playfair's Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh
1852: The Highland Emigration Society is formed
1853: The National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights is formed, as is the Edinburgh Trades Council; the Public Libraries (Scotland) Act is passed, and the Public House Act
1854: The Crimean War begins; the Scottish Institute of Chartered Accountants is founded
1855: Religious tests for university entrants are repealed; renovation work on Balmoral Castle is completed
1856: The Allies win the Crimean War
1857: Western Bank collapses in financial scandal
1858: Universities (Scotland) Act
1859: National Gallery opens in Edinburgh; Queen Victoria opens Loch Katrine, drinking water reservoir for Glasgow; work commences on the Wallace Monument near Stirling
1860: Coal Mines Regulation Act; first Open Golf Championship, at Prestwick; Aberdeen University is founded
1862: General Police and Improvement (Scotland) Act
1865: Report on the Sanitary Condition of Edinburgh; Alexander "Big Mac" MacDonald leads National Miners' Union
1866: Glasgow Improvement Act
1867: Founding of Queen's Park FC; Lister pioneers antiseptic surgery in Edinburgh
1868: Reform Act (Scotland)
1869: Cutty Sark built at Dumbarton; Sophia Jex-Blake becomes first female medical student in Britain, studying at Edinburgh
1871: Stanley finds Livingstone in Africa
1872: Education (Scotland) Act; first international football match is played at Queen's Park between England and Scotland
1873: The Scottish Football Association (SFA) and Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) are formed; Glasgow Rangers FC is also founded; David Livingstone dies
1876: Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone
1878: Restoration of Roman Catholic hierarchy; collapse of City of Glasgow Bank
1879: Gladstone's Midlothian campaign; the Tay Bridge disaster
1881: Foundation of University College, Dundee; Scottish population reaches 3,736,000
1882: Opening of Scottish National Portrait Gallery; Crofter's War
1883: Napier Commission on Highlands; foundation of Highland Land League; SS Daphne launched and sank, 124 killed; Boys Brigade meets for first time
1884: Reform Act; Singer sewing machine factory opens
1885: Re-establishment of a Scottish Secretary's office
1887: Scottish Office established in Whitehall
1888: Founding of Scottish Labour Party by Keir Hardie; Glasgow Celtic FC founded
1888-99: 18 clan societies founded
1889: Local Government (Scotland) Act; West Highland Railway opens; Robert Louis Stevenson retires to Samoa
1890: Completion of the Forth Rail Bridge
1891: Founding of Highland Association
1892: First National Mod, Oban; split of Free Presbyterians from Free Church; Keir Hardie becomes first Labour MP; William Thomson becomes Lord Kelvin
1893: Independent Labour Party founded
1894: Establishment of Scottish Grand Committee
1896: Glasgow Underground opens
1897: The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) is founded
1899-1902: Boer War

A Companion to Scottish History, Donnachie and Hewitt, 1989, BT Batsford Ltd
The Oxford Companion to Scottish History, Oxford University Press, 2001

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