The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh: Some Photos

In 1670 two doctors – Robert Sibbald and Andrew Balfour – laid out a garden near the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh to grow herbs, flowers and plants for medical purposes. After the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, which had been founded earlier in 1621, it was the second botanic garden in Britain.

Later, in 1684, a second Physic Garden was opened by these two Edinburgh doctors on a site that used to be occupied by Trinity Hospital and is today part of the Waverley railway station. Eventually, these two gardens were united in 1763 on the west side of one of the longest streets in Edinburgh, Leith Walk, before the Royal Botanic Garden was transferred north to its present location at Inverleith in 1820. It is worth a visit for tourists, as the photos show.

Botanic Garden E3
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The photo was taken by me (Nils Zumbansen) in one of the Glasshouses in 2019.
Botanic Garden E1
Inverleith House in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The photo was taken by me (Nils Zumbansen) in 2019.



Turnbull, Michael T.R.B. Curious Edinburgh. Reprinted ed. Stroud. The History Press, 2010.


The Origin of the Mythical Loch Ness Monster Nessie in the Hagiography of St Columba

The Scottish lake Loch Ness is probably best known for its legendary water-beast Nessie. Interestingly, the alleged first sighting of this supposed monster dates back to the early Middle Ages. It is recorded in Saint Adomnán’s biography of the 6th-century Christian missionary and abbot Saint Columba.  

Loch Ness, the second largest Scottish loch or lake, draws many visitors from all over the world. This deep, freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands is situated southwest of the city of Inverness. It extends approximately 37 kilometers or 23 miles, forming a part of  a large valley – the Great Glen. In general, you can see a rugged and, at the same time, beautiful lake landscape.

While exploring this area, visitors may also come across the picturesque ruins of Urquhart Castle on a promontory which is on three sides surrounded by Loch Ness’s water. Alongside providing a superb view of the loch and its surrounding landscape beyond, the castle ruins convey a tranquil and even idyllic atmosphere, although on the promontory it can by very windy.

But the idyllic scene today conceals a violent history. During the 500s AD the site had probably been a fort and was likely occupied by the Picts, a Celtic tribal federation of peoples, before a castle was erected there in the 13th century. Because of its strategic position Urquhart Castle witnessed several sieges.

After the Jacobite Rising of 1689-1690 troops that supported the new King William of Orange marched out of the castle in 1692, blowing up some of its buildings. Subsequently, its other parts fell into decay.

Urquhart means ‘by the wood or thicket’. A written reference to a place that was called  Airchartdan and that modern scholars equate with Urquhart first appeared in Saint Adomnán’s hagiography or biography of the life of the 6th-century Irish churchman, Christian missionary and abbot Saint Columba (c.521-597). Notably, St Adomnán (c.624-704) was a kinsman of St Columba, a canon jurist and, like his relative, a saintly abbot.

St Adomnán completed his important work with the title Vita Sancti Columbae (Eng. Life of Saint Columba) roughly 100 years after St Columba’s death. While telling various events of St Columba’s life, he presents him as a model of a pious Catholic monk, a hard negotiator with kings, a successful missionary, a charismatic hero with prophetic skills and a miracle worker.

In one chapter St Columba miraculously saves one of his companions from a water-beast in or around Loch Ness. This alleged event is particularly striking because it is arguably the origin or original source of the legendary monster Nessie with which Loch Ness is probably most associated in today’s popular culture. Besides the supposed encounter with the water-beast of legend, St Columba is connected with other significant issues in Scottish history.

‘A Pilgrimage for the Love of Christ’ – St Columba’s Influence in Scotland

Around 521 Col(u)m Cille – which translates as ‘dove of the church’ – or Columba was born into a powerful Irish family. Notwithstanding his family background, he didn’t aim for secular power. Instead, he early on seems to be predestined for a life in the church. Yet, after some troublesome time for him, he left Ireland to go on ‘a pilgrimage for the love of Christ’ in Scotland.

There Columba founded a number of monasteries. Among them was the famous Iona Abbey. (Note that the small island Iona is part of the Inner Hebrides on the western cost of mainland Scotland.) Established by Columba in 563, Iona not only became a centre of Celtic Christianity but also highly contributed to the spread of the Christian faith among the Picts and Anglo-Saxon peoples in areas of present-day Scotland and England since the abbey sent out missionaries.

As for Columba, the saintly churchman served as Iona’s first abbot. Remarkably, his 9th successor as abbot of Iona was his relative and hagiographer St Adomnán.

Even though Columba – who died on 9 June 597 – is one of the patron saints and the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, he has also been revered in Scotland throughout the centuries. His monastic community on the island Iona actively fostered his cult as a saint after his lifetime. Poetry and other texts were written to praise him and to emphasize his holiness. A case in point is, of course, St Adomnán’s aforementioned hagiography Vita Sancti Columbae.

Legends about St Columba state – among many other issues – that in times of need kings turned to the saint and that he, for example, appeared to the 7th-century saintly King of Northumbria (i.e. parts of today’s northern England and south-east Scotland) Oswald before the Battle of Heavenfield in 634. Later on the famous King Kenneth I or Kenneth MacAlpin (810-858) had his relics moved to the Scottish town Dunkeld.

Needless to say, in Scotland during the High Middle Ages other saints rose in importance. However, St Columba remained a significant Scottish saint. For instance, his alleged relics, the Breccbennach, were carried by the Scottish army at the historic Battle of Bannockburn where the Scottish defeated the English on 24 June 1314.

In recent decades, St Columba has still exerted influence in Scotland by representing a kind of ecumenical saintly figure. That means, both Scottish Catholics and Scottish Protestants respect him as an ‘apostle of Scotland’. Moreover, as mentioned above, one story about him seemingly gave rise to a popular Scottish myth – Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.

St Columba at the Loch Ness – His Encounter with Nessie

According to St Adomnán’s Vita Sancti Columbae and the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Eng. the Ecclesiastical History of the English People) by the renowned English Benedictine monk and scholar St Bede the Venerable, during the second half of the 6th century St Columba visited the Pictish king Bridei or Brude at his court supposedly near the modern city of Inverness. Hence, on his long journey he must have travelled through the Great Glen.

St Adomnán tells us that St Columba came round to a Pictish residence called AirchartdanHere he baptized Emchath, a dying Pict, and his whole household. Whether Emchath’s residence Airchartdan – which is equated with Urquhart – was on the site where now visitors find the remnants of the once-mighty Urquhart Castle, cannot be confirmed with absolute certainty.

At Urquhart Castle and at Loch Ness in general, sensation-seeking tourists nowadays not only want to view the ruins and the impressive Scottish loch but also attempt to catch a glimpse of the legendary Loch Ness Monster Nessie. Since roughly the 1930s – when several alleged sightings of the monster were reported and the fake surgeon’s photograph was produced –  Nessie has developed into a cultural phenomenon or myth. For Loch Ness the monster basically constitutes a marketing tool.

Broadly speaking, tales of mythical beasts in Highland lochs have long existed. Nevertheless, the first supposed sighting of such a water-beast in or around Loch Ness was recorded by St Adomnán in his hagiography Vita Sancti Columbae, in which the 28th chapter (How an aquatic monster was driven off by virtue of the blessed man’s prayer) of Book II. On His Miraculous Powers reads as follows:

“ON another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, ‘Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.’ Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.”

All in all, this chapter apparently laid the foundation stone for the myth of Nessie.

It is impossible to corroborate whether the story is true or not. At any rate, a large creature, its mate and / or its offspring are extremely unlikely to have survived multiple generations from approximately the 6th century down to our own age. Despite previous unsuccessful attempts to find (traces of) the Loch Ness Monster – including extensive sonar searches – some people still aim to prove its existence. This modern form of monster-hunting is the pseudoscience of cryptozoology.

Perhaps St Columba succeeded in ridding us from Nessie once and for all. Otherwise, if you really discover a threatening water-beast one day in the Loch Ness, you know what to do. Make the sign of the cross and say the following magic words: thou shalt go no further, nor touch me (or – if there is a group – us); go back with all speed. 😉


Cannon, John. Ed. A Dictionary of British History. Rev ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press (OUP), 2009 (2001). 

Lynch, Michael. Ed. The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. Oxford: OUP, 2001.

Maier, Bernhard. Geschichte Schottlands. Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck, 2015. 

Ross, David. Scotland: History of a Nation. New ed. Broxburn: Lomond Books Ltd, 2017 (1998).

Urquhart Castle: Official Souvenir Guide. Edinburgh: Historic Scotland, 2012.

All photos were taken – and modified – by me (Nils Zumbansen).







When Colonial America Rose from Albion’s Seed – The British Roots of the U.S.A.

During the colonial period in the 17th and 18th centuries, North America was predominantly shaped by four major waves of migration from England or Britain.

The United States of America is commonly considered a nation of immigrants. For a few centuries countless people from various different countries have been streaming into the U.S.A. to leave their old lives behind and to live the American dream. Indeed, from the point of view of many immigrants, this land of opportunity has always been an object of desire.

Because of the coexistence of several groups from different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds, some well-known ideas have emerged over time. One of them, in particular, stands out – namely the idea of the melting pot. With respect to this notion, the U.S.A. is – in the words of the online dictionary Merriam Webster – “a place where a variety of races, cultures, or individuals assimilate into a cohesive whole.”

But both this idea (or myth) of the melting pot and the aforementioned commonly used phrase ‘nation of immigrants’ may distort that in the 17th and 18th centuries North America was predominantly settled by people from Britain (mostly from England) as well as their descendants. Their traditions and views, to a high extent, proved influential in shaping colonial American culture.

The historical impact of the British or English on America is described in detail by the American historian David Hackett Fischer in his book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (1989). According to Fischer, the first of the four waves of British migration roughly started in 1629.

Prior to that, some people from England, needless to say, had already come to the Americas. By, in metaphorical terms, slowly planting Albion’s Seed in the New World, they laid the foundations for the four major migration waves from Britain.

Albion’s Seed Was Slowly Planted – The Early English Ventures and Attempts at Settlement in the New World

After Christopher Columbus had ‘discovered’ America in 1492, English ships occasionally embarked on voyages to the New World. Despite these early voyages of explorations, there was apparently not so much enthusiasm for oversea expeditions to the Americas in the first years of the 16th century. However, during the second half of the 16th century England decided to venture into the New World, where the Spanish and Portuguese colonialists had found gold and silver.

Especially English merchants were interested in breaking the Spanish overseas monopoly since the vast land of America provided important resources and goods like sugar, tobacco, timber and tropical fruits. The merchants‘ efforts received support from the English crown under Queen Elizabeth I (b.1533, 1558-1603).

Moreover, Queen Elizabeth commissioned the famous English sea captain and privateer Sir Francis Drake (c.1540-1596) to attack Spanish ships and Spanish settlements at America’s Pacific coast. It should be added here that Drake as well as the English naval commander Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) engaged in the slave trade during this period.

The Queen also granted the explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert (c.1539-1583) a patent to plant overseas colonies. Eventually, in 1583 he claimed Newfoundland for England. Therefore, Newfoundland became the first English possession in North America. Nevertheless, his attempt at colonization finally failed because he and his ships were lost at sea on the return journey.

Later, another famous Englishman, the explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1554-1618), Gilbert’s half-brother, established an English settlement on Roanoke Island in 1585, which is today part of the U.S. state of North Carolina. Historical sources point out that this new area was named Virginia in honour of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. Ultimately, the settlement only lasted a few years.

Although England’s early attempts to colonize parts of the New World failed, thirty English settlements were set up from 1580 to 1630. Among them was the first permanent  one in North America at Jamestown (in present-day Virginia), which was founded in 1607.

This English population in the New World constituted only one of several groups there. However, these English people paved the way for England’s future settlements and the migration waves from Britain. Metaphorically speaking, they slowly planted Albion’s Seed.

Albion’s Seed Began to Grow and Developed into A City upon a Hill – The English Pilgrim Fathers and the Puritans

Quite a few textbooks about American history usually emphasize the Puritans, Reformed English Protestants. As their name indicates, they intended to purify the Church of England from – in their view – ‘papist’ (i.e. Roman Catholic) practices. Their migration from the eastern counties of England took place between about 1629 and 1640. Subsequently, the Puritans settled Massachusetts Bay.

We should not equate these Puritans with the Pilgrim Fathers, as they were called, even though the latter also held Puritan beliefs. In general, the Pilgrim Fathers were religious Separatists who broke away from the English state church, the Church of England. Hence, their main aim was to gain religious freedom.

Roughly speaking, the Pilgrim Fathers had exiled themselves to the Netherlands, before they sailed on the ship Mayflower to America. Finally, they arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 – that is, prior to the start of the above mentioned Puritan migration wave. By the way, the first Thanksgiving can be traced back to the feast or harvest meal, which was given by the Plymouth settlers in 1621. Yet, in regards to this event, myths, legends and facts blur.

At any rate, the Puritans, by contrast, were still members of the Church of England. Only during the reign of King Charles I did they leave England in masses. From their viewpoint, the King felt attracted to the Catholic rites they hated. Alongside social and economic issues, his attitude towards religion certainly was a contributing factor for the Puritan migration to America.

Adhering to the doctrines of Reformed Protestant Calvinist Orthodoxy and the belief in predestination, the Puritans were determined to establish a deeply religious and God-fearing community without interferences by outsiders. Furthermore, they strove to create a new Zion. To achieve their goal, the people in Massachusetts (or other parts of New England) followed strict religious rules as well as codes of law and order. Within the community, the law was supposed to reflect biblical principles.

One of the leading figures of the English Puritan community, John Winthrop (1588-1649), alluded to the determination to establish a new Zion in Massachusetts by mentioning for the first time the well-known phrase “city upon a hill” in his sermon A Model of Christian Charity:

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us…” (This quotation is derived from a few passages from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew 5. 14-16.)

Winthrop, a longterm governor of Massachusetts Bay, wanted the Christian colony to serve as a model of order and morality for humanity.

Ever since, the phrase has been referred to the U.S.A. as a whole. It is an example of expressions of American exceptionalism. Unsurprisingly, several US politicians / Presidents have employed this phrase in their speeches.

If we use our metaphor again, through the migrations of the Pilgrim Fathers and the Puritans Albion’s Seed began to grow. Until the end of the 18th century it continued to grow because of three other waves of British migrants.

Albion’s Seed Kept Growing, or the Other Major Migration Waves from Britain – The Aristocrats, the Quakers and the Immigrants from the British Borderlands

On the one hand, when the English Civil War(s) commenced in 1642, a number of  Puritans retuned to England to support the Parliamentarians in the fight against Charles I and the Royalists. On the other hand, a second major migration wave to America occurred from roughly 1642 to 1675. This wave carried royalist aristocrats and gentlemen mainly from England’s south and west. Most of them were younger sons of English aristocratic families.

Their American destination was Virginia. Here the aristocrats and gentlemen formed an elitist and hierarchically organized society. They also had particular ideas of liberty and government such as the concept of freedom as a condition of independence and the notions of minimal government and self-government. After all, during the founding period of the U.S.A. at the end of the 18th century, several descendants of these gentlemen or, more precisely, their ideas exerted a huge influence on the U.S. Constitution.

Other characteristics of this society encompassed an allegiance to the Anglican faith and a strong sense of honour. Interestingly enough, the majority of the white population in Virginia consisted of indentured servants as well as landless or poor people.

Afterwards, two additional major migration waves from Britain brought many English Quakers and a high number of immigrants from the Northern British borderlands to America. From about 1675 to 1715 the Quakers – who had lived in England’s North Midlands before their migration – resided in the Delaware Valley (around Philadelphia), while later, from roughly 1717 to 1775, the people from the borderlands of northern Britain moved to the Appalachian backcountry.

For instance, the Quaker community was founded on a remarkable work ethic, a notion of spiritual equality and a pluralistic idea of reciprocal liberty. Particularly the latter two were Christian concepts, embracing all humanity.

‘Reciprocal liberty’ entailed religious freedom or “liberty of conscience,” as the Quakers‘ most prominent member, William Penn (1644-1718), worded it. Notably, for the Quakers, liberty of conscience even applied to ideas they believed to be false. Suffice it to say that these conceptions have still been influential in American society.

As a result of the other migration waves from Britain to America, Albion’s Seed, so to speak, kept growing besides, for example, other migrants from Britain and Ireland, German Pietists in today’s state of Pennsylvania, Dutch settlers in New Netherland (i.e. areas of the present-day states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut as well as Delaware in addition to outposts on Rhode Island and in Pennsylvania), French Huguenots and African slaves. Yet, trouble loomed among the British colonists.

Big Trouble among the British in Colonial America

Undeniably, these groups of colonists shared striking characteristics. That is, they migrated from Britain, spoke English and were Christians. In spite of these shared features and their familiarity with traditional English rights such as trial by jury, the protection of property rights and the right of representative government, the British groups of migrants were culturally different from one another. Each of them highly influenced the cultural identity of the respective settlement region.

Nonetheless, even within the settlement regions internal crises arose occasionally. Apart from these internal crises, the major cultures in British America did not get on with each other from the beginning. We may infer the early British colonists‘ hostile attitude towards one another from the following statements:

In 1651, a Puritan judged Virginians: “I think they are the farthest from conscience and moral honesty of any such number together in the world.”

Many years later, in 1736, a Virginian, William Byrd II, viewed Puritans with contempt, as some passages in one of his letters show: “They have a great dexterity in palliating a perjury so as to leave no taste of it in the mouth, nor can any people like them slip through a penal statute…A watchful eye must be kept on these foul traders.”

Judging from the Puritans‘ and the Virginians‘ stated opinions, they hated the Quakers who were said to “pray for their fellow men one day a week, and on them the other six.”

The Quakers, in turn, despised the Puritans in New England. At the end of the 18th century, a Pennsylvanian Quaker labled them as “the flock of Cain.”

Additionally, the Quakers, Puritans and Virginians alike expressed their dislike of the Borderers from the north of Britain by calling them savages, barbarians, “Vandals of America,” an “unlearned and uncivilized part of the human race” and “a spurious race of mortals.” Similarly, the settlers of the backcountry disdained the aforementioned groups.

(These statements can be found in Fischer’s Albion’s Seed.)

All in all, there was high potential for big trouble.

On many occasions, their mutual antagonism deteriorated into violent regional conflicts. Correspondingly, as far as the regional cultures of British America were concerned, during the colonial period America neither resembled a cultural melting pot nor a United States, even though the migrants came from the same part of the world and had striking characteristics in common. Regardless of these conflicts, the British roots of what became the U.S.A. are indisputable.

Sources and Further Reading

Cannon, John. Ed. Dictionary of British History. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 

Fischer, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York, and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Gerber, David A. American Immigration: A Very Short Introduction. New York, and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. 

Hannan, Daniel. How We Invented Freedom & Why It Matters. London: Head of Zeus, 2013.

Marriott, Emma. Bad History: How We Got the Past Wrong. London: Michael O’Mara Books Limited, 2011. 

McDonald, Forrest. Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1985.

Unger, Irwin. These United States: The Questions of Our Past. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007.

Woods, Thomas E. The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2004.