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.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The photos were taken by me in 2019.
See the first photo.
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.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The photos were taken by me (Nils Zumbansen) in one of the Glasshouses in 2019.
See the first photo.
Turnbull, Michael T.R.B. Curious Edinburgh. Reprinted ed. Stroud. The History Press, 2010.
Deacon Brodie’s double life in Edinburgh arguably inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write his famous spine-tingling novella about the respectable Dr Jekyll who transforms into the deformed Mr Hyde.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Gothic novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, first published in 1886, has had a noticeable impact on our popular culture. The story’s continued popularity is due to its representation of a man with a split personality. Significantly, the phrase Jekyll and Hyde is often employed to refer to a person who is thought to have a dual nature (i.e. a good side and a bad or an evil side).
In the novella the dry London lawyer Mr Utterson investigates the last will of his old friend Dr Henry Jekyll, a reputable gentleman who appears to adhere to the moral virtues of the Victorian society. As it turns out, through a drug, he transforms into the opposite of the respectable doctor – the physically deformed and morally degenerated Mr Edward Hyde.
The inspiration for Stevenson’s Jekyll-and-Hyde story seems to be the criminal life of Deacon William Brodie. But, first of all, Edinburgh, the city where Brodie lived, deserves a closer look.
Scotland’s Capital Edinburgh – A City with a Dual Character
Although Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is set in London, it draws a lot on Edinburgh’s topography. Scotland’s capital was Stevenson’s home city. Like the novella’s protagonist (or antagonist), Edinburgh possesses a dual character. Broadly speaking, the city’s Old Town with the Royal Mile – a succession of medieval streets – in its heart contrasts with (or, more precisely, has differed from) the Georgian New Town, whose characteristics include straight-lined streets and large open spaces.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the writer of the play The Melting PotIsrael Zangwill (1864-1926), a London-born Jew, also became aware of the duplicity of Edinburgh’s environment. Judging from his depiction of the sunless courts, some areas of the Athens of the North, one of Edinburgh’s nicknames, gave the impression of constituting a breeding-ground of both crime and evil.
Edinburgh’s dual character fits in with Stevenson’s portrayal of the split personalities of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Appropriately enough, many sources claim that the creation of the novella’s protagonist (or antagonist) was inspired by the double life of Deacon Brodie.
The Real-Life Dr Jekyll – The Criminal Career of Deacon William Brodie
The story of the infamous Deacon brings us to Edinburgh in the second half of the 18th century. During this time Edinburgh was the scene of a series of robberies in which valuable goods and objects disappeared out of several buildings as if by magic. Behind these criminal activities was Deacon Brodie. This man can legitimately qualify as the real-life Dr Jekyll, even though he wasn’t a medical doctor and, needless to mention, didn’t turn into a physically deformed creature like Mr Hyde.
William Brodie (1741-1788) pretended to be a law-abiding citizen. He was a member of Edinburgh’s Town Council and a cabinet-maker. Among his customers were a lot of the richest people in Edinburgh society. Moreover, the respectable Edinburgh citizen Brodie served as the Deacon or head of the Incorporation of Wrights (i.e. skilled woodworkers).
However, his life was also filled with vices such as a gambling habit. In this connection, he had a reputation of cheating by using loaded dice. Besides, Deacon Brodie fathered five children with two mistresses.
Brodie’s extravagant lifestyle or second life eventually required an extra-curricular activity. Consequently, he decided in favour of a criminal career as a daring burglar. By day, the devious Deacon tried to maintain the image of an upright citizen, keeping the dark side of his character hidden from his customers and the public. Then, by night, he became a thief who devised a cunning plan to break into several houses and premises.
Undoubtedly, his profession as a cabinet-maker helped him to be a successful housebreaker. Since he worked in his rich customers‘ houses, Deacon Brodie duplicated their door-keys through wax impressions. Later he even recruited a gang of burglars that consisted of George Smith, a locksmith, John Brown, a thief and Andrew Ainslie, a shoemaker. Nevertheless, their crimes and Brodies’s secret life were ultimately uncovered.
The End and Unmasking of the Double Life of the Devious Deacon
The unmasking of the double life of the real-life Dr Jekyll began in 1788, when Deacon Brodie and his accomplices planned to rob the General Excise Office for Scotland, then in Chessels Court on the Canongate (i.e. a street / section of the Royal Mile) on 5 March. Prior to the robbery, Brodie, amongst other things, had visited the office and memorised the building’s layout.
Despite his plan, the armed robbery was a disastrous failure. In the end, Brodie and his accomplices managed to steal only £16. Subsequently, one of his accomplices betrayed the gang for a reward. While the other gang members were arrested, the devious Deacon successfully escaped to the continent.
Yet, this was the beginning of his end. Before he was about to flee to America, he was captured and brought back to Edinburgh where he was tried and sentenced to death. On 1 October 1788 he was publicly executed close to St Giles‘ Cathedral and buried in an unmarked grave.
According to many sources as well as popular myths, he had himself constructed the wooden gallows on which he was hanged. After his death other wild rumours, legends and tales circulated. One of them stated that he attempted to fake his own death by wearing a steel collar to prevent the hangman’s noose from being fatal. He was even said to have been seen alive in Paris afterwards.
Interestingly, the novella’s final chapter ‘Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case’ ends with the following words:
“Will Hyde die upon the scaffold? or will he find the courage to release himself at the last moment? God knows; I am careless; this is my true hour of death, and what is to follow concerns another than myself. Here, then, as I lay down the pen, and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.”
The statement at the end of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde reveals Dr Jekyll’s disappearance and why in a previous chapter Mr Utterson (together with Jekyll’s butler Poole) discovers Mr Hyde’s body in the doctor’s cabinet. Jekyll’s other self, Mr Hyde, commits suicide, killing Dr Jekyll at the same time.
By contrast, Deacon William Brodie didn’t kill himself. Furthermore, the physical transformation of the protagonist / antagonist is, of course, fantastical. Notwithstanding these and other aspects, the devious Deacon is arguably the two-faced model for Stevenson’s main character, who has a divided self. Fittingly, Dr Jekyll realises that „(m)an is not truly one, but truly two“. Accordingly, he just creates the means to finally make the division between his two selves concrete.
With regard to his famous novella, Robert Louis Stevenson might have been also influenced, apart from Deacon Brodie, by other Edinburgh citizens or residents. Possible candidates are the serial killers Burke and Hare as well as Major Thomas Weir, a strict Covenanting soldier who later confessed to be a vicious occultist and to have had an incestuous relationship with his sister. Similar to Brodie, they lived a secret or double life in Edinburgh, a city with a dual character, as pointed out above.
Locations and Objects Associated with Deacon Brodie in Today’s Edinburgh
Today, the devious Deacon is commemorated by a few locations in Edinburgh’s Old Town. For example, in the vicinity of St Giles‘ Cathedral on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile visitors find the well-known Deacon Brodie’s Tavern. In short distance from this pub, there are Brodie’s Close and the Deacon’s House Cafe. These locations used to contain Brodie’s residence and his workshop.
Another significant object is exhibited in the Writers‘ Museum, which can be reached from the Royal Mile through Lady Stair’s Close. This museum dedicates itself to the life and work of three renowned Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Stevenson. It is noteworthy that in one of the rooms visitors can see a wardrobe that was, in fact, made by the infamous Deacon and was owned by Stevenson.
The Writers‘ Museum
The wardrobe made by Deacon Brodie
Despite his plans, the armed robbery was, in fact, a disastrous failure. In the end, Deacon Brodie’s and his accomplices managed to steal only
Brennan, Matthew C. The Gothic Psyche: Disintegration and Growth in Nineteenth-Century English Literature. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1997.
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.
Urquhart Castle (2016)
The ruins and their surrounding landscape (2016)
The ruins and their surrounding landscape (2) (2016)
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.
Photo of the ruins of Urquhart Castle (2016)
Another photo of a part of Urquhart Castle (2016)
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 SaintColumba (c.521-597). Notably, StAdomnán (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 Nessiewith 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.
St Columba as depicted in a small stained glass window at St Margarets‘ Chapel in Edinburgh Castle (2018)
Another depiction of St Columba in a tapestry at the visitors‘ centre at Urquhart Castle (2016)
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 Airchartdan. Here 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.
The Loch Ness Monster at Urquhart Castle; the photograph was taken – and modified 😉 – by me. (2016)
“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.
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).