Tobermory, Mull

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Tobermory waterfront.jpg
Tobermory waterfront
Argyll and Bute UK location map.svg
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Location within Argyll and Bute
Population1,000 (mid-2020 est.) [1]
OS grid reference NM504551
  Edinburgh 120 mi (193 km)
  London 427 mi (687 km)
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town ISLE OF MULL
Postcode district PA75
Dialling code 01688
Police Scotland
Fire Scottish
Ambulance Scottish
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
56°37′N6°04′W / 56.62°N 6.07°W / 56.62; -6.07

Tobermory ( /ˌtbərˈmɔːri/ ; Scottish Gaelic : Tobar Mhoire) [2] is the capital of, and until 1973 the only burgh on, the Isle of Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. It is located on the east coast of Mishnish, the most northerly part of the island, near the northern entrance of the Sound of Mull. The village was founded as a fishing port in 1788; its layout was based on the designs of Dumfriesshire engineer Thomas Telford. It has a current population of about 1,000. It is notable for appearing in the 2002–05 children's programme Balamory by the BBC.



The name Tobermory is derived from the Gaelic Tobar Mhoire, meaning "Mary's well". [3] [4] The name refers to a well located nearby which was dedicated in ancient times to the Virgin Mary. [5]

Prehistory and archaeology

Archaeological excavations have taken place at Baliscate just outside of the town. The site was first noted by Hylda Marsh and Beverley Langhorn as part of the Scotland's Rural Past. [6] In 2009, it was partially excavated by Time Team [7] and a further longer excavation took place in 2012 as part of a community archaeology project through the Mull Museum. [6]

The different excavations found that there was a sixth-century agricultural settlement which was either adopted or replaced by a seventh-century Christian community with a chapel and cemetery. In the late 11th or early 12th century, a stone and turf structure was built which was probably a longhouse or hall. Then, in the late 13th or early 14th century, a wattle and turf structure was built over these earlier structures. That then burnt down and was replaced by a new stone and turf structure. It was used from the 16th to 19th century intermittently. All of which showed that people had been living and working in the Tobermory area for over 1,000 years before the village was founded. [6]

The site is now a listed monument. [8]


Legend has it that the wreck of a Spanish galleon, laden with gold, lies somewhere in the mud at the bottom of Tobermory Bay—although the ship's true identity, and cargo, are in dispute. By some accounts, the Florencia (or Florida, or San Francisco), a member of the defeated Spanish Armada fleeing the English fleet in 1588, anchored in Tobermory to take on provisions. Following a dispute over payment (or possibly, according to local folklore, a spell cast by the witch Dòideag), the ship caught fire and the gunpowder magazine exploded, sinking the vessel. In her hold, reputedly, was £300,000 worth of gold bullion. [9] Other sources claim the vessel was the San Juan de Sicilia (or San Juan de Baptista), which, records indicate, carried troops, not treasure. [10] [11] [12] Whatever the true story, no significant treasure has ever been recovered in Tobermory Bay. [13]

Seventeenth-century efforts to salvage the treasure are well-documented. The Duke of Lennox gifted rights to Spanish wrecks near Tobermory to the Marquess of Argyll. In 1666, his son the Earl of Argyll engaged James Maule of Melgum to use diving bells to find treasure, and recover the valuable brass cannon. Maule had learnt diving in Sweden, but raised only two brass guns and an iron cannon, and left after three months. It was later said he had hoped to return, thinking he was the only expert diver. Argyll however raised six cannon by workmen under his direction, and next employed John Saint Clare, or Sinclair, son of the minister of Ormiston, in 1676 and a German sub-contractor Hans Albricht van Treileben, who had worked on the wreck of the Vasa . The next year, the earl transferred the rights to Captain Adolpho E. Smith and Treileben. At this period the fore-part of the wreck was visible above water, and was called the Admiral of Florence. The project was beset with difficulties in 1678; the Admiralty disputed Argyll's rights to the wreck. Captain Adolpho Smith refused to return the diving equipment to William Campbell, captain of the earl's frigate, the Anna of Argyll. The McLean clan fought the divers on land at Tobermory, led by Hector McLean, brother of Lachlan McLean of Torloisk. [14]

The largest attempt made to locate the galleon was in 1950 when the then Duke of Argyll signed a contract with the British Admiralty to locate the galleon. Nothing came of the attempt, apart from the development of equipment still used today to locate ancient sunk vessels. [15] Owing to similarities in sailing conditions, in the mid-1800s emigrant sailors created the community of Tobermory in Ontario, Canada. This namesake town has twin harbours, known locally as "Big Tub" and "Little Tub", which sheltered ships from the severe storms of Lake Huron.

Lobster pots on the harbour wall at Tobermory TobermoryLobsterPots.jpg
Lobster pots on the harbour wall at Tobermory
Tobermory war memorial TobermonrWarMemorial (2).jpg
Tobermory war memorial

During the Second World War, Tobermory was home to the Royal Navy training base HMS Western Isles, under the command of the legendary Vice admiral Sir Gilbert Stephenson, the so-called "Terror of Tobermory". His biography was written by broadcaster Richard Baker, who trained under him. [16] [17]


Tobermory Main Street 2012-08-09.jpg
Tobermory's Main Street

Many of the buildings on Main Street, predominantly shops and restaurants, are painted in various bright colours, making it a popular location for television programmes, such as the children's show Balamory . The burgh hosts the Mull Museum, the Tobermory whisky distillery (and from 2005 to 2009 there was also a brewery, the Isle of Mull brewing company) [18] as well as Mull Aquarium, the first catch and release aquarium in Europe. [19] The clock tower on the harbour wall is a noted landmark. The town also contains an arts centre, An Tobar, the management of which was merged with Mull Theatre in 2012 to form the umbrella arts organisation Comar. [20] The theatre remains, based just outside Tobermory in Drumfin, and is used by youth and adult dance and drama groups, hosting a wide variety of performances. [21] Staffa Tours popular boat tours leave from Tobermory to visit the Treshnish Isles and Fingals Cave on Staffa.

71% of Tobermory residents were born in Scotland, 23% in England and 6% elsewhere. [22]

Tobermorite, a calcium silicate hydrate found near Tobermory in 1880, was named after the town. [23]

Notable residents

Calve Island shelters the harbour. Calve Island.jpg
Calve Island shelters the harbour.
Tobermory, Mull - as viewed from the Sound of Mull Tobermory Mull from the sea.jpg
Tobermory, Mull – as viewed from the Sound of Mull
Rubha nan Gall Lighthouse, north of Tobermory Rubha nan Gall lighthouse and MV Clansman ferry.jpg
Rubha nan Gall Lighthouse, north of Tobermory
Clock tower in memory of Isabella Bird Tobermory, the clock tower - - 3380483.jpg
Clock tower in memory of Isabella Bird

Annual events

The visit of the composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, en route to Staffa, is commemorated in the annual Mendelssohn on Mull Festival. [27] Other highlights of the town's calendar include an annual Traditional Music Festival held on the last weekend in April, the local Mòd, which takes place on the second Saturday in September and has established itself as one of the best local Mòds on the circuit, the Mull Fiddler's Rally, also in September, and the traditional Mull Highland Games held every summer.

Literary associations

The fictional town of Torbay in Alistair MacLean's novel When Eight Bells Toll was based on Tobermory, and much of the 1971 movie was filmed in the town and other parts of Mull. The writer Saki gave the name to a cat taught to speak English in one of his most famous short stories. [28] and two well-loved children's TV series have made use of the town's name. Elisabeth Beresford called one of The Wombles 'Tobermory', and more recently the town played host to its almost-namesake Balamory for three years (2002–2005). Other films made in the area include the 1945 Powell and Pressburger classic I Know Where I'm Going! . In the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith (1933 - ), volume 7 - titled Bertie Plays the Blues [29] - has baby triplets named Tobermory, Rognvald, and Fergus. In the children's animated feature, Nocturna, the Cat Shepherd's faithful cat, is called Tobermory.


Ferries sail between Tobermory and the mainland to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, but principal access to the island is via ferry between Oban and Craignure. Craignure is around 22 miles (35 kilometres) from Tobermory. This is the main route for visitors to the island. An additional ferry sails between Lochaline on the mainland and Fishnish.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ulva</span> Island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland

Ulva is a small island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, off the west coast of Mull. It is separated from Mull by a narrow strait, and connected to the neighbouring island of Gometra by a bridge. Much of the island is formed from Cenozoic basalt rocks, which are formed into columns in places.

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  14. HMC 6th Report (Duke of Argyll) (London, 1877), pp. 625-27.
  15. "Preliminary Search for Treasure in Tobermory Bay". Popular Mechanics (October 1950): 160–162. October 1950.
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  17. Baker, Richard (2005). The Terror of Tobermory. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN   978-1-84341-023-2. Paperback edition of the above biography of Vice Admiral Sir Gilbert Stephenson KBE CB CMG and history of HMS Western Isles
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  28. "Short Stories: Tobermory by Saki".
  29. Alexander McCall Smith: Bertie Plays the Blues; pub. Anchor Books, 2013