A researcher has discovered the earliest documented reference to a Scottish ship sailing to North America – tucked away in the council archives.
An honorary research fellow at Aberdeen University, Thomas Brochard, made the find while reading a late 16th Century council registry.
There was an entry in 1596 relating to the vessel, “William” of Aberdeen, having made a voyage to “the new fund land”, now known as Newfoundland in North America.
Until now, the earliest documented Scottish ship to sail across the Atlantic sea was a Dundee vessel called “Gift of God”. It sailed from Portugal in 1600.
Mr Brochard said: “I was trawling through the records when my eyes chanced upon the words ‘new fund land’. This turned out to be an astonishing discovery.
“I’m sure other gems like this are waiting to be discovered in the burgh records.
“They are an incredibly rich resource for historians and fully deserve a Unesco designation.”
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Records show William made a number of voyages from different parts of Scotland and back.
It is said to have come to Aberdeen in May 1596 from Bordeaux with a cargo of wine. It departed the following month to North America.
The debts of the ship in Aberdeen belong to Patrick Donaldson, a burgess of the town and William Findlay, the master of and skipper of William.
They were involved in the fitting-out and freighting of the vessel during its departure from Aberdeen in July 1596 and its return four years later.
When the William made her westward voyage in July 1596, the Scottish interests in North America were in their early stages.
The tentative trading contracts the vessel is part of were yet to develop into the settlements that became home to Scottish immigrants during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.
Phil Astley, city archivist, added: “Quirky and unusual stories quite often come to light when reading through original records – it’s part of the fun of working in an archive.
“However, it’s rare to have a find as historically significant as that made by Thomas. It is even more remarkable that we know the names of several crew members.”
The Lord Provost of Aberdeen Barney Crockett said: “Aberdeen is a proud maritime city and this is a hugely important historical find.
“It clearly demonstrates that Aberdeen was at the forefront of Scottish trade to the New World as far back as the 16th Century.
“Our archives are recognised as being of outstanding historic importance to the UK.”