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Navigation Hazard
For ages a mere expanse of open water, the harbour, so far back as the 14th century, seems to have been protected by a 'Bulwark', repaired or rebuilt in 1484. A stone pier on the South side of the channel was formed between 1607 and 1610, in which latter year a great stone, called Knock Maitland or Craig Metellan, was removed from the harbour's entry ' by the renowned art and industrie of that ingenious and vertuous citizen, David Anderson of Finzeauch, from his skill in mechanics popularly known as  Davie do a' thing.'

Dae a'thin' Davie

Early in the seventeenth century, about the time the bulwark was completed, another undertaking, of great importance to navigation, was completed. The harbour mouth had been long blocked by a huge stone, called "Knock Maitland " or "Craig Matellan" which had been the stumbling block and despair of harbour improvers. But there arose in those days a genius to whom difficulties were joys, and the impossibilities of other men as the breath of his nostrils, and the people acclaimed the advent of this great man, and, in the fullness of their admiration of his wonderful powers, they named him "Davie dae a'thin," but his prose name was David Anderson of Finzheuch. David gathered together a lot of empty barrels, and fixed them securely, at low water, to the base of the obstructing rock, then, planting a flag on its summit, and seating himself as on a throne, he waited for his servant, the tide, which, in its due time came, and lifting Davie and the rock, buoyed on the barrels, carried them westwards, amid the acclamations of the citizens.

This was a great stone which lay in the navigation channel, that is the mouth of the Dee. It had fallen from a ditch near the source of the Dee upon the glacier filling the river valley and had been transported to the sea. The glacier had melted at the water edge and the boulder had been dropped in the mouth of the navigation channel. It was removed in 1610 by David Anderson under an agreement with the Town Council by which he undertook for 300 merks " to tak out of the watter " the big stone. The Council Register makes no mention of the means by which the stone was removed, or of the place lo which it was taken. Anderson signed a receipt for 300 merks paid to him " after the completing and taking furthe of the staine." Writing in 1685 Baillie Skene, in his "Succinct Survey of Aberdeen," says : —
As for the Accommodations and ornaments of our city, we have an indifferently good entrie to our harbour for ships, especially since that great stone called Craig Metellan was raised up out of the mouth of the Dee and transported out of the current thereof, so that now ships can incur no damage, which was done by the renowned art and indusirie of that Ingenious and vertuous citizen David Anderson, as also by that considerable bulwark the magistrates of late years caused erect at the mouth of the south side of the river extending up the shoar such a great length so that very great ships may enter and be safely preserved when they are in without hazard.

Dr Joseph Robertson, in the "Book of Bon-Accord" (1839), says:—
Tradition relates that the device which David Anderson adopted was that of securing a number of empty casks to the block at low water; and when the flowing tide lifted the mass from its bed, he seated himself on one of the barrels, and, with colours flying, sailed up the harbour, amidst the acclamations of the delighted citizens. (This is given as a quotation from the " Aberdeen Observer" on October 4th, 1833).

This method of floating submerged bodies is well known, by means of chains passed under the keel sunken ships have been raised and floated to the shore. The statement in the " Observer " may have been sent as a paragraph by Robertson himself, and though no doubt substantially correct it cannot be accepted as historically true. The ingenious and virtuous David seated astride on a hundred gallon wine pipe with a flag in his hand must be an embellishment of the narrative. As to the direction in which the novel craft and its commander went there is no evidence; but it must have been inward not outward. The barrels had been attached to the stone at low water, and as the water began to rise there had been a current inward. If the experiment was to be successful the stone must have been off the bottom long before high water, and men in a boat could easily have taken it in, but not out. If it be asked : — " Where is it now? " it may be answered that though dredging in the navigation channel as far out as the pier head has brought up many large stones, none of them could be identified with Craig Maitland. Baillie Skene's spelling of the last part of the name with the " l " doubled suggests that the stone may not have got its name from a man named Maitland, but that it may originally have been called in Gaelic " Meadhon ailean," middle island. We see the old way of pronouncing " Meadhon " in the last part of Pitmedden and Auchmeddan ; and the name Ellon represents the Gaelic " ailean." " Craig " means any kind of rock.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013