Voted Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder, the Forth Rail Bridge was first crossed by train in January 1890. It wasn’t carrying passengers. Rather, engineers wanted to test that their calculations were correct, and the bridge could support the combined weight of locomotives, carriages and their contents.

January was also the month in which a gruesome death – in highly suspicious circumstances – inspired one of our greatest works of literature. When Elizabeth Chantrelle was taken to hospital, and subsequently died, traces of opium were found in her vomit. None could be found in her body, but this was still sufficient to raise suspicions, and for the finger of blame to be pointed towards her husband. He was tried for her murder, convicted, and executed, and the sorry affair is said to have been the inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

This was also the month in which another murderer – and a far more prolific one than Elizabeth Chantrelle’s husband – confessed to his crimes. William Burke had killed more than a dozen people in and around Edinburgh, with accomplice William Hare, and the pair had sold the bodies for dissection. Burke and his wife were tried later in the year, with the judge eventually delivering his verdict on Christmas morning.

And January was the month in which the Scottish Bard – Robbie Burns – was born in the Ayrshire village of Alloway. He left behind a significant body of work, despite never having been a full-time poet, and dying at the comparatively early age of 37. His birth is marked around the world in annual Burns’ Night celebrations.


Also in January…

Stornoway harbour shipwreck kills 200 soldiers 1st
Lord Reith leads the newly public BBC
British Railways’ Scottish Region is created
Elizabeth Chantrelle’s death inspires The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 2nd
Football fans crushed at Ibrox
William Burke confesses to murder 3rd
Freight train derails at Carrbridge 4th
Crude oil tanker grounded off Shetland 5th
Dr Finlay creator AJ Cronin dies 6th
Glasgow University is founded 7th
Canned fish king John West is born 8th
Scotland battens down the hatches 9th
Musician Rod Stewart is born 10th
Britain’s biggest teen magazine launches in Dundee 11th
JK Rowling finishes last Harry Potter novel in an Edinburgh hotel
Serial killer Robert Black dies 12th
Glasgow’s founder and patron saint dies 13th
The People’s Friend is published for the first time
Death of Robert Burns’ publisher William Creech 14th
Maths genius Matthew Stewart is born 15th
Troops are dispatched after worst storm ever recorded 16th
Death of missionary Robert Reid Kalley 17th
France tries again after Scottish bank collapse 18th
Steam pioneer James Watt is born in Greenock 19th
Railway engineer James Carswell dies 20th
Trains make trial crossings of the Forth Rail Bridge 21st
Lady Grange is abducted and taken prisoner 22nd
Founder of the Bank of England dies
Trades union leader Margaret Irwin dies 23rd
Climbers killed in Buachaille Etive Mòr avalanche 24th
Wall-building emperor Hadrian is born
Poet Robert Burns is born in Ayrshire 25th
Launch of The Scotsman newspaper
Edinburgh Castle gun fired for the first time 26th
Scottish bike inventor dies
Bo’ness rail crash kills 16 and injures 28 27th
Prime minister George Hamilton-Gordon is born in Edinburgh 28th
Visitors are trapped in the Glasgow Tower 29th
Scottish-built plane sets world record 30th
Police raid BBC Scotland HQ 31st
More than 100 sailors killed in the Battle of May Island