27th July 1803

Parliament authorises construction of the Caledonian Canal

The Caledonian Canal runs for 60 miles between Fort William and Inverness. It was completed in 1822 under the guidance of Thomas Telford and uses 29 locks, 10 bridges and four aqueducts to carry boats of up to 150 feet between sea level and a height of 106 feet.

The feasibility of digging a canal had been examined twice, but rejected on the assumption that the wind, being channelled between the mountains, would be dangerous to vessels using it. Only when Thomas Telford conducted a third study at the start of the 19th century was the plan finally signed off, in part because it would be a safer (and quicker) route for fishing crews than navigating around Scotland’s extreme north coast.

Construction authorised

Parliament debated the plan, and an Act was passed granting funds for the construction on 27 July 1803. It was budgeted to cost just under half a million pounds over seven years to complete. In reality, it took 12 years and overspent by 80%.

The canal was opened in 1822 and, on 2 November, British Press reported that “after a labour of nearly twenty years and an expenditure of about 900,000l on this great national undertaking, the country will feel a great degree of satisfaction in hearing of the completion of it… at ten o’clock on Wednesday morning, the Loch-ness steam yacht, accompanied by two smacks, departed from the locks of Muirtown on the first voyage through the canal, admidst the loud and enthusiastic cheerings of a great concourse of people and the firing of cannon… it was not expected that the party would arrive at Fort William before Thursday night.”

First boat crosses Scotland

Locals turned out along the route of the canal as the first boat progressed from one side of the country to the other, to cheer it on, hear the on-board band, and the replies of bands on the banks. On 23 November, British Press recounted what happened at the end of the voyage: “The last piece of the canal is about eight miles in length and contains twelve locks, the passing through which occupied three hours. At half-past five the vessel dipt (sic) her keel in the waters of the Western Ocean, which was marked by a salute from Fort William, the inhabitants of which testified their joy by bonfires and acclamations, aided by a plentiful supply of whiskey from the Gentlemen of the town.



Other events that occured in July

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.