With the horrible human suffering that has engulfed Haiti and Chile over the last few weeks, it's easy to overlook the fact that earthquakes can and have occurred in every country. It's perhaps a false sense of security that engulfs us on the east coast of the US, and in Scotland. The Sherriff of Selkirkshire, Walter Scott, no doubt felt the same.
But earthquakes are not completely unknown in the Borderlands, and one relatively large one would have been within the living memory of many of Scott's older friends and relatives. On March 1, 1728, one struck near Selkirk.
As reported in the Edinburgh Weekly Journal of March 4, 1728:
"On Friday the first of March current, between 4 and 5 in the Morning, we felt in this Place a very sensible Shock of an Earthquake. It came from the North East, and went directly South West...It lasted according to some, one Minute, but most of my acquaintances say, near three Minutes...There have none suffered by it, but there was a strange Dancing among the Plates Glasses, &c..."
Also significant in the 18th century were earthquakes at Leadhills, in 1746 and 1749.
Scott experienced his first earthquake while at Malta, on December 10, 1831. From Scott's Journal:
"...The last night we were at Malta we experienced a rude shock of an earthquake, which alarmed me, though I did not know what it was. It was said to foretell that the ocean, which had given birth to Graham's Island, had, like Pelops, devoured its own offspring, and we are told it is not now visible, and will be, perhaps, hid from those who risk the main; but as we did not come near its latitude we cannot say from our own knowledge that the news is true..."