The mystery of how a giant rock unearthed in China came to be inscribed with the name of a Scottish whisky distillery more than 5,000 miles away in Highland Perthshire may be a step closer to being unravelled.
The story has been baffling experts since construction workers in China uncovered an 8ft-tall stone engraved with the word Glenturret, the name of Scotland’s oldest working distillery.
The discovery was made during excavations for a resort at Moganshan, a popular holiday spot not far from Shanghai.
The developers had already found out some of the property once belonged to a Scottish missionary doctor, Duncan Main, who spent 45 years working in China at the turn of the 20th century.
He built a castle on the land in 1910, which was used as a summer retreat. It was torn down in the 1960s after falling into disrepair.
However, the connection to Glenturret has remained a puzzle. Some have suggested Dr Main could have been one of the first to import the whisky to China, while others say it could be merely drunken graffiti.
Now some new theories have been put forward.
Author, historian and China expert Robert Bickers has solved at least part of the conundrum.
The University of Bristol professor has uncovered a China newspaper story from 1929 that confirms the doctor named his property Glenturret.
Investigations by staff at Glenturret distillery in Crieff has revealed Dr Main worked for a time at a shipyard in Glasgow. This feeds into suggestions by Dr Mark McLeister, a lecturer in Chinese studies at the University of Edinburgh who has been sifting through books and archived material relating to the Scotsman’s life in an attempt to decipher the “Scotch on the rock” enigma.
He believes there may be a link between his shipyard work and a Glasgow steamship called Glenturret. The vessel was part of the Glen Line fleet and served the China tea trade.
“There is also a Glenturret Street in Glasgow,” Dr McLeister said.
“Maybe that was somewhere he stayed while working in the city.
“The name obviously had significance for him in some way.
“There is the possibility that he made connections with family members from Glenturret distillery whilst living in China.”
Another academic who remains fascinated by the story is Dr Christoffer Grundmann, a professor of religion at Indiana’s Valparaiso University, in the US.
The area around Moganshan grew as a getaway for foreign missionaries working in Shanghai and Hangchow, where the heat was sweltering in the summer months.
Records show Dr Main had planned to open a sanatorium there but never did, according to Dr Grundmann. But he did offer rest homes for ministers and hospital workers on this particular site.
“From the photograph of the rock, it would suggest that this was a marker at an entrance of a property or estate inhabited by Scotsmen during the hot summers,” he said.
“Therefore it may carry significance not just for Dr Main but for one or more of the other Scotsmen living there.”
Alternative theories have ranged from the stone being the result of a calligraphy exercise to evidence of ancient traders creating a permanent tribute to their favourite whisky while in a state of inebriation.
Stuart Cassells, general manager at Glenturret Distillery, added: “It’s safe to say that the ‘Scotch on the rock’ mystery remains a mystery. But thanks to the efforts of these three talented academics at least we have some solid theories on how the name Glenturret came to be engraved on a stone almost 5,000 miles away.
“The missing link here is a relative of Dr Duncan Main or a resident of one of the rest homes. We would love for a family member of Dr Main or one of those residents to come forward and shed light on this.
“In the meantime, cheers to our three experts for spending their valuable time on this fascinating story about a Scotsman in China.”