It is widely understood that Mull was inhabited shortly after the end of the last Ice Age, from around 6000 BC. Bronze Age inhabitants built menhirs, brochs and a stone circle with examples of burial cairns, cists, standing stones, stone circles, pottery and knife blades providing compelling evidence.
Between 600 BC to AD 400, Iron Age inhabitants were building protective forts, duns and crannogs. The early Christian period began in the 6th century, with AD 563 being a pivotal point as it is believed that Christianity was brought to this part of northern Britain by St Columba, when he arrived from Ireland to set up a monastery on the Island of Iona just off the south-west point of Mull.
In the 14th century Mull became part of the Lordship of the Isles. After the collapse of the Lordship in 1493 the island was taken over by the clan MacLean, and in 1681 by the clan Campbell.
Legend has it that the wreck of a Spanish galleon, laden with gold, lies somewhere in the mud at the bottom of Tobermory Bay, although the ship’s true identity, and cargo, are in dispute. By some accounts, the Florencia (or Florida, or San Francisco), a ship of the defeated Spanish Armada fleeing the English fleet in 1588, anchored in Tobermory to take on provisions. Following a dispute over payment, the ship caught fire and the gunpowder magazine exploded, sinking the vessel. In her hold, reputedly, was £300,000 in gold bullion. Other sources claim the vessel was the San Juan de Sicilia (or San Juan de Baptista), which, records indicate, carried troops, not treasure. According to that account, the island’s chief, Lachlan Mor Maclean, struck a deal with the Spanish commander to reprovision and refit the ship in return for military intervention on the side of the MacLeans in their feud with enemies on nearby islands. Whatever the true story, there have been numerous searches for the wreck, and its rumoured treasure, from the mid-17th century to the end of the 20th century. No significant treasure has ever been recovered in Tobermory Bay.
In 1773 the island was visited by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell during their famous Tour of the Western Islands.
During the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, the population fell from 10,000 to less than 3,000.
Mull has historic buildings such as Duart Castle (open to the public from Easter to September) and Torosay Castle. Moy Castle is a small slighted castle on the shore of Loch Buie.
The mausoleum of Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1809 to 1822, and known as “The Father of Australia”, may be found near his old patrimonial estate in the village of Gruline. Macquarie had been born on the nearby island of Ulva, ancient seat of clan MacQuarrie.
A notable 17th-century poetess Mary Macleod (Mairi Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh) was said to have been banished here.
The whole island became a Restricted Area during World War II. The bay at Tobermory became a naval base commanded from HMS Western Isles. The base and the Restricted Area were under Commodore (later Vice Admiral) Sir Gilbert Stephenson, whose strict discipline and ferocious temper earned him the nickname “The Terror of Tobermory”. The base was used to train Escort Groups in anti-submarine warfare. 911 ships passed through the base between 1940 and 1945.