The earliest recorded landing on Rockall was in 1811, by a Royal Navy officer called Basil Hall from the HMS Endymion. He was not alone in the landing party, there were in fact a group of sailors, artists, geologists, and a scout who returned for a second landing to attempt to locate their ship from the highest point on the rock. There has been some dispute over this date, due to a conflict between Hall's own account and that of John Purdy, to whom the scientific results of the landing were communicated (Christy 1898). Hall observed that, "the smallest point of a pencil could scarcely give it a place on any map which should not exaggerate its proportions".
The position of the rock was first charted by Captain ATE Vidal RN in 1831 as 57°36′20″N, 13°41′32″W. Rockall is today probably most famous for being an area of the BBC’s Shipping Forecast. In Victorian times it was said that to have visited Rockall was the epitome of heroism and reflected well on the bravery and moral character of the traveller (MacDonald F. 2006).
On 18th September 1955 at 1016 GMT Britain claimed Rockall, apparently to stop the Russians spying on Corporal missile tests. The islet was within reach of a planned guided missile range on South Uist, Outer Hebrides and the British government feared foreign spies could use it as an observation post.
A group was landed comprising two Royal Marines and a civilian naturalist, led by Royal Navy officer Lieutenant Commander Desmond Scott. The other men were Royal Marine Sergeant Brian Peel, Corporal AA Fraser RM, and naturalist James Fisher. They were deposited on the island by a Royal Navy helicopter from HMS Vidal (named after the man who first charted the island). Having raised a Union flag on the island, they named the only refuge Hall’s Ledge after Basil Hall and cemented a plaque into the rock.
The inscription on the plaque read:
"By authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, etc, etc,etc. And in accordance with Her Majesty's instructions dated the 14.9.55. a landing was effected this day upon this island of Rockall from H.M.S. Vidal. The Union flag was hoisted and possession of the island was taken in the name of Her Majesty.
[Signed] R H Connell, Captain, H.M.S. Vidal, 18 September 1955."
In 1972, the Isle of Rockall Act was passed, which made Rockall officially part of the District of Harris, Inverness-shire, Scotland. This represented the last territorial expansion of the British Empire. In 1974, the Navy reputedly landed two Royal Marines in full ceremonial dress on Rockall and took a publicity photograph of them standing guard.
In 1985, the former SAS soldier Tom McClean lived on Rockall in a wooden shelter bolted to the rock on Hall’s Ledge, thereby cementing the UK’s claim to the island. He lived in this survival unit, measuring just 5 foot by 4 foot by 3 foot, from 26th May until 4th July, thereby also setting the record for the longest solo occupation at 40 days.
Following this, on 10th June 1997 three members of Greenpeace were landed by helicopter. They stayed in a solar powered capsule for 42 days, setting a new longest occupation record. Greenpeace stated that with this new record they were claiming Rockall as ‘Waveland’. This did not create the political issues it might as the British Government responded that,
"Rockall is British territory. It is part of Scotland and anyone is free to go there and can stay as long as they please." (1997)