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Domestic Annals of Scotland
Reign of George II: 1727 - 1748 Part C


1731, July
It will be remembered that the Bank of Scotland, soon after its institution in 1696, settled branches at Glasgow, Aberdeen, Montrose, and Dundee, all of which proving unsuccessful, were speedily withdrawn. Since then, no new similar movement had been made; neither had a native bank arisen in any of those towns. But now, when the country seemed to be making some decided advances in industry and wealth, the Bank resolved upon a new attempt, and set up branches in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, and Berwick. It was found, however, that the effort was yet premature, and, after two years’ trial, these branches were all recalled.

It is to be observed that Glasgow, though yet unable to support a branch of a public bank, was not inexperienced in banking accommodation. The business was carried on here, as it had long ago been in Edinburgh, by private traders, and in intimate connec tion with other business. An advertisement published in the news­papers in July 1730 by James Blair, merchant, at the head of the Saitmarket in Glasgow, makes us aware that at his shop there, ‘all persons who have occasion to buy or sell bills of exchange, or want money to borrow, or have money to lend on interest, or have any sort of goods to sell, or want to buy any kind of goods, or who want to buy sugar-house notes or other good bills, or desire to have such notes or bills discounted, or who want to have • policies signed, or incline to underwrite policies in ships or goods, may deliver their commands.’

The latter part of the year 1730 and earlier part of 1731 were made memorable in England by the ‘Malicious Society of Under­takers.’ An inoffensive farmer or a merchant would receive a letter threatening the conflagration of his house unless he should deposit six or eight guineas under his door before some assigned time. The system is said to have begun at Bristol, ‘where the house of a Mr Packer was actually set fire to and consumed. When a panic had spread, many ruined gamblers and others adopted the practice, in recklessness, or with a view to gain; but the chief practitioners appear to have been ruffians of the lower classes, as the letters were generally very ill-spelt and ill-written.

In the autumn of 1731 the system spread to Scotland, begin­ning in Lanarkshire. According to Mr Wodrow, the parishes of Lesmahago and Strathaven were thrown into great alarm by a number of anonymous letters being dropped at night, or thrown into houses, threatening fire-raising unless contributions were made in money. Mr Aiton of Walseley, a justice of peace, was ordered to bring fifty guineas to the Cross-boat at Lanark; otherwise his house would be burnt. He went to the place, but found no one waiting. At the same time, there were rumours of strangers being seen on the moors. So great was the conster­nation, that parties of soldiers were brought to the district, but without discovering any person that seemed liable to suspicion.

James Erskine of Grange, brother of the attainted Earl of Mar, and who had been a judge of the Court of Session since 1707, was fitted with a wife of irregular habits and violent temper, the daughter of the murderer Chiesley of Dalry.’ After agreeing, in 1730, to live upon a separate maintenance, she continued to persecute her husband in a personal and indecent manner, and further vented some threats as to her power of exposing him to the ministry for dangerous sentiments. The woman was scarcely mad enough to justify restraint, and, though it had been otherwise, there were in those days no asylums to which she could have been consigned. In these circumstances, the husband felt himself at liberty in conscience—pious man as he notedly was—to have his wife spirited away by night from her lodgings in Edinburgh, hurried by night-journeys to Loch Hourn on the West Highland coast, and thence transported to the lonely island of Heskir, and put under the care of a peasant-farmer, subject to Sir Alexander Macdonald of Sleat. After two years, she was taken to the still more remote island of St Kilda, and there kept amongst a poor and illiterate people, though not without the comforts of life, for seven years more. It was not till 1740 that any friends of hers knew where she was. A prosecution of the husband being then threatened, the lady was taken to a place more agreeable to her, where she soon after died.

Lord Grange was one of those singular men who contrive to cherish and act out the most intense religious convictions, to appear as zealous leaders in church judicatories, and stand as shining lights before the world, while yet tainted with the most atrocious secret vices. Being animated with an extreme hatred of Sir Robert Walpole, he was tempted, in 1734, to give up his seat on the bench, in order that he might be able to go into parliament and assist in hunting down the minister. Returned for Clack­mannanshire, he did make his appearance in the House of Commons, fully believing that he should ere long be secretary of state for Scotland under a new ministry. It unluckily happened that one of the first opportunities he obtained for making a display of oratory was on the bill that was introduced for doing away with the statutes against witchcraft.’ Erskine was too faithful a Presbyterian of the old type to abandon a code of beliefs that seemed fully supported by Scripture. He rose, and delivered himself of a pious speech on the reality of necromantic arts, and the necessity of maintaining the defences against them. Sir Robert is said to have felt convinced from that moment, that he had not much to fear from the new member for Clackmannanshire Disappointed, impoverished, out of reverence with old friends, perhaps somewhat galled in conscience, Erskine ere long retired in a great measure from the world. For some years before his death in 1754, he is said to have lived principally in a coffee­house in the Haymarket, as all but the husband of its mistress; certainly a most lame and impotent conclusion for one who had made such a figure in political life, and passed as such a ‘professor,’ in his native country.

On stormy night in this month, Colonel Francis Charteris died at his seat of Stonyhill, near Musselburgh. The pencil of Hogarth, which represents him as the old profligate gentleman in the first print of the Harlot’s Progress, has given historical importance to this extraordinary man. Descended from an old family of very moderate fortune in Dumfriesshire—Charteris of Amisfield—he acquired an enormous fortune by gambling and usury, and thus was enabled to indulge in his favourite vices on a scale which might be called magnificent. A single worthy trait has never yet been adduced to redeem the character of Charteris, though it is highly probable that, in some particulars, that character has been exaggerated by popular rumour.’

A contemporary assures us, that the fortune of Charteris amounted to the then enormous sum of fourteen thousand a year; of which ten thousand was left to his grandson, Francis, second son of the Earl of Wemyss.

‘Upon his death-bed,’ says the same writer, ‘he was exceedingly anxious to know if there were any such thing as hell; and said, were he assured there was no such place (being easy as to heaven), he would give thirty thousand      Mr Cumming the minister attended him on his death-bed. He asked his daughter, who is exceedingly narrow, what he should give him. She replied that it was unusual to give anything on such occasions. “Well, then,” says Charteris, “let us have another flourish from him !“ so calling his prayers. There accidentally happened, the night he died, a prodigious hurricane, which the vulgar ascribed to his death.'

Mar 10
A transaction, well understood in Scotland, but unknown and probably incomprehensible in England—’ an inharmonious settle­ment ‘—took place in the parish of St Cuthbert’s, close to Edinburgh. A Mr Wotherspoon having been presented by the crown to this charge, to the utter disgust of the parishioners, the Commission of the General Assembly sent one of their number, a Mr Dawson, to effect the ‘edictal service.’ The magistrates, knowing the temper of the parishioners, brought the City Guard to protect the ceremony as it proceeded in the church; so the people could do nothing there. Their rage, however, being irre­pressible, they came out, tore down the edict from the kirk-door, and seemed as if they would tear down the kirk itself. The City Guard fired upon them, and wounded one woman.

June 24
Owing to the difficulty of travelling, few of the remarkable foreigners who came to England found their way to Scotland; but now and then an extraordinary person appeared. At this date, there came to Edinburgh, and put up ‘at the house of Yaxley Davidson, at the Cowgate Port,’ Joseph Jamati, Baculator or Governor of Damascus. He appeared to be sixty, was of reddish-black complexion, grave and well-looking, wearing a red cloth mantle trimmed with silver lace, and a red turban set round with white muslin; had a gray beard about half a foot long; and was described as ‘generally a Christian.’ Assistance under some severe taxation of the Turkish pacha was what he held forth as the object of his visit to Europe. He came to Edinburgh, with recommendations from the Duke of Newcastle and other persons of distinction, and proposed to make a round of the principal towns, and visit the Duke of Athole and other great people. He was accompanied by an interpreter and another servant. It appears that this personage had a public reception from the magis­trates, who bestowed on him a purse of gold. In consequence of receiving a similar contribution from the Convention of Burghs, he ultimately resolved to return without making his proposed tour.

Four years later, Edinburgh received visits, in succession, from two other Eastern hierarchs, one of them designated as arch­bishop of Nicosia in Cyprus, of the Armenian Church, the other being Scheik Schedit, from Berytus, near Mount Lebanon, of the Greek Church, both bringing recommendatory letters from high personages, and both aiming at a gathering of money for the relief of their countrymen suffering under the Turks. Scheik Schedit had an interpreter named Michel Laws, and two servants, and the whole party went formally in a coach ‘to hear sermon in the High Church.’

July 11
The Scottish newspapers intimate that on this day, between two and three afternoon, there was felt at Glasgow ‘a shock of an earthquake, which lasted about a second.’

Since 1598 we have not beard of any foreigners coming into Scotland to play dangerous tricks upon long tight ropes; but now, unexpectedly, a pair of these diverting vagabonds, one described as an Italian who had performed his wonders in all the cities of Europe, the other as his son, presented themselves. A rope being fixed between the Half-moon Battery in the Castle, and a place on the south side of the Grassmarket, two hundred feet below, the father slid down in half a minute. The son performed the same feat, blowing a trumpet all the way, to the astonishment of ‘an infinite crowd of spectators.’ Three days afterwards, there was a repetition of the performance, at the desire of several persons of quality, when, after sliding down, the father made his way up again, firing a pistol, beating a drum, and playing a variety of antics by the way, proclaiming, moreover, that here he could defy all messengers, sheriffs’ officers, and macers of the Court of Session. Being sore fatigued at the end of the performance, he offered a guinea to the sutler of the Castle for a draught of ale, which the fellow was churlish enough to refuse.

The two funambuli failed on a subsequent trial, ‘their equipage not at all answering.’ Not many weeks after, we learn that William Hamilton, mason in the Dean, trying the like tricks on a rope connected with Queensferry steeple, fell off the rope, and was killed.

In the course of this year, a body called the Edinburgh Company of Players performed plays in the Tailors’ Hall, in the Cowgate. On the 6th June, they had the Beggars’ Opera for the benefit of the Edinburgh Infirmary. They afterwards acted Othello, Hamlet, Henry IV., Macbeth, and King Lear, ‘with great applause.’ In December, they presented before a large audience the Tempest, ‘every part, and even what required machinery, being performed in great order.’ In February 1734, the Conscious Lovers was performed ‘for the benefit of Mrs Woodward,’ ‘the doors not to be opened till four of the clock, performance to begin at six.’ In March, the Wonder is advertised, ‘the part of the Scots colonel by Mr Weir, and that of his servant Gibby, in Highland dress, by Mr Wescomb; and all the other parts to the best advantage.’ Allan Ramsay must have been deeply concerned in the specula­tion, because he appears in the office-copy of the newspaper (Caledonian Mercury) as the paymaster for the advertisements.

Nor was this nascent taste for the amusements of the stage confined to Edinburgh. In August, the company is reported as setting out early one morning for Dundee, Montrose, Aberdeen, &c., ‘in order’ to entertain the ladies and gentlemen in the different stations of their circuit.’ We soon after hear of their being honoured at Dundee with the patronage of the ancient and honourable society of freemasons, who marched in a body, with the grand-master at their head, to the playhouse, ‘in their proper apparel, with hautboys and other music playing before them;’ all this to hear the Jubilee and The Devil to Pay.

In December, the Edinburgh company was again in the Tailors’ Hall, and now it ventured on ‘a pantomime in grotesque charac­ters,’ costing something in the getting up; wherefore ‘nothing less than full prices will be taken during the whole performance.’ In consideration of the need for space, it was ‘hoped that no gentleman whatever will take it amiss if they are refused admittance behind the scenes.’ Soon after, we hear of the freemasons patronising the play of Henry IV., marching to the house ‘in procession, with aprons and white gloves, attended with flambeaux.’ Mrs Bulkely took her benefit on the 22d January in Oroonoko and a farce, in both of which she was to play; but ‘being weak, and almost incapable to walk, (she) cannot acquit herself to her friends’ satisfaction as usual; yet hopes to be favoured with their presence.’

It is observable that the plays represented in the Cowgate house were all of them of classic merit. This was, of course, prudential with regard to popular prejudices. Persons possessed of a love of literature were very naturally among those most easily reconciled to the stage; and amongst these we may be allowed to class certain schoolmasters, who about this time began to encourage their pupils to recite plays as a species of rhetorical exercise.

On Candlemas, 1734—when by custom the pupils in all schools in Scotland brought gifts to their masters, and had a holiday—the pupils of the Perth Grammar School made an exhibition of English and Latin readings in the church before the clergy, magistrates, and a large miscellaneous auditory. ‘The Tuesday after, they acted Cato in the school, which is one of the handsomest in Scotland, before three hundred gentlemen and ladies. The youth, though they had never seen a play acted, performed surprisingly both in action and pronunciation, which gave general satisfaction. After the play, the magistrates entertained the gentlemen at a tavern.’

In August, ‘the young gentlemen of Dalkeith School acted, before a numerous crowd of spectators, the tragedy of Julius Caesar and comedy of AEsop, with a judgment and address inimi table at their years.’ At the same time, the pupils in the grammar school of Kirkcaldy performed a piece composed by their master, entitled The Royal Council for Advice, or the Regular Education of Boys the Foundation of all other National Improve­ments. ‘The council consisted of a preses and twelve members, decently and gravely seated round a table like senators. The other boys were posted at a due distance in a crowd, representing people come to attend this meeting,for advice: from whom entered in their turn and order, a tradesman, a farmer, a country gentle­man, a nobleman, two schoolmasters, &c., and, last of all, a gentleman who complimented and congratulated the council on their noble design and worthy performances’ The whole exhibi­tion is described as giving high satisfaction to the audience.

This sort of fair weather could not last. At Candlemas, 1735, the Perth school-boys acted George Barnwell—certainly an ill­chosen play—twice before large audiences, comprising many persons of distinction; and it was given out that on the succeeding Sunday ‘a very learned moral sermon, suitable to the occasion, was preached in the town.’ Immediately after came the correc­tive. The kirk-session had nominated a committee to take measures to prevent the school from being ‘converted into a playhouse, whereby youth are diverted from their studies, and employed in the buffooneries of the stage;’ and as for the moral sermon, it was ‘directed against the sins and corruptions of the age, and was very suitable to the resolution of the session.’

England was pleasingly startled in 1721 by the report which came home regarding a singularly gallant defence made by an English ship against two strongly armed pirate vessels in the Bay of Juanna, near Madagascar. The East India Company was peculiarly gratified by the report, for, though it inferred the loss of one of their ships, it told them of a severe check given to a system of marine depredation, by which their commerce was constantly suffering.

It appeared that the Company’s ship Cassandra, commanded by Captain Macrae, on coming to the Bay of Juanna in July 1720, heard of a shipwrecked pirate captain being engaged in fitting out a new vessel on the island of Mayotta, and Macrae instantly formed the design of attacking him. When ready, on the 8th of August, to sail on this expedition, along with another vessel styled the Greenwich, he was saluted with the unwelcome sight of two powerful pirate vessels sailing into the bay, one being of 30, and the other of 34 guns. Though he was immediately deserted by the Greenwich, the two pirates bearing down upon him with their black flags, did not daunt the gallant Macrae. He fought them both for several hours, inflicting on one some serious breaches between wind and water, and disabling the boats in which the other endeavoured to board him. At length, most of his officers and quarter-deck men being killed or wounded, he made an attempt to run ashore, and did get beyond the reach of the two pirate vessels. With boats, however, they beset his vessel with redoubled fury, and in the protracted fighting which ensued, he suffered severely, though not without inflicting fully as much injury as he received. Finally, himself and the remains of his company succeeded in escaping to the land, though in the last stage of exhaustion with wounds and fatigue. Had he, on the contrary, been supported by the Greenwich, he felt no doubt that he would have taken the two pirate vessels, and obtained £200,000 for the Company.’

The hero of this brilliant affair was a native of the town of Greenock, originally there a very poor boy, but succoured from misery by a kind-hearted musician or violer named Macguire, and sent by him to sea. By the help of some little education he had received in his native country, his natural talents and energy quickly raised him in the service of the East India Company, till, as we see, he had become the commander of one of their goodly trading-vessels. The conflict of Juanna gave him further ele­vation in the esteem of his employers, and, strange to say, the poor barefooted Greenock laddie, the protegé of the wandering minstrel Macguire, became at length the governor of Madras! He now returned to Scotland, in possession of ‘an immense estate,’ which the journals of the day are careful to inform us, ‘he is said to have made with a fair character’—a needful distinction, when so many were advancing themselves as robbers, or little better, or as truckling politicians. One of Governor Macrae’s first acts was to provide for the erection of a monumental equestrian statue of King William at Glasgow, having probably some grateful personal feeling towards that sovereign. It was said to have cost him £1000 sterling. But the grand act of the governor’s life, after his return, was his requital of the kindness he had experienced from the violer Macguire. The story formed one of the little romances of familiar conversation iu Scotland during the last century. Mac­guire’s son, with the name of Macrae, succeeded to the governor’s estate of Holmains, in Dumfriesshire, which he handed down to his son. The three daughters, highly, educated, and handsomely dowered, were married to men of figure, the eldest to the Earl of Glencairn (she was the mother of Burns’s well-known patron); the second to Lord Alva, a judge in the Court of Session; the third to Charles Dalrymple of Orangefield, near Ayr. Three years after his return from the East Indies, Governor Macrae paid a visit to Edinburgh, and was received with public as well as private marks of distinction, on account of his many personal merits.

An amusing celebration of the return of the East India governor took place at Tain, in the north of Scotland. John Macrae, a near kinsman of the great man, being settled there in business, resolved to shew his respect for the first exalted person of his hitherto humble clan. Accompanied by the magistrates of the burgh and the principal burgesses, he went to the Cross, and there superintended the drinking of a hogshead of wine, to the healths of the King, Queen, Prince of Wales, and the Royal Family, and those of ‘Governor Macrae and all his fast friends.’ ‘From thence,’ we are told, ‘the company repaired to the chief taverns in town, where they repeated the aforesaid healths, and spent the evening with music and entertainments suitable to the occasion.’’

Dec 6
The tendency which has already been alluded to, of a small portion of the Scottish clergy to linger in an antique orthodoxy and strenuousness of discipline, while the mass was going on in a progressive laxity and subserviency to secular authorities, was still continuing. The chief persons concerned in the Marrow Controversy of 1718 and subsequent years, had recently made themselves conspicuous by standing up in opposition to church measures for giving effect to patronage in the settlement of ministers, and particularly to the settlement of an unpopular presentee at Kinross; and the General Assembly, held this year in May, came to the resolution of rebuking these recusant brethren. The brethren, however, were too confident in the rectitude of their course to submit to censure, and the commission of the church in November punished their contumacy by suspending from their ministerial functions, Ebenezer Erskine of Stirling, William Wilson of Perth, Alexander Moncrieff of Abernethy, and James Fisher of Kinclaven.

The suspended brethren, being all of them men held in the highest local reverence, received much support among their flocks, as well as among the more earnest clergy. Resolving not to abandon the principles they had taken up, it became necessary that they should associate in the common cause. They accordingly met at this date in a cottage at Gairney Bridge near Kinross, and constituted themselves into a provisional presbytery, though without professing to shake off their connection with the Estab­lished Church. It is thought that the taking of a mild course with them at the next General Assembly would have saved them from an entire separation. But it was not to be. The church judicatories went on in their adopted line of high-handed secu­larism, and the matter ended, in 1740, with the deposition of the four original brethren, together with four more who took part with them. Thus, unexpectedly to the church, was formed a schism in her body, leading to the foundation of a separate communion, by which a fourth of her adherents, and those on the whole the most religious people, were lost.

An immense deal of devotional zeal, mingled with the usual alloys of illiberality and intolerance, was evoked through the medium of ‘the Secession.’ The people built a set of homely meeting-houses for the deposed ministers, and gave them such stipends as they could afford. In four years, the new body appeared as composed of twenty-six clergy, in three presbyteries. It was the first of several occasions of the kind, on which, it may be said without disrespect, both the strength and the weakness of the Scottish character have been displayed. A single anecdote, of the truth of which there is no reason to doubt, will illustrate the spirit of this first schism. There was a family of industrious people at Brownhills, near St Andrews, who adhered to the Secession. The nearest church was that of Mr Moncrieff at Abernethy, twenty miles distant. All this distance did the family walk every Sunday, in order to attend worship, walking of course an equal distance in returning. All that were in health invariably went. They had to set out at twelve o’clock of the Saturday night, and it was their practice to make all the needful preparations of dress and provisioning without looking out to see what kind of weather was prevailing. When all were ready, the door was opened, and the whole party walked out into the night, and proceeded on their way, heedless of whatever might fall or blow.

1734, Jan
Our Scottish ancestors had a peculiar way of dealing with cases of ill-usage of women by their husbands. The cruel man was put by his neighbours across a tree or beam, and carried through the village so enthroned, while some one from time to time proclaimed his offence, the whole being designed as a means of deterring other men from being cruel to their spouses.

We have a series of documents at this date, illustrating the regular procedure in cases of Riding the Stang (properly, sting—meaning a beam). John Fraser, of the burgh of regality of i Huntly, had gone to John Gordon, bailie for the Duke of Gordon, complaining that some of his neighbours had threatened him with the riding of the stang, on the ground of alleged ill-usage of his wife. The first document is a complaint from Ann Johnston, wife of Fraser, and some other women, setting forth the reality of this bad usage: the man was so cruel to his poor spouse, that her neighbours were forced occasionally to rise from their beds at midnight, in order to rescue her from his barbarous hands. They justified the threat against him, as meant to deter him from continuing his atrocious conduct, and went on to crave of the bailie that he would grant them a toleration of the stang, as ordinarily practised in the kingdom, ‘being, we know, no act of parliament to the contrary.’ If his lordship could suggest any more prudent method, they said they would be glad to hear of it ‘for preventing more fatal consequences.’ ‘Otherwise, upon the least disobligement given, we must expect to fall victims to our husbands’ displeasure, from which libera nos, Domine.’ Signed by Ann Johnston, and ten other women, besides two who give only initials.

Fraser offered to prove that he used his wife civilly, and was allowed till next day to do so. On that next day, however, four men set upon him, and carried him upon a tree through the town, thus performing the ceremony without authority. On Fraser’s complaint, they were fined in twenty pounds Scots, and decerned for twelve pounds of assythment to the complainer.

1735, Sep
The execution of the revenue laws gave occasion for much bad blood. In June 1734, a boat having on board several persons, including at least one of gentlemanlike position in society, being off the shore of Nairn with ‘unentrable goods,’ the custom-house officers, enforced by a small party from the Hon. Colonel Hamil­ton’s regiment, went out to examine it. In a scuffle which ensued, Hugh Fraser younger of Balnain was killed, and two of the soldiers, named Long and Macadam, were tried for murder by the Court of Admiralty in Edinburgh, and condemned to be hanged on the 19th of November within flood-mark at Leith.

An appeal was made for the prisoners to the Court of Justiciary, which, on the 11th of November, granted a suspension of the Judge-admiral’s sentence till the 1st of December, that the case might before that day be more fully heard. Next day, the Judge-. admiral, Mr Graham, caused to be delivered to the magistrates sitting in council a ‘Dead Warrant,’ requiring and commanding them to see his sentence put in execution on the proper day. The magistrates, however, obeyed the Court of Justiciary. Meanwhile, four of those who had been in the boat, and who had given evidence against the two soldiers on their trial, were brought by the custom-house authorities before the Judge-admiral, charged with invading and deforcing the officers, and were acquitted.

On the 5th December, the Court of Justiciary found that the Judge-admiral, in the trial of Long and Macadam, had ‘com­mitted iniquity,’ and therefore they suspended the sentence indefinitely. On a petition three weeks after, the men were liberated, after giving caution to the extent of 300 merks, to answer on any criminal charge that might be exhibited against them before the Court of Justiciary.’

Nov 18
Dancing assemblies, which we have seen introduced at Edin­burgh in 1723, begin within the ensuing dozen years to be heard of in some of the other principal towns. There was, for example, an assembly at Dundee at this date, and an Edinburgh newspaper soon after presented a copy of verses upon the ladies who had appeared at it, celebrating their charms in excessively bad poetry, but in a high strain of compliment:

‘Heavens! what a splendid scene is here,
How bright those female seraphs shine!’ &c.

From the indications afforded by half-blank names, we may surmise that damsels styled Bower, Duncan, Reid, Ramsay, Dempster, and Bow—all of them names amongst the gentlefolks of the district—figured conspicuously at this meeting—

‘Besides a much more numerous dazzling throng,
Whose names, if known, should grace my artless song.’

The poet, too, appears to have paid 2s. 6d. for the insertion ot his lines in the Caledonian Mercury.

From this time onward, an annual ball, given by ‘the Right Honourable Company of Hunters’ in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is regularly chronicled. At one which took place on the 8th January 1736—the Hon. Master Charles Leslie being ‘king,’ and the Hon. Lady Helen Hope being ‘queen’—’ the company in general made a very grand appearance, an elegant entertainment and the richest wines were served up, and the whole was carried on and concluded with all decency and good order imaginable.’ A ball given by the same fraternity in the same place, on the ensuing 21st of December, was even more splendid. There were two rooms for dancing, and two for tea, illuminated with many hundreds of wax-candles. ‘In the Grand Hall (the Gallery?), a table was covered with three hundred dishes en ambigu, at which sate a hundred and fifty ladies at a time luminated with four hundred wax-candles. The plan laid out by the council of the company was exactly followed out with the greatest order and decency, and concluded without the least air of disturbance.’

On the 27th January 1737, ‘the young gentlemen-burghers’ of Aberdeen gave ‘a grand ball to the ladies, the most splendid and numerous ever seen there;’ all conducted ‘without the least confusion or disorder.’ The anxiety to shew that there was no glaring impropriety in the conduct of the company on these occasions, is significant, and very amusing.

The reader of this work has received—I fear not very thank­fully—sundry glimpses of the frightful state of the streets of Edinburgh in previous centuries; and he must have readily understood that the condition of the capital in this respect repre­sented that of other populous towns, all being alike deficient in any recognised means of removing offensive refuse. There was, it must be admitted, something peculiar in the state of Edinburgh in sanitary respects, in consequence of the extreme narrowness of its many closes and wynds, and the height of its houses. How it was endured, no modern man can divine; but it certainly is true that, at the time when men dressed themselves in silks and laces, and took as much time for their toilets as a fine lady, they had to pass in all their bravery amongst piles of dung, on the very High Street of Edinburgh, and could not make an evening call upon Dorinda or Celia in one of the alleys, without the risk of an ablution from above sufficient to destroy the most elegant outfit, and put the wearers out of conceit with themselves for a fortnight.

The struggles of the municipal authorities at sundry times to get the streets put into decent order against a royal ceremonial entry, have been adverted to in our earlier volumes. It would appear that things had at last come to a sort of crisis in 1686, so that the Estates then saw fit to pass an act to force the magis­trates to clean the city, that it might be endurable for the person­ages concerned in the legislature and government, ordaining for this purpose a ‘stent’ of a thousand pounds sterling a year for three years on the rental of property. A vast stratum of refuse, through which people had made lanes towards their shop-doors and close-heads, was then taken away—much of it transported by the sage provost, Sir James Dick, to his lands at Prestonfield, then newly enclosed, and the first that were so—which conse­quently became distinguished for fertility—and the city was never again allowed to fall into such disorder. There was still, however, no regular system of cleaning, beyond what the street sewers supplied; and the ancient practice of throwing ashes, foul water, &c., over the windows at night, graced only with the warn­ing-cry of Gardez l’eau, was kept up in full vigour by the poorer and more reckless part of the population.

An Edinburgh merchant and magistrate, named Sir Alexander Brand, who has been already under our attention as a manufac­turer of gilt leather hangings, at one time presented an overture to the Estates for the cleaning of the city. The modesty of the opening sentence will strike the reader: ‘Seeing the nobility and gentry of Scotland are, when they are abroad, esteemed by all nations to be the finest and most accomplished people in Europe, yet it ‘s to be regretted that it ‘s always casten up to them by strangers, who admire them for their singular qualifications, that they are born in a nation that has the nastiest cities in the world, especially the metropolitan.’ He offered to clean the city daily, and give five hundred a year for the refuse.3 But his views do not seem to have been carried into effect.

After 1730, when, as we have seen, great changes were begin-fling to take place in Scotland, increased attention was paid to external decency and cleanliness. The Edinburgh magistrates were anxious to put down the system of cleaning by ejectment. We learn, for example, from a newspaper, that a servant-girl having thrown foul water from a fourth story in Skinners’ Close, ‘which much abused a lady passing by, was brought before the bailies, and obliged to enact herself never to be guilty of the like practices in future. ‘Tis hoped,’ adds our chronicler, ‘ that this will be a caution to all servants to avoid this wicked practice.’

There lived at this time in Edinburgh a respectable middle-aged man, named Robert Mein, the representative of the family which had kept the post-office for three generations between the time of the civil war and the reign of George I., and who boasted that the pious lady usually called Jenny Geddes, but actually Barbara Hamilton, who threw the stool in St Giles’s in 1637, was his great-grandmother. Mein, being a man of liberal ideas, and a great lover of his native city, desired to see it rescued from the reproach under which it had long lain as the most fetid of European capitals, and he accordingly drew up a paper, shewing how the streets might be kept comparatively clean by a very simple arrangement. His suggestion was, that there should be provided for each house, at the expense of the landlord, a vessel sufficient to contain the refuse of a day, and that scavengers, feed by a small subscription among the tenants, should discharge these every night. Persons paying what was then a very common rent, ten pounds, would have to contribute only five shillings a year; those paying fifteen pounds, 7s. 6d., and so on in proportion. The projector appears to have first explained his plan to sundry gentle­men of consideration—as, for example, Mr William Adam, archi­tect, and Mr Colin Maclaurin, professor of mathematics, who gave him their approbation of it in writing—the latter adding: ‘I subscribe for my own house in Smith’s Land, Niddry’s Wynd, fourth story, provided the neighbours agree to the same.’ Other subscribers of consequence were obtained, as ‘Jean Gart­shore, for my house in Morocco’s Close, which is £15 rent,’ and ‘the Countess of Haddington, for the lodging she possessed in Bank Close, Lawnmarket, valued rent £20.’ Many persons agreed to pay a half-penny or a penny weekly; some as much as a half-penny per pound of rent per month. One lady, however, came out boldly as a recusant—’ Mrs Black refuses to agree, and acknowledges she throws over.’

Mr Mein’s plan was adopted, and acted upon to some extent by the magistrates; and the terrible memory of the ‘DIRTY LUGGIES,’ which were kept in the stairs, or in the passages within doors, as a necessary part of the arrangement, was fresh in the minds of old people whom I knew in early life. The city was in 1740 divided into twenty-nine districts, each having a couple of scavengers supported at its own expense, who were bound to keep it clean; while the refuse was sold to persons who engaged to cart it away at three half-pence per cart-load.

1736, Jan 9
Five men, who had suffered from the severity of the excise laws, having formed the resolution of indemnifying themselves, broke into the house of Mr James Stark, collector of excise, at Pitten­weem, and took away money to the extent of two hundred pounds, besides certain goods. They were described as ‘Andrew Wilson, indweller in Path-head; George Robertson, stabler without Bristo­port (Edinburgh); William Hall, indweller in Edinburgh; John Frier, indweller there; and John Galloway, servant to Peter Galloway, horse-hirer in Kinghorn.’ Within three days, the whole of them were taken and brought to Edinburgh under a strong guard.

Wilson, Robertson, and Hall were tried on the 2d of March, and condemned to suffer death on the ensuing 14th of April. Five days before that appointed for the execution—Hall having mean­while been reprieved—Wilson and Robertson made an attempt to escape from the condemned cell of the Old Tolbooth, but failed in consequence of Wilson, who was a squat man, sticking in the grated window. Two days later, the two prisoners being taken, according to custom, to attend service in the adjacent church, Wilson seized two of the guard with his hands, and a third with his teeth, so as to enable Robertson, who knocked down the fourth, to get away. The citizens, whose sympathies went strongly with the men as victims of the excise laws, were much excited by these events, and the authorities were apprehensive that the execution of Wilson would not pass over without an attempt at rescue. The apprehension was strongly shared by John Porteous, captain of the town-guard, who consequently became excited to a degree disqualifying him for so delicate a duty as that of guarding the execution. When the time came, the poor smuggler was duly suspended from the gallows in the Grassmarket, without any disturbance; but when the hangman proceeded to cut down the body, the populace began to throw stones, and the detested official was obliged to take refuge among the men of the guard. Porteous, needlessly infuriated by this demonstration, seized a musket, and fired among the crowd, commanding his men to do the same.

There was consequently a full fusillade, attended by the instant death of six persons, and the wounding of nine more. The magistrates being present at the windows of a tavern close by, it was inexcusable of Porteous to have fired without their orders, even had there been any proper occasion for so strong a measure. As it was, he had clearly committed manslaughter on an extensive scale, and was liable to severe punishment. By the public at large he was regarded as a ferocious murderer, who could scarcely explate with his own life the wrongs he had done to his fellow-citizens. Accordingly, when subjected to trial for murder on the ensuing 5th of July, condemnation was almost a matter of course.

The popular antipathy to the excise laws, the general hatred in which Porteous was held as a harsh official, and a man of profligate life, and the indignation at his needlessly taking so many innocent lives, combined to create a general rejoicing over the issue of the trial. There were some, however, chiefly official persons and their connections, who were not satisfied as to the fairness of his assize, and, whether it was fair or not, felt it to be hard to punish what was at most an excess in the performance of public duty, with death. On a representation of the case to the queen, who was at the head of a regency during the absence of her husband in Hanover, a respite of six weeks was granted, five days before that appointed for the execution.

[Amongst the papers of General Wade, in the possession of the Junior United Service Club, is a letter addressed to him by a lady who felt interested in behalf of Porteous. It is here transcribed, with all its peculiarities of spelling, &c., as an illustration of the exceptive feeling above adverted to, and also as a curious memorial of the literary gifts then belonging to ladies of the upper classes. The writer appears to have been one of the daughters of George Allardice of Allardice, by his wife, Lady Anne Ogilvy, daughter of the fourth Earl of Findlater:

‘I dute not Dear general waid but by this time you may have heard the fattel sentence of the poor unhappy capt porteous how in six weeks time most dye if he riceve not speedy help from above, by the asistance of men of generosity and mercy such as you realy are it is the opinion of all thos of the better sort he has been hardly deelt by, being cond’mned but by a very slender proof, and tho he was much provokted by the mob and had the provest and magestrets order to fire which th’y now sheamfuly deney nor had he the leeberty to prove it tho even in his own defence, but the generous major powl will assure you of the trouth, and yet tho the capt had thos crule orders it is proven my state he now is in most draw your generous pity on his side ther’for dr general waid continwa your uswal mercy and plead for him and as our sex are neturly compassinot and being now in the power of the quin, so generous a pleader as you may easely persuad, considring it is a thing of great concquenc to the whol army which yourself better knou then I can inform the duke of buceleugh, marques of Lowding othian] Lord morton geneal myls all the commissioners and chiff baron are to join ther intrest with yours in this affair, by your own generous soul I beg again Dear sir you will do whats in your power to save him, thos that think right go not through this poor short life just for themselves which your good actions shou you oft consider, and as many just now put a sincer trust in your generous mercy I am sure they will not be disapointed throgh aney neglect of yours let this letter be taken notes of amongst the nomber you will reseve from your frinds in Scotland in behalf of the unfortunat capt which will intierly oblidg

Dear general waid

your most affectionat and most
obident humble servant
CATHARINE ALLARDICE.

‘you would be sory for the unexresable los I have had of the kindest mother, and two sisters I am now at Mrs Lind’s where it would be no smal satesfaction to hear by a Line or two I am not forgot by you drect for me at Mr Linds hous in Eclenburg your letter will come safe if you are so good as to writ Mr Lind his Lady and I send our best complements to you, he along with Lord aberdour and mr wyevel how has also wrot to his sister mrs pursal go hand in hand togither makeing all the intrest they can for the poor capt and meet with great sucess they join in wishing you the same not fearing your intrest the generals Lady how is his great friend were this day to speak to the Justes clarck but I have not since seen her, so that every on of compassion and mercy are equely bussey forgive this trouble and send ens hop’]

The consequent events are so well known, that it is unnecessary here to give them in more than outline. The populace of Edin­burgh heard of the respite of Porteous with savage rage, and before the eve of what was to have been his last day, a resolution was formed that, if possible, the original order of the law should be executed. The magistrates heard of mischief being designed, but disregarded it as only what they called ‘cadies’ clatters;’ that is, the gossip of street-porters. About nine in the evening of the 7th September, a small party of men came into the city at the West Port, beating a drum, and were quickly followed by a considerable crowd. Proceeding by the Cowgate, they shut the two gates to the eastward, and planted a guard at each. The ringleaders then advanced with a large and formidable mob towards the Tolbooth, in which Porteous lay confined. The magistrates came out from a tavern, and tried to oppose the progress of the conspirators, but were beat off with a shower of stones. Other persons of importance whom they met, were civilly treated, but turned away from the scene of action. Reaching the door of the prison, they battered at it for a long time in vain, and at length it was found necessary to burn it. This being a tedious process, it was thought by the magistrates that there might be time to introduce troops from the Canongate, and so save the intended victim. Mr Patrick Lindsay, member for the city, at considerable hazard, made his way over the city wall, and conferred with General Moyle at his lodging in the Abbeyhill; but the general hesitated to act without the authority of the Lord Justice Clerk (Milton), who lived at Brunstain House, five miles off. Thus time was fatally lost. After about an hour and a half, the rioters forced their way into the jail, and seized the trembling Porteous, whom they lost no time in dragging along the street towards the usual place of execution. As they went down the West Bow, they broke open a shop, took a supply of rope, and left a guinea for it on the table. Then coming to the scene of what they regarded as his crime, they suspended the wretched man over a dyer’s pole, and having first waited to see that he was dead, quietly dispersed.

The legal authorities made strenuous efforts to identify some of the rioters, but wholly without success. The subsequent futile endeavour of the government to punish the corporation of Edinburgh by statute, belongs to the history of the country.


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