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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Mr. William Grinly, Merchant and Shipbroker


The Royal Leith Volunteers, of which corps this gentleman was Quartermaster, were embodied in 1795, and received their colours on the 26th September of that year. The regiment was drawn up on the Links—a detachment of the Royal Edinburgh Volunteers being present to keep the ground—when, shortly after one o'clock, the Lord-Lieutenant, attended by some of the Deputy-Lieutenants, arrived on the held, and presented the colours to Captain Bruce, the Commandant, who delivered them to two ensigns. The ceremony concluded with a prayer by the chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Macknight.

Mr. Grinly was originally a merchant and shipowner at Borrowstounness, the place of his nativity, where his father and three brothers were respectable shipmasters. In early life, he had frequently gone supercargo to Holland, France, Spain, Russia, and America, and was no stranger to the vicissitudes attendant on a "life at sea," having been twice captured by privateers of the latter country, and as often experienced shipwreck. The Isabella—a fine new ship, homeward bound, with a valuable cargo—was one of the vessels taken by the enemy. The ship's company, after being robbed, were put on shore, and Mr. Grinly was stripped of everything save his watch. One of the cases of shipwreck alluded to occurred in a storm on the coast of France, when the crew narrowly escaped with their lives, and the ship and cargo were totally lost.

In 1773, he was presented with the freedom of the burgh of Kirkcudbright, for his active exertions in conducting certain transactions for the interest of that community. Finding himself less successful than had accorded with his spirit of enterprise, he left Borrowstounness, and proceeded from thence to Ireland, to establish a branch of business there; but, after a stay of a little more than two years, he again returned to Scotland, and arriving in Leith, had the advantage of being received by relatives, friends, and mercantile correspondents of the first respectability. Here he entered warmly into the spirit of commerce, and for a series of years was most successful in his transactions; but ultimately speculating too deeply in shipping and underwriting, lie lost, in a few unfortunate reverses, nearly all the wealth he had so industriously acquired. His misfortunes were well calculated to overwhelm a less buoyant spirit; but instead of indulging in unavailing regrets, he quickly set about repairing his broken fortune by commencing the world anew as a broker and merchant. In this line his exertions were again crowned with success, insomuch that he was latterly enabled to retire altogether from business.

Mr. Grinly was short in stature, had a well-formed and intelligent countenance, always dressed neatly, and was particularly smart in his appearance. His habits were of an active, bustling description; yet, possessed of a happy, cheerful disposition, he was equally fitted to enjoy and promote the pleasures of social intercourse. When the Russian fleet lay in the Roads of Leith, he frequently met with the officers, Ms former connection with Russia, and his knowledge of the country rendering his company peculiarly acceptable to them. The soubriqriet of the "Spread Eagle" originated with a satirical person of the name of M'Lean, merchant in Leith, at whose suggestion the caricature was taken by Kay, at a field-day of the Leith Volunteers.

Several amusing anecdotes are told of Mr. Grinly. At a sale of mahogany, where he officiated as auctioneer, a wealthy tradesman from Edinburgh, whose violent temper often brought him into trouble, was exceedingly chagrined, after having purchased to a considerable extent, to find a choice lot knocked down to a rival in trade. Unable to contain his choler, he called out to Mr. Grinly, in a loud and angry voice—"Sir, I challenge you to exchange pistols with me at the back of the wall." "Hurry home," said the auctioneer, "and make your last testament; you will have no chance with me—a soldier!—a Leith Volunteer!" The tradesman made his exit amid repeated peals of laughter; and next morning, a letter of apology, with a handsome gold-headed walking-stick, as a peace-offering to Mr. Grinly, was duly forwarded by the humbled upholsterer.

On the trial of Brown, a carter, committed on suspicion of stealing iron from Messrs. Crawford's yard, whose case, from his long confinement, his injured health, and prepossessing appearance, excited so much interest in Leith, the evidence of Mr. Grinly may be said to have been the means of saving the culprit's life. He was the last witness called. "Your name is William Grinly?" "It is, my lord." "You are a merchant in Leith?" "I am, my lord." "Do you know the prisoner at the bar?" "I do; he was often employed by me, and usually had the keys of my yard in his possession all night." Did you ever miss any goods out of your yard when he had the charge?" "Never, my lord," was his emphatic reply. Brown was acquitted; and Mr. Grinly left the Court with much applause.

A member of the Merchant Company, he was a liberal promoter of every design for the improvement of the town and its inhabitants, and had been frequently solicited to act in the magistracy; but his answer invariably was—"You do me much honour; but I have no time to do justice to the office." He was thirty years an elder in South Leith Church, and was one of the deputation who brought in Dr. Robertson. He was twice married; by his first wife, Isabella, daughter of John Ritchie, Esq., of Middle Thorn, by whom he had four sons and six daughters. His second wife, Susan, daughter of the late John Scott, Esq., of Malleny, survives him. He died in 1827, in the eightieth year of his age, and his remains were interred in the family burying-ground in South Leith.


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