Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Domestic Annals of Scotland
Reign of William III: 1695 - 1702 Part 6

1699, Jan
When the Bank of Scotland was started in 1695, there were no notes for sums below five pounds. For the extension of the bank’s paper, there were now issued notes for twenty shillings— ever since a most notable part of the circulating medium in Scotland. These small notes readily got into use in Edinburgh and some parts of the provinces; yet the hopes which some entertained of their obtainiug a currency in public markets and fairs were not at first realised—for, as one remarks thirty years later, ‘nothing answers, there among the common people but silver money, even gold being little known amongst them.’

Jan 30
The funeral of Lady Anne Hall, wife of Sir James Hall of Dunglass, took place at the old church near her husband’s seat, and was attended by a multitude of the nobility and other distinguished persons. A quarrel happened between the respective coachmen of the Earls of Lothian and Roxburgh, for precedence, ‘which was very near engaging the masters, but was prevented.’ It appears that the two noble earls were aspirants for promotion in the peerage, and thus were rendered more irritable.

Mar 2
After the Mereurius Caledonius had come to the end of its short and inglorious career in 1661, there was no other attempt at a newspaper in Scotland till 1680, when one was tried under the name of the Edinburgh Gazette. This having likewise had a short life, nineteen years more were allowed to elapse before the craving of the public mind for intelligence of contemporary events called for another effort in the same direction.

There was a gentleman hanging about Edinburgh, under the name of Captain Donaldson; originally in trade there; afterwards an officer in the Earl of Angus’s regiment, for which he had levied a company at his own charge. He had been wounded in seven places at the battle of Killiecrankie, and was confined for several weeks by the Highlanders in Blair Castle. Finally turned adrift at the peace of Ryswick, with no half-pay, he found himself in want of both subsistence and occupation, when he bethought him of favouring his fellow-citizens with periodical news. Having issued two or three trial-sheets, which were ‘approven of by very many,’ be now obtained from the Privy Council an exclusive right to publish ‘ane gazett of this place, containing ane abridgment of foraine newes, together with the occurrences at home;’ and the Edinburgh Gazette (the second of the name) accordingly began to make its appearance at the date marginally noted.

Wisely calculating that news were as yet but a poor field in our northern region, Donaldson supplemented the business of his office with a typographical device on which more certain dependence could be placed. He informed the Privy Council that he had fallen upon a wholly new plan for producing funeral-letters— namely, to have the principal and necessary parts done by characters ‘in fine writ,’ raised on ingots of brass, leaving blanks for names, dates, and places of interment. Stationery in this form would be convenient to the public, especially in cases of haste, ‘besides the decencie and ornament of a border of skeletons, mortheads, and other emblems of mortality,’ which he had ‘so contrived that it may be added or subtracted at pleasure.’ The Lords, entering into Donaldson’s views on this subject, granted him a monopoly of his invention for nineteen years.

Very few months had the Gazette lived when it brought its author into trouble. On the 8th of June he was suddenly clapped in prison by the Privy Council, ‘for printing several things in his Gazette which are not truths, and for which he has no warrant.’ Five days after, he came before them with a humble petition, in which he set forth, that he had begun the Gazette under a sense of its probable usefulness. ‘notwithstanding he was dissuaded by most of his friends from attempting to undertake it, as a thing that could not defray the charges of printing, intelligence, &c.’ Trusting that their Lordships must now see how useful it is,’ he begged them to overlook what was amiss in a late number, and ‘give him instructions how to act for the future.’ They liberated him, and at the same time made arrangemeiits for having the Gazette duly revised by a committee of their own body before printing.’

Donaldson will re-appear before us under date February 19, 1705.

Mar 16
Robert Logan, cabinet-maker, professed to have made an invention which even the present inventive age has not seen repeated. He averred that he could make kettles and caldrons of wood, which could ‘abide the strongest fire,’ while boiling any liquor put into them, ‘as weel as any vessels made of brass, copper, or any other metal,’ with the double advantage of their being more durable and only a third of the expense. The Earl of Leven having made a verbal report in favour of the invention, Robert obtained a monopoly of it for ‘two nineteen years.’

Apostacy from the Protestant religion was held as a heinous crime in Scotland. By an act of James VI, all persons who had been abroad were enjoined, within twenty days after their return, to make public profession of their adherence to ‘the true faith;’ otherwise to ‘devoid the kingdom’ within forty days. By another statute of the same monarch, an apostate to popery was obliged to leave the country within forty days, ‘under highest pains.’

The faithfully Presbyterian Lord Advocate had now heard of a dreadful case in point. David Edie, formerly a bailie of Aberdeen, having been some years abroad, was come home a papist, everywhere boldly avowing his apostacy; nay, he might be considered as a trafficking papist, for he had written a letter to Skene of Fintry, containing the reasons which had induced him to make this disastrous change. Already, the magistrates of his native city had had him up before them on the double charge of apostacy and trafficking; but ‘he behaved most contemptuously and insolently towards them, saying: "They acted Hogan-Mogan-like; but he expected better times."’ It was therefore become necessary to take the severest measures with him, ‘to the terror of others to commit the like in time coming.’

On the 9th of November, David Edie was brought before the Privy Council, and charged by the Lord Advocate and Solicitor-general with the crime of apostacy, when he fully avowed his change of opinion, and likewise his having written on the subject to Skene of Fintry. He was consequently remitted to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, to remain there a prisoner during the pleasure of the Council. They were, however, comparatively merciful with the ex-bailie, for, five days later, they called him again before them, and passed upon him a final sentence of banishment from the kingdom, he to be liberated in the meantime, in order to make his preparations, on his granting due caution for his departure within forty days.

July 17
The tacksmen of the customs and their officers were of course far from being popular characters. The instinct for undutied liquors was strong in the Scotch nature, and would occasionally work to unpleasant results. Two waiters, named Forrest and Hunter, went at the request of the tacksmen to Prestonpans, to try to verify some suspicions which were entertained regarding certain practices in that black and venerable village. Finding several ankers of sack and brandy hid in the house of Robert Mitchell, skipper, they carried them to the Custom-house, and as they were returning, they were assailed by a multitude of men and women, who ‘fell desperately upon them, and did bruise and bleed them to ane admirable height,’ robbing them, moreover, of their papers and fourteen pounds of Scots money. Things might have been carried to a worse extremity, had not the collector and others come up and diverted the rabble. As it was, one of the men was so severely wounded, as to lie for some time after in the chirurgeon’s hands.

A few days after, information being given of an embezzlement at Leith, a few waiters were sent on the search, and finding a number of half-ankers of brandy in a chest in a house in the Coal-hill, carried them off to the Custom-house, but were assailed on the way by a great rabble, chiefly composed of women, who beat them severely, and rescued the goods.

The Lord Advocate was ordered by the Privy Council to inquire into these doings, and take what steps might seem necessary.

1699, July
Whenever a gentleman at this time returned from France, he became an object of suspicion to the government, on account of his having possibly had some traffickings with the exiled royal family, with views to the raising of disturbances at home. The Earl of Nithsdale having come from that country in July, a committee of the Privy Council was sent to speak with him, and ‘report what they find in the said earl’s deportment in France or since he came therefrom.’ A few days afterwards, he was formally permitted ‘to go borne and attend to his own affairs.’ In November, Graham of Boquhapple, having returned from France ‘without warrant from his majesty,’ was put up in the old Tolbooth, there to remain a close prisoner till further order, but with permission for his family and a physician to visit him. At the end of February, Graham, having given an ingenuous account of himself as a worn-out old soldier of the Revolution, was liberated.

July 18
From Ross-shire, a new batch of witches was reported, in the persons of ‘John Glass in Spittal; Donald M’Kulkie in Drumnamerk; Agnes Desk in Kilraine; Agnes Wrath there; Margaret Monro in Milntown; Barbara Monro, spouse to John Glass aforesaid; Margaret Monro, his mother; Christian Gilash in Gilkovie; Barbara Rassa in Milntown; Mary Keill in Ferintosh; Mary Glass in Newton; and Thick Shayme.’ All being ‘alleged guilty of the diabolical crimes and charms of witchcraft,’ it was most desirable that they should be brought to a trial, ‘that the persons guilty may receive condign punishment, and others may be deterred from committing such crimes and malefices in time coming;’ but the distauee was great, and travelling expensive; so it was determined to issue a commission to Robertson of Inshes and several other gentlemen of the district, for doing justice on the offenders.

The proceedings of Mr Robertson and his associates were duly reported in November, and a committee was appointed by the Privy Couueil to consider it, that they might afterwards give their opinion, ‘whether the sentence mentioned in the said report should be put in execution as pronounced or not.’ On the 2d of January 1700, the committee, composed of the judges Rankeillor and Halcraig, reported that Margaret Monro and Agnes Wrath had made confession—for them they recommended some arbitrary punishment. Against John Glass in Spittal, and Mary Keill in Ferintosh, it was their opinion that nothing had been proved. The Council consequently assoilzied these persons from the sentence which had been passed upon them by the local commissioners, and ordered tbeir liberation from the jail of Fortrose. As to the other persons, they adopted the proposal of an arbitrary punishment, remitting to the committee to appoint what they thought proper.’ This is the first appearance of an inclination in the central authorities to take mild views of witchcraft. We are not yet, however, come to the last instance of its capital punishment.

On the 20th of November 1702, Margaret Myles was hanged at Edinburgh for witchcraft. According to a contemporary account: ‘The day being come, she was taken from the prison to the place of execution. Mr George Andrew, one of the preachers of this city, earnestly exhorted her, and desired her to pray; but her heart was so obdured, that she answered she could not; for, as she confessed, she was in covenant with the devil, who had made her renounce her baptism. After which, Mr Andrew said: "Since your heart is so hardened that you cannot pray, will you say the Lord’s Prayer after me?" He began it, saying: "Our Father which art in heaven;" but she answered: "Our Father which wart in heaven;" and by no means would she say other-ways, only she desired he might pray for her. He told her: "How could she bid him pray for her, since she would not pray for herself." Then he sung two verses of the 51st Psalm, during which time she seemed penitent; but when he desired her to say: "I renounce the devil," she said : "I unce the devil ;" for by no means would she say distinctly that she renounced the devil, and adhered unto her baptism, but that she unced the devil, and hered unto her baptism. The only sign of repentance she gave was after the napkin had covered her face, for then she said: "Lord, take me out of the devil’s hands, and put me in God’s."

July 25
The inventive spirit, of which we have seen so many traits within the last few years, had entered the mind of the poor Englishman, Henry Neville Payne, so long confined, without trial, under the care of the Scottish government, on account of his alleged concern in a Jacobite conspiracy. In a petition dated at Stirling Castle, he stated to the Privy Council, that "though borne down with age, poverty, and a nine years’ imprisonment, he is preparing ane experiment for river navigation, whereby safer, larger, and swifter vessels may be made with far less charge than any now in use.’ As this experiment, however, owing to the straitened circumstances and personal confinement of the inventor, had cost ten times more than it otherwise would have done, so did he find it could not be perfected unless he were allowed personally to attend to it. He entreated that, however they might be determined to detain him in Scotland, they would, ‘in Christian compassion to his hard circumstances, permit him on his parole, or moderate bail, to have freedom within some limited confinement near this place, to go forth of the Castle, that he may duly attend his business, as the necessity of it requires.’

The Council granted him liberty of half a mile’s range from the Castle, during a limited portion of the day, under a guard.

Sep 15
In his Second Discourse on Public Affairs, published in 1698, Fletcher of Salton made some statements regarding the multitude of the vagrant poor in Scotland which have often been quoted. He remarked that, owing to the bad seasons of this and the three preceding years, the evil was perhaps now greater than it had ever been; ‘yet there have always been in Scotland such numbers of poor, as by no regulations could ever be ordinarily provided for; and this country has always swarmed with such numbers of idle vagabonds, as no laws could ever restrain.’ He estimated the ordinary nnmber of such people at a hundred thousand, and the present at two hundred thousand—"vagabonds who live without any regard to the laws of the land, or even those of God and nature.’ ‘No magistrate,’ he says, ‘could ever discover which way one in a hundred of these wretches died, or that ever they were baptised. Many murders have been discovered among them; and they are not only a most unspeakable oppression to poor tenants (who, if they give not bread or some kind of provision to perhaps forty such villains in a day, are sure to be insulted by them), but they rob many poor people who live in houses distant from any neighbourhood. In years of plenty, many thousands of them meet ‘toottlier in the mountains, where they feast and riot for many days; and at country-weddings, markets, burials, and other the like public occasions, they are to be seen, both men and women, perpetually drunk, cursing, blaspheming, and fighting together.’

To remedy this evil, Fletcher proposed in all seriousness what reads like Swift’s suggestion to convert the children of the Irish poor into animal food. He recommended that the great mass of the able-bodied of these superfluous mortals should be reduced to serfdom under such persons as would undertake to keep and employ them, arguing that slavery amongst ancient states was what saved them from great burdens of pauper population, and was a condition involving many great advantages to all parties. He was for hospitals to the sick and lame, but thought it would be well, for example and terror, to take three or four hundred of the worst of the others, commonly called fockies, and present them to the state of Venice, ‘to serve in the galleys against the common enemy of Christendom.’

Most of the patriot’s contemporaries probably acknowledged the existence of the evil which he described—though he probably exaggerated it to the extent of at least a third—but there is no appearance of the slightest movement having ever been made towards the adoption of his remedy. A modern man can only wonder at such a scheme proceeding from one whose patriotism was in general too fine for use, and who held such views of the late tyrannical governments, that he was for punishing their surviving instruments several years after the Revolution. [The irascible temper of Fletcher is well known, and his slaughter of an associate in the Monmouth expedition is a historical fact. A strange story is told of him in Mrs Calderwood of Polton’s account of her journey in Holland (Coltness Collections). ‘Saiton,’ she says, ‘could not endure the smoke of toback, and as he was in a night—scoot [in Holland] the skipper and he fell out about his forbidding him to smoke. Salton, finding he could not hinder him, went up and sat on the ridge of the boat, which bows like an arch. The skipper was so contentious that he followed him, and on whatever side Salton sat, he put his pipe in the cheek next him, and whiffed in his face. Salton went down several times and brought up stones in his pocket from the ballast, and slipped them into the skipper's pocket that was next the water, and when he found he had loadened hin as much as would sink him, he gives him a shove, so that over he hirsled, The boat went on, and Salton came down among the rest ef the passengers, who probably were asleep, and fell asleep among the rest. In a little time, bump came the scoot against the side, on which they all damned the skipper but, behold, when they called, there was no skipper; which would breed no great amazement in a Dutch company.']

The Privy Council issued a proclamation, adverting to the non-execution of the laws for the poor during the time of the scarcity, but intimating that better arrangements were rendered possible by the plentiful harvest just realised. The plan ordered to be adopted was to build correction-houses at Edinburgh, Dumfries, Ayr, Glasgow, Stirling, Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Inverness, each for the county connected with the burgh, into which the poor should be received: no allusion is made to the other counties. The poor were to be confined to the districts in which they had had residence for the last three years. It was ordained of each correction-house, that it should have ‘a large close sufficiently enclosed for keeping the said poor people, that they be not necessitat to be always within doors to the hurt and hazard of their health.’ And the magistrates of the burghs were commanded to take the necessary steps for raising these pauper-receptacles under heavy penalties.’

Nov 8
It was customary for the Lords of Privy Council to grant exclusive right to print and vend books for certain terms—being all that then existed as equivalent to our modern idea of copyright. Most generally, this right was given to booksellers and printers, and bore reference rather to the mercantile venture involved in the expense of producing the book, than to any idea of a reward for authorcraft. Quite in conformity ‘with this old view of literary rights, the Council now conferred on George Mossinan, stationer in Edinburgh, ‘warrant to print and sell the works of the learned Mr George Buchanan, in ane volume in folio, or by parts in lesser volumes,’ and discharged ‘all others to print, import, or sell, the whole or any part of the said Mr George his works in any volume or character, for the space of nineteen years.’

In conformity with the same view of copyright, another Edinburgh stationer, who, in 1684, had obtained a nineteen years’ title to print Sir George Mackenzie’s Institutes of the Law of Scotland, soon after this day was favoured with a renewal of the privilege, on his contemplating a second edition.

Robert Sanders, printer in Glasgow, had printed a large impression of a small book, entitled Merchandising Spiritualised, or the Christian Merchant Trading to Heaven., by Mr James Clark, minister at Glasgow; which, in Sanders’s opinion, was calculated to be ‘of excellent use to good people of all ranks and degrees.’ For his encouragement in the undertaking, he petitioned the Privy Council (July 13, 1703) for an exclusive right of publishing the book; and he was fortified in his claim by a letter from the author, as well as a ‘testificat from Mr James Woodrow, professor of divinity at Glasgow, anent the soundness of the said book.’ The Council, taking all these things into account, gave Sanders a licence equivalent to copyright for nineteen years.’

Nov 30
The abundant harvest of 1699 was acknowledged by a general thanksgiving. But, that the people might not be too happy on the occasion, the king, in the proclamation for this observance, was made to acknowledge that the late famine and heavy mortality had been a just retribution of the Almighty for the sins of the people; as likewise had been ‘several other judgments, specially the frustrating the endeavours that have been made for advancing the trade of this nation.' [The royal councillors were too good Christians, or too polite towards their master, to insinuate as a secular cause the subserviency of the king to English merchants jealous of Scottish rivalry.] For these reasons, he said, it was proper, on the same day, that there be solemn and fervent prayers to God, entreating him to look mercifully on the sins of the people, and remove these, ‘the procuring causes of all afflictions,’ and permit that ‘we may no more abuse his goodness into wantonness and forgetfulness.’

The people of Scotland were poor, and lived in the most sparing manner, When they made an honourable attempt to extend their industry, that they might live a little better, their sovereign permitted the English to ‘frustrate the endeavour.’ He then told them to humble themselves for the sins which had procured their afflictions, and reproached them with a luxury ‘which they had never enjoyed. The whole affair reminds one of the rebuke administered by Father Paul to the starved porter in The Duenna: ‘Ye eat, and swill, and drink, and gormandise,’ &c.

Dec 11
Notwithstanding the abundance of the harvest., universally acknowledged a fortnight before by solemn religious rites, there was already some alarm beginning to arise about the future, chiefly in consequence of the very natural movements observed among possessors of and dealers in grain, for reserving the stock against eventual demands. There now, therefore, appeared a proclamation forbidding export and encouraging import, the latter step being ‘for the more effectual disappointing of the ill practices of forestallers and regraters.’’

Dec 7
We have at this time a curious illustration of the slowness of all travelling in Scotland, in a petition of Robert Irvine of Corinhaugh to the Privy Council. He had been cited to appear as a witness by a particular day, in the case of Dame Marjory Seton, relict of Lewis Viscount of Frendraught, but he did not arrive till the day after, having been ‘fully eight days upon the journey that he usually made in three,’ in consequence of the unseasonableness of the weather, by which even the post had been obstructed. The denunciation against him for non-appearance was discharged.

1700, Jan
A case of a singular character was brought before the Court of Justiciary. In the preceding July, a boy named John Douglas, son of Douglas of Dornock, attending the school of Moffat, was chastised by his teacher, Mr Robert Carmichael, with such extreme severity that he died on the spot. The master is described in the indictment as beating and dragging the boy, and giving him three lashings without intermission, so that when ‘let down’ for the third time, he ‘could only weakly struggle along to his seat, and never spoke more, but breathed out his last, and was carried dying, if riot dead, out of the school.’ Carmichael fled, and kept out of sight for some weeks, cut by the providence of God was discovered and seized.’

‘The Lords decerned the said Mr Robert to be taken from the Tolbooth of Edinburgh by the hangman under a sure guard to the middle of the Laudmarket, and there lashed by seven severe stripes; then to be carried down to the Cross, and there severely lashed by six sharp stripes; and then to be carried to the Fountain Well, to be severely lashed by five stripes; and then to be carried back by the hangman to the Tolbooth. Likeas, the Lords banish the said Mr Robert furth of this kingdom, never to return thereto under all highest pains.’

Robert Carmichael was perhaps only unfortunate in some constitutional weakness of his victim. An energetic use of the lash was the rule, not the exception, in the old school—nay, even down to times of which many living persons may well say, ‘quaeque miserrima vidi, et quorum pars magna fui.’ In the High School of Edinburgh about 1790, one of the masters (Nicol) occasionally had twelve dunces to whip at once, ranking them up in a row for the purpose. When all was ready, he would send a polite message to his colleague, Mr Cruikshank, ‘to come and hear his organ.’ Cruikshank having come, Mr Nicol would proceed to administer a rapid cursory flagellation along and up and down the row, producing a variety of notes from the patients, which, if he had been more of a scientific musician, he might have probably called a bravura. Mr Cruikshank was sure to take an early opportunity of inviting Mr Nicol to a similar treat.

One of the most conspicuous persons at this time in Scotland— one of the few, moreover, known out of his own country, or destined to be remembered in a future age—was Dr Archibald Pitcairn. He practised as a physician in Edinburgh, without an equal in reputation; but he was also noted as a man of bright general talents, and of great wit and pleasantry. His habits were convivial, after the manner of his time, or beyond it; and his professional Delphi was a darkling tavern in the Parliament Close, which he called the Greping Office (Latine, ‘Greppa’), by reason of the necessity of groping in order to get into it. Here, in addition to all difficulties of access, his patients must have found it a somewhat critical matter to catch him at a happy moment, if it was true, as alleged, that he would sometimes be drunk twice a day. It is also told of him that, having given an order at home, that when detained overnight at this same Greping Office, he should have a clean shirt sent to him by a servant next morning, the rule was on one occasion observed till the number of clean shirts amounted to six, all of which he had duly put on; but, behold, when he finally re-emerged and made his way home, the whole were found upon him, one above the other! Perhaps these are exaggerations, shewing no more than that the habits of the clever doctor were such as to have excited the popular imagination. It was a matter of more serious moment, that Pitcairn was insensible to the beauties of the Presbyterian polity and the logic of the Calvinistie faith—being for this reason popularly labelled as an atheist—and that, in natural connection with this frame of opinion, he was no admirer of the happy revolution government.

He had, about this time, written a letter to his friend, Dr Robert Gray, in London; and Captain Bruce, a person attached to the service of the Duke of Hamilton, had sent it to its destination under a cover. It fell, in London, into the hands of the Scottish

Secretary, Seafleld, who immediately returned it to the Lord Chancellor in Edinburgh, as one of a dangerous character towards the government. The Lord Chancellor immediately caused Dr Pitcairn and Captain Bruce to be apprehended and put into the Tolbooth, each in a room by himself. On the letter being immediately after read to the Privy Council (January 16), they entirely approved of what had been done, and gave orders for a criminal process being instituted before them against the two gentlemen.

On the 25th of January, Pitcairn was brought before the Council on a charge of contravening various statutes against leasing-making—that is, venting and circulating reproaches and false reports against the government. He was accused of having, on a certain day in December, written a letter to Dr Gray in reference to an address which was in course of signature regarding the meeting of parliament. This, be said, was going on unanimously throughont the nation, only a few courtiers and Presbyterian ministers opposing it, and that in vain; ‘twice so many have signed since the proclamation anent petitioning as signed it before.’ ‘He bids him [Dr Gray] take notice that there is one sent to court, with a title different, to beguile the elect of the court, if it were possible.’ ‘And all the corporations and all the gentlemen have signed the address, and himself among the rest; and it is now a National Covenant, and, by Jove, it would produce a national and universal—; to which he adds that he is thinking after a lazy way to reprint his papers, but hopes there shall be news ere they are printed, and that he is calculating the force of the musculi abdominis in digesting meat, and is sure they can do it, une belle affaire.'

In the letters of charge brought forward by the Lord Advocate, it was alleged that there were here as many falsehoods as statements, and. the object of the whole to throw discredit on the government was manifest. One of his allegations was the more offensive as he had sought to confirm it ‘by swearing profanely as a pagan, and not as a Christian, "by Jove, it will produce a national and universal —," which blank cannot be construed to have a less import than a national and universal overturning.’ Seeing it clearly evidenced that he had ‘foolishly and wickedly meddled in the affairs of his majesty and his estate, he ought to be severely punished in his person and goods, to the terror of others to do the like in time coming.’

Dr Pitcairn, knowing well the kind of men he had to deal with, made no attempt at defence; neither did he utter any complaint as to the violation of his private correspondence. He pleaded that he had written in his cups with no evil design against the government, and threw himself entirely on the mercy of the Council. His submission was accepted, and he got off with a reprimand from the Lord Chancellor, after giving bond with his friend Sir Archibald Stevenson, under two hundred pounds sterling, to live peaceably under the government, and consult and contrive nothing against it.

Feb 3
This is the date of a conflagration in Edinburgh, which made a great impression at the time, and was long remembered. It broke out in one of the densest parts of the city, in a building between the Cowgate and Parliament Close, about ten o’clock of a Saturday night. ilere, in those days, lived men of no small importance. We are told that the fire commenced in a closet of the house of Mr John Buchan, being that below the residence of Lord Crossrig, one of the judges. Part of his lordship’s family was in bed, and he was himself retiring, when the alarm was given, and he and his family were obliged to escape without their clothes. ‘Crossring, naked, with a child under his oxter [armpit], happing for his life,' is cited as onr of the sad sights of the night. 'When people were sent into his closet to help out with his cabinet and papers, the smoke was so thick that they only got out a small cabinet with great difficulty. Albeit his papers were lying about the floor, or hung about the walls of his closet in pocks, yet they durst not stay to gather them up or take them...... so that that cabinet, and his servant [clerk]'s lettron [desk], which stood near the door of the lodging, with some few other things, was all that was saved, and the rest, even to his lordship’s wearing-clothes, were burnt!’ According to an eye-witness, the fire continued to burn all night and till ten o’clock on Sunday morning, ‘with the greatest frayor and vehemency that ever I saw a fire do, notwithstanding that I saw London burn.' ‘The flames were so terrible, that none durst come near to quench it. It was a very great wind, which blew to such a degree, that, with the sparks that came from the fire, there was nothing to be seen through the whole city, but as it had been showers of sparks, like showers of sr:ow, they were so thick.’

‘There are burnt, by the easiest computation, between three and four hundred families; the pride of Edinburgh is sunk; from the Cowgate to the High Street, all is burnt, and hardly one stone left upon another. The Commissioner, the President of Parliament, the President of the Court of Session [Sir Hugh Dalrymple], the Bank [of Scotland], most of the lords, lawyers, and clerks were burnt, besides many poor families. The Parliament House very nearly [narrowly] escaped; all registers confounded [the public registers being kept there]; clerk's chambers and processes in such a confusion, that the lords and officers of state are just now met in Ross's tavern, in order to adjourn the session by reason of the disorder. Few people are lost, if any at all, but thewre was neither heart nor hand left among them for saving from the fire, nor a drop of water in the cisterns. Twenty thousand hands flitting [removing] their trash, they knew not where, and hardly twenty at work. Many rueful spectacles, &c.'

The Town Council recorded their sense of this calamity as a fearful rebuke of God,’ and the Rev. Mr Willison of Dundee did not omit to improve the occasion. ‘In Edinburgh,’ says he, ‘where Sabbath-breaking very much abounded, the fairest and stateliest of its buildings, in the Parliament Close and about it (to which scarce any in Britain were comparable), were on the fourth of February (being the Lord’s Day), burnt down and laid in ashes and ruins in the space of a few hours, to the astonishment and terror of the sorrowful inhabitants, whereof I myself was an eye-witness. So great was the terror and confusion of that Lord’s Day, that the people of the city were in no case to attend any sermon or public worship upon it, though there was a great number of worthy ministers convened in the place (beside the reverend ministers of the city) ready to have prayed with or preached to the people on that sad occasion, for the General Assembly was sitting there at the time. However, the Lord himself; by that silent Sabbath, did loudly preach to all the inhabitants of the city,’ &c.

Some of the houses burnt on this occasion, forming part of the Parliament Square, were of the extraordinary altitude of fourteen stories, six or seven of which, however, were below the level of the ground on the north side. These had been built about twenty years before by Thomas Robertson, brewer, a thriving citizen, who is described in his epitaph in the Greyfriars’ churchyard as ‘remarkable for piety towards God, loyalty towards his prince, love to his country, and civility towards all persons;’ while he was also, by these structures, ‘urbis exornator, si non conditor," But Robertson, as youngest bailie, had given the Covenant out of his hand to be burnt at the Cross in 1661; and ‘now God in his providence hath sent a burning among his lands, so that that which was eleven years a-building, was not six hours of burning. Notwithstanding this, he was a good man, and lamented to his death the burning of the Covenant; he was also very helpful to the Lord’s prisoners during the late persecution.'

There being no insurance against fire in those days, the heirs of Robertson were reduced from comparative affluence to poverty, and the head of the family was glad to accept the situation of a captain in the city guard, and at last was made a pensioner upon the city’s charge.

Amongst the burnt out has been mentioned the Bank of Scotland. ‘The directors and others concerned did with great care and diligence carry off all the cash, bank-notes, books, and papers in the office; being assisted by a party of soldiers brought from the Castle by the Earl of Leven, then governor thereof, and governor of the bank, who, with the Lord Ruthven, then a director, stood all the night directing and supporting the soldiers, in keeping the stair and passage from being overcrowded. But the Company lost their lodging and whole furniture in it.’

Lord Crossrig, who suffered so much by this fire, tells us in his Diary, that in the late evil times—that is, before the Revolution— he had been a member of a society that met every Monday afternoon ‘for prayer and conference.’ Since their deliverance, such societies had gone out of fashion, and profanity went on increasing till it came to a great height. Hearing that there were societies setting up in England for reformation of manners,’ and falling in with a book that gave an account of them, he bethought him how desirable it was that something of the sort should be attempted in Edinburgh, and spoke to several friends on the subject. There was, consequently, a meeting at his house in November 1699, at which were present Mr Francis Grant (subsequently Lord Cullen); Mr Matthew Sinclair; Mr William Brodie, advocate; Mr Alexander Dundas, physician, and some other persons, who then determined to form themselves into such a society, under sanction of some of the clergy. The schedule of rules for this fraternity was signed on the night when the fire happened.

‘This,’ says Crossrig, 'is a thing I remark as notable, which presently was a rebuke to some of us for some fault in our solemn engagement there, and probably Satan blew that coal to ‘witness his indignation at a society designedly entered into in opposition to the Kingdom of Darkness, and in hopes that such an occurrence should dash our society in its infancy, and discourage us to proceed therein. However, blessed be our God, all who then met have continued steadfast ever since . . . . and we have had many meetings since that time, even during the three months that I lived at the Earl of Winton’s lodging in the Canongate. Likeas, there are several other societies of the same nature set up in this city.’’

The burning out of the Bank of Scotland was not more than twenty days past, when a trouble of a different kind fell upon it. ‘One Thomas M’Gie, who was bred a scholar, but poor, of a good genius and ready wit, of an aspiring temper, and desirous to make an appearance in the world, but wanting a fund convenient for his purpose, was tempted to try his hand upon bank-notes. At this time all the five kinds of notes—namely, £100, £50, £20, £10, and £5—were engraven in one and the same character. He, by artful razing, altered the word five in the five-pound note, and made it fifty. But good providence discovered the villainy before he had done any great damage, by means of the check-book and a record kept in the office; and the rogue was forced to fly abroad. The check-book and record are so excellently adapted to one another, and well contrived; and the keeping them right, and applying thereof, is so easy, that no forgery or falsehood of notes can be imposed upon the bank for any sum of moment, before it is discovered. After discovering this cheat of M'Gie, the company caused engrave new copper-plates for all their notes, each of a different character, adding several other checks; so that it is not in the power of man to renew M’Gie’s villainy.’

The glass-work at Leith made a great complaint regarding the ruinous practice pursued by the work at Newcastle, of sending great quantities of their goods into Scotland. The English makers had lately landed at Montrose no less than two thousand six hundred dozen of bottles, ‘which will overstock the whole country with the commodity.’ On their petition, the Lords of the Privy Council empowered the Leith Glass Company to send out officers to seize any such English bottles and bring them in for his majesty’s use.

Mar 14
The ill-reputed governments of the last two reigns put down unlicensed worship among the Presbyterians, on the ground that the conventicles were schools of disaffection. The present government acted upon precisely the same principle, in crushing attempts at the establishment of Episcopal meeting-houses. The commission of the General Assembly at this time represented to the Privy Council that the parishes of Eyemouth, Ayton, and Coldingham were ‘very much disturbed by the setting up of Episcopal meeting-houses, whereby the people are withdrawn from their duty to his majesty, and all good order of the church violat.’ On the petition of the presbytery of Chirnside, backed by the Assembly Commission, the Privy Council ordained that the sheriff shut up all these meeting-houses, and recommended the Lord Advocate to ‘prosecute the pretended ministers preaching at the said meeting-houses, not qualified according to law, and thereby not having the protection of the government!

This policy seems to have been effectual for its object, for in the statistical account of Coldingham, drawn up near the close of the eighteenth century, the minister reports that there were no Episcopalians in his parish. It is but one of many facts which might be adduced in opposition to the popular doctrine, that persecution is powerless against religious conviction.

Notwithstanding the many serious and the many calamitous things affecting Scotland, there was an under-current of pleasantries and jocularities, of which we are here and there fortunate enough to get a glimpse. For example—in Aberdeen, near the gate of the mansion of the Earl of Errol, there looms out upon our view a little cozy tavern, kept by one Peter Butter, much frequented of students in Marischal College and the dependents of the magnate here named. The former called it the Colleqium Butterense, as affecting to consider it a sort of university supplementary to, and necessary for the completion of, the daylight one which their friends understood them to be attending. Here drinking was study, and proficiency therein gave the title to degrees. Even for admission, there was a theme required, which consisted in drinking a particular glass to every friend and acquaintance one had in the world, with one more. Without these possibly thirty-nine or more articles being duly and unreservedly swallowed, the candidate was relentlessly excluded. On being accepted, a wreath was conferred, and Master James Hay, by virtue of the authority resting in him under the rules of the foundation, addressed the neophyte:

Potestatem do tibique
Compotandi bibendique,
Ac sumrna pocula implendi,
Et haustus exhauriendi,
Cujusve sint capacitatis,
E rotundis ant quadratis.
In signum ut manumittaris,
Adornet caput hic galerus,
Quod tibi felix sit faustumque,
Obnixe comprecor multumque.

There were theses, too, on suitably convivial ideas—as, for example:

‘Gainst any man of sense,
Asserimus ex pacto,
Upon his own expense,
Quod vere datur ens
Potabile de facto...

If you expect degrees,
Drink off your cup and fill,
We’re not for what you please:
Our absolute decrees
Admit of no free-will.....

The longer we do sit,
The more we hate all quarrels,
(Let none his quarters flit),
The more we do admit
Of vacuum in barrels. &c.

Or else:

For to find out a parallaxis
We’ll not our minds apply,
Save what a toast in Corbreed makes us;
Whether the moon moves on her axis,
Ask Black and Gregory.

That bodies are à parte rei,
To hold we think it meetest;
Some cold, some hot, some moist, some dry,
Though all of them ye taste and try,
The fluid is the sweetest.

Post sextant semi hora
At night, no friend refuses
To come lavare ora;
Est melior guam Aurorad
And fitter for the Muse; &c.

A. diploma conferred upon George Durward, doubtless not without very grave consideration of his pretensions to the honour, is couched in much the same stram as the theses:

To all and sundry who shall see this,
Whate’er his station or degree is,
We, Masters of the Buttery College,
Send greeting, and to give them knowledge,
That George Durward, praesentium lator,
Did study at our Alma Mater
Some years, and hated foolish projects,
But stiffly studied liquid logics;
And now he’s as well skilled in liquor
As any one that blaws a bicker;
For he can make our college theme
A syllogism or enthymeme....
Since now we have him manumitted,
In arts and sciences well fitted,
To recommend him we incline
To all besouth and north the line,
To black and white, though they live as far
As Cape Good-Hope and Madagascar,
Him to advance, because he is
Juvenis bonae indolis, &c.

We have, however, no specimen of the wit of this fluid university that strikes us as equal to a Catalogus Librorum in Bibliotheed Butterensi; to all external appearance, a dry list of learned books, while in reality comprehending the whole paraphernalia of a tavern. It is formally divided into ‘Books in large folio,’ Books in lesser folio,’ ‘Books in quarto,’ ‘Books in octavo,’ and ‘Lesser Volumes,’ just as we might suppose the university catalogue to have been. Amongst the works included are: ‘Maximilian Malt-kist de principiis liquidorum—Kireherus Kettles de codem themate—Bueket’s Hydrostaticks—Opera Bibuli Barrelli, ubi de conservatione liquoris, et de vacuo, problematice disputatur— Constantinus Chopinus de philosophicis bibendi legibus, in usum Principalis, curâ Georgii Leith [described in a note as a particularly assiduous pupil of the college] 12 tom.—Compendium ejus, for weaker capacities—Barnabius Beer-glass, de lavando gutture—Manuale Gideonis Gill, de Syllogismiis concludentibus—Findlay Fireside, de circulari poculorum motu,’ &c. One may faintly imagine how all this light-headed nonsense would please Dr Pitcairn, as he sat regaling himself in the Greping Office, and how the serious people would shake their heads at it when they perused it at full length, a few years afterwards, in Watson’s Collection of Scots Poems.

July 31
The commissioners of the General Assembly, considering the impending danger of a late harvest and consequent scarcity, and the other distresses of the country, called for the 29th day of August being solemimised by a fast. In the reasons for it, they mention the unworthy repining at the late providences, and ‘that, under our great penury and dearth, whilst some provoked God by their profuse prodigality, the poorest of the people, who suffered most, and who ought thereby to have been amended, have rather grown worse and worse.’

Duncan Robertson, a younger son of the deceased Laird of Struan, had fallen out of all good terms with his mother, apparently in consequence of some disputes about their respective rights. Gathering an armed band of idle ruffians, he went with them to his mother’s jointure-lands, and laid them waste; he went to a ‘room’ or piece of land occupied by his sister Margaret, and carried off all that was upon it; he also ‘laid waste any possession his other sister Mrs Janet had.’ When a military party, posted at Cane, came to protect the ladies, he fired on it, and afterwards plainly avowed to the commander that his object was to dispossess his mother and her tenants. By this cruel act, Lady Struan and her other children had been ‘reduced to these straits and difficulties, that they had not whereupon to live.’

Aug 2
The Privy Council gave orders for the capture of Duncan Robertson, and his being put in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, and kept there till further orders.

Return to Book Index


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus