The evil you teach us,
We will execute; and it shall go hard, but we will
Better the instruction.
Merchant of Venice.
The unhappy object of this remarkable disturbance had been that day delivered from the apprehension of public execution, and his joy was the greater, as he had some reason to question whether Government would have run the risk of unpopularity by interfering in his favour, after he had been legally convicted by the verdict of a jury, of a crime so very obnoxious. Relieved from this doubtful state of mind, his heart was merry within him, and he thought, in the emphatic words of Scripture on a similar occasion, that surely the bitterness of death was past. Some of his friends, however, who had watched the manner and behaviour of the crowd when they were made acquainted with the reprieve, were of a different opinion. They augured, from the unusual sternness and silence with which they bore their disappointment, that the populace nourished some scheme of sudden and desperate vengeance; and they advised Porteous to lose no time in petitioning the proper authorities, that he might be conveyed to the Castle under a sufficient guard, to remain there in security until his ultimate fate should be determined. Habituated, however, by his office, to overawe the rabble of the city, Porteous could not suspect them of an attempt so audacious as to storm a strong and defensible prison; and, despising the advice by which he might have been saved, he spent the afternoon of the eventful day in giving an entertainment to some friends who visited him in jail, several of whom, by the indulgence of the Captain of the Tolbooth, with whom he had an old intimacy, arising from their official connection, were even permitted to remain to supper with him, though contrary to the rules of the jail.
It was, therefore, in the hour of unalloyed mirth, when this unfortunate wretch was “full of bread,” hot with wine, and high in mistimed and ill-grounded confidence, and alas! with all his sins full blown, when the first distant’ shouts of the rioters mingled with the song of merriment and intemperance. The hurried call of the jailor to the guests, requiring them instantly to depart, and his yet more hasty intimation that a dreadful and determined mob had possessed themselves of the city gates and guard-house, were the first explanation of these fearful clamours.
Porteous might, however, have eluded the fury from which the force of authority could not protect him, had he thought of slipping on some disguise, and leaving the prison along with his guests. It is probable that the jailor might have connived at his escape, or even that in the hurry of this alarming contingency, he might not have observed it. But Porteous and his friends alike wanted presence of mind to suggest or execute such a plan of escape. The former hastily fled from a place where their own safety seemed compromised, and the latter, in a state resembling stupefaction, awaited in his apartment the termination of the enterprise of the rioters. The cessation of the clang of the instruments with which they had at first attempted to force the door, gave him momentary relief. The flattering hopes, that the military had marched into the city, either from the Castle or from the suburbs, and that the rioters were intimidated, and dispersing, were soon destroyed by the broad and glaring light of the flames, which, illuminating through the grated window every corner of his apartment, plainly showed that the mob, determined on their fatal purpose, had adopted a means of forcing entrance equally desperate and certain.
The sudden glare of light suggested to the stupified and astonished object of popular hatred the possibility of concealment or escape. To rush to the chimney, to ascend it at the risk of suffocation, were the only means which seemed to have occurred to him; but his progress was speedily stopped by one of those iron gratings, which are, for the sake of security, usually placed across the vents of buildings designed for imprisonment. The bars, however, which impeded his farther progress, served to support him in the situation which he had gained, and he seized them with the tenacious grasp of one who esteemed himself clinging to his last hope of existence. The lurid light which had filled the apartment, lowered and died away; the sound of shouts was heard within the walls, and on the narrow and winding stair, which, eased within one of the turrets, gave access to the upper apartments of the prison. The huzza of the rioters was answered by a shout wild and desperate as their own, the cry, namely, of the imprisoned felons, who, expecting to be liberated in the general confusion, welcomed the mob as their deliverers. By some of these the apartment of Porteous was pointed out to his enemies. The obstacle of the lock and bolts was soon overcome, and from his hiding place the unfortunate man heard his enemies search every corner of the apartment, with oaths and maledictions, which would but shock the reader if we recorded them, but which served to prove, could it have admitted of doubt, the settled purpose of soul with which they sought his destruction.
A place of concealment so obvious to suspicion and scrutiny as that which Porteous had chosen, could not long screen him from detection. He was dragged from his lurking-place, with a violence which seemed to argue an intention to put him to death on the spot. More than one weapon was directed towards him, when one of the rioters, the same whose female disguise had been particularly noticed by Butler, interfered in an authoritative tone. “Are ye mad?” he said, “or would ye execute an act of justice as if it were a crime and a cruelty? This sacrifice will lose half its savour if we do not offer it at the very horns of the altar. We will have him die where a murderer should die, on the common gibbet — We will have him die where he spilled the blood of so many innocents!”
A loud shout of applause followed the proposal, and the cry, “To the gallows with the murderer! — to the Grassmarket with him!” echoed on all hands.
“Let no man hurt him,” continued the speaker; “let him make his peace with God, if he can; we will not kill both his soul and body.”
“What time did he give better folk for preparing their account?” answered several voices. “Let us mete to him with the same measure he measured to them.”
But the opinion of the spokesman better suited the temper of those he addressed, a temper rather stubborn than impetuous, sedate though ferocious, and desirous of colouring their cruel and revengeful action with a show of justice and moderation.
For an instant this man quitted the prisoner, whom he consigned to a selected guard, with instructions to permit him to give his money and property to whomsoever he pleased. A person confined in the jail for debt received this last deposit from the trembling hand of the victim, who was at the same time permitted to make some other brief arrangements to meet his approaching fate. The felons, and all others who, wished to leave the jail, were now at full liberty to do so; not that their liberation made any part of the settled purpose of the rioters, but it followed as almost a necessary consequence of forcing the jail doors. With wild cries of jubilee they joined the mob, or disappeared among the narrow lanes to seek out the hidden receptacles of vice and infamy, where they were accustomed to lurk and conceal themselves from justice.
Two persons, a man about fifty years old and a girl about eighteen, were all who continued within the fatal walls, excepting two or three debtors, who probably saw no advantage in attempting their escape. The persons we have mentioned remained in the strong room of the prison, now deserted by all others. One of their late companions in misfortune called out to the man to make his escape, in the tone of an acquaintance. “Rin for it, Ratcliffe — the road’s clear.”
“It may be sae, Willie,” answered Ratcliffe, composedly, “but I have taen a fancy to leave aff trade, and set up for an honest man.”
“Stay there, and be hanged, then, for a donnard auld deevil!” said the other, and ran down the prison stair.
The person in female attire whom we have distinguished as one of the most active rioters, was about the same time at the ear of the young woman. “Flee, Effie, flee!” was all he had time to whisper. She turned towards him an eye of mingled fear, affection, and upbraiding, all contending with a sort of stupified surprise. He again repeated, “Flee, Effie, flee! for the sake of all that’s good and dear to you!” Again she gazed on him, but was unable to answer. A loud noise was now heard, and the name of Madge Wildfire was repeatedly called from the bottom of the staircase.
“I am coming — I am coming,” said the person who answered to that appellative; and then reiterating hastily, “For God’s sake — for your own sake — for my sake, flee, or they’ll take your life!” he left the strong room.
The girl gazed after him for a moment, and then, faintly muttering, “Better tyne life, since tint is gude fame,” she sunk her head upon her hand, and remained, seemingly, unconscious as a statue of the noise and tumult which passed around her.
That tumult was now transferred from the inside to the outside of the Tolbooth. The mob had brought their destined victim forth, and were about to conduct him to the common place of execution, which they had fixed as the scene of his death. The leader, whom they distinguished by the name of Madge Wildfire, had been summoned to assist at the procession by the impatient shouts of his confederates.
“I will insure you five hundred pounds,” said the unhappy man, grasping Wildfire’s hand — “five hundred pounds for to save my life.”
The other answered in the same undertone, and returning his grasp with one equally convulsive, “Five hundredweight of coined gold should not save you. — Remember Wilson!”
A deep pause of a minute ensued, when Wildfire added, in a more composed tone, “Make your peace with Heaven. — Where is the clergyman?”
Butler, who in great terror and anxiety, had been detained within a few yards of the Tolbooth door, to wait the event of the search after Porteous, was now brought forward, and commanded to walk by the prisoner’s side, and to prepare him for immediate death. His answer was a supplication that the rioters would consider what they did. “You are neither judges nor jury,” said he. “You cannot have, by the laws of God or man, power to take away the life of a human creature, however deserving he may be of death. If it is murder even in a lawful magistrate to execute an offender otherwise than in the place, time, and manner which the judges’ sentence prescribes, what must it be in you, who have no warrant for interference but your own wills? In the name of Him who is all mercy, show mercy to this unhappy man, and do not dip your hands in his blood, nor rush into the very crime which you are desirous of avenging!”
“Cut your sermon short — you are not in your pulpit,” answered one of the rioters.
“If we hear more of your clavers,” said another, “we are like to hang you up beside him.”
“Peace — hush!” said Wildfire. “Do the good man no harm — he discharges his conscience, and I like him the better.”
He then addressed Butler. “Now, sir, we have patiently heard you, and we just wish you to understand, in the way of answer, that you may as well argue to the ashlar-work and iron stanchels of the Tolbooth as think to change our purpose — Blood must have blood. We have sworn to each other by the deepest oaths ever were pledged, that Porteous shall die the death he deserves so richly; therefore, speak no more to us, but prepare him for death as well as the briefness of his change will permit.”
They had suffered the unfortunate Porteous to put on his night-gown and slippers, as he had thrown off his coat and shoes, in order to facilitate his attempted escape up the chimney. In this garb he was now mounted on the hands of two of the rioters, clasped together, so as to form what is called in Scotland, “The King’s Cushion.” Butler was placed close to his side, and repeatedly urged to perform a duty always the most painful which can be imposed on a clergyman deserving of the name, and now rendered more so by the peculiar and horrid circumstances of the criminal’s case. Porteous at first uttered some supplications for mercy, but when he found that there was no chance that these would be attended to, his military education, and the natural stubbornness of his disposition, combined to support his spirits.
“Are you prepared for this dreadful end?” said Butler, in a faltering voice. “O turn to Him, in whose eyes time and space have no existence, and to whom a few minutes are as a lifetime, and a lifetime as a minute.”
“I believe I know what you would say,” answered Porteous sullenly. “I was bred a soldier; if they will murder me without time, let my sins as well as my blood lie at their door.”
“Who was it,” said the stern voice of Wildfire, “that said to Wilson at this very spot, when he could not pray, owing to the galling agony of his fetters, that his pains would soon be over? — I say to you to take your own tale home; and if you cannot profit by the good man’s lessons, blame not them that are still more merciful to you than you were to others.”
The procession now moved forward with a slow and determined pace. It was enlightened by many blazing, links and torches; for the actors of this work were so far from affecting any secrecy on the occasion, that they seemed even to court observation. Their principal leaders kept close to the person of the prisoner, whose pallid yet stubborn features were seen distinctly by the torch-light, as his person was raised considerably above the concourse which thronged around him. Those who bore swords, muskets, and battle-axes, marched on each side, as if forming a regular guard to the procession. The windows, as they went along, were filled with the inhabitants, whose slumbers had been broken by this unusual disturbance. Some of the spectators muttered accents of encouragement; but in general they were so much appalled by a sight so strange and audacious, that they looked on with a sort of stupified astonishment. No one offered, by act or word, the slightest interruption.
The rioters, on their part, continued to act with the same air of deliberate confidence and security which had marked all their proceedings. When the object of their resentment dropped one of his slippers, they stopped, sought for it, and replaced it upon his foot with great deliberation.1
As they descended the Bow towards the fatal spot where they designed to complete their purpose, it was suggested that there should be a rope kept in readiness. For this purpose the booth of a man who dealt in cordage was forced open, a coil of rope fit for their purpose was selected to serve as a halter, and the dealer next morning found that a guinea had been left on his counter in exchange; so anxious were the perpetrators of this daring action to show that they meditated not the slightest wrong or infraction of law, excepting so far as Porteous was himself concerned.
Leading, or carrying along with them, in this determined and regular manner, the object of their vengeance, they at length reached the place of common execution, the scene of his crime, and destined spot of his sufferings. Several of the rioters (if they should not rather be described as conspirators) endeavoured to remove the stone which filled up the socket in which the end of the fatal tree was sunk when it was erected for its fatal purpose; others sought for the means of constructing a temporary gibbet, the place in which the gallows itself was deposited being reported too secure to be forced, without much loss of time. Butler endeavoured to avail himself of the delay afforded by these circumstances, to turn the people from their desperate design. “For God’s sake,” he exclaimed, “remember it is the image of your Creator which you are about to deface in the person of this unfortunate man! Wretched as he is, and wicked as he may be, he has a share in every promise of Scripture, and you cannot destroy him in impenitence without blotting his name from the Book of Life — Do not destroy soul and body; give time for preparation.”
“What time had they,” returned a stern voice, “whom he murdered on this very spot? — The laws both of God and man call for his death.”
“But what, my friends,” insisted Butler, with a generous disregard to his own safety —“what hath constituted you his judges?”
“We are not his judges,” replied the same person; “he has been already judged and condemned by lawful authority. We are those whom Heaven, and our righteous anger, have stirred up to execute judgment, when a corrupt Government would have protected a murderer.”
“I am none,” said the unfortunate Porteous; “that which you charge upon me fell out in self-defence, in the lawful exercise of my duty.”
“Away with him — away with him!” was the general cry.
“Why do you trifle away time in making a gallows? — that dyester’s pole is good enough for the homicide.”
The unhappy man was forced to his fate with remorseless rapidity. Butler, separated from him by the press, escaped the last horrors of his struggles. Unnoticed by those who had hitherto detained him as a prisoner — he fled from the fatal spot, without much caring in what direction his course lay. A loud shout proclaimed the stern delight with which the agents of this deed regarded its completion. Butler, then, at the opening into the low street called the Cowgate, cast back a terrified glance, and, by the red and dusky light of the torches, he could discern a figure wavering and struggling as it hung suspended above the heads of the multitude, and could even observe men striking at it with their Lochaber-axes and partisans. The sight was of a nature to double his horror, and to add wings to his flight.
The street down which the fugitive ran opens to one of the eastern ports or gates of the city. Butler did not stop till he reached it, but found it still shut. He waited nearly an hour, walking up and down in inexpressible perturbation of mind. At length he ventured to call out, and rouse the attention of the terrified keepers of the gate, who now found themselves at liberty to resume their office without interruption. Butler requested them to open the gate. They hesitated. He told them his name and occupation.
“He is a preacher,” said one; “I have heard him preach in Haddo’s-hole.”
“A fine preaching has he been at the night,” said another “but maybe least said is sunest mended.”
Opening then the wicket of the main gate, the keepers suffered Butler to depart, who hastened to carry his horror and fear beyond the walls of Edinburgh. His first purpose was instantly to take the road homeward; but other fears and cares, connected with the news he had learned in that remarkable day, induced him to linger in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh until daybreak. More than one group of persons passed him as he was whiling away the hours of darkness that yet remained, whom, from the stifled tones of their discourse, the unwonted hour when they travelled, and the hasty pace at which they walked, he conjectured to have been engaged in the late fatal transaction.
Certain it was, that the sudden and total dispersion of the rioters, when their vindictive purpose was accomplished, seemed not the least remarkable feature of this singular affair. In general, whatever may be the impelling motive by which a mob is at first raised, the attainment of their object has usually been only found to lead the way to farther excesses. But not so in the present case. They seemed completely satiated with the vengeance they had prosecuted with such stanch and sagacious activity. When they were fully satisfied that life had abandoned their victim, they dispersed in every direction, throwing down the weapons which they had only assumed to enable them to carry through their purpose. At daybreak there remained not the least token of the events of the night, excepting the corpse of Porteous, which still hung suspended in the place where he had suffered, and the arms of various kinds which the rioters had taken from the city guard-house, which were found scattered about the streets as they had thrown them from their hands when the purpose for which they had seized them was accomplished.
The ordinary magistrates of the city resumed their power, not without trembling at the late experience of the fragility of its tenure. To march troops into the city, and commence a severe inquiry into the transactions of the preceding night, were the first marks of returning energy which they displayed. But these events had been conducted on so secure and well-calculated a plan of safety and secrecy, that there was little or nothing learned to throw light upon the authors or principal actors in a scheme so audacious. An express was despatched to London with the tidings, where they excited great indignation and surprise in the council of regency, and particularly in the bosom of Queen Caroline, who considered her own authority as exposed to contempt by the success of this singular conspiracy. Nothing was spoke of for some time save the measure of vengeance which should be taken, not only on the actors of this tragedy, so soon as they should be discovered, but upon the magistrates who had suffered it to take place, and upon the city which had been the scene where it was exhibited. On this occasion, it is still recorded in popular tradition, that her Majesty, in the height of her displeasure, told the celebrated John Duke of Argyle, that, sooner than submit to such an insult, she would make Scotland a hunting-field. “In that case, Madam,” answered that high-spirited nobleman, with a profound bow, “I will take leave of your Majesty, and go down to my own country to get my hounds ready.”
The import of the reply had more than met the ear; and as most of the Scottish nobility and gentry seemed actuated by the same national spirit, the royal displeasure was necessarily checked in mid-volley, and milder courses were recommended and adopted, to some of which we may hereafter have occasion to advert.2
1 This little incident, characteristic of the extreme composure of this extraordinary mob, was witnessed by a lady, who, disturbed like others from her slumbers, had gone to the window. It was told to the Author by the lady’s daughter.
2 Memorial concerning the murder of Captain Porteous.
The following interesting and authentic account of the inquiries made by Crown Counsel into the affair of the Porteous Mob, seems to have been drawn up by the Solicitor-General. The office was held in 1737 by Charles Erskine, Esq.
I owe this curious illustration to the kindness of a professional friend. It throws, indeed, little light on the origin of the tumult; but shows how profound the darkness must have been, which so much investigation could not dispel.
“Upon the 7th of September last, when the unhappy wicked murder of Captain Porteus was committed, His Majesty’s Advocate and Solicitor were out of town; the first beyond Inverness, and the other in Annandale, not far from Carlyle; neither of them knew anything of the reprieve, nor did they in the least suspect that any disorder was to happen.
“When the disorder happened, the magistrates and other persons concerned in the management of the town, seemed to be all struck of a heap; and whether, from the great terror that had seized all the inhabitants, they thought ane immediate enquiry would be fruitless, or whether, being a direct insult upon the prerogative of the crown, they did not care rashly to intermeddle; but no proceedings was had by them. Only, soon after, ane express was sent to his Majestie’s Solicitor, who came to town as soon as was possible for him; but, in the meantime, the persons who had been most guilty, had either ran off, or, at least, kept themselves upon the wing until they should see what steps were taken by the Government.
“When the Solicitor arrived, he perceived the whole inhabitants under a consternation. He had no materials furnished him; nay, the inhabitants were so much afraid of being reputed informers, that very few people had so much as the courage to speak with him on the streets. However, having received her Majestie’s orders, by a letter from the Duke of New castle, he resolved to sett about the matter in earnest, and entered upon ane enquiry, gropeing in the dark. He had no assistance from the magistrates worth mentioning, but called witness after witness in the privatest manner, before himself in his own house, and for six weeks time, from morning to evening, went on in the enquiry without taking the least diversion, or turning his thoughts to any other business.
“He tried at first what he could do by declarations, by engaging secresy, so that those who told the truth should never be discovered; made use of no clerk, but wrote all the declarations with his own hand, to encourage them to speak out. After all, for some time, he could get nothing but ends of stories which, when pursued, broke off; and those who appeared and knew anything of the matter, were under the utmost terror, lest it should take air that they had mentioned any one man as guilty.
“During the course of the enquiry, the run of the town, which was strong for the villanous actors, begun to alter a little, and when they saw the King’s servants in earnest to do their best, the generality, who before had spoke very warmly in defence of the wickedness, began to be silent, and at that period more of the criminals began to abscond.
“At length the enquiry began to open a little, and the Sollicitor was under some difficulty how to proceed. He very well saw that the first warrand that was issued out would start the whole gang; and as he had not come at any of the most notorious offenders, he was unwilling, upon the slight evidence he had, to begin. However, upon notice given him by Generall Moyle, that one King, a butcher in the Canongate, had boasted, in presence of Bridget Knell, a soldier’s wife, the morning after Captain Porteus was hanged, that he had a very active hand in the mob, a warrand was issued out, and King was apprehended, and imprisoned in the Canongate Tolbooth.
“This obliged the Sollicitor immediately to take up those against whom he had any information. By a signed declaration, William Stirling, apprentice to James Stirling, merchant in Edinburgh, was charged as haveing been at the Nether-Bow, after the gates were shutt, with a Lochaber-ax or halbert in his hand, and haveing begun a huzza, marched upon the head of the mob towards the Guard.
“James Braidwood, son to a candlemaker in town, was, by a signed declaration, charged as haveing been at the Tolbooth door, giveing directions to the mob about setting fire to the door, and that the mob named him by his name, and asked his advice.
“By another declaration, one Stoddart, a journeyman smith, was charged of having boasted publickly, in a smith’s shop at Leith, that he had assisted in breaking open the Tolbooth door.
“Peter Traill, a journeyman wright, (by one of the declarations) was also accused of haveing lockt the Nether-Bow Port, when it was shutt by the mob.
“His Majestie’s Sollicitor having these informations, implored privately such persons as he could best rely on, and the truth was, there were very few in whom he could repose confidence. But he was, indeed, faithfully served by one Webster, a soldier in the Welsh fuzileers, recommended him by Lieutenant Alshton, who, with very great address, informed himself, and really run some risque in getting his information, concerning the places where the persons informed against used to haunt, and how they might be seized. In consequence of which, a party of the Guard from the Canongate was agreed on to march up at a certain hour, when a message should be sent. The Sollicitor wrote a letter and gave it to one of the town officers, ordered to attend Captain Maitland, one of the town Captains, promoted to that command since the unhappy accident, who, indeed, was extremely diligent and active throughout the whole; and haveing got Stirling and Braidwood apprehended, dispatched the officer with the letter to the military in the Canongate, who immediately begun their march, and by the time the Sollicitor had half examined the said two persons in the Burrow-room, where the Magistrates were present, a party of fifty men, drums beating, marched into the Parliament close, and drew up, which was the first thing that struck a terror, and from that time forward, the insolence was succeeded by fear.
“Stirling and Braidwood were immediately sent to the Castle and imprisoned. That same night, Stoddart, the smith, was seized, and he was committed to the Castle also; as was likewise Traill, the journeyman wright, who were all severally examined, and denyed the least accession.
“In the meantime, the enquiry was going on, and it haveing cast up in one of the declarations, that a hump’d backed creature marched with a gun as one of the guards to Porteus when he went up to the Lawn Markett, the person who emitted this declaration was employed to walk the streets to see if he could find him out; at last he came to the Sollicitor and told him he had found him, and that he was in a certain house. Whereupon a warrand was issued out against him, and he was apprehended and sent to the Castle, and he proved to be one Birnie, a helper to the Countess of Weemys’s coachman.
“Thereafter, ane information was given in against William M’Lauchlan, ffootman to the said Countess, he haveing been very active in the mob; ffor sometime he kept himself out of the way, but at last he was apprehended and likewise committed to the Castle.
“And these were all the prisoners who were putt under confinement in that place.
“There were other persons imprisoned in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, and severalls against whom warrands were issued, but could not be apprehended, whose names and cases shall afterwards be more particularly taken notice of.
“The ffriends of Stirling made an application to the Earl of Islay, Lord Justice-Generall, setting furth, that he was seized with a bloody fflux; that his life was in danger; and that upon ane examination of witnesses whose names were given in, it would appear to conviction, that he had not the least access to any of the riotous proceedings of that wicked mob.
“This petition was by his Lordship putt in the hands of his Majestie’s Sollicitor, who examined the witnesses; and by their testimonies it appeared, that the young man, who was not above eighteen years of age, was that night in company with about half a dozen companions, in a public house in Stephen Law’s closs, near the back of the Guard, where they all remained untill the noise came to the house, that the mob had shut the gates and seized the Guard, upon which the company broke up, and he, and one of his companions, went towards his master’s house; and, in the course of the after examination, there was a witness who declared, nay, indeed swore (for the Sollicitor, by this time, saw it necessary to put those he examined upon oath), that he met him [Stirling] after he entered into the alley where his master lives, going towards his house; and another witness, fellow-prentice with Stirling, declares, that after the mob had seized the Guard, he went home, where he found Stirling before him; and, that his master lockt the door, and kept them both at home till after twelve at night: upon weighing of which testimonies, and upon consideration had, That he was charged by the declaration only of one person, who really did not appear to be a witness of the greatest weight, and that his life was in danger from the imprisonment, he was admitted to baill by the Lord Justice-Generall, by whose warrand he was committed.
“Braidwood’s friends applyed in the same manner; but as he stood charged by more than one witness, he was not released — tho’, indeed, the witnesses adduced for him say somewhat in his exculpation — that he does not seem to have been upon any original concert; and one of the witnesses says he was along with him at the Tolbooth door, and refuses what is said against him, with regard to his having advised the burning of the Tolbooth door. But he remains still in prison.
“As to Traill, the journeyman wright, he is charged by the same witness who declared against Stirling, and there is none concurrs with him and, to say the truth concerning him, he seemed to be the most ingenuous of any of them whom the Solicitor examined, and pointed out a witness by whom one of the first accomplices was discovered, and who escaped when the warrand was to be putt in execution against them. He positively denys his having shutt the gate, and ’tis thought Traill ought to be admitted to baill.
“As to Birnie, he is charged only by one witness, who had never seen him before, nor knew his name; so, tho’ I dare say the witness honestly mentioned him, ’tis possible he may be mistaken; and in the examination of above 200 witnesses there is no body concurrs with him, and he is ane insignificant little creature.
“With regard to M’Lauchlan, the proof is strong against him by one witness, that he acted as a serjeant, or sort of commander, for some time, of a Guard, that stood cross between the upper end of the Luckenbooths and the north side of the street, to stop all but friends from going towards the Tolbooth; and by other witnesses, that he was at the Tolbooth door with a link in his hand, while the operation of beating and burning it was going on; that he went along with the mob with a halbert in his hand, untill he came to the gallows stone in the Grassmarket, and that he stuck the halbert into the hole of the gallows stone: that afterwards he went in amongst the mob when Captain Porteus was carried to the dyer’s tree; so that the proof seems very heavy against him.
“To sum up this matter with regard to the prisoners in the Castle, ’tis believed there is strong proof against M’Lauchlan; there is also proof against Braidwood. But, as it consists only in emission of words said to have been had by him while at the Tolbooth door, and that he is ane insignificant pitifull creature, and will find people to swear heartily in his favours, ’tis at best doubtfull whether a jury will be got to condemn him.
“As to those in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, John Crawford, who had for some time been employed to ring the bells in the steeple of the New Church of Edinburgh, being in company with a soldier accidentally, the discourse falling in concerning the Captain Porteus and his murder, as he appears to be a light-headed fellow, he said, that he knew people that were more guilty than any that were putt in prison. Upon this information, Crawford was seized, and being examined, it appeared, that when the mob begun, as he was comeing down from the steeple, the mob took the keys from him; that he was that night in several corners, and did indeed delate severall persons whom he saw there, and immediately warrands were despatched, and it was found they had absconded and fled. But there was no evidence against him of any kind. Nay, on the contrary, it appeared, that he had been with the Magistrates in Clerk’s, the vintner’s, relating to them what he had seen in the streets. Therefore, after haveing detained him in prison ffor a very considerable time, his Majestie’s Advocate and Sollicitor signed a warrand for his liberation.
“There was also one James Wilson incarcerated in the said Tolbooth, upon the declaration of one witness, who said he saw him on the streets with a gun; and there he remained for some time, in order to try if a concurring witness could be found, or that he acted any part in the tragedy and wickedness. But nothing farther appeared against him; and being seized with a severe sickness, he is, by a warrand signed by his Majestie’s Advocate and Sollicitor, liberated upon giveing sufficient baill.
“As to King, enquiry was made, and the ffact comes out beyond all exception, that he was in the lodge at the Nether-Bow with Lindsay the waiter, and several other people, not at all concerned in the mob. But after the affair was over, he went up towards the guard, and having met with Sandie the Turk and his wife, who escaped out of prison, they returned to his house at the Abbey, and then ’tis very possible he may have thought fitt in his beer to boast of villany, in which he could not possibly have any share for that reason; he was desired to find baill and he should be set at liberty. But he is a stranger and a fellow of very indifferent character, and ’tis believed it won’t be easy for him to find baill. Wherefore, it’s thought he must be sett at liberty without it. Because he is a burden upon the Government while kept in confinement, not being able to maintain himself.
“What is above is all that relates to persons in custody. But there are warrands out against a great many other persons who had fled, particularly against one William White, a journeyman baxter, who, by the evidence, appears to have been at the beginning of the mob, and to have gone along with the drum, from the West-Port to the Nether-Bow, and is said to have been one of those who attacked the guard, and probably was as deep as any one there.
“Information was given that he was lurking at Falkirk, where he was born. Whereupon directions were sent to the Sheriff of the County, and a warrand from his Excellency Generall Wade, to the commanding officers at Stirling and Linlithgow, to assist, and all possible endeavours were used to catch hold of him, and ’tis said he escaped very narrowly, having been concealed in some outhouse; and the misfortune was, that those who were employed in the search did not know him personally. Nor, indeed, was it easy to trust any of the acquaintances of so low, obscure a fellow with the secret of the warrand to be putt in execution.
“There was also strong evidence found against Robert Taylor, servant to William and Charles Thomsons, periwig-makers, that he acted as ane officer among the mob, and he was traced from the guard to the well at the head of Forester’s Wynd, where he stood and had the appellation of Captain from the mob, and from that walking down the Bow before Captain Porteus, with his Lochaber axe; and, by the description given of one who hawl’d the rope by which Captain Porteus was pulled up, ’tis believed Taylor was the person; and ’tis farther probable, that the witness who debated Stirling had mistaken Taylor for him, their stature and age (so far as can be gathered from the description) being the same.
“A great deal of pains were taken, and no charge was saved, in order to have catched hold of this Taylor, and warrands were sent to the country where he was born; but it appears he had shipt himself off for Holland, where it is said he now is.
“There is strong evidence also against Thomas Burns, butcher, that he was ane active person from the beginning of the mob to the end of it. He lurkt for some time amongst those of his trade; and artfully enough a train was laid to catch him, under pretence of a message that had come from his father in Ireland, so that he came to a blind alehouse in the Flesh-market close, and, a party being ready, was, by Webster the soldier, who was upon this exploit, advertised to come down. However, Burns escaped out at a back-window, and hid himself in some of the houses which are heaped together upon one another in that place, so that it was not possible to catch him. ’Tis now said he is gone to Ireland to his father who lives there.
“There is evidence also against one Robert Anderson, journeyman and servant to Colin Alison, wright; and against Thomas Linnen and James Maxwell, both servants also to the said Colin Alison, who all seem to have been deeply concerned in the matter. Anderson is one of those who putt the rope upon Captain Porteus’s neck. Linnen seems also to have been very active; and Maxwell (which is pretty remarkable) is proven to have come to a shop upon the Friday before, and charged the journeymen and prentices there to attend in the Parliament close on Tuesday night, to assist to hang Captain Porteus. These three did early abscond, and, though warrands had been issued out against them, and all endeavours used to apprehend them, could not be found.
“One Waldie, a servant to George Campbell, wright, has also absconded, and many others, and ’tis informed that numbers of them have shipt themselves off ffor the Plantations; and upon an information that a ship was going off ffrom Glasgow, in which severall of the rogues were to transport themselves beyond seas, proper warrands were obtained, and persons despatched to search the said ship, and seize any that can be found.
“The like warrands had been issued with regard to ships from Leith. But whether they had been scard, or whether the information had been groundless, they had no effect.
“This is a summary of the enquiry, ffrom which it appears there is no prooff on which one can rely, but against M’Lauchlan. There is a prooff also against Braidwood, but more exceptionable. His Majestie’s Advocate, since he came to town, has join’d with the Sollicitor, and has done his utmost to gett at the bottom of this matter, but hitherto it stands as is above represented. They are resolved to have their eyes and their ears open, and to do what they can. But they laboured exceedingly against the stream; and it may truly be said, that nothing was wanting on their part. Nor have they declined any labour to answer the commands laid upon them to search the matter to the bottom.”
In the preceding CHAPTERs (I. to VI.) the circumstances of that extraordinary riot and conspiracy, called the Porteous Mob, are given with as much accuracy as the author was able to collect them. The order, regularity, and determined resolution with which such a violent action was devised and executed, were only equalled by the secrecy which was observed concerning the principal actors.
Although the fact was performed by torch-light, and in presence of a great multitude, to some of whom, at least, the individual actors must have been known, yet no discovery was ever made concerning any of the perpetrators of the slaughter.
Two men only were brought to trial for an offence which the Government were so anxious to detect and punish. William M’Lauchlan, footman to the Countess of Wemyss, who is mentioned in the report of the Solicitor-General, against whom strong evidence had been obtained, was brought to trial in March 1737, charged as having been accessory to the riot, armed with a Lochaber axe. But this man (who was at all times a silly creature) proved, that he was in a state of mortal intoxication during the time he was present with the rabble, incapable of giving them either advice or assistance, or, indeed, of knowing what he or they were doing. He was also able to prove, that he was forced into the riot, and upheld while there by two bakers, who put a Lochaber axe into his hand. The jury, wisely judging this poor creature could be no proper subject of punishment, found the panel Not Guilty. The same verdict was given in the case of Thomas Linning, also mentioned in the Solicitor’s memorial, who was tried in 1738. In short, neither then, nor for a long period afterwards, was anything discovered relating to the organisation of the Porteous Plot.
The imagination of the people of Edinburgh was long irritated, and their curiosity kept awake, by the mystery attending this extraordinary conspiracy. It was generally reported of such natives of Edinburgh as, having left the city in youth, returned with a fortune amassed in foreign countries, that they had originally fled on account of their share in the Porteous Mob. But little credit can be attached to these surmises, as in most of the cases they are contradicted by dates, and in none supported by anything but vague rumours, grounded on the ordinary wish of the vulgar, to impute the success of prosperous men to some unpleasant source. The secret history of the Porteous Mob has been till this day unravelled; and it has always been quoted as a close, daring, and calculated act of violence, of a nature peculiarly characteristic of the Scottish people.
Nevertheless, the author, for a considerable time, nourished hopes to have found himself enabled to throw some light on this mysterious story. An old man, who died about twenty years ago, at the advanced age of ninety-three, was said to have made a communication to the clergyman who attended upon his death-bed, respecting the origin of the Porteous Mob. This person followed the trade of a carpenter, and had been employed as such on the estate of a family of opulence and condition. His character in his line of life and amongst his neighbours, was excellent, and never underwent the slightest suspicion. His confession was said to have been to the following purpose: That he was one of twelve young men belonging to the village of Pathhead, whose animosity against Porteous, on account of the execution of Wilson, was so extreme, that they resolved to execute vengeance on him with their own hands, rather than he should escape punishment. With this resolution they crossed the Forth at different ferries, and rendezvoused at the suburb called Portsburgh, where their appearance in a body soon called numbers around them. The public mind was in such a state of irritation, that it only wanted a single spark to create an explosion; and this was afforded by the exertions of the small and determined band of associates. The appearance of premeditation and order which distinguished the riot, according to his account, had its origin, not in any previous plan or conspiracy, but in the character of those who were engaged in it. The story also serves to show why nothing of the origin of the riot has ever been discovered, since though in itself a great conflagration, its source, according to this account, was from an obscure and apparently inadequate cause.
I have been disappointed, however, in obtaining the evidence on which this story rests. The present proprietor of the estate on which the old man died (a particular friend of the author) undertook to question the son of the deceased on the subject. This person follows his father’s trade, and holds the employment of carpenter to the same family. He admits that his father’s going abroad at the time of the Porteous Mob was popularly attributed to his having been concerned in that affair; but adds that, so far as is known to him, the old man had never made any confession to that effect; and, on the contrary, had uniformly denied being present. My kind friend, therefore, had recourse to a person from whom he had formerly heard the story; but who, either from respect to an old friend’s memory, or from failure of his own, happened to have forgotten that ever such a communication was made. So my obliging correspondent (who is a fox-hunter) wrote to me that he was completely planted; and all that can be said with respect to the tradition is, that it certainly once existed, and was generally believed.
[N.B. — The Rev. Dr. Carlyle, minister of Inveresk, in his Autobiography, gives some interesting particulars relating to the Porteous Mob, from personal recollections. He happened to be present in the Tolbooth Church when Robertson made his escape, and also at the execution of Wilson in the Grassmarket, when Captain Porteous fired upon the mob, and several persons were killed. Edinburgh 1860, 8vo, pp. 30-42.]
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54