IT might well have been expected, after the foundations of the throne had been so shaken by the storm in 1715, that the Government would have looked earnestly into the causes which rendered the Highland clans so dangerous to the public tranquillity, and that some measures would have been taken for preventing their ready valour being abused into the means of ruining both themselves and others. Accordingly, the English Ministers lost no time in resorting to the more forcible and obvious means of military subjugation, which necessarily are, and must be, the most immediate remedy in such a case, though far from being the most effectual in the long run. The law for disarming the Highlanders, although in many cases evaded, had yet been so generally enforced as to occasion general complaints of robbery by bands of armed men, which the country had no means of resisting. Those complaints were not without foundation; but they were greatly exaggerated by Simon Fraser, now called Lord Lovat, and others, who were desirous to obtain arms for their vassals, that they might serve purposes of their own. Accordingly, in 1724 a warrant, under the sign manual, was granted to Field-marshal Wade, an officer of skill and experience, with instructions narrowly to inspect and report upon the state of the Highlands; the best measures for enforcing the laws and protecting the defenceless; the modes of communication which might be opened through the country; and whatever other remedies might conduce to the quiet of a district so long distracted. In 1725, a new sign manual was issued to the same officer for the same purpose. In consequence of the Marshal’s report, various important measures were taken. The clan of the MacKenzies had for years refused to account for the rents on Seaforth’s forfeited estate to the collector nominated by Government, and had paid them to a factor appointed amongst themselves, who conveyed them openly to the exiled Earl. This state of things was now stopped, and the clan compelled to submit and give up their arms the Government liberally granting them an indulgence and remission for such arrears as they had transmitted to Seaforth in their obstinate fidelity to him. Other clans submitted, and made at least an ostensible surrender of their arms, although many of the most serviceable were retained by the clans which. were hostile to Government. An armed vessel was stationed on Lochness, to command the shores of that extensive lake. Barracks were rebuilt; in some places, founded anew in others, and filled with regular soldiers.
Another measure of very dubious utility, which had been resorted to by King William and disused by George I., Was now again had recourse to. This was the establishment of independent companies to secure the peace of the Highlands, and suppress the gang of thieves who carried on so bold a trade of depredation. These companies, consisting of Highlanders, dressed and armed in their own peculiar manner, were placed under the command of men well affected to Government, or supposed to be so, and having a great interest in the Highlands. It was truly said, that such a militia, knowing the language and manners of the country, could do more than ten times the number of regular troops to put a stop to robbery. But, on the other hand, it had been found by experience, that the privates in such corps often, from clanship or other motives, connived at the thefts, or compounded for them with the delinquents. Their officers were accused of imposing upon Government by false musters; and above all, the doubtful faith even of those chiefs who made the strongest show of affection to Government, rendered the reestablishment of Black soldiers, as they were called, to distinguish them from the regular troops, who wore the red national uniform, a measure of precarious policy. It was resorted to, however, and six companies were raised on this principle. Marshal Wade had also the power of receiving submission and granting protections to outlaws or others exposed to punishment for the late rebellion, and received many of them into the King’s peace accordingly. He granted, besides, licenses to drovers, foresters, dealer? in cattle, and others engaged in such traffic, empowering them to carry arms for the defence of their persons and property. In all his proceedings towards the Highlanders, there may be distinguished a general air of humanity and good sense, which rendered him a popular character even while engaged in executing orders which they looked upon with the utmost degree of jealousy and suspicion.
The Jacobite partisans, in the mean while, partly by letters from, abroad, partly by agents of ability who traversed the country on purpose, did all in their power to thwart and interrupt the measures which; were taken to reduce the Highlands to a state of peaceful cultivation. The act for disarming the body of the people they represented in the most odious colours, though, indeed, it is hardly possible to aggravate the feelings of shame and dishonour in which a free people must always induce at being deprived of the means of self-defence. And the practical doctrine was not new to them, that if the parties concerned could evade this attempt to deprive them of their natural right and lawful property, either by an elusory surrender, or by such professions as might induce the Government to leave them in possession of their weapons, whether under license, or as members of the independent companies, it would be no dishonour in oppressed men meeting force by craft, and eluding the unjust and unreasonable demands which they wanted means openly to resist. Much of the quiet obtained by Marshal Wade’s measures was apparent only; and while he boasts that the Highlanders, instead of going armed with guns, swords, dirks, and pistols, now travelled to churches, markets, and fairs with only a staff in their hands, the veteran General was ignorant how many thousand weapons, landed from the Spanish frigates in 1719, or otherwise introduced into the country, lay in caverns and other places of concealment, ready for use when occasion should offer.
But the gigantic part of Marshal Wade’s task, and that which he executed with the most complete success, was the establishment of military roads through the rugged and desolate regions of the north, ensuring the free passage of regular troops in a country, of which it might have been said, while in its natural state, that every mountain was a natural fortress, every valley a defensible pass. The roads, as they were termed, through the Highlands, had been hitherto mere tracks, made by the feet of men and the cattle which they drove before them, interrupted by rocks, morasses, torrents, and all the features of an inaccessible country, where a stranger even unopposed, might have despaired of making his solitary way, but where the passage of a regular body of troops, with cavalry, artillery, and baggage, was altogether impossible. These rugged paths, by the labours of the soldiers employed under Field-marshal Wade, were, by an extraordinary exertion of skill and labour, converted into excellent roads of great breadth and sound formation, which have ever since his time afforded a free and open communication through all parts of the Scottish Highlands. Two of these highways enter among the hills from the low country, the one at Crieff, twenty miles north of Stirling, the other at Dunkeld, fifteen miles north or Perth. Penetrating around the mountains from different quarters, these two branches unite at Dalnacardoch. From thence a single line leads to Dalwhinny, where it again divides into two. One road runs north-west through Garviemore, and over the tremendous pass of Corryarrack, to a new fort raised by Marshal Wade, called Fort Augustus. The second line extends from Dalnacardoch north to the barracks of Ruthven, in Lochaber, and thence to Inverness. From that town it proceeds almost due westward across the island, connecting Fort Augustus above-mentioned, with Inverness, and so proceeding to Fort William, in Lochaber, traversing the country inhabited by the Camerons, the MacDonalds of Glengarry, and other clans judged to be the worst affected to the reigning family. It is not to be supposed that the Highlanders of that period saw with indifference the defensive character of their country destroyed, and the dusky wildernesses, which had defied the approach of the Romans, rendered accessible in almost every direction to the regular troops of the Government. We can suppose that it affected them as the dismantling of some impregnable citadel might do the inhabitants of the country which it protected, and that the pang which they experienced at seeing their glens exposed to a hostile, or at least a stranger force, was similar to that which they felt at the resignation of the weapons of their fathers. But those feelings and circumstances have passed away, and the Highland military roads will continue an inestimable advantage to the countries which they traverse, although no longer requiring them to check apprehended insurrection, and will long exhibit a public monument of skill and patience, not unworthy of the ancient Romans. Upon the Roman principle, also, the regular soldiers were Employed in this laborious work, and reconciled to the task by some trifling addition of pay; an experiment which succeeded so well as to excite some surprise that public works have not been more frequently executed by similar means. Other measures of the most laudable character were resorted to by the Government and their friends, for the improvement of the Highlands; bat as they were of a description not qualified to produce ameliorating, effects, save after a length of time, they were but carelessly urged. They related to the education of this wild population, and the care necessary to train the rising generation in moral and religious principles; but the Act of Parliament framed for this end proved in a great measure ineffectual. Those exertions, which ought to have been national, were in some degree supplied by the — Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge in the Highlands and Isles, who, by founding chapels and schools in different places, did more for enlightening the people of that country, than had been achieved by any prince who had yet reigned in or over Scotland.
While Marshal Wade was employed in pacifying the Highlands, and rendering them accessible to military forces, a subject of discontent broke out in the Lowlands which threatened serious consequences. The Government had now become serious to make the income of Scotland a source of revenue to the general exchequer, as hitherto it had been found scarcely adequate to maintain the public institution of the kingdom, and to pay and support the troops which it was necessary to quarter there fur the general tranquillity. Now a surplus of revenue was desirable, and the Jacobites invidiously reported that the immediate object was chiefly to find funds in Scotland for defraying an expense of about ten guineas weekly, allowed to every North British Member of Parliament, for supporting the charge of Ins residence in London. This expense had been hitherto imposed on the general revenue, but now, said the Jacobites, the Scottish Members were made aware by Sir Robert Walpole, that they were to find, or acquiesce in, some mode of making up this sum out of the Scottish revenue; or, according to a significant phrase, that they must in future lay their account with tying up their stockings with their own garters. With this view of rendering the Scottish revenue more efficient, it was resolved to impose a tax of sixpence per barrel on all ale brewed in Scotland. Upon the appearance of a desperate resistance to this proposal, the tax was lowered to three pence per barrel, or one half of what was originally proposed.
In this modified proposal the Scottish members acquiesced. Yet it did not become more popular in Scotland; for it went to enhance the rate of a commodity in daily request, and excited by the inflammatory language of those whose interest it was to incense the populace, the principal towns in Scotland prepared to resist the imposition at all hazards.
Glasgow, so eminent for its loyalty in 1715, was now at the head of this opposition; and on the 23d June , when the duty was to be laid on, the general voice of the people of that city declared that they would not submit to its payment, and piles of stones were raised against the doors of the breweries and malt-houses, with a warning to all excise officers to keep their distance. On the appearance of these alarming symptoms, two companies of foot, under Captain Bushell, were marched from Edinburgh to Glasgow to prevent further disturbances.1 When the soldiers arrived, they found that the mob had taken possession of the guardhouse, and refused them admittance. The provost of the city, a timid or treacherous man, prevailed on Captain Bushell to send his men into their quarters, without occupying the guardhouse, or any other place proper to serve for an alarm-post or rendezvous. Presently after the rabble, becoming more and more violent directed their fury against Daniel Campbell of Shawfield, member for the city, and the set of boroughs in which it is included. His mansion, then the most elegant in Glasgow, was totally destroyed; and the mob, breaking into Ills cellars, found fresh incitement to their fury in the liquors there contained. All this was done without opposition, although Captain Bushell offered the assistance of his soldiers to keep the peace.
Next day the provost ventured to break open the guardroom door, and the soldiers were directed to repair thither. One or two rioters were also apprehended. Upon these symptoms of reviving authority, an alarm was beat by the mob, who assembled in a more numerous and formidable body than ever, and, surrounding Bushell’s two companies, loaded them with abuse, maltreated them with stones, and compelled them at last to fire, when nine men were killed and many wounded. The rioters, undismayed, rung the alarm bell, broke into the town magazine of arms, seized all the muskets they could find, and continued the attack on the soldiers. Captain Bushell, by the command, and at the entreaty of the provost, now commenced a retreat to Dunbarton castle, insulted and pursued by the mob a third part of the way. In the natural resentment excited by this formidable insurrection, the Lord Advocate for the time (the celebrated Duncan Forbes) advanced to Glasgow at the head of a considerable army of horse, foot, and artillery. Marry threats were thrown out against the rioters, and the magistrates were severely censured for a gross breach of duty. But the cool sagacity of the Lord Advocate anticipated the difficulty which, in the inflamed state of the public mind, he was likely to experience in procuring a verdict against such offenders as he might bring to trial. So that the affair passed away with less noise than might have been expected, it having been ascertained that the riot had no political tendency; and though inflamed by the lending Jacobites, was begun and carried on by the people of Glasgow, solely on the principle of a resolution to drink their two-penny ale untaxed. The metropolis of Scotland took this excise tax more coolly than the inhabitants of Glasgow, for though greatly averse to the exaction, they only opposed it by a sort of vis inertiae, the principal brewers threatening to resign their trade, and, if the impost was continued, to brew no more ale for the supply of the public. The Lords of the Court of Session declared by an Act of Sederunt, that the brewers had no right to withdraw themselves from. their occupation; and when the brewers, in reply, attempted, to show that they could not be legally compelled to follow their trade, after it had been rendered a losing one, the Court appointed their petition to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman, assuring them they would be allowed no alternative between the exercise of their trade or imprisonment. Finally, four of the recusants were, actually thrown into jail, which greatly shook the firmness of these refractory fermentators, and at length reflecting that the ultimate loss must fall not on them, but on the public, they returned to the ordinary exercise of their trade, and quietly paid the duties imposed on their liquor. The Union having now begun in some degree to produce beneficial effects, the Jacobite party were gradually losing much of the influence over the public mind which had arisen out of the general prejudices against that measure, and the natural disgust at the manner in which it was carried on and concluded. Accordingly, the next narrative of a historical character which occurs as proper to tell you, is unmingled with politics of Whig and Tory, and must be simply regarded as a strong and powerful display of the cool, stern, and resolved manner in which the Scottish, even of the lower classes, can concert and execute a vindictive purpose.
The coast of Fife, full of little boroughs and petty seaports, was, of course, much frequented by smugglers, men constantly engaged in disputes with the excise officers, which were sometimes attended with violence. Wilson and Robertson, two persons of inferior rank, but rather distinguished in the contraband trade, had sustained great loss by a seizure of smuggled goods. The step from illicit trading to positive robbery is not along one. The two men robbed the collector, to indemnify themselves from the effects of the seizure. They were tried before the Court of Justiciary, and condemned to death.
While the two criminals were lying under sentence in the tolbooth of Edinburgh, two horse-stealers, named Ratcliffe and Stewart, were confined in the room immediately above where they lay. These, having obtained spring-saws and other instruments, cut through the thick iron bar that secured a window on the inside, and afterwards the cross-gratings on the out, and having opened a communication with their unfortunate companions by boring a large hole in the floor of their apartment, about two o’clock in the morning hauled them up. One party sung psalms, to drown the noise, while the others were sawing. One of the horse-stealers was let down in safety, and the others might have escaped but for the obstinacy of Wilson. This man, of a bulky person, insisted on making the next essay of the breach which had been accomplished, and having stuck fast between the bars, was unable either to get through or to return back. Discovery was the consequence, and precautions were taken against any repetition of such attempts to escape. Wilson reflected bitterly on himself for not having permitted his comrade to make the first trial, to whom, as being light and slender, the bars would have been no obstacle. He resolved, with a spirit worthy of a better man, to atone to his companion, at all risks, for the injury he had done him.
At this time it was the custom in Edinburgh for criminals under sentence of death to be carried, under a suitable guard, to hear divine service, on the Sabbath before execution, in a church adjacent to the prison. Wilson and Robertson were brought thither accordingly, under the custody of four soldiers of the city-guard. Wilson, who was a very strong man, suddenly seized a soldier with each hand, and calling to his comrade to fly for his life, detained a third by grappling his collar with his teeth”. Robertson shook himself clear of the fourth, and making his escape over the pews of the church, was no more heard of in Edinburgh. The common people, to whose comprehension the original crime for which the men were condemned had nothing very abhorrent in it, were struck with the generosity and self-devotion that this last action evinced, and took such an interest in Wilson s fate, that it was generally, rumoured there would be an attempt to rescue him at the place of execution. To prevent, as was their duty, any riotous plan of this kind, the magistrates ordered a party of the guard of the city, a sort of Marechausse or gensdarmes, armed and trained as soldiers, to protect the execution. The captain of the party was the celebrated John Porteous, whose name will long be remembered In Scotland. This man, whose father was a burgess and citizen of Edinburgh, had himself been bred in the regular army, circumstances which recommended him to the magistrates, when in the year 1715 they were desirous to give their civic guard something of a more effective military character. As an active police officer Porteous was necessarily often in collision with the rabble of the city, and being strict, and even severe in the manner in which he repressed and chastised petty riots and delinquencies, he was, as is usual with persons of his calling, extremely unpopular and odious to the rabble. They also accused him of abusing the authority reposed in him, to protect the extravagancies of the rich and powerful, while he was inexorable in punching the license of the poor. Porteous had besides a good deal of the pride of his profession, and seems to have been determined to show that the corps he commanded was adequate, without assistance, to dispel any commotion in the city of Edinburgh. For this reason, he considered it rather as an affront that the magistrates, on occasion of Wilson’s execution, had ordered Moyle’s regiment to be drawn up in the suburbs to enforce order, should the city-guard be unable to maintain it. It is probable from what followed, that the men commanded by Porteous shared their leader’s jealousy of the regular troops, and his dislike to the populace, with whom in the execution of their duty, they were often engaged in hostilities.1 The execution of Wilson on the 14th of April, 1736, took place in the usual manner, without any actual or menaced interruption. The criminal, according to his sentence, was hanged to the death, and it was not till the corpse was cut down that the mob, according to their common practice, began to insult and abuse the executioner, pelting him with stones, many of which were also thrown at the soldiers. At former executions it had been the custom for the city-guard to endure such insults with laudable patience, but on this occasion they were in such a state of irritation, that they forgot their usual moderation, and repaid the pelting of the mob by pouring amongst them a fire of musketry, killing and wounding many persons. In their retreat also to the guard-house, as the rabble pressed on them with furious execrations, some soldiers in the rear of the march again faced round and renewed the fire. In consequence of this unauthorized and unnecessary violence, and to satisfy the community of Edinburgh for the blood which had been rashly shed, the Magistrates were inclined to have taken Porteous to trial under the Lord Provost’s authority as High Sheriff within the city. Being advised, however, by the lawyers whom they consulted, that such proceeding would be subject to challenge, Porteous was brought to trial for murder before the High Court of Justiciary. He denied that he ever gave command to fire, and it was proved that the fusee which he himself carried had never been discharged. On the other hand, in the perplexed and contradictory evidence which was obtained, where so many persons witnessed the same events from different positions, and perhaps with different feelings, there were witnesses who said that they saw Porteous take a musket from one of his men, and fire it directly at the crowd. A jury of incensed citizens took the worst view of the case, and found the prisoner guilty of murder. At this King George II. Was on the continent, and the regency was chiefly in the hands of Queen Caroline, a woman of very considerable talent, and naturally disposed to be tenacious of the crown’s rights. It appeared to her Majesty, and her advisers that though the action of Porteous and his soldiers was certainly rash and unwarranted, yet that, considering the purpose by which it was dictated, it must fall considerably short of the guilt of murder. Captain Porteous, in the discharge of a duty imposed on him by legal authority, had unquestionably been assaulted without provocation on his part, and had therefore a right to defend himself; and if there were excess in the means he had recourse to, yet a line of conduct originating in self-defence cannot be extended into murder, though it might amount to homicide. Moved by these considerations, the Regency granted a reprieve of Porteous’s sentence, preliminary to his obtaining a pardon, which might perhaps have been clogged with some conditions.
When the news of the reprieve readied Edinburgh, they were received with gloomy and general indignation. The lives which had been taken in the affray were not those of persons of the meanest rank, for the soldiers, of whom many, with natural humanity, desired to fire over the heads of the rioters, had, by so doing, occasioned additional misfortune, several of the balls taking effect in windows which were crowded with spectators, and killing some persons of good condition. A great number, therefore, of all ranks, were desirous that Porteous should atone with his own life for the blood which had been so rashly spilt by those under his command. A general feeling seemed to arise, unfavourable to the unhappy criminal, and public threats were cast out, though the precise source could not be traced, that the reprieve itself should not save Porteous from the vengeance of the citizens of Edinburgh.
The 7th day of September, the day previous to that appointed for his execution, had now arrived, and Porteous, confident of his speedy deliverance from jail, had given an entertainment to a party of friends, whom he feasted within the tolbooth, when the festivity was strangely interrupted. Edinburgh was then surrounded by a wall on the east and south sides; on the west it was defended by the castle, on the north by a lake called the North loch. The gates were regularly closed in the evening, and guarded. It was about the hour of shutting the ports, as they were called when a disorderly assemblage began to take place in the suburb called Portsburgh, a quarter which has been always the residence of labourers and persons generally of inferior rank. The rabble continued to gather to a head, and, to augment their numbers, beat a drum which they had taken from the man who exercised the function of drummer to the suburb. Finding themselves strong enough to commence their purposes, they seized on the West-port, nailed and barricaded it. Then going along the Cowgate and gaining the High Street by the numerous lanes which run between these two principal streets of the Old Town, they secured the Cowgate Port and that of the Netherbow, and thus, except on the side of the castle, entirely separated the city from such military forces as were quartered in the suburbs. The next object of the mob was to attack the city-guard, a few of whom were upon duty as usual. These the rioters stripped of their arms, and dismissed from their rendezvous, but without otherwise maltreating them, though the agents of the injury of which they complained. The various halberds, Lochaber axes, muskets, and other weapons, which they found in the guard-house, served to arm the rioters, a large body of whom now bent their way to the door of the jail, while another body, with considerable regularity, drew up across the front of the Luckenbooths. The magistrates, with such force as they could collect, made an effort to disperse the multitude. They were strenuously repulsed, but with no more violence than was necessary to show that, while the populace were firm in their purpose, they meant to accomplish it with as little injury as possible to any one, excepting their destined victim. There might have been some interruption of their undertaking, had the soldiers of Moyle’s regiment made their way into the town from the Canongate, where they were quartered, or had the garrison descended from the Castle. But neither Colonel Moyle nor the governor of the Castle chose to interfere on their own responsibility, and no one dared to carry a written warrant to them on the part of the magistrates.
In the mean time the multitude demanded that Porteous should be delivered up to them; and as they were refused admittance to the jail, they prepared to burst open the doors. The outer gate, as was necessary to serve the purpose, was of such uncommon strength as to resist the united efforts of the rioters, though they employed sledge hammers and iron crows to force it open. Fire was at length called for, and a large bonfire, maintained with tar-barrels and such ready combustibles, soon burnt a hole in the door, through which the jailor flung the keys. This gave the rioters free entrance. Without troubling themselves about the fate of the other criminals, who naturally took the opportunity of escaping, the rioters or their leaders went in search of Porteous. They found him concealed in the chimney of his apartment, which he was prevented from ascending by a grating that ran across the vent, as is usual in such edifices. The rioters dragged their victim out of his concealment, and commanded him to prepare to undergo the death he had deserved; nor did they pay the least attention either to his prayers for mercy, or to the offers by which he endeavoured to purchase his life. Yet, amid all their obduracy of vengeance there was little tumult, and no more violence than was inseparable from the action which they meditated. Porteous was permitted to intrust what money or papers he had with him to a friend, for the behoof of his family. One of the rioters, a grave and respectable-looking man, undertook, in the capacity of a clergyman, to give him ghostly consolation suited to his circumstances, as one who had not many minutes to live. He was conducted from the Tolbooth to the Grassmarket, which, both as being the usual place of execution and the scene where their victim had fired, or caused his soldiers to fire, on the citizens, was selected as the place of punishment. They marched in a sort of procession, guarded by a band of the rioters, miscellaneously armed with muskets, battle-axes, &c., which were taken from the guard-house, while others carried links or flambeaux. Porteous was in the midst of them, and as he refused to walk, he was carried by two of the rioters on what is in Scotland called the King’s cushion, by which two persons alternately grasping each other’s wrists, form a kind of seat on the backs of their hands, upon which a third may be placed. They were so cool as to halt when one of the slippers dropped from his foot, till it was picked up and replaced.
The citizens of the better class looked from their windows on this extraordinary scene, but terrified beyond the power of interference, if they had possessed the will. In descending the West Bow, which leads to the place of execution, the rioters, or conspirators-a term, perhaps, more suited to men of their character-provided themselves with a coil of ropes, by breaking into the booth of a dealer in such articles, and left at the same time a guinea to pay for it; a precaution which would hardly have occurred to men of the lowest class, of which in external appearance the mob seemed to consist. A cry was next raised fur the gallows, in order that Porteous might die according to all the ceremony of the law. But as this instrument of punishment was kept in a distant part of the town, so that time must be lost in procuring it, they proceeded to hang the unfortunate man over ii dyer’s pole, as near to the place of execution as possible. The poor man’s efforts to save himself only added to his tortures; for as he tried to keep hold of the beam to which Ire was suspended, they struck his hands with guns and Lochaber axes, to make him quit his hold, so that he suffered more than usual in the struggle which dismissed him from life. When Porteous was dead the rioters dispersed, withdrawing without noise or disturbance all the outposts which they had occupied for preventing interruption, and leaving the city so quiet, that had it not been for the relics of the fire which had been applied to the jail-door; the arms which lay scattered in disorder on the street, as the rioters had flung them down; and the dead body of Porteous, which remained suspended in the place where he died; there was no visible symptom of so violent an explosion of popular fury having taken place. The Government, highly offended at such a daring contempt of authority, imposed on the Crown counsel the task of prosecuting the discovery of the rioters with the utmost care. The report of Mr Charles Erskine, then solicitor-general, is now before me,1 and bears witness to his exertions in tracing the reports, which were numerous, in assigning to various persons particular shares in this nocturnal outrage. All of them, however, when examined, proved totally groundless, and it was evident that they had been either wilful falsehoods, sent abroad to deceive and mislead the investigators, or at least idle and unauthenticated rumours which arise out of such commotions, like bubbles on broken and distracted waters. A reward of two hundred pounds was offered by. Government, for the discovery of any person concerned in the riot, but without success.
Only a single person was proved to have been present at the mob, and the circumstances in which he stood placed him out of the reach of punishment. He was footman to a lady of rank, and a creature of weak intellects. Being sent into Edinburgh on a message by Ills mistress, he had drunk so much liquor as to deprive him of all capacity whatever, and in this state mixed with the mob, some of whom put a halberd in his hand. But the witnesses who proved this apparent accession to the mob, proved also that the accused could not stand without the support of the rioters, and was totally incapable of knowing for what purpose they were assembled, and consequently of approving of or aiding their guilt. He was acquitted accordingly, to the still further dissatisfaction of the Ministry, and of. Queen Caroline, who considered the commotion, and the impunity with which it was followed, as an insult to her personal authority. A bill was prepared and brought into Parliament for the punishment of the city of Edinburgh, in a very vindictive spirit, proposing to abolish the city charter, demolish the city walls, take away the town-guard, and declare the provost incapable of holding any office of public trust. A long investigation took place on the occasion, in which many persons were examined at the bar of the House of Lords, without throwing the least light on the subject of the Porteous Mob, or the character of the persons by whom it was conducted. The penal conclusions of the bill were strenuously combated by the Duke of Argyle, Duncan Forbes, and others, who represented the injustice of punishing with dishonour the capital of Scotland for the insolence of a lawless mob, which, taking advantage of a moment of security, had committed a great breach of the peace, attended with a cruel murder. As men’s minds cooled, the obnoxious clauses were dropped out of the bill, and at length its penal consequences were restricted to a fine of L.2000 sterling on the city, to be paid for the use of Captain Porteous’s widow. This person, having received other favours from the town, accepted of L.1500 in full of the fine; and so ended the affair, so far as the city of Edinburgh was concerned.
But, as if some fatality had attended the subject, a clause was thrown in, compelling the ministers of the Scottish church to read a proclamation from the pulpit, once every month during the space of a whole year, calling on the congregation to do all in their power for discovering; and bringing to justice the murderers of Captain Porteous, or any of them, and noticing the reward winch Government had promised to such as should bring the malefactors to conviction. Many of the Scottish clergy resented this imposition, as indecorously rendering the pulpit a vehicle for a hue and cry, and still more as an attempt, on the part of the state, to interfere with the spiritual authorities of the kirk, which amounted, in their opinion, to an Erastian heresy. Neither was it held to be matter of indifference, that in reading the proclamation of the Legislature, the, clergymen were compelled to describe the bishops as the “ Lords Spiritual in Parliament assembled;” an epithet seemingly acknowledging the legality and the rank of an order disavowed by all true Calvinists. The dispute was the more violent, as it was immediately subsequent to a schism in the church, on the fruitful subject of patronage, which had divided from the communion of the Established Church of Scotland that large class of dissenters, generally called Seceders. Much ill blood was excited, and great dissensions took place betwixt those clergymen who did, and those who did not, read the proclamation. This controversy, like others, had its hour, during which little else was spoken of, until in due time the subject was worn threadbare and forgotten. The origin of the Porteous Mob continued long to exercise the curiosity of those by whom the event was remembered, and from the extraordinary mixture of prudence and audacity with which the purpose of the multitude had been conceived and executed, as well as the impenetrable secrecy with which the enterprise was carried through, the public were much inclined to suspect that there had been among its actors men of rank and character, far superior to that belonging to the multitude who were the ostensible agents. Broken and imperfect stories were told of men in the disguise of women and of common artisans, whose manner betrayed a sex and manners different from what their garb announced. Others laughed at these as unauthorized exaggerations, and contended that no class were so likely to frame or execute the plan for the murder of the police officer, as the populace to whom his official proceedings had rendered him obnoxious, and that the secrecy so wonderfully preserved on the occasion arose out of the constancy and fidelity which the Scottish people observe towards each other when engaged in a common cause. Nothing is, or probably ever will be, known with certainty on the subject; but it is understood, that several young men left Scotland in apprehension of the strict scrutiny which was made into that night’s proceedings; and in your grandfather’s younger days, the voice of fame pointed out individuals, who, long absent from that country, had returned from the East and West Indies in improved circumstances, as persons who had fled abroad on account of the Porteous Mob.
One story of the origin of the conspiracy was stated to me with so much authority, and seemed in itself so simple and satisfactory that although the degree of proof, upon investigation, fell far short of what was necessary as full evidence, I cannot help considering it as the most probable account of the mysterious affair. A man, who lung bore an excellent character, and tilled a place of some trust as forester and carpenter to a gentleman of fortune in Fife, was affirmed to have made a confession on Ins death-bed, that he had been not only one of the actors in the hanging of Porteous, but one of the secret few by whom the deed was schemed and set on foot. Twelve persons of the village of Path-head-so this man’s narrative was said to proceed-resolved that Porteous should die, to atone for the life of Wilson, with whom many of them had been connected by the ties of friendship and joint adventure in illicit trade, and for the death of those shot at the execution. This vengeful band crossed the Forth by different ferries, and met together at a solitary place near the city, where they distributed the party which were to act in the business which they had in hand; and giving a beginning to the enterprise, soon saw it undertaken by the populace of the city, whose minds were precisely in that state of irritability which disposed them to follow the example of a few desperate men. According to this account, most of the original devisers of the scheme fled to foreign parts, the surprise of the usual authorities having occasioned some days to pass over ere the investigations of the affair were commenced. On making enquiry of the surviving family of this old man, they were found disposed to treat the rumoured confession as a fiction, and to allege that although he was of an age which seemed to support the story, and had gone abroad shortly after the Porteous Mob, yet he had never acknowledged any accession to it, but on the contrary, maintained his innocence when taxed, as he sometimes was, with having a concern in the affair. The report, however, though probably untrue in many of its circumstances, yet seems to give a very probable account of the origin of the riot in the vindictive purpose of a few resolute men, whose example was quickly followed by the multitude, already in a state of mind to catch fire from the slightest spark. This extraordinary and mysterious outrage seems to be the only circumstance which can be interesting to you, as exclusively belonging to the history of Scotland, betwixt the years immediately succeeding the civil war of 1715, and those preceding the last explosion of Jacobitism in that country, in 1745–6.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13