The History of Leith

February 22, 2005


By David M. Robertson M.D. FSA. Scot.

During the progress of the restoration of St Marys Church, South Leith, in 1847-48, 1 was one morning waited on by Mr James Dryden, the Inspector of Works to Messrs Hamilton, architects, who requested me to examine a coffin which had just been brought to view,
On proceeding with him to the church, I found at the north end, immediately under the floor of the portion used as the Session Room, a coffin covered with purple velvet (a portion of which is herewith produced)

The coffin was not more than 10 inches under the sand, and about 18 inches u the floor. No other coffins were found in this locality. On tearing off the velvet, part of the wood separated with it; a few slight touches of a hammer knocked the lid into fragments portions pressed between the finger and thumb were readily reduced to powder. The interior presented a mass of human bones, confusedly huddled together towards the broader end. The cranium in the middle lay beside a scapula and femur, and it was at once observed that they had at one period been violently disturbed, and, as an on-looker remarked, jumbled together. I secured the head, but after the most careful search, no inferior maxilla could be found. From all these circumstances, it is apparent that at some period the coffin must have been violently disturbed, or what is more probable, from the absence of the lower jaw, opened, and perhaps even the bones transferred from one coffin to another.
All the circumstances of this strange case duly considered, frequently pondered over, and as often discussed, lead me to conclude, that these bones had been transferred from one coffin to another; that they had been violently dealt with, most probably by translation from one place to another; and I think it is a fair inference, if not positively a legitimate conclusion, that these remains are the identical bones of Robert Logan of Restairig.

Mr Laing remarked, that Dr Robertsons theory regarding the skull which he exhibited might be very ingenious, but he had adduced no evidence to prove that it could be that of Robert Logan of Restalrig. The burial place of the barons of Restatrig, as well as their usual place of residence, were points not yet clearly ascertained. In regard to Logan himself, it was well known that, according to a barbarous custom of the times, when it was determined to implicate him by means of forged letters, as art and part in contriving what is called the Gowrie Conspiracy, his body, in June 1600, after he had been about three years deceased, was disinterred, and brought into Court, as if to hear the doom of forfeiture for high treason passed upon him; by which his property was escheated, his name and family being declared infamous. Under such circumstances, the utter improbability of Logans body being re-interred within the church of South Leith need scarcely be remarked and Mr Laing said, he must therefore protest against Dr Robertsons conclusions as altogether untenable.
(Republished in part from the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland April 1863)

Concerning Me Laings contention that the human remains found could not be that of Sir Robert Logan can I mention that the judgment of forfeiture against Sir Robert Logan was subsequently reversed and some of the property returned to the family which was not known when the article was written. They then became a Border family. Therefore his remains could well have been buried within South Leith Parish Church


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