The History of Leith

February 24, 2005


In 1752 the vessels of Leith amounted to sixty eight, with a tonnage of 6,935; and two years subsequently we find an attempt upon the part of a captain in the royal navy there to defy the Scottish Court of Admiralty in the roads and harbour.

Captain (afterwards Sir Hugh) Palliser, when captain of H.M.S. Seahorse, in consequence of a petition presented to the Judge of the High Court of Admiralty, 2oth March, 1754, by Thomas Ross, master, and Murdoch Campbell, owner of the Scottish ship Cumberland, of Thurso, was served with a notice to deliver up James Cormick, apprentice to the former, whom he had taken on board, as a seaman.
Accordingly, by order of the judge, the macers of court, messengers-at-arms, and other officials, repaired on board the Seahorse, at the anchorage in Leith, to bring off James Cormick; and the said Captain Hugh Palliser, and the other officers and sailors on board the said ship-of-war Seahorse,ran the warrant, are hereby ordered to be assisting in putting it into execution, at their highest peril. ‘All others, shipmasters, sailors, and others his Majestys subjects,were ordered to assist also, at their utmost peril.
James Lindsay, Admiralty macer, served this notice upon Captain Palliser, who foolishly and haughtily replied that he was subject to the laws of England only, and would riot send Cormick ashore. Upon which,as the execution given into court bears,I (James Lindsay) declared he had contemned the law, was guilty of a deforcement, and that he should be liable accordingly, having my blazon on my breast, and broke my wand of peace.
On this, a warrant was issued to apprehend the commander of the Seahorse, and commit him to the next sure prison (i.e. the Tolbooth of Leith), but the captain having gone to Edinburgh, on the 26th of March he was seized and placed in the Heart of Midlothian, and brought before the High Court of Admiralty next day.
There he denied that its jurisdiction extended over a kings ship, or over himself personally, or any man in the Seahorse, especially an enlisted sailor; and maintained that the court, by attempting to do so, assumed a right competent to the Lords of the Admiralty alone; and by your imprisoning me,he added, for not delivering up one of the kings sailors, you have suspended my commission from the Lord High Admiral, and disabled me from executing the orders with which I am charged as commander of one of the king ships.
This only led to the re-commitment of the contumacious captain, till he found caution to obtemper (sic) the Judge Admiral’s warrant, in case it should be found by the Lords that he ought to do so.
He was imprisoned for six weeks, until the apprentice was put on shore. On this matter, Lord Hardwicke, who was then Lord Chancellor, remarked that the Scottish Admiralty judge was a bold one, but that what he had done was right.
Captain Palliser, on his return to England, threatened to make the frauds on the revenue a matter for Parliamentary investigation, if not attended to, and the ministry then enforced the duties upon claret, which, before this time, had been drunk commonly even by Scottish artisans.
This officer afterwards behaved with great bravery at Newfoundland, in 1764; and on attaining the rank of Admiral of the White, was created a baronet, and died governor of Greenwich Hospital in 1796.

From James Grants, Old and New Edinburgh 1883

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