The History of Leith

November 17, 2006

That last drop before eternity

It is recorded that all pirates who committed crimes or misdemeanours upon the high Seas were down to 1822 hanged within the flood mark.

That is within what is now Leith Docks but probably near to the foot of Constitution Street and Bernard St. The problem in pointing the place of execution is that unlike other gallows in Edinburgh it wasn’t a permanent structure and was built only when it was required.

The Historian Pitcairn notes that on the 6th of May 1551. Capt John Davidson was convicted by an assize of attacking a ship on the High Seas of Bordeaux and was sentenced to be hanged in Irons. This is the first time in Scotland that the body of a criminal was exposed in Chains to be consumed by the elements. In short the body was left to rot to act as a deterrent to any one considering becoming a pirate.

In 1555 Hilbert Stalfurde and the crew of the “Kait of Lynne” an English ship were tried for piracy and oppression “for reiving and spoiling furth a hulk of the toun of Stateyne (Stettin) then lying in the harbour of Leith”. This case is recorded in the “Talbot Papers” which were published by the Maitland Club. There is a letter dated 1555 from Lord Conyers to the Earl of Shrewsbury which stated that some French supply ships had been captured much to the annoyance of the Queen Regeant Mary of Loraine. These would have been supply ships for the French Army in Scotland and orders were issued to hunt for the “Kait of Lynne” which had done this. Eventually the ship was stopped and boarded and brought back to Leith. Three of the crew of “Kait of Lynne” were hanged. The difference between an act of war when war hadn’t actually been declared and piracy was a very thin line. This uneasy peace ended in the bloody Siege of Leith five years later.

Executions of Seamen were a constant occurrence and continued up to 1822 when Heamen and Gautiez were hanged at the foot of Constitution Street. When apparently thousands of people attended the execution. After this date executions in Leith where discontinued to be carried our in Edinburgh.

Some Text