The History of Leith

February 28, 2011

Mutiny on the Shore-1779

In 1779 Seventy Highlanders enlisted for the 42nd and 7ist (then known as the Master of Lovat’s Regiment) when marched to Leith, refused to embark, a mischievous report having been spread that they were to be draughted into a Lowland corps, and thus deprived of the kilt; and so much did they resent this, that they resolved to resist to
death. On the evening they reached Ieith the following despatch was delivered at Edinburgh Castie by a mounted dragoon:—
” To Governor Wemyss, or the Commanding Officer of the South Fencible Regiment. •
” Headquarters, April, i 779.
“SlR,—-The draughts of the 7ist Regiment having refused to embark, you will order 200 men of the South Fencibles to march immediately to
Lcith to seize these mutineers and march them prisoners to the castle of Edinburgh, to be detained there until further orders,—I am, &c,
“JA. AUOLPIIUS Oughton.”
In obedience to this order from the General Commanding, three captains, six subalterns, and 200 of the Fencibles under Major Sir James Johnstone, Bart, of Westerhall, marched to Leith on this most unpleasant duly, and found the seventy Highlanders on the Shore, drawn up in line with their backs to the houses, their bayonets fixed, and muskets loaded. Sir James drew up his detachment in such a manner as to render escape impossible, and then stated the positive orders he would be compelled to obey
His words were translated into Gaelic by Sergeant Ross, who acted as interpreter, and who, after some expostulation, turned to Sir James,
saying that all was over—his countrymen would neither surrender nor lay down their arms. On this Johnstone gave the order to prepare for firing—but added, “Recover arms.”
A Highlander at that moment attempted to escape, but was seized by a sergeant, who was instantly bayoneted, while another, coming to the
rescue with his pike, was shot. The blood of the Fencibles was roused now, and they poured in more than one volley upon the Highlanders, of
whom twelve were shot dead, and many mortally wounded. The fire was returned promptly enough, but with feeble effect, as the Highlanders had only a few charges given to them by a 1eith porter;
thus only two Fenciblcs were killed and one wounded ; but Captain James Mansfield (formerly of the 7th or Queen’s Dragoons), while attempting to save the latter, was bayoneted by a furious Celt, whose charge he vainly sought to parry with his sword. A corpora! shot the mutineer through the head: the Fencibles—while a vast crowd of
Leith people looked on, appalled by a scene so unusual—now closed up with charged bayonets, disarmed the whole, and leaving the Shore strewn with dead and dying, returned to the Castle with twenty-five prisoners, and the body of Captain Mansfield, who left a widow with six children, and was interred in the Greyfriars churchyard.
The scene of this tragedy was in front of the old Ship Tavern and the tenement known as the Britannia Inn

source-The Old and New Edinburgh c1885

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