The History of Leith

March 9, 2011

Fight at Leith Docks

A frigate belonging to Philip IV. of Spain, commanded by Don Pedro de Vanvornz, had been lying for some time at anchor within the harbour
there, taking on board provisions and stores, her soldiers and crew coming on shore freely whenever they chose; but it happened that one night two vessels of war, belonging to their bitter enemies,
the Dutch, commanded by Mynheer de Hautain, the Admiral of Zealand, came into the same anchorage, and—as the Earl of Melrose reported to James VI.—cast anchor close by Don Pedro.
The moment daylight broke the startled Spaniards ran up their ensign, cleared away for action, and a desperate fight ensued, nearly muzzle to muzzle. For two hours without intermission, the tiers of brass cannon from the decks of the three ships poured furth a destructive fire, and the Spaniards,repulsed by sword and partisan, made more than one attempt to carry their lofty bulwarks by boarding. The smoke of their culverins, matchlocks, and pistoleltes enveloped their rigging and all the harbour of Leith, through the streets and along the pier of which bullets of all sorts and sizes went skipping and whizzing, to the terror and confusion of the inhabitants.
As this state of things was intolerable, the burgesses of the city and seaport rushed to arms and armour, at the disposal of the Lords of Council, who despatched a herald with the water bailie to command both parties to forbear hostilities in Scottish waters; but neither the herald’s tabard nor the bailie’s authority prevailed, and the fight continued with unabated fury till mid-day. The Spanish captain finding himself sorely pressed by his two antagonists, obtained permission to warp his ship farther within the harbour ; but still the unrelenting
Dutchmen poured their broadsides upon his shattered hull
The Privy Council now ordered the Admiral Depute to muster the mariners of Leith, and assail the Admiral of Zealand in aid of the Dunkerquer; but the depute reported ” that they were altogether
unable, and he saw no way to enforce obedience but by bringing ordonnance from the Castle to the shoare, to ding at them so long as they sould be within shot” (Melrose’s Letter.)
Upon this the constable and his cannoniers, with a battery of guns, came with all speed down, by the Bonnington Road most probably, and took up a position on the high ground near the ancient chapel of St. Nicholas; but this aid came too late, for Mynheer de Hautain had driven the unfortunate Spanish frigate, after great slaughter, completely outside the harbour, where she grounded on a dangerous
reef, then known as the Mussel Cape, but latterly as the Black Rocks.
There she was boarded by a party of Ieith Seamen, who hoisted a Scottish flag at her topmasthead ; but that afforded her no protection, for the Dutchmen boarded her in the night, burned her to the water’s edge, and sailed away before dawn.

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