The History of Leith

August 3, 2011

The number of the dead exceeds the number of the living

2nd August 1645.—The act of Parliament given at Pearth the 2nd Augt. 1645 for releife of the distressit toun of Leith the tyme of the great visitatioun of the plague of pestilence.
At Pearth the second day of August in the zeir of God 1645 zeiris. The Estaites of Parliament, now presentlie conveinit in this fourth sessione of the first triennial parliament, by vertu of the last act of the last parliament, holdene be his Majestie arid three Estaites, anno 1641, having takin to theire consideratione the desyre of ane supplicatione gevin in by Jhone Aldinstone, ane of the baillies of Leith, and Captain James Crawfurd indweller there, for themselfis and in behalf of the remanent inhabitants of the said town of Leith, bearing That where it is not unknowne to the saids Estaites the calamitie and distress whereunder the said town doe lye for the present, being visit with the plague of pestilence in such sort that the nomberof the dead exceeds the nomber
of the leiving, and amongst them it cannot be decernit quha are clean an^ quha are foulle; and make the calamitie greater, they are visit with ane lamentabile famine, both for penurie and also for laicke of means; for which cause the saids supplicants are forced, in their names, to have recourse to the said Estaites, beseeching them out of the bowels of mercie to conserat theire lamentabill conditioun, both towards them as also towards the rest of the countrie, they being now reducit to that extremitie of necessitie—rather than to perish of famine to breake throue the rest of the countrie, wherebye the haill kingdom sail be endangerit. And therefore humblie beseeching your lordsps to grant unto them some present supplie, and to take such present course for theire reliefe as
the foirsaid evil may be previned, as the said supplicatione at mair length bears. Quhilk supplicatione being redde in the audience of Parliament, and the just merits thereof being dulie weighted and considered, the said Estaites of Parliament be thir presentis gives and grants full power and warrand to the present magistrates of the toune of Leith, or their commissioners and servandis having their warrand, to meddle and intromett with the nomber of ane quantitie of five hundreth bolls of eat meill, and that out of anie sellar or sellars in Leith, wherebe they may have it for medling and intrometting wherewith, and (if needs bees) making open doores for that effect. The saids Estaites declares thir presentis to be to the said magistrates and their servandis and comssrs ane sufficient warrand; and the said Estaites hes allowed, and be their presentis grants full libertie to the said magistrates of the toune of Leith or anie having their warrand, to passe throwe all the sheriffdoms of this kingdom, or any of them, as they think fitt be south the water of Tay, to crave the helpe and supplie of ane voluntarie and charitable contributione for payment of the foirsaid victual and furnishing of such things as may be useful to the said towne of Leith, now in such ane extremifie. Extractum de libris actarum per me, Alexandrum Gfibsone, cl. registri.
This is a just copie of the authentic, insert in our register be Mr David Aldinstone, our sessione clerk.
(Signed) DA. ALDINSTOUNB, Session Clerk.
(Note.—This Act gives an appalling picture of the misery which now afflicted the town. The horrors of famine were added to the curse of pestilence, and, no doubt, it is to their combined influences that the fearful mortality is to be attributed. Of this, and of the despair which prevailed, we get a vivid idea from the expressions ” remanent inhabitants ” ; “the nomber of the dead exceeds the nomber of the leiving”; “to breake throue the rest of the countrie.” There is no record to show that the magistrates meddled with the 500 bolls of oat meal or sent out a begging expedition “be south the water of Tay.” The likelihood is that all the meal in the town had already been commandeered and the limits of begging reached. Temporary aid was wanted in the shape of a grant of money to purchase the necessaries of life, and not providing this the Act did nothing to help the town, which now was redolent with the atmosphere of death.}

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