The History of Leith

December 7, 2011

The Porteous Riot-Part 3

some proposed to slay him on the spot, was told by others to prepare for that death elsewhere which justice had awarded him; but amid all their fury, the rioters conducted themselves generally with
grim and mature deliberation. Porteous was allowed to entrust his money and papers with a person who was in prison for debt, and one of the rioters kindly and humanely offered him the last consolation religion can afford. The dreadful procession, seen by thousands of eyes from the crowded windows, was then begun, and amid the gleam of links and torches, that tipped with fire the blades of hundreds of weapons, the crowd poured down the West Bow to the Grassmarket. So coolly and deliberately did they proceed, that when one of Porteous’ slippers dropped from his foot, as he was borne sobbing and praying along, they halted, and replaced it In the Bow the shop of a dealer in cordage (over whose door there hung a grotesque figure, still preserved) was broken* open, a rope taken therefrom, and a guinea left in its stead. On reaching the place of execution, still marked by an arrangement of the stones, they were at a loss for a gibbet, till they discovered a dyer’s pole in its immediate vicinity. They tied the rope round the neck of their victim, and slinging it over the crossbeam, swung him up, and speedily put an end to his sufferings and his life; then the roar of voices that swept over the vast place and re-echoed up the Castle rocks, announced that all was over ! But ere this was achieved Porteous had been twice let down and strung up again, while many struck him with their Lochaber axes, and tried to cut off his ears. Among those who witnessed this scene, and never forgot it, was the learned Lord Monboddo, who had that morning come for the first time to Edinburgh.
” When about retiring to rest (according to ‘ Kay’s Portraits’) his curiosity was excited by the noise and tumult in the streets, and in place of going to bed, he slipped to the door, half-dressed, with a nightcap on his head. He speedily got entangled in the crowd of passers-by, and was hurried along with them to the Grassmarket, where he became an involuntary witness of the last act of the tragedy. This scene made so deep an impression on his lordship, that it not only deprived him of sleep for the remainder of the night, but induced him to think of leaving the city altogether, as a place unfit for a civilised being to live in. His lordship frequently related this incident in after life, and on these occasions described with much force the effect it had upon him.” Lord Monboddo died in 1799.
As soon as the rioters had satiated their vengeance, they tossed away their weapons, and quietly dispersed; and when the morning of the 8th September stole in nothing remained of the event but the fire-blackened cinders of the Tolbooth door, the muskets and Lochaber axes scattered in the streets, and the dead body of Porteous swinging in the Dreeze from the dyer’s pole. According to the
Caledonian Mercury of gth September, 1736, the body of Porteous was interred on the second day in the Greyfriars. The Government was exasperated, and resolved to inflict summary vengeance on the city. Alexander Wilson, the Lord Provost, was arrested, but admitted to bail after three weeks’ incarceration. A Bill was introduced into Parliament materially affecting the city, but the clauses for the further imprisonment of the innocent Provost, abolishing the City Guard, and dismantling the gates, were left out when amended by the Commons, and in place of these a small fine of £2000
in favour of Captain Porteous’ widow was imposed upon Edinburgh. Thus terminated this extraordinary conspiracy, which to this day remains a mystery. Large rewards were offered in vain for the ringleaders, many of whom had been disguised as females. One of them is said to have been the Earl of Haddington, clad in his cook-maid’s dress. The Act of Parliament enjoined the proclamation
for the discovery of the rioters should be read from the parish pulpits on Sunday, but many clergymen refused to do so, and there was no power to compel them; and the people remembered with much bitterness that a certain Captain Lind, of the Town Guard, who had given evidence in Edinburgh tending to incriminate the magistrates, was rewarded by a commission in Lord Tyrawley’s South British
Fusiliers,

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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