The History of Leith

May 21, 2012

The Bar of Leith

From the Gentleman’s Magazine for May, 1786, we
learn that, owing to a long continuance of easterly
wind, the bar at the mouth of Leith harbour had attained
such a height, that vessels could scarcely pass
out or in with any chance of safety; that many were
aground upon it; and that the magistrates of Edinburgh
were considering how it could best be removed.
It is related that when, in the spring of the year
1820, Lord Erskine re-visited Edinburgh, after an
absence of nearly half a century, on which occasion
a banquet was given him in the Assembly
Rooms, at which all the then master spirits of the
Scottish bar were present, and Maxwell of Carriden
presided, he returned to London by sea from
Leith. He took his passage in the Favourite,
one of the famous old fighting-smacks, Captain
Mark Sanderson; but it so happened that she
either grounded on the bar, or there was not in the
harbour sufficient water to float her over it; thus
for days no vessel could leave the harbour. Lord
Erskine, with other disappointed passengers, was
seen daily, at the hours of the tide flowing, waiting
with anxiety the floating of the vessel; and
when at last she cleared the harbour, and stood
round the martello tower, he wittily expressed his
satisfaction in the following verse :—
” Of depth profound, o’erflowing far,
I blessed the Edinburgh Bar ;
While muttering oaths between my teeth,
I cursed the shallow Bar of Leith !”
In the cabin a motion was made, and unanimously
carried, that this impromptu stanza should
be printed on board by Mr. John Ruthven, who
was among the passengers, and whose name is so
well known as the inventor of the celebrated printing
press and other valuable improvements in
machines. With one of his portable printing presses
he proceeded to gratify his companions,
and struck off several copies of the verse, to which
one of the voyagers added another, thus :—
” To Lord Erskine—
” Spare, spare, my lord, your angry feelings,
Nor lower us thus, as if at war;
‘Twas only to retain you with us
We at our harbour placed a bar.”

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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