[The following passage from the Chambers 1838 Gazetteer of Scotland appears on pages 29xxx. — George P. Landow.]

There occurred only three public transactions in the dark age of Edinburgh, worthy of our attention; the civil wars of 1715-45, and the Porteous mob. The first of these enterprises began on the part of the Jacobites, with an unsuccessful attempt to seize Edinburgh castle by surprise. Having gained over four soldiers in the garrison by dint of liberal promises, this party resolved, on the 9th of September, at nine o'clock at night, to scale the rock on which the castle is built, at a place on the south side, near the Sally Port, where it is less precipitous and lofty than elsewhere. They had formed ladders of a peculiar construction, calculated to admit of four men at once, and which, being pulled up by one of the corrupted soldiers, were to be fastened to a strong stake within the wall. To have won Edinburgh castle at this juncture, would have been next thing to reducing the whole kingdom under the power of the Chevalier; for in this fortress lay nearly all the stores upon which the government could calculate for arming their friends. It also contained a large sum of money — upwards of a hundred thousand pounds, which had been sent down to Scotkuid at the time of the Union, as an equivalent or compensation for the distress which a full participation of the English taxes was expected to bring upon the poorer country. This scheme of surprising the garrison, was however marred by the timely disclosure of the project to the Lord Justice Clerk by a brother of one of the party.

The only local effect produced by the attempt was an immediate run upon the Bank of Scotland, the directors of which stopped payment for a short period. In the succeeding month of October, while the Earl of Mar was collecting his forces at Perth, the city was thrown into a state of great alarm by the intelligence of the landing of M'Intosh of Bor* It must at the same time be acknowledged that there prevail?d, at this period, a great deal of loose behaviour, and profane speaking, among the young of the better ranks, which might seem to sincere people, a sufficient causefor all the above severe enactments. Patrick Walker, a pious pamphleteer of that age, mentions, as a peculiar specimen of the vices of the dry, that young gentlemen would keep a regular correspondence with similar persons in London, for the purpose of getting down all the fashionable oaths from the capital as they occurred. lam, with about two thousand insurgents, on the coast of East-Lothian from Fife. The first idea formed on the subject at Edinburgh was, that M'Intosh designed to attack the city, which was at this time quite unprepared for a siege. The provost, an exceedingly loyal man, immediately sent an express to the Duke of Argyle, entreating a small reinforcement to his civic militia. Strenuous measures were at the same time taken to barricade the city gates, furbish up old cannon, and put heart into peaceably-inclined citizens. The very ministers appeared in arms. M'Intosh, who had previously entertained no design against Edinburgh, was tempted by the reports of its consternation to march against it, but, on his approach, finding it well guarded, he turned off towards Leith, and secured his forces in the decayed citadel. The Duke of Argyle next day marched against him with the city guard, the volunteers and some horse; but being unprovided with cannon and deserted by a number of the volunteers, who quietly left the ranks and returned to their own houses, he abandoned the enterprise of reducing the barricaded fort. Dreading to wait a return of the Duke with a better force, M'Intosh retired that evening from the town, and proceeded to the north of England, to effect a junction with the Jacobites of that country, which had been the primary object of his expedition. In none of the subsequent transactions of this unhappy enterprise was Edinburgh concerned. It terminated, some months after, in the dispersion of the insurgent army, and the retirement of the Earl of Mar and the Chevalier from the kingdom.

The Porteous Mob

The strange tumult, styled the Porteous mob, which occurred in Edinburgh in 1736, is one of the most remarkable events in the history of the town, but our limits as well as the general knowledge which prevails on the subject, from the very precise account of it in the tale of the [Scott’s] Heart of Mid-Lothian, induce us to notice it in brief terms. On the 14th of April, at the execution of a smuggler of the name of Wilson in the Grassmarket, a disturbance arose, and the executioner and city-guard were assailed by the mob. John Porteous, the commander of this civic militia, being irritated at the unceremonious attack on his men, ordered them to fire on the crowd, which order being obeyed, six people were killed and eleven wounded. Porteous was seized, tried by the Court of Justiciary, and was condemned to death, but was reprieved by Queen Caroline, then regent. The mass of the community having been dreadfully excited on the occasion, were enraged at the respite, and by a conspiracy as mysterious in its origin as it was rapid in execution, a number of persons, mostly in disguise, attacked and broke open the jail (September 6) on the night previous to that on which the execution of the criminal should have taken place, and seizing Porteous, carried him to the Grassmarket, in despite of the law, where they hanged him from the pole of a dyer.

Old Houses in Canongate by John Fulleylove, RI. (1907). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

By proper care being taken to secure the communication with the castle and the Canongate, in which troops were lodged, the affair was transacted without opposition. The outrage excited indignation at court, and the Lord Provost was taken into custody, and after a rigorous investigation had been made by the House of Lords, and some measures proposed to punish the city, the matter was finally quashed by an order being given for Edinburgh to pay a fine of £2000 to the widow of Porteous. One of the most remarkable circumstances connected with this singular outrage, was the fact, that although a reward was offered for the discovery of the perpetrators, not one was ever found out, and till this day they remain undiscovered.

The Invasion of Prince Charles Edward in 1745

Before the town had well overcome the anxieties consequent on the Porteous mob, its citizens were thrown into dismay by intelligence of the invasion of Prince Charles Edward, in 1745. The walls were repaired, ditches thrown up; all strangers were ordered to be looked to; the cash of the banks and other public offices was removed to the castle, and every means taken to defend the town against the expected attack. On the approach of Charles' army by the west, he was met at Coltbridge, by the king's troops and the town guard, as well as some forces which the city had raised, but these being beat back, and the town-guard, with much prudence, retreating into the city, the inhabitants were seized with a general consternation, and prepared to submit. A meeting of the citizens being called, it was almost unanimously agreed to surrender on the best terms which could be obtained. Next morning, however, to save all further deliberation, a party of Highlanders took advantage of the Nerherbow Port being opened to admit a coach, to rush in, and make themselves masters of the city. About noon, the Highland army, headed by the Chevalier, entered the area of the King's Park, and pitched their camp at Duddingston. James VIII. of Scotland was next proclaimed at the Cross with all the usual formalities; a declaration was also made, promising the free exercise of the protestant religion, as well as confirmation of all rights and privileges; Charles was likewise proclaimed regent; and the ceremony closed with orders for all persons to deliver up their arms at the palace of Holyrood-house. The magistrates were next ordered, on pain of military execution, to furnish certain stores; and this was at an expense which was only liquidated by an assessment of two shillings and sixpence on the real rental of the citizens. At night a splendid ball was given in Holyroodhouse, at which was a display of the gentlemen attached to the prince's fortunes and their relatives. On the 18th of September, Charles received a great accession, by the junction of Lord Nairne, with a thousand men from the north. In order to meet General Cope, who had landed at Dunbar on the day that the Chevalier entered the metropolis, the Highland army, consisting of about three thousand men, marched from Duddingston on the 20th, and reached the high ground above Prestonpans the same night. Next morning, the 21st, by break of day, the two contending parties met on the open ground betwixt Gladsmuir and Preston. The fervid and gallant manner in which the clans rushed upon the king's troops was decisive of the victory. The battle only lasted ten minutes, after which the prisoners, baggage, and military chest became the prize of the Chevalier, who with his courageous troops, returned triumphantly to Edinburgh.

From this period till the 31st of October, Charles remained in the metropolis before marching upon England, and for this waste of time he has been blamed by most writers. During his stay, the town was not injured by the Highlanders, and the only real damage was sustained by the firing of the castle, in consequence of attempts made to cut off all communication with that fortress. On this occasion it was made manifest that the castle might well be injurious, but seldom useful in protecting the city. While endeavouring to clear the streets of the Highland soldiers, the shot damaged the houses, wounded the inhabitants, and in some places the town was set on fire. At length, after a disturbance of two days, the firing ceased, by Charles removing the blockade from the fortress. On the 31st of October, after a residence of nearly six weeks, the Chevalier and the whole of his troops, amounting now to six thousand men, departed from Edinburgh, on his way to England by the western marches.

Edinburgh did not partake in the future fortunes of Charles Edward, and not till the hopes of the Jacobites had been extinguished by the battle of Culloden, was the town visited by another military force. Fourteen standards taken at Culloden were brought to the metropolis and burnt at the Cross with every mark of ignominious contempt. Shortly afterwards, the town was visited by the Duke of Cumberland in his way to the south, and while here he resided in the same apartments in the palace which had been a short time before occupied by Charles and his suite.

The Highland troops having taken possession of the town just as an election of magistrates was going to take place, this ceremony was delayed, and from Michaelmas 1745, till January 1747, there was no regular board of magistrates and counci£ During this interval of fifteen months, the affairs of the burgh were administered by the moderator of the high constables. The restoration of the magistracy was accomplished by means of a royal warrant, empowering the burgesses to make a new election by poll.

It 'having been suspected that Archibald Stewart, Esq., the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, at the introduction of Charles' forces, had been too favourable to the cause of the Jacobites, he was brought to trial "for neglect of duty, misbehaviour in public office, and violation of the trust and duty of his office." This was among the most remarkable trials which took place at the period, and created a considerable sensation. It lasted longer than any other justiciary trial on record, and at last the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

Edinburgh Riots

The public transactions of a historical nature, which occurred in the metropolis after these events, are not, unless in a few instances, such as to require any very particular description, almost the only matters coming first under the notice of the historian being a series of tumults or riots caused by popular excitement on different occasions, chiefly in consequence of the high price of provisions. The most alarming of these disturbances happened in the years 1778 and 1779. The first was a mutiny of the Earl of Seaforth's Highland regiment, at the time quartered in the castle. Being required to embark for India, they refused to do so till certain arrears were paid up and an arrangement made as to the period of their service, and, by agreement among themselves, proceeded to the top of Arthur's Seat, where they encamped. They afterwards returned to their allegiance, through accommodations made by Lords Dunmore and Macdonald.

The other disturbance alluded to happened on account of the attempt to repeal the penal laws against the Papists. On the 2d of February 1779, a mob assembled in the evening, burnt one Popish chapel, and plundered another. Next day they renewed their depredations, destroying and carrying off the books, furniture, &c. of several Roman Catholic priests, and members of that persuasion. The riot continued all that day, though the assistance of the military was called in to preserve the peace; but force was not resorted to,, and no lives were lost. The city was afterwards obliged to make good the damages sustained by the Roman Catholics on this occasion, which amounted to £1500. The fury of the mob, at this unhappy time, was directed not only against papists, but those protestant gentlemen who were known to be favourable to their cause. Among these was the Rev, Dr. Robertson, principal of the college, whose house, for a short period, had to be protected by a military guard.

Edinburgh at the time of the American and French Revolutions

The connexion which Edinburgh had with the American war at this period, reflects great discredit on the intelligence and spirit of its citizens. While nearly the whole of the inhabitants of Great Britain were strenuously opposed to the government of Lord North, in his mad endeavour to enforce obedience in our transatlantic brethren to measures which are now considered to the last degree preposterous, the magistrates of Edinburgh and their supporters, with a meanness which can only be traced to their political relations, voluntarily came forward in January 1778, to offer their services by raising a thousand men, which being readily accepted, they formed a regiment in the short period of four months.

Although the town had thus been instrumental in an attempt, and luckily an unsuccessful one, to stifle the cause of freedom in America, it does not appear that the inhabitants were unanimous in their approbation of the conduct of the constituted authorities, and when the agitations consequent on the Revolution in France commenced, ten or twelve years later, few places seem to have manifested such a warm admiration of those judicious principles of liberty which at first characterised the proceedings of the French reformers. The inhabitants formed themselves into associations for supporting and fostering the cause of political freedom. These societies, whose members received the name of Friends of the People, and which sprung up in most towns in Scotland, had delegates deputed to form a convention in Edinburgh. Government looked first with jealousy, and latterly with anger, on such associations, and employed every means to crush their proceedings. Several individuals, on the accusation of being concerned in spreading sedition, and engaged in treasonable practices, were arrested, and brought to trial in the city. The trials which ensued, of Watt and Downie, for treason, and Gerald, Margarot, Muir of Hunter's Hill, and others, for sedition, were conducted in a style, which, it is to be trusted, will never be again witnessed in this country. Watt, who had previously been a spy of government, was condemned, hanged, and beheaded, and the others were transported. The atrocities which latterly marked the course of the Revolutionists in France, caused a considerable revulsion of feeling in Britain, and in no place more than in Edinburgh, where the supreme authorities and judicatures exercised a prodigious power over the minds of the people. As much from a horror of a similar destruction of national institutions, and life and property, as a dread of being marked out as unfriendly to government, the citizens of Edinburgh, throughout the succeeding twenty years, were noted for their loyalty. After the peace of Amiens was broken, the city was again in arms, in greater force than ever. A regiment of gentlemen volunteers was re-embodied; and three other regiments were raised, with a troop of cavalry and a regiment of artillery, making, in all, a force of between three and four thousand men. Before the peace of 1815, the military mania had subsided, as it became of less consequence, and a few years since, the volunteer corps, the last who continued in arms, was disbanded. It is perhaps needless to say, that throughout, and at the con14. elusion of the protracted war with France/ Edinburgh showed every demonstration of joy, in common with the rest of the kingdom, on receiving the intelligence of those victories which distinguished the British arms.

The military mania in the metropolis, and the dissoluteness of manners of the lower classes, which is its invariable concomitant, did an incalculable degree of mischief to the juvenile population of Edinburgh. Everything was neglected in the great occupation of "playing at soldiers," and the youth of the lower orders became the most profligate in Britain. Towards the close of the year 1811, this unheeded class of the population had the ingenuity to conspire, and the confidence to execute, the bold scheme of having an indiscriminate plunder of the citizens on the night of the 31st of December, while the streets were crowded with unsuspicious passengers. Acting on this plan, a numerous band of young men, chiefly under twenty years of age, armed with bludgeons, sallied forth, at eleven o'clock of that night, and commenced knocking down and robbing all persons, who, from their appearance, promised to yield a ready prey. Resistance was in vain; the police were utterly routed, and these desperadoes had possession of the streets, (chiefly the High Street and North Bridge Street,) for several hours. In the scuffles, one officer was killed; many persons were dangerously wounded, some of whom in consequence died; and a great number met with slight injuries, and were robbed. Several rioters were seized and brought to trial, and three who were concerned in the murder, were condemned, and afterwards executed on a gallows raised in the High Street, on the spot where the watchman had been slain. This fearful outbreaking of juvenile delinquency led to several beneficial plans for the better care and education of the lower classes, the benefits of which continue to be felt.

The visit of George IV. to Edinburgh in 1822, forms a chief historical event connected with the city in recent times. The last personages of royal birth who had been seen in the metropolis, were Charles Edward in 1745, and his more fortunate antagonist William, Duke of Cumberland, and, with the exception of Charles II. in his mock kingly state, in 1650, Edinburgh had not been visited by a crowned head since 1641, when Charles I. came to quiet the distractions of his Scottish subjects. The intelligence, therefore, which was received in Edinburgh of the intentions of the king to pay a visit to the ancient residence of his ancestors, gave universal satisfaction in Scotland, and was well calculated to extinguish the odium so prevalent in regard to the case of Queen Caroline. In the account of this public transaction we follow a well digested summary in the Historical Sketch of Edinburgh, by James Browne, Esq. attached to that very splendid work, The Picturesque Views of Edinburgh, engraved by W. H. Lizars.

His Majesty's gracious intention to visit Scotland, was commimicated officially to the lord provost of Edinburgh on the 17th of July, and it was further intimated that he might be expected to reach the capital about the middle of August; that is, immediately after the rising of parliament. The time for making the necessary preparations for his Majesty's reception was therefore short; but the proper authorities exerted themselves with so much zeal, that wonders were performed. The apartments in Holyroodhouse were cleaned, repaired, and fitted up with suitable elegance; a new approach was formed from the south side of the Calton Hill to the front of the palace; the road through the King's park was opened for the convenience of his Majesty travelling to and from Dalkeith House, where it was intended he should reside; the Weigh House was removed to clear the passage to the castle; a barrier like the gates of a city was constructed in Leith Walk, nearly opposite Picardy Place; and triumphal arches were erected at Leith, where it was presumed his Majesty would land, but in case that shoidd not be found expedient, a communication was opened with Trinity Chainpier. At the same time an encampment was formed on Salisbury Crags and the Calton Hill, where guns were stationed, and poles erected for displaying the royal standard; and, in a word, every effort was used to receive his Majesty with becoming pomp and splendour. Meanwhile, crowds of people from all parts of the country, and equipages of every description, from the superb fashionable chariot and four to the humble Glasgow noddy, poured in daily; all was bustle, anxiety and expectation, the novelty of the approaching spectacle heightening the interest with which it was anticipated, and raising to the highest pitch of excitement the loyal feelings which seemed to animate every bosom. The session of parliament having been closed by his Majesty in person on the 6th of August, he embarked at Greenwich for Scotland on the 10th.

On the 14th, the royal squadron arrived in Leith roads; but the state of the weather being unfavourable, it was announced that the landing would be deferred till the morrow. On the 15th, which proved a remarkably fine day, all was bustle and preparation. The whole of Leith Walk was lined with scaffolding on each side; every corner was crowded with well-dressed people; and the windows in every street through which the procession was to pass, exhibited clusters of heads densely packed together. Exactly at noon a gun from the royal yacht announced thathis Majesty had embarked, and soon after the royal barge entered the harbour amidst the thunder of artillery, and the still more gratifying peals of enthusiastic acclamations, sent forth by the immense multitude who had assembled to witness this magnificent spectacle. At the landing place, which was a platform covered with scarlet cloth, his Majesty was received by the Duke of Dorset, the Marquis of Winchester, the Earl of Cathcart, the Earl of Fife, Sir Willam Elliot, Sir Thomas Bradford, the Judges of the supreme courts, and the magistrates of Leith, all of whom he shook cordially by the hand. His Majesty then proceeded to his carriage, which was opened at the top; and after being seated, with the Duke of Dorset and Marquis of Winchester, it drove off at a slow pace, guarded by the company of royal Archers, under the command of the Earl of Elgin, and a detachment of the Scots Greys. The train of the procession, which moved by Bernard Street, and Constitution Street, along Leith Walk, was of a more splendid kind than had ever been seen in Scotland, and consisted of all that rank and pomp could contribute to grace the ceremonia£ The head of the cavalcade reached the barriers of Edinburgh about one o'clock, when the lord provost, accompanied by the magistrates, presented his Majesty with the silver keys of the city, which his Majesty immediately returned with a short and courteous speech. The procession then moved forward by York Place, and St. Andrew's Square to Prince's Street, and turning to the eastward, proceeded to the Regent Bridge, Waterloo Place. On entering Prince's Street, where on the one hand the picturesque irregularity of the old town, surmounted by its venerable and majestic Acropolis, and on the other the elegance and splendour of the new town, with the Calton Hill in front, terraced with human beings, burst upon the view, his Majesty was charmed with the scene, then enlivened by every accompaniment that could heighten the feeling of admiration, and waving his hat, exclaimed, " How superb." About two o'clock his Majesty reached the palace of Holyroodhouse, and his arrival was announced by salutes fired from the castle, and from the guns placed on the Calton Hill and Salisbury Crags. After receiving the congratulations of the magistrates and other authorities, his Majesty set out in his private carriage for Dalkeith House. Fire works were exhibited in the evening, while a beacon blazed on the summit of Arthur's Seat; and the night following there was a general illumination. On the 17th his Majesty held a levee in Holyroodhouse, which was most numerously and splendidly attended; on the 19th he received the addresses of the Commission of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, of the four universities and of other public bodies; and on the 20th he held a drawing room, which was graced by about five hundred ladies, the most distinguished for rank, beauty, and fashion which Scotland could boast of. On the 22d, his Majesty went in procession from Holyroodhouse o the castle, which would have proved a gorgeous pageant had not the effect of the spectacle been impaired by almost incessant rain. On the following day, he reviewed a body of about 3000 cavalry, chiefly yeomanry, on Portobello sands; and the same evening attended a splendid ball given in honour of the royal visit by the peers of Scotland. On the 24th a splendid banquet was given to his Majesty m the great hall of the Parliament House, by the lord provost, magistrates, and town-council, on which occasion his Majesty honoured the city by creating the lord provost a baronet; and the following day, being Sunday, he attended divine service in the High Church, Dr. Lamont, moderator of the General Assembly, officiating on the occasion. A ball given by the Caledonian Hunt was attended by his Majesty on the 26th; and on the 27th he made his last appearance before his Scottish subjects in a visit to the theatre, where, with his accustomed good taste, he had commanded the national play of " Rob Roy" to be performed, and where, both at his entrance and departure, he was hailed with long-continued and enthusiastic acclamations from all parts of the house. On the 29th his Majesty, after partaking of a splendid repast prepared at Hopetoun House, embarked on board the Royal Yacht at Port Edgar, near Queensferry, amidst the cheers and cordial adieus of a vast body of spectators assembled from all parts of the adjacent country."

The 1824 Conflagrations

The last great event which marks the history of Edinburgh, was the series of conflagrations which occurred in 1824, and destroyed the private dwellings of the Parliament Square, part of the High Street, and several closes. The first of these memorable fires occurred on the night of the 24th of June. It broke out in a low tippling house at the head of the Royal Bank Close, (first below St. Giles',) and after burning the whole tenement in which it commenced, communicated with the adjacent house to the westward, and did not stop till it had devastated a portion of the eastern division of the Parliament Square. The houses which were thus destroyed were popularly styled "the Pillars," from having an open arcade below, and since their destruction there has been nothing of a similar kind in Edinburgh.

This fire was comparatively trifling in comparison with what followed five months later. On the evening of Monday the 15th of November, at a little before ten o'clock, the flames were discovered issuing from the second floor of a house at the head of the Old Assembly Close, and, about eleven o'clock, the whole house, consisting of six floors, was in a blaze. From thence the fire communicated to the tenement on the west, partly occupied by the Courant Office, which was also soon wrapt in flames. While the fire was raging in front, the conflagration spread down the narrow closes behind, and the whole, nearly to the Cowgate, was soon in a uniform blaze. The extent of this alarming fire, the fearful rapidity of its progress, the contiguity to the buildings destroyed in June, and a feeling of general alarm, more universally excited than was ever before witnessed, drew great crowds to the High Street, on the morning of Tuesday, to view the extent of the devastation. About 11 o'clock of the forenoon of this day, the upper part of the steeple of the Tron Church, to the eastward, was suddenly discovered to be likewise on fire, and before one o'clock, that part which was composed of wood and lead was totally destroyed, and it was only by active exertions that the main part of the church was saved. This fire, it was conjectured, had originated in the flight of burning embers from the conflagration farther up the street.

It was now supposed that "the devouring element" had exhausted its fury on the town; but such was not the case. From accident or design — and, strange to say, to the windward — a new fire, to the west of the former, broke out on the evening of the same day, in those buildings in the Parliament Square which had been saved from the fire in June, and in spite of every exertion, all the private houses in the square were destroyed before the morning. Besides the immense destruction of house property on these occasions, four individuals were killed by the falling of walls, and twelve were carried wounded to the infirmary. Those rendered houseless by the calamity, were, by the active interference of the magistrates, lodged in Queensberry barracks; the benevolence of others furnished the most destitute with clothing; and a large subscription at home and abroad, and a general collection at the churches, produced a sum which alleviated the distresses of the poorer sufferers. The proceeds of the theatre, for three nights, were generously allotted for the same beneficent purpose. By these different fires only one tenement escaped on the High Street, within the compass of the two extremities of the general demolition.


Chambers, Robert. The Gazetterr of Scotland. Edinburgh: Blackie and Son, 1838. Internet Archive online version digitized with funding from National Library of Scotland. Web. 30 September 2018.

Last modified 1 October 2018w