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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


280 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. . [High Street. ?capital already created under the last charter is L;~OO,OOO stock, making the existing capital I,OOO,OOO, and there still remains unexhausted the privilege to create L500,ooo more stock .whenever it shall appear to be expedient to coinplete the capital to the full amount conceded in the charter-a success that the early projectors of the first scheme, developed in Tweeddale?s Close, could little have anticipated. The British Linen Company for a long series of years has enjoyed the full corporate and other privileges of the old chartered banks of Scotland ; and in this capacity, along with the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland, alone is specially exempted in the Bank Regulation Act for Scotland, from making returns of ?the proprietors? names to the Stamp Office. In the sixth year of the 19th century Tweeddale House became the scene of a dark event ? which ranks among the gossips of the Scottish capital with the Icon Basilike, or the Man with the Iron Mask.? About five in the evening of the 13th of November, I 806, or an hour after sunset, a little girl whose family lived in the close, was .sent by her mother with a kettle to get water for tea from the Fountain Well, and stumbling in the dark archway over something, found it to be, to her dismay, the body of a man just expiring. On an alarm being raised, the victim proved to be William Begbie, the messenger of the British Linen Company Bank, a residenter in the town of Leith, where that bank was the first to establish a branch, in a house close to the cpper drawbridge. On lights being brought, a knife was found in his heart, thrust up to the haft, so he bled to death without the power of uttering a word of explanation. Though a sentinel of the Guard was always on duty close by, yet he saw nothing of the event. It was found that he had been robbed of a package of notes, amounting in value to more than four thousand pounds, which he had been conveying from the Leith branch to the head office. The murder had been- accomplished with the utmost deliberation, and the arrangements connected with it displayed care and calculation. The weapon used had a broad thin blade, carefully pointed, with soft paper wrapped round the hand in such a manner as to prevent any blood from reaching the person of the assassin, and thus leading to his detection. For his discovery five hundred guineas were offered in vain ; in vain, too, was the city searched, while the roads were patrolled; and all the evidence attainable amounted to this :-? That Begbie, in proceeding up Leith Walk, had been accompanied by a ?man,? and that about the supposed time of the murder ?a man? had been seen by some chi\- dren to run out of the close into the street, and down Leith Wynd. . . . . There was also reason to believe that the knife had been bought in a shop about two o?clock on the day of the murder, and that it had been afterwards ground upon a grinding-stone and smoothed upon a hone.? Many persons were arrested on suspicion, and one, a desperate character, was long detained in custody, but months passed on, and the assassination was ceasing to occupy public -attention, when three men, in passing through the grounds of Eellevue (where now Drummond Place stands) in August, 1807, found in the cavity of an old wall, a roll of bank notes that seemed to have borne exposure to the weather. The roll was conveyed to Sheriff Clerk Rattray?s office, and found to ?contain L3,ooo in large notes of the money taken from Begbie. The three men received Lzoo from the British Linen Company as the reward of their honesty, but no further light was thrown upon the murder, the actual perpetrator of which has never, to this hour, been discovered, though strong suspicions fell on a prisoner named Mackoull in 1822, after he was beyond the reach of the law. This man was tried and sentenced to death by the High Court of Justiciary in June, 1820, for robbery at the Paisley Union Bank, Glasgow, and was placed in the Calton gaol, where he was respited in August, and again in September, ?during his majesty?s pleasure ? (according to the Edinburgh Week(yjournal), and where he died about the end of the year. In a work published under the title of ?The Life and Death of James Mackoull,? there was included a document by Mr. Denovan, the Bow Street Runner, whose object was to prove that Mackoull aZiis Moffat, was the assassin of Begbie, and his statements, which are curious, have thus been condensed by a local writer in 1865 :- ? Still, in the absence of legal proof, there is a mystery about this daring crime which lends a sort of romance to its daring perpetrator, Mr. Denovan discovered a man in Leith acting as a teacher, who in 1806 was a sailor-boy belonging to a ship then in the harbour. On the afternoon of the murder he was carrying up some smuggled article to a friend in Edinburgh, when he noticed ? a tall man carrying a yellow coloured parcel under his arm, and a genteel man, dressed in a black coat, dogging him.? He at once concluded that the man with the parcel was a smuggler, and the other a custom-house oficer. Fearful of detection himself, he watched their manmavres with considerable interest. He lost
Volume 2 Page 280
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