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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


Leith; LETTERS OF MARQUE. 219 to Hull, Newcastle, Thurso, Orkney, and Shetland, to Inverness, Fort George, and Invergordon, Cra marty, Findhom, Burghead, Ban6 and other places in the north, twice weekly; to Dundee, Aberdeen, Stonehaven, Johnshaven, Montrose, and places farther south, four days a week. A number of steamers run in summer, on advertised days, between Leith, Aberdour, Elie, North Berwick, Alloa, etc. The first screw steamer fromLeith to London was put on the station in 1853. Several ships belonging to the port are employed in the Greenland whale fishery, and a considerable number trade with distant foreign ports, especially with those of the Baltic and the West Indies. ? In consequence of the want of a powder magazine,? says a statistical writer, ?gunpowder sent from the mills of Midlothian for embarkationtoo dangerous a commodity to be admitted to any ordinary storing-place, or to lie on board vessels in the harbour-has frequently, when vessels do not sail at the time expected, to be carted back to await the postponed date of sailing, and, in some instances, has been driven six times between the mills and the port, a distance each time, in going and returning, of twenty or twenty-four miles, before it could be embarked? The lighthouse has a stationary light, and exhibits it at night so long as there is a depth of not less than nine feet of water on the bar, for the guidance of vessels entering the harbour. The tall old signal-tower has a manager and signal-master, who display a series of signals during the day, to proclaim the progress or retrogression of the tide. The general anchoring-place for vessels is two miles from the land, and in the case of large steamers, is generally westward of Leith, and opposite Newhaven. During the French and Spanish war, the roadstead was the station of an admiral?s flagship, a guardship, and squadron of cruisers. Inverkeithing is the quarantine station of the port, eight and three-quarter miles distant, in a direct h e , by west, of the entrance of Leith Harbour. In connection with the naval station in the Roads, Leith enjoyed much prosperity during the war, as being a place for the condemnation and sale of prize vessels, with their cargoes; and in consequence of Bonaparte?s great Continental scheme of prevention, it was the seat of a most extensive traffic for smuggling British goods into the north of Europe, by way of Heligoland, a system which employed many armed vessels of all kinds, crowded its harbour, and greatly enriched many of its bold and speculative inhabitants. Foreign ventures, however, proved, in some instances, to be severely unsuccessful ; ? and their failure combined, with the disadvantages of the harbour and the oppression of shore dues, to produce that efflux of prosperity, the ebb of which seems to have been reached, to give place,? says a writer in 1851, ?to a steady and wealth-bearing flood.? The last prizes candemned and sold in Leith were some Russian vessels, chiefly brigs, captured by Sir Charles Napier?s fleet in the Baltic and Gulf of Finland during the Crimean War. It is singular that neither at the Trinity House, in the Kirkgate, nor anywhere else, a record has been kept of the Leith Letters of Marque or other armed vessels belonging to the port during the protracted wars with France, Spain, and Holland, while the notices that occur of them in the brief public prints of those days are meagre in the extreme ; yet the fighting merchant marine of Leith should not be forgotten. Taking a few of these notices chronologically, we find that the ship Edinburgh, of Leith, Thomas Murray commander, a Letter of Marque, carrying eighteen 4-pounders, with swivels and a fully-armed crew, on the 30th of August, 1760, in latitude 13O north, and longitude 58O west, from London, fell in with a very large French privateer, carrying fourteen guns, many swivels, and full of men. This was at eleven in the forenoon. The Edinburgh, we are told, attacked, and fought her closely ? for five glasses,? and mauled her aloft so much, that she was obliged to fill her sails, bear away, and then bring to, and re-fit aloft. The Edinburgh continued her course, but with ports triced up, guns loaded, and the crew at quarters ready to engage again. The privateer followed, and attempted to board, but was received with such a terrible fire of round shot and small-arms, that she was again obliged to sheer of. Many times the conflict was renewed, and at last ammunition fell short on board the The gallant Captain Murray now lay by, reserving his fire, while a couple of broadsides swept his deck; and then, when both ships were almost muzzle to muzzle, and having brought all his guns over to one side, poured in his whole fire upon her, ? which did such execution that it drove all hands from their quarters j she immediately hoisted all her sails, and made OK? The crew of the Ednaurgh now ?? sheeted home,? and gave chase, but she was so heavily laden with the spoils of her cruise that the enemy out-sailed her, upon which Captain Murray, with a great Edinburgh.
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280 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Leith. number of wounded men on his hands, bore awa] to Barbadoes to re-fit. In the spring of the following year, a Leitl sloop, coming from Strichen, laden with wheat anc cheese, was taken off St. Abb?s Head by two Frenct privateers of twelve and sixteen guns-the latter was Le MarichaZ Duc de NoaiZZes, painted quite black. When the sloop struck a tremendous sea was run. ning ; Laverock, the master, ransomed her for IOC guineas, and reported at Leith that if these twc great privateers were not taken soon, they wopld ruin the east coast trade of Scotland. Soon after another ship of Leith was taken by them into Bergen, and ransonied for 500 guineas, though a few days before the privateer had been severely handled by the EZiza6efh, merchant ship, Captain Grant, who had also to strike to her, afteI a most severe combat. In 1794, the Haith, of Leith, was captured by a squadron of French ships on the zIst August, together with the Dundee, whaler, of Dundee. The latter was re-taken, and brought into Leith by H.M. brig Fisher, which reported that, previous to re-capture, the Dundee had picked up a boat, having on board eight Frenchmen, part of a prize crew of sixteen put on board the Raifir to take her to Bergen ; but the mate and another Scottish seaman had daringly re-taken her, and had sailed none knew whither. Soon after a letter reached the owners in Leith from Lyons, the mate, dated from Lerwick, briefly stating that when fifteen miles west of Bergen, ?1 retook her from the French, sending nine of the Frenchmen away in one of the boats, ancl put the rest in confinement.? Eventually these two brave fellows brought the ship to Leith, from whence their prisoners were sent to the Castle. In those days the Glass House Company had their own armed ships, and one of these, the Phemk, Cornelius Neilson, master, had the reputation of being one of the swiftest sailers in Leith, and was always advertised to sail with or without convoy, as she fought her own way. In 1797, the BreadaZbane Letter of Marque, of Leith, captured a large Spanish brig off the coast of South America, and sent her into Leith Roads for sale, under the convoy of the RoyaZ ChrZoffe, Captain Elder. During the latter end of the eighteenth century Leith possessed two frigate-built ships of remarkable beauty, the RoseUe, a Letter of Marque, and the MoreZan/E, her sister ship, which usually fought their own way; and the former was so like a man-ofwar in her size and appearance, that she frequently gave chase for a time to laige foreign privateers. In the NeraZd for 1798 we read that on her appeacance off Peterhead, in March, she created such consternation that the captain of the RoJert, a Greenlandman, on a gun being fired from her, ran his ship ashore, according to one account, and, according to another, made his escape, with the assistance of his crew, from the supposed enemy. The MoreZand and the Lady Fwbes,,? of Leith, another armed ship, seem always to have sailed in company, for protection, to and from the West Indies. After many escapes and adventures, the beautiful RoseZZe, which carried fourteen guns of large calibre, was captured at last by a Spanish line-of-battle ship, which, report said, barbarously sank her, with all on board, by a broadside. On the 6th December, 1798, theBefsy, of Leith, Captain Mackie, having the Angus regiment of volunteers on board, from Shetland, in company with an armed cutter, was attacked off Rattray Head by two heavily-armed French privateers. A severe engagement ensued, in which the volunteers made good use of their small arms; the privateers were crippled and beaten off by the Befsy, which ran next day into Banff, and the roops were put on shore. In the same month The Generous Triends, sailing from Leith to Hull, when a few miles off the mouth of the Humber, in a heavy gale of wind, was overtaken by a large black privateer, having a ?oop and fiddle-head painted red and white. The ieavy sea prevented her from being boarded, and :he appearance of the Baltic fleet compelling the :nemy to sheer off, she bore up with the latter, and yeturned to Leith Roads; but such little excitenents were of constant occurrence in those stirring imes The Nancy, of Leith, Captain Grindley, was :aken, in July, I 799, off Dungeness, by the Ado&h, ugger, of eighteen guns and fifty men, who used iim and his crew with great severity prior to their Jeing cast into the horrible prison at Valenciennes. ?The behaviour of the Frenchmen to us, when aken, was most shameful,? he wrote to his owners n Leith. 6? When they got upon our deck, they Kept firing their pistols, cutting with swords for some ime, and dragging those who were below out of Heir beds; they cut and mangled in a cruel manner me of our men, William Macleod, who was then it the helm, and afterwards threw him overhoard. rhis obliged the rest of the crew to leave the leck and go below. In a short time we were It is interesting to remark that the original painting, after which the rawing of Plate 32 ( ? I Leith Pier and Harbour, 1798 ?) was made, ws iainted for Caprain Gourley, who was part owner of the Lady Fades, The Editor is obliged o bir. R. F. Todd, owner of the painting in question, for this information. Letter of Marque that carried 14 mnada.
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