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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


Leith.] SCENES UN THE LINKS. 263 a teacher of fencing and cock-fighting in Edinburgh, published an ? Essay on the Innocent and Royal Recreation and Art of Cocking,? from which it may be learned that he it was who introduced it intQ the metropolis of Scotland, and entered into it con amot-e. ?I am not ashamed to declare to the world,? he wrote, ?that I have a specialveneration and esteem for those gentlemen, without and about this city; who have entered in society for propagating and establishing the royal recreation of cocking, in order to which they have already erected a cockpit in the Links of Leith; and I earnestly wish that their generous and laudable example may be imitated in that degree that, in cock-war, village may be engaged against village, city against city, kingdom against kingdom-nay, father against son -until all the wars in Europe, where so much Christian blood is spilt, may be turned into the innocent pastime of cocking.? This barbarous amusement was long a fancy of the Scottish people, and the slain buds and fugies (or cravens) became a perquisite of the village schoolmaster. On the 23rd of December, 1729, the Hon. Alexander, Elphinstone (before mentioned), who was leading a life of idleness and pleasure in Leith, while his brother was in exile, met a Lieutenant Swift, of Lord Cadogan?s regiment (latterly the 4th or King?s Own), at the house of Mr. Michael Watson, in Leitk Some hot words had arisen between them, and Elphinstone rose haughtily to depart ; but before he went he touched Swift on the shoulder with the point of his sword, and intimated that he expected to receive satisfaction next morning on the Links. Accordingly the two met at eleven in the forenoon, and in this comparatively public place (as it appears now) fought a duel with their swords. Swift received a mortal wound in the breast, and expired. For this, Alexander Elphinstone was indicted before the High Court of Justiciary, but the case never came on for trial, and he died without molestation at his father?s house in Coatfield Lane, three years after. Referring to his peaceful sport with Captain Porteous, the author of the ? Domestic Annals ? says ? that no one could have imagined, as that cheerful game was going on, that both the players were not many years after to have blood upon their hands, one of them to take on the murderer? s mark upon this very field.? Several military executions have taken placethere, and among them we may note two. The first recorded is that of a drummer, who was shot there on the 23rd of February, 1686, by sentence of a court-martial, for having, it was alleged, said that he ?? had it in his heart to run his sword through any Papist,? on the occasion when the Foot Guards and other troops, under General Dalzell and the Earl of Linlithgow, were under arms to quell the famous ?Anti-Popish Riot,? made by the students of the university. One of the last instances was in 1754. On the 4th of November in that year, John Ramsbottom and James Burgess, deserters from General the Hon. James Stuart?s regiment (latterly the 37th Foot), were escorted from Edinburgh Cast19 to Leith Links to be shot. The former suffered, but the latter was pardoned. His reprieve from death was only intimated to him when he had been ordered to kneel, and the firing? party were drawn up with their arms m readiness. The shock so affected him that he fainted, and lay on the grass for some time motionless ; but the temble lesson would seem to have been given to him in vain, as in the Scots Magazine for the same year and month it is announced that ?James Burgess, the deserter so lately pardoned when on his knees to be shot, was so far from being reformed by such a near view of death, that immediately after he was guilty of theft, for which he received a thousand lashes on the parade in the Castle of Edinburgh, on November zznd, and was drummed out of the regiment with a rope round his neck.? During the great plague of 1645 the ailing were hutted in hundreds on the Links, and under its turf their bones lie in numbers, as they were interred where they died, with their blankets as shrouds. Balfour, in his ? Annales,? records that in the same year the people of Leith petitioned Parliament, in consequence of this fearful pest, to have 500 bolls of meal for their poor out of the public magazines, which were accordingly given, and a subscription was opened for them in certain shires. A hundred years afterwards saw the same ground studded with the tents of a cavalry camp, when, prior to the total rout of the king?s troops at Prestonpans, Hamilton?s Dragoons (now the 14th Hussars) occupied the Links, from whence theymarched, by the way of Seafield and the Figgate Muir, to join Sir John Cope. During the old war with France the Links were frequently adopted as a kind of Campus Marrius for the many volunteer corps :hen enrolled in the vicinity. On the 4th of June, 1797, they had an unusual display in honour of the king?s birthday and the
Volume 6 Page 263
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