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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


Leith.] RENNIE?S REPORT ON THE HARBOUR EXTENSION. ?I2 In 1753 an Act was passed, in the reign of George II., for enlarging and deepening the harbour of Leith, but less was achieved than had been done in the reign of King James II., three hundred years before. As there were no adequate means provided by the statute for defiaying the expense, says h o t , ?nothing was done in consequence.? Yet soon after we find that a curious scheme mras formed for enlarging it on a greater scale, by making a canal from it eastward ?through Bernard?s Nook to the old Glass House, and from thence into a basin. To carry this project into execution a Bill was framed by which an additional duty, from a penny to sixpence per ton, was to be laid upon the tonnage of all shipping in the harbour ; but in consequence of the poverty and lethargy entailed by the Union, and some opposition also, the scheme was rapidly dropped. These suggestions, however, led ultimately to the formation by the Town Council of Edinburgh of a short pier in 1777 on the west side of the harbour, afterwards known as the Custom House Quay; and the harbourwas at the same time widened and deepened. In 1785 a miserable apology for a naval yard (as it was pompously named) was established in Leith as a depBt for supplying such material as might be wanted by His Majesty?s ships coming into the Forth. Five bridges now connect North and South Leith, the latest of which is the Victoria swing bridge. One of the drawbridges at the foot of the Tolbooth Wynd (superseding that of Abbot Ballantyne) was erected in 1788-9, by authority of an Act of Parliament. The second drawbridge, opposite the foot of Bernard Street, was erected in 1800; and a thud bridge, finished about 1820, connected the new streets at Hill House Field and the Docks with Leith Walk. Notwithstanding the erection of the Custom House Quay, the accommodation for shipping remained insufficient and unendurable, the common quays being the chief landing-places, where the vessels lay four and five abreast, discharging their cargoes across each other?s decks, amid confusion, dirt, and much ill-temper on the part of seamen and porters. Besides, the channel of the river, at the recess of the tides, offered only an expanse of uncovered and offensive mud and ooze, till, as the kade of the port increased towards the close of the kentury, demands were loud and long for an ameli. Oration and enlargement of the then accommodation. In 1789, the light that had first been placed a1 the pier-end was replaced by a new and improved 131 one, with reflectors, as the Edinburgh Advertiser specially mentions, adding that ?its effect at sea is surprising, and the expense of maintaining it does not exceed that of the former one.? In 1799, John Rennie, the celebrated engineer, was employed to examine the entire harbour, and to form designs for docks and extended piers, on a scale somewhat proportioned to the necessities of the advancing age. The gravamen of his report was that no permanent and uniform depth of water along the mouth of the harbour of Leith could ever be obtained, and that no achievement of science could destroy or prevent the formation of the shifting bar, unless by carrying a pier, or weir, on the east side of the channel, and quite across the sands into low water, and that, by this means, three, or possibly four, feet of additional depth of water might be obtained; but though the soundness of his principle has been fully vindicated by the result of subsequent operations which were carried out by its guidance, little or nothing was done at his suggestion, nor for many years afterwards, with regard to the piers or entrance. The crowded state of the harbour was the cause of many a fatal accident, and of constant confusion. Thus we read that, between nine and ten in the morning of the 13th of August, 1810, as a foreign vessel, after passing the beacon, was about to enter the harbour, with two pilots on board, a shot was suddenly fired into her from a boat. This, the pilots imagined, was from a Greenland whaler, and they did not bring to. A few minutes after a second musket-shot was fired, which mortally wounded the mate in the right breast, and he expired in fifteen minutes. The boat belonged to H.M. gunbrig GaZZanf, of fourteen guns, commanded by Lieutenant William Crow, which was at that time what is technically called ?rowing guard.? The fatal shot had been fired by a rash young midshipman, named Henry Lloyd, whose hail had been unheard or unnoticed; and for this he was lodged in the prison of Edinburgh. As too often is the case in such calamities, the prints of the time announce that ?? the sufferer has left a widow and three young children, for whose relief a subscription has been opened.? In 1818 Messrs. J. and H. Morton invented their patent slip, and the first one was laid down by themse1ves.h the upper part of the old harbour -an invention of more than European reputation. The firm began to build iron ships, but after completing a few steamers, a sailing-ship, and some large dredges, the trade came to a temporary stand ; yet the business of ship-building was not abandoned .
Volume 6 Page 273
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