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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.
Volume 6 Page 279
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