Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


i.e., the Tolbooth; others were held there in 1449 and 1459. In the latter the Scottish word ?Tolbooth,? meaning a tax-house, occurs for the first time ; ?Hence,? says Wilson, ? a much older, and probably larger erection must therefore have existed on the site of the western portion of the Tolbooth, the ruinous state of which led to the royal command for its demolition in 1561-not a century after the date we are disposed to assign to the oldest portion of the building that remained till 1817, and which, though decayed and time-worn, was so far from being ruinous even then, that it proved a work of great labour to demolish its solid masonry.? In the ?Diurnal of Occurrents,? it is recorded that in 1571 ?the tour of the add TuZbuyth was tane doun.? The ornamental north gable of the Tolbooth was never seen without a human head stuck thereon in ?the good old times,? In 1581. ?the prick on the highest stone? bore the head of the Regent Morton, in 1650 the head of the gallant Montrose, till ten years subsequently it was replaced by that of his enemy Argyle. In 1561 the Tolbooth figures in one of those tulzies or rows so common in the Edinburgh of those days ; but in this particular instance we see a distinct foreshadowing of the Porteous mob of the eighteenth century, by the magistrates forbidding a I? Robin Hood.? This was the darling May game of Scotland as well as England, and, under the pretence offrolic, gave an unusual degree of licence; but the Scottish Calvinistic clergy, with John Knox ? at their head, and backed by the authority of the magistrates of Edinburgh, who had of late been chosen exclusively from that party, found it impossible to control the rage of the populace when deprived of the privilege of having a Robin Hood, with the Abbot of Unreason and the Queen of the May.( Thus it czme to pass, that in May, 1561, when a man in Edinburgh was chosen as ? Robin Hood and Lord of Inobedience,? most probably because he was a frolicsome, witty, and popular fellow, and passed through the city with a great number of followers, noisily, and armed, with a banner displayed, to the Castle Hill, the magistrates caught one of his companions, ? a cordiner?s servant,? named Janies Gillon, whom they condemned to be hanged on the z ~ s t of July. On that day, as he was to be conveyed to the gibbet, it was set up with the ladder against it in the usual fashion, when the craftsmen rushed into the streets, clad in their armour, with spears, axes, and hand-guns. They seized the Provost by main force of arms, together with two Bailies, David Symmer and Adam Fullarton, and thrusting them into Alexander Guthrie?s writing booth, left them there under a. guard. The rest marched to the cross, broke the gibbet to pieces, and beating in the doors of the Tolbooth with sledge-hammers, under the eyes of the magistrates, who were warded close by, they brought forth the prisoner, whom they conveyed ic~ triumph down the street to the Nether Bow Port. . Finding the latter closed, they passed up the street again. By this time the magistrates had taken shelter in the Tolbooth, from whence one,of them fired a pistol and wounded one of the mob. ?That being done,? says the Diurnal of Occurrents, ? there was naething but tak and day! that is, the one part shooting forth and casting stones, the other part shooting hagbuts in again, and sae the craftsmen?s servants held them (conducted themselves) continually frae three hours afternoon, while (till) aucht at even, and never ane man of the toun steirit to defend their provost and bailies.? The former, who was Thomas Maccakean, of Clifton Hall, contrived to open a communication with the constable of the Castle, who came with an armed party to act as umpire ; and through that officer it was arranged ?that the provost and bailies should discharge all manner of actions whilk they had against the said crafts-childer in ony time bygone ;? and this being done and proclaimed, the armed trades peacefully disbanded, and the magistrates were permitted to leave the Tolbooth. In 1539 the sixth Parliament of James VI. met there. The Estates rode through the streets; ? the crown was borne before his Majesty by Archibald Earl of Angus, the sceptre by Colin Earl of Argyle, Chancellor, and the sword of honour, by Robert Earl of Lennox.? Moyse adds, when the Parliament was dissolved, twelve days after, the king again rode thither in state. In 1581 Morton was tried and convicted in the hall for the murder of Darnley ; the King?s Advocate on that occasion was Robert Crichton of Elliock, father of the ?? Admirable Crichton.? Caldenvood records some curious instances of the king?s imbecility among his fierce and turbulent couttiers. On January 7th, 1590, when he was coming down the High Street from the Tolbooth, where he had been administering justice, two of his attendants, Lodovick Duke of Lennox (hereditary High Admiral and Great Chamberlain), and Alexander Lord Home, meeting the Laird of Logie, with whom they had a quarrel, though he was valet of the royal chamber, attacked him sword in hand, to the alarm of James, who retired into an adjacent close ; and six days after, when he
Volume 1 Page 126
  Enlarge Enlarge  
rrs PRISONERS. 7 127 The Talbooth.] was sitting in the Tolbooth hearing the case of the Laud of Craigmillar, who was suing a divorce against his wife, the Earl of Bothwell forcibly dragged out one of the most important witnesses, and carrying him to his castle of Cricliton, eleven miles distant, threatened to hang him if he uttered a word. On the charge of being a ? Papist,? among many other prisoners in the Tolbooth in 1628, was the Countess of Abercorn, where her health became broken by confinement, and the misery of a prison which, if it was loathsome in the reign of George III., must have been something terrible in the days orCharles I. In 1621 she obtained a licence to go to the baths of Bristol, but failing to leave the city, was lodged for six months in the Canongate gaol. After she had been under restraint in various places for three years, she was permitted to remain ir. the earl?s house at Paisley, in March 1631, on condition that she ? reset no Jesuits,? and to return if required under a penalty of 5,000 merks. Taken seriatim, the records of the Tolbooth contain volumes of entries made in the following brief fashion :- ?1662, June 10.-John Kincaid put in ward by warrant of the Lords of the Privy Council, for ? pricking of persons suspected of witchcraft anwarranfably.? Liberated on finding caution not to do so again. ?-June 10.-Robert Binning for falsehood ; hanged with the false papers about his neck. ?--4ug. q.-Robert Reid for murder. His head struck from his body at the mercat cross. ?- Dec. 4.-James Ridpath, tinker ; to be qhupitt from Castle-hill to Netherbow, burned on the cheek with the Toun?s common mark, and banished the kicgdom, for the crime of double adultery. ?? 1663, March ~g.-ATexander Kennedy; hanged for raising false bonds and aritts. ?-March z I.-Aucht Qwakers; liberated, certifying if again troubling the place, the next prison shall be the Correction House. ?- July 8.-Katherine Reid ; hanged for theft. ?-July &--Sir Archibald Johnston of Wamston; treason. Hanged, his head cut off and placed on the Netherbow. ? - July I 8.-Bessie Brebner ; hansed for murder. ?I -Aug. zS.-The Provost of Kirkcudbright ; banished for keeping his house during a tumult. ? - Oct. 5.-William Dodds ; beheaded for murder.? And so on in grim monotony, till we come to the last five entries in the old record, which is quite incomplete. 1728, Oct. zs.-John Gibson; forging a declaration, 18th January, 1727. His lug nailed to the Tron, and dismissed. ?( 1751, March 18.-Helen Torrance :md Jean Waldie were executed this day, for stealing a child, eight or nine years of age, and selling its body to the surgeons for dissection. Alive on Tuesday when carried OK, and dead on Friday, with an incision in the belly, but sewn up again. ? I 7 5 6, May 4.-Sir William Dalrymple of Cousland; for shooting at Capt. Hen. Dalrymple of Fordell, with a pistol at the Cross of Edinburgh. Liberated?on 14th May, on bail for 6,000 merks, to answer any complaint. ? 1752, Jan. 10.-Norman Ross ; hanged and hung in chains between Leith and Edinburgh, for issassinating Lady Bailie, sister to Home of Wedderburn. ? I 1757, Feb. 4.-Janies Rose, Excise Officer at Muthill ; banished to America for forging receipts for arrears.? It was a peculiarity of the Tolbooth, that through clanship, or some other influence, nearly every criminal of rank confined in it achieved an escape. Robert fourth Lord Burleigh, a half insane peer, who was one of the commissioners for executing the office of Lord Register in 1689, and who married a daughter of the Earl of hfelville about the time of the Union, assassinated a schoolmaster who had married a girl to whom he had paid improper addresses, was committed to the Tolbooth, and sentenced to death; and of his first attempt to escape the following story is told He was carried out of the prison in a large trunk, to be conveyed to Leith, on the back of a powerful porter, who was to put hini on board a vessel about to sail for the Continent. It chanced that when slinging the trunk on his back, the porter did so with Lord Burleigh?s head doiwnnmost, thus it had to sustain the weight of his whole body. The posture was agony, the way long and rough, but life was dear. Unconscious of his actual burden, the porter reached the Netherbow Port, where an acquaintance asked him ?whither he was going?? ?:TO Leith,? was the reply. ? Is the work good enough to afford a glass before going farther?? was the next question. The porter said it was; and tossed down the trunk with such violence that it elicited a scream from Lord Burleigh, who instantly fainted. Scared and astounded, the porter wrenched open the trunk, when its luckless inmate was found cramped, doubled-up, and senseless. A crowd
Volume 1 Page 127
  Enlarge Enlarge