Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. V


Leith.] FIGHT IN THE HARBOUR. ?33 of war, which had been at anchor for six weeks in the Roads, and apparently with all her guns shotted, About noon on the 10th December, 1613, an Englishman, who was in a ?mad humour,? says Calderwood, when the captain and most of the officers were on shore, laid trains of powder throughout the vessel, notwithstanding that his own son was on board, and blew her up. Balfour states that she was a 48-gun ship, commanded by a Captain Wood, that sixty men were lost in her, and sixty-three who escaped were sent to London. Calderwood reduces the number who perished to twenty-four, and adds that the fire made all her ordnance go off, so that none dared go near her to render assistance. In 1618 Leith was visited by Taylor, the Water Poet, and was there welcomed by Master Bernard Lindsay, one of the grooms of his Majesty?s bedchamber; and his notice of the commerce of the port presents a curious contrast to the Leith of the present day :-cc I was credibly informed that within the compass of one year there was shipped away from that only port of Leith fourscore thousand boles of wheat, oats, and barley, into Spain, France, and other foreign parts, and every bole contains a measure of four English bushels; so that from Leith only hath been transported 320,000 bushels of corn, besides some hath been shipped away from St. Andrews, Dundee, Aberdeen, &c., and other portable towns, which makes me wonder that a kingdom so populous as it is, should nevertheless sell so much bread corn beyond the seas, and yet have more than sufficient for themselves.? In parochial and other records of those days many instances are noted of the capture of Scottish mariners by the pirates of Algiers, and of collections being made in the several parishes for their redemption from slavery. In the Register of the Privy Council, under date January, r636, we find that a ship called the Jdn, of Leith, commanded by John Brown, when sailing from London to La Rochelle, on the coast of France, fell in with three Turkish men-of-war, which, after giving him chase from sunrise to sunset, captured the vessel, took possession of the cargo and crew, and then scuttled her. Poor Brown and his mariners were all taken to Salee, and there sold in the public market as slaves. Each bore iron chains to the weight of eighty pounds, and all were daily employed in grinding at a mill, while receiving nothing to eat but a little dusty bread. In the night they were confined in holes twenty feet deep aniong rats and mice, and because they were too poor-being only mariners-to redeem themselves, they trusted to the benevolence of his Majesty?s subjects. By order of the Council, a contribution was levied in the Lothians and elsewhere, but with what result we are not told. In 1622 the usual excitements of the times were varied by a sea-fight in the heart of Leith harbour. On the 6th of June, in that year, the constable of Edinburgh Castle received orders from the Lords of Council to have his cannon and cannoniers in instant readiness, as certain foreign ships were engaged in close battle within gunshot of Leith A frigate belonging to Philip IV. of Spain, cbmmanded by Don Pedro de Vanvornz, had been lying for some time at anchor within the harbour there, taking on board provisions and stores, her soldiers and crew coming on shore freely whenever they chose; but it happened that one night two vessels of war, belonging to their bitter enemies, the Dutch, commanded by Mynheer de Hautain, the Admiral of Zealand, came into the same anchorage, and-as the Earl of Melrose reported to James VI.-cast anchor close by Don Pedro. The moment daylight broke the startled Spaniards ran up their ensign, cleared away for action, and a desperate fight ensued, nearly muzzle to muzzle. For two hours without intermission, the tiers of brass cannon from the decks of the three ships poured forth a destructive fire, and the Spaniards, repulsed by sword and partisan, made more than one attempt to carry their lofty bulwarks by boarding. The smoke of their culverins, matchlocks, and pistolettes enveloped their rigging and all the harbour of Leith, through the streets and along the pier of which bullets of all sorts and sizes went skipping and whizzing, to the terror and confusion of the inhabitants. As this state of things was intolerable, the burgesses of the city and seaport rushed to arms and armour, at the disposal of the Lords of Council, who despatched a herald with the water bailie to command both parties to forbear hostilities in Scottish waters ; but neither the herald?s tabard nor the bailie?s authority prevailed, and the fight continued with unabated fury till midday. The Spanish captain finding himself sorely pressed by his two antagonists, obtained permission to warp his ship farther within the harbour ; but still the unrelenting Dutchmen poured their broadsides upon his shattered hull. The Privy Council now ordered the Admiral Depute to muster the mariners of Leith, and assail the Admiral of Zealand in aid of the Dunkerpuer; but the depute reported that they were altogether vnable, and he saw no way to enforce obedience
Volume 5 Page 183
  Enlarge Enlarge  
184 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. rLeith . but by bringing ordonnance from the Castell to the shoare, to dins at them so long as they sould be within shot.?? (Melrose?s Letter.) Upon this the constable and his cannoniers, with a battery of guns, came with all speed down, by the Bonnington Road most probably, and took up a position on the high ground near the ancient chapel of St. Nicholas; but this aid came too late, for Mynheer de Hautain had driven the unfortunate Spanish frigate, after great slaughter, completely outside the harbour, where she grounded on a dangerous reef, then known as the Mussel Cape, but latterly as the Black Rocks. There she was boarded by a party of Leith seamen, who hoisted a Scottish flag at her topmasthead ; but that afforded her no protection, for the inexorable Dutchmen boarded her in the night, burned her to the water?s edge, and sailed away before dawn. Two years after this there occurred a case of ? murder under trust, stouthrief, and piracie,? of considerable local interest, the last scene of which was enacted at Leith. In November, 1624, Robert Brown, mariner in Burntisland, with his son, John Brown, skipper there, David Dowie, a burgess there, and Robert? Duff, of South Queensferry, were all tried before the Criminal Court for slaying under trust three young Spanish merchants, and appropriating to themselves their goods and merchandise, which these strangers had placed on board John Brown?s ship to be conveyed from the Spanish port 3f San Juan to Calais three years before. ? Beeing in the middis of the sea and far fra lande,? runs the indictment, they threw the three Spaniards overboard, ?ane eftir other in the raging seas,? after which, in mockery of God, they ?maid ane prayer and sang ane psalm,? and then bore away for Middelburg in Zealand, and sold the property acquired-walnuts, chestnuts, and Spanish wines. For this they were all hanged, their heads struck from their bodies and set upon pikes of iron in the town of Leith, the sands of which were the scene of many an execution for piracy, till the last, which occurred in 1822, when Peter Heaman and Fransois Gautiez were hanged at the foot of Constitution Street, within the floodmark, on the 9th of January, for murder and piracy upon the high seas. On the 28th and 30th March, 1625, a dreadful storm raged along the whole east coast of Scotland, and the superstitious Calderwood, in his history, seems to connect it as a phenomenon with the death of James VI., tidings of which reached Edinburgh on that day. The water in Leith harbour rose to a height never known before; the ships were dashed against each other ?? broken and spoiled,? and many skippers and mariners who strove to make them fast in the night were drowned. ?It was taken by all men to be a forerunner of some great alteration. And, indeed, the day followingto wit, the last of March-sure report was brought hither from Court that the King departed this life the Lord?s day before, the 27th of March? . CHAPTER XX. LEITH-HISTORICAL SURVEY (continued). Si William Mown?s Suggestinns-Leith Re-fortified-The Covenant Signed-The Plague-The Cromwelli in Leith-A Mutiny-Newspaw Printed in the Citadel-Tucker?s Report-English Fleet-A Windmill-English Pirates Hanged-Citadel seized by Brigadier Mackintosh& Hessian Army Lands-Highland Mutinies-Paul Jones-Prince William Henry. . CHARLES I. was proclaimed King of Scotland, England, France, and Ireland, at the Cross of Edinburgh and on the shore at Leith, where Lord Balmerino and the Bishop of Glasgow attended with the heralds and trumpeters. The events of the great Civil War, and those which eventually brought that unfortunate king to the scaffold, lie apart from the annals of Leith, yet they led to the re-fortifying of it after Jenny Geddes had given the signal of resistance in St. Giles?s in July, 1637, and the host of the Covenant began to gather on the hills above Dunse. Two years before that time we find Vice-Admiral Sir William Monson, a distinguished English naval officer who served with Raleigh in Elizabeth?s reign in many expeditions under James VI., and who survived till the time of Charles I., urging in his ?Naval Tracts? that Leith should be made the capital of Scotland ! ?? Instead of Edinburgh,? he wrote, I? which is the supreme city, and now made the head of justice, whither all men resort as the only spring that waters the kingdom, I wish his Majesty did fortify, strengthen, and make impregnable, the town of Leith, and there to settle the seat of justice, with all the other privileges Edinburgh enjoys, referring it to the
Volume 5 Page 184
  Enlarge Enlarge