Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


kith.] THE OLD SMACKS AND FERRY-BOATS. e11 smacks in their southward voyage merely touching at Berwick for their cargoes of salmon. In ISOZ the merchants of Leith established a line for themselves, ?? The Edinburgh and Leith Shipping Company,? which commenced with six armed smacks, the crews of which were protected from the impress. On the 23rd of October, 1804, one of these smacks, the Brifunnia, Captain Brown, and another named the Sprz$fO, Captain Taylor, off Cromer, fell in with a large French privateer, which bore down on them both, firing heavily, particularly with musketry; but the Leith smacks? men stood to their guns, engaged her briskly, and so damaged her sails and rigging that she sheered off and dropped astern. The smacks had many shots through their canvas, but none of their men were killed. On the 9th January, 1805, another, the SwaZZm, Captain White, was attacked off Flamborough Head by a heavy French privateer, carrying fourteen guns, and very full of men. Passing through a fleet of Newcastle colliers, she came within pistolshot of the Swallow, and poured in a broadside, accompanied by volleys of musketry. Captain White replied with his carronades and small arms. The round shot of the former told so well that the privateer was fairly beaten off, while neither the smack nor her crew sustained much injury. ?In these two actions,? says the Scots Magazine, ? both seamen and passengers showed a becoming spirit.? But such encounters were of very common occurrence in those days. In 1809 the new company had ten of these smacks ; eventually, there were no fewer than four companies trading between Leith and London ; but in 182 I one was formed under the name of the London and Edinburgh Steam Packet Company, With three large steamers-the City of Eninbuqh, theJnmes Watt, and the Solo. So great was their success that in 1831 the London, Leith, Edinburgh, and Glasgow Shipping Company superseded their fine smacks by the introduction of powerful steamers, with beautiful cabin accommodation, the WiZliam, Addaide, and Victoria. In 1836 the London and Edinburgh Steam Packet Company became merged in the General Steam Navigation Company, sailing from Granton to London. The old smacks were retained by only two of the companies ; but having been found expensive to build and to maintain, from the number of men required to handle their unwieldy canvas-particularly their great boom main-sail-they were in 1844 superseded by clipper schooners ; so these once celebrated craft, the old Leith smacks, have entirely disappeared from the harbour with which they were so long and exclusively identified. Before quitting the subject of passenger traffic, we may glance at the ancient ferries of Leith. By an Act of James I., in 1425, it was ordained that all femes where horses were conveyed, should ?have for jlk boate a treene brig,? or wooden gangway, under the pain of ?? 40 shillings of ilk boate ;? and again, by an Act of James III., 1467, the ferries at Leith, Kinghorn, and Queensferry are ordained to have ?brigges of buuds,? under penalty of the ? tinsel ? or forfeitursof their boats. In 1475 the charge for a passenger was twopence, and for a horse sixpence; at Queensferry one penny for a man, and twopence for a horse. (Scots Acts, Glendoick.) Nicoll records that in 1650 the ferrymen at Leith and Burntisland (taking advantage probably of the confusion of affairs) became so exorbitant in their charges that complaints were made to the Deputy Governor of Leith, who ordered that the fare for a man and horse should be only one shilling sterling, and for a single person one groat, ?quhairas it wqs tripled of beioir.? In July, 1633, a boat at the ferry between Burntisland and Leith foundered in a fair summer?s day, according to Spalding, and with it perished thirty-five domestic servants of Charles I., with his silver plate and household stuff, ?but it foretokened great troubles to fall out betwixt the king and his subjects, as after does appear.? Balfour states that there was a great stoi-m, that the king crossed ?in grate jeopardy of his lyffe,? and that only eight servants perished. In the early part of the present century the ferry traffic between Leith, Kinghorn, and Burntisland was carried on by means of stout sloops of forty oc fifty tons, without topmasts, and manned generally by only four men, and always known as ?the Kinghorn Boats,? although Pettycur was adopted as the more modern harbour. Generally there were two crossings between Leith and Fife every tide, though subsequently, as traffic increased, the number of runs was increased by having a boat anchored outside the harbour when there was not sufficient water for it to enter. Small pinnaces were used for the voyage in dead calms. The old ferrymen were strong, rough, and quaint fellows, and Leith still abounds with anecdotes of their brusque ways and jovial humour. A recent writer mentions that if a passenger had a dog whose acquaintance he was disposed to ignore, in order to escape paying its fare, he would be sure to be accosted by a blue-bonneted
Volume 6 Page 211
  Enlarge Enlarge  
212 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Leith. boatman, with ?DO you belang to that dug, Sir?? On a certain stormyday, when oneof the boats was making rather a rough passage, outside Inchkeith, and the skipper, after the manner of his kind, was endeavouring to reassure the alarmed passengers by telling them that there was no danger, he lost his temper with a well-known Fifeshire laud, whose pallid face betrayed his intense dismay. knowledge of the state of things that existed in the early years of the present century, in regard to the communication between the north and south sides of the Firth of Forth. If they could carry back their recollections so far, they would be inclined, like me, rather to marvel at thc extraordinary improvement that has taken place within the last sixty years, than to fret because we are still some stages from perfection.? ?As for you E- ? (Balcomie 7) said the old Kinghorn salt, scornfully, CCye were aye a frightened cxature a? your days.? If the breeze was fair, the old boats might achieve the passage in about an hour; but with a head wind, against which they could beat, and still worse, with a calm, the voyage was often tedious, and lasted five or six hours. There are few things that tell, perhaps, more strikingly on the changed habits of life, than the contrasts for crossing at the Forth ferries now and when the present century was in its infancy. At Kirkcaldy and Pettycur, besides making use of small boats to the great discomfort and terror of female passengers, travellers were embarked and disembarked by means of a long gangway, which was run down to the wateredge on wheels. U In spite of the service of the fine boats plying on the Granton and Burntisland ferry,? wrote the correspondent of a local print, ?and the opening of the new lines of railway along the coast, fatidious pleasure-seekers tell us that a great deal could be done to increase the attractions of a run for a change of air to the quaint villages, the stretches of green links and sandy beach, on the opposite shore of the Firth. Few of these grumblers, I venture to say, can speak from personal ANCIENT CHAPEL IN THE KIRkGAIE. (From WiZsm?s ? Mrrn&ls,?publishcdby T. C. Jack? E&nburg/r). great improvement is to take place in the communication between Leith and Fife.? This was the introduction of two steamboats, the Tug and Dumbarfon Castk, which were to make the trip every morning to Kirkcaldy before going to Grangemouth, and vice versa. (Week0 Jozrmai?,, 1820.) Other steamers, the Sir WilZiam WdZace, the Thane of Fie, and Add Reekie, were introduced ; the passengers were embarked and landed by means of gangways, though sometimes both were accomplished on men?s backs. After a time the ferry between each side of the Firth was placed in the hands of trustees, About 1812, when the ?( Union ? coach was put on the road through Fife, it occasioned a necessity for a regular instead of a varying tidal passage, and thus an undecked sloop, known as ?the coach boat,? was placed on the ferry. At low water it anchored off the harbour, and was reached by small skiffs. Soon afterwards the ferry trustees established a regular service of undecked cutters, gene rally lateen-rigged, the pier at Newhaven having been built to afford better accommodation. It was in the spring cf 1814 or 1815 that the first vessel propelled by steam was seen in Leith ; but it was not till 1820 that the newspapers announced that ?a very
Volume 6 Page 212
  Enlarge Enlarge     Pictures Pictures