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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


Leith.] EXECUTION OF PIRATES. ?67 C H A P T E R XXX. LEITH-THE SANDS. The Sands of Leith-Piates Executed there-The Kaif ofLyane--Captain Potts of the Dreaa31uu~M-A Duel in 1?67-Horse-lacing-?The Bell?-Leith Races in 1661-?Going Down with the Purse?-Races in 1763 and 1771, etc. THE Sands of Leith, like other districts we have described, have a notabilia peculiarly their own, as the grim scene of executions for piracy, and of the horse-races, which were long celebrated there amid a jollity unknown now at the other locality to which they have been transferred-the Links of Musselburgh. All pirates, and those who committed crimes or misdemeanours upon the high seas, were, down to 1822, hanged within the flood-mark; but there does not seem to have been any permanent erection, or even a fixed locality, for this purpose, and thus any part of the then great expanse of open sand must have been deemed suitable for the last offices of the law, and even the Pier and Shore were sometimes used. On the 6th of May, 1551, John Davidson was convicted by an assize of piratically attacking a ship of Bordeaux, and sentenced to be hanged in irons on the Sands; and this, Pitcairn observes, is the earliest notice in Scotland of the body of a criminal being exposed in chains, to be consumed piecemeal by the elements. In 1555, Hilbert Stalfurde and the crew of the Kait of Lynne, an English ship, were tried for piracy and oppression, ?( in reiving and spoiling furth of a hulk of the toun of Stateyne (Stettin), then lying in the harbour of Leith,? a cable of ninety fathoms, three or four pistolettes,and other property,for which theywere all hanged as pirates within the flood-mark. Pitcairn gives this case in full, and it may not be uninteresting to note what constituted piracy in the sixteenth century. In the ?( Talbot Papers,? published by the Maitland Club, there is a letter, dated 4th July, 1555, from Lord Conyers to the Earl of Shrewsbury, After stating that some ships had been captured, very much to the annoyance of the Queen-Regent Mary of Lorraine, she sent a Scottish ship of war to search for the said ship of Lynne; and, as the former passed herself on the seas as a merchantman, the crew of the Kait ?schott a piece of ordnance, and the Scottis shippe schott off but a slinge, as though she had been a merchant, and vailed her bonnet,? or dipped her ensign The crew of the Kait then hailed, and asked what she was laden with, and the reply was, ? With victualles; and then they desired them to borde, and let them have a ton of bacon for their money.? The Scots answered that they should do so, on which there swarmed on board the Kaif a hundred or eighty men, ?well appoyntit in armoure and stoutlie set,? on the English ship, which they brought, with all her crew, into the haven of Leith ; ?and by that I can learn,? adds Lord Conyers, ?there is at least iij. or iiij. of the cheefest of the Englismenne like to suffer death. Other news I have none to certifie yr Lordschippe, and so I committ the same unto the tuicion and governmente of Almichtie God.?-Berwick, 4th July, 1555. The seamen of those days were not very particular when on the high seas, for in 1505 we find the King?s Admiral, Sir Andrew Wood, obtaining a remission under the Great Seal for (<ye ri>f an anchor and cabyell? taken from John of Bonkle on the sea, as he required these probably for the king?s service ; and some fifty years later an admiral of England piratically seized the ship coming from France with the horses of Queen Mary on board. In 1610 nine pirates were sentenced by the mouth of James Lockhart of Lee, chancellor, to be hanged upon ?the sandis of Leyth, within the floddis-mark;? and in the same year Pitcairn records the trial of thirty more pirates for the affair at Long Island, in Ireland, already related. In 16 I 2 two more were hanged in the same place for piracy. Executions here of seamen were of constant occurrence in the olden times, but after that of Wilson Potts, captain of the Dreadnoughf privateer of Newcastle, on the 13th of February, 1782, none took place till the execution of Heaman and Gautiez, at the foct of Constitution Street, in 1822. Potts was convicted before the Admiralty Court of having plundered the White Swaiz, of Copenhagen, of four bags of dollars. He was recommended to mercy by a majority of the jury, because it was in proof that he had committed the crime while in a state of intoxication, and had, on coming to his senses, taken the first opportunity of restoring the money to its owners; but the recommendation was made in vain.
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In 1667 the Sands were the scene of that desperate duel with swords between William Douglas younger, of M'hittingham, and Sir John Home, of Eccles, attended by the Master of Ramsay and Douglas of Spott, who all engaged together. Sir James was slain, a d William Douglas had his head stricken from his body at the Cross three days after. For many generations the chief place for horseracing in Scotland was the long stretch of bare sand at Leith, LEITH LINKS. informer for the double thereof, half to him and half to the poor '' (Glendoick). In 1620 there were horse-races at Paisley, the details of which are given in the MaitZand MisceZZany, in which the temporary prize of the bell figures prominently; and after the Restoration there were horse-races every Saturday at Leith, which are regularly detailed in the little print called the Mermrills Caledoniu. In the March of 1661 it states :-" Our accustomed recreations on the Sands of Leith was (sic) much injured because of As a popular amusement horse-racing was practised at an early period in Scotland. In 1552 there was a race annually at Haddhgton, the prize being a bell, and hence the phrase to "bear away the bell ; * and during the reign of James VI. races were held at Peebles and Dumfries-at the latter place in 1575, between Scots and'English, when the Regent Morton held his court there; but as such meetings led to conflicts with deadly weapons, they were interdicted by the Privy Council in 1608 ; and by an Act of James VI., passed in his twentythiid Parliament, any sum won upon a horse-race above a hundred marks was to be given to the poot. Magistrates were empowered to pursue '' for the said surplus gain, or else declared liable to the a furious storm of wind, accompanied with a thick snow ; yet we had some noble gamesters that were so constant in their sport as would not forbear a designed horse-match. It was a providence the wind was from the sea, otherwise they had run a hazard either of drowning or splitting upon Inchkeith. This tempest was nothing inferior to that which was lately in Caithness, when a bark of fifty tons was blown five furlongs into the land, and would have gone farther if it had not been arrested by the steepness of a large promontory." The old races at Leith seem to have been conducted with all the spirit of the modem Jockey Club, and a great impetus was given to them by the occasional presence of the Duke of Albany,
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