xxxxxIn 1736, following a disturbance at a public execution in Edinburgh, the city guard opened fire, killing and wounding some of the protestors. The guard commander, John Porteous, was condemned to death, but received a stay of execution from the Queen. This angered many people in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland. An armed body of men dragged Porteous from prison, and hanged him in the street. Despite the offer of rewards to find the killers, no one was convicted. Some of those responsible were thought to be Jacobite sympathizers, only too willing to undermine the government.

xxxxxThe Porteous Riots, as they came to be called, had their beginnings in Edinburgh, Scotland in April 1736, following the hanging of a smuggler named Andrew Wilson. Earlier, Wilson had won a certain amount of local popularity by helping a friend to escape from prison, and this led to a disturbance during the execution. The city guard fired into the crowd, killing a few and wounding many of the protestors. The captain of the guard at the time, John Porteous, was accused of giving the order to fire, and taking part in the shooting himself. He was brought to trial in July and sentenced to death, but after seeking a pardon from Queen Caroline, then acting as regent in the absence of her husband, his execution was postponed.

xxxxxThis stay of execution greatly angered many of the citizens of Edinburgh, and on the night of September 7th a number of them took matters into their own hands. An armed body of men broke into the prison, dragged Porteous outside, and hanged him in the street. The government naturally condemned this action and offered rewards to bring the perpetrators to trial, but there was so much sympathy and support for the rioters, not only in Edinburgh, but throughout many parts of Scotland, that no one was ever convicted of the murder. Furthermore, aware that influential Jacobites - supporters of the Stuart "king" then in exile - might well have been implicated, the government tread warily. Parliament imposed a heavy fine upon the city - to be paid to Porteous' widow - but, given the circumstances, it was drastically reduced.

xxxxxIncidentally, this incident, heightened in drama by its Jacobite implications, and just nine years away - be it noted - from the 1745 Rebellion, was used by the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott in his novel The Heart of Midlothian, published in 1818.


Edinburgh: an engraving based on an 18th century painting by the Scottish portrait painter Alexander Naysmith (1758-1840). Riots: by the Scottish artist James Drummond (1816-1877), 1855.