Edinburgh World Heritage

Rule of the Mob - Porteous Riot

The Grassmarket was the scene of one of Edinburgh’s most notorious riots, in September 1736.

Earlier that year two popular smugglers, Wilson and Robertson, were sentenced to death. As Wilson was cut down from the gallows, the crowd began to throw stones and the city guard opened fire killing 16 people, including a small boy watching the scene from a tenement window.

John Porteous, the captain of the guard, was put on trial and found guilty of murder, but as he had many friends at court a pardon seemed likely. Many people were angry at what they took to be meddling in their legal process, and they stormed the Tolbooth prison where Porteous was held. The mob found the captain hiding up a chimney, and he was dragged to the Grassmarket where he was hung from a dyers pole.

The following day Porteous was cut down and buried in Greyfriars kirkyard. News of the riot caused alarm in London, and a reward of £200 was offered for information. Although a city carpenter called James Maxwell was suspected as the ringleader, no one came forward.

Story hosted by: Hula Juice Bar www.grassmarket.net

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