Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

George II.—A Story of Smugglers

"The ship was moor'd—the oars were plied—

The boats moved on athwart the tide,

And steered their course direct to land,

Well fraught with goods, though contraband.

The landsmen gathered there in swarms,

Receiv'd the same with open arms;

And, favoured by the starless night,

Plied well their time conceal'd from sight,

The ship unloaded, all was done

Before the rising of the sun."

King George i. died in 1727 a.d. , without having ever visited Scotland. He was succeeded by his son, George ii. George ii. was hardly less German than his father, but he could speak a little English, and although people did not like him any more than they had liked George i. , he was quietly accepted as King.

England and Scotland seemed to be settling down peaceably into one kingdom, but there was one great cause of discontent in Scotland, and that was the taxes and custom duties which since the Union the Scottish people as well as the English had to pay.

You know that a great many things are done by Government for the good of the country. But to do these things, money is needed. So in order to get this money people are taxed. Supposing the Government needed some money, Parliament might say, We will put a tax of twopence on tea. Then tea would cost twopence more than it did before, and the extra twopence would go to Government to pay for things the country needs. Or they might say, We will put a tax of one shilling on cats. Then every one who had a cat would be obliged to pay the Government one shilling. People sometimes think that taxes are very hard, and even unjust, but after all, if the country is well governed and Government does good things with the money, the people really get their money back again, and sometimes a great deal more.

Long ago, however, people did not see this. They thought taxes were a great burden, and they did all they could to avoid paying them.

Nearly all the things which came from foreign countries, such as wine, spirits, silk, tea, and tobacco, were taxed. When a ship arrived, laden with these things, a revenue officer, as the man who collected the taxes was called, went on board and received the money before the goods were allowed to be taken ashore.

In order to avoid this, many ships, instead of coming into a harbour or port, went to lonely places on the shore, where there were caves known only to the captain and crew. There, on a dark and moonless night, they would silently unload. The goods they had brought would be safely stowed away in the caves, ready to be carried inland as soon as it was safe. Then they would haul up their anchor again and make off before it was daylight. The people who did this were called smugglers, because they smuggled the goods into the country without paying duty.

The smugglers were very clever, and sometimes they would bring great cargoes of tea and tobacco hidden under such things as fruit or fish, which were allowed to be brought into the country free. The revenue officers would go on board the ship and search to see if there was anything contraband, but the smugglers were so bold and clever that they were seldom found out.

Contraband comes from two Latin words, contra,  "against," and bandum,  "a proclamation," and means that the goods were brought into the country against, or in spite of, the King's proclamation.

Nearly every one, rich and poor, laird, farmer, and minister, helped the smugglers. They helped and protected them, hid the goods they brought, and warned them when the revenue officers were near. And every one bought and used these smuggled goods. Of course this was breaking the law, but no one seemed to think that it was wicked.

About this time there was a famous smuggler called Andrew Wilson. He had been a baker, but had given that up, and had taken to smuggling, which was much more exciting and interesting than making bread. He was so clever at smuggling that the revenue officers became very anxious to catch him. After trying a great many times, they did catch him, and not only took away the goods he had, but made him pay a large sum of money as a punishment. Andrew Wilson thought that this was very unjust. He considered that he had been robbed by the Government, and made up his mind to rob the Government in revenge.

Taking a boy called George Robertson with him, he broke into the revenue officer's house and stole about two hundred pounds. But the soldiers were called out to hunt for Robertson and Wilson, and soon they were caught and put into prison.

Nowadays no one is hanged for stealing, but in those days it was quite common, and so Robertson and Wilson were condemned to death.

But while they lay in prison they managed to get hold of a file, and with it they cut through the iron bars of their little prison window.

The window was very small, and Wilson was a great big man. So Robertson proposed that he should go first, and from the outside try to pull out some of the stones so as to make the window larger. Wilson, however, would not hear of that. He insisted on going first. But he was too big. He stuck fast in the window, and could neither get back nor forward. In vain he struggled, in vain Robertson pushed and pulled. While they were straining and striving, the jailers came. They were caught, and after this they were watched and guarded so carefully that there was no hope of escape.

Wilson was very sorry that he had not allowed Robertson to go first, and felt that by being so obstinate he was the cause of the poor boy's death. In those days it was the custom to take prisoners who were condemned to death, to church upon the Sunday before they were to die. They sat in a pew specially meant for them, and were carefully guarded by warders.

On the Sunday before Wilson and Robertson were to be hanged, many people came to church, for no one thought that they had been very wicked, and every one was sorry for them, and curious to see the great smuggler.

The service was over, and the people were slowly filing out of the church, when Wilson suddenly sprang, like a wild cat, upon the warders. With each hand he gripped one by the throat, then crying out, "Run, Geordie, run," he seized another with his teeth.

For a moment Robertson stood stock still, hardly realising what had happened. Then hearing cries of "Run, run," all round him, he dashed the fourth warder to the ground, and in a moment disappeared through the crowd.

Wilson could not keep hold of three men for long. He was soon overpowered and once more taken back to prison. But Robertson got right away, and search how they might, the warders could not find him.

The magistrates were very angry about this escape, but the people were glad. They were delighted too with Wilson's strength and courage, and hoped that now he would not be hanged. But the magistrates were more determined than ever that he should die, and so a few days later, through streets lined with soldiers, he was led to death.

The whole town was full of people ready for a riot, but it was not until Wilson was dead that they broke out. Then they began to throw sticks and stones at the executioner and to attack the city guard.

Captain Porteous, the captain of the city guard, was a brutal, surly man. He now became madly angry, and ordered his men to fire on the crowd. He himself seized a musket from a man near, and gave the example by firing first.

As the soldiers obeyed, several people fell dead or wounded. With an angry yell the crowd rushed upon the soldiers, who were obliged to retreat to their bar racks, firing on the crowd to protect themselves, as they went.

So angry were the people, that Captain Porteous was taken to prison and charged with having given the order to fire upon the crowd. He denied that he had done so, but few believed him, and he was condemned to die.

The people of Edinburgh were eager for revenge, and were glad when they heard the sentence. But when it became known that the sentence was a mere farce, and that Captain Porteous would very likely be pardoned, they were furious. Sullen, angry faces were seen everywhere, and threats of vengeance grew louder and louder as the days passed.

But Captain Porteous paid no heed. He laughed, and swore, and drank, as usual, careless of what people thought. One night he gave a supper to his friends in prison. They were drinking and laughing together when a jailer rushed in, breathless and pale, to tell them that a huge mob had surrounded the prison, and that men were battering upon the doors and calling aloud for Porteous.

Blow after blow fell upon the great door, but it would not yield. Without, the mob yelled and cursed. Within, seized at last with fear, Porteous cowered and trembled.

At length the blows ceased. Had the mob given it up? No. The door could not be forced, so it must be burned. Quickly bundles of wood, tar barrels, anything that would burn easily, were brought and piled against it. The bonfire was lit, and at last the great door gave way. Over the burning mass, trampling the ashes, scattering the flames, the mob rushed straight to where they knew Porteous was imprisoned.

Too late, he had tried to escape. He was found hiding in the chimney, clinging to an iron grating half way up. He was torn from his hiding-place and hurried through the streets by the angry crowd, till they reached the place where Wilson had been hanged so short a time before. There they hanged him.

It was a weird sight. The town was in darkness, for there were no gas-lamps, as there are now. But torches blazed on sword and battle-axe, lighting the wild figures of the people and the dark, pale face of their victim.

When all was over, the crowd scattered as quickly as it had gathered. The city sank to rest again, and, except for the empty prison with its ruined door, and the dead body of Porteous in the silent market-place, no sign of a riot remained. It had been the most orderly mob that was ever known. Money even was left for the rope, which had been stolen from a shop, with which to hang Porteous.

No one was ever punished for killing Captain Porteous. Who led the mob could never be found out. Parliament was very angry when news of it reached London. They talked of throwing down the walls of Edinburgh and taking away the gates in punishment, but the Scottish members grew so angry at the thought of this indignity that it had to be given up.

So ended the Porteous riot, as it was called.

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