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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XLVII


MORE rioting! Has the quarrel between the Pyets and the Corbies broken out afresh, that bands of angry men are gathering in the High Street, and frantic-looking women are moving to and fro, instead of minding their household affairs? The groups merge into one great turbulent throng, and, actuated by a common impulse, and swelled by contributions from Bridgend, move at twilight towards the mills on the Galloway side of the Nith, as if they had serious work to do in that direction. It is no municipal question, no party conflict, that is generating such a commotion. A terrible dearth of food is experienced in the Burgh; meal has been at a famine price for weeks; the patience with which hunger was borne for a long time has given way; and the prevailing maxim with the populace is now that of the freebooter - that

"They should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can."

Not that indiscriminate pillage is the main design of the mad rabble : to prevent the exportation of grain and meal is what they chiefly wish. This is why they surround the mills, and what is expressed in hundreds of hoarse voices; the plundering which ensues being but the natural sequel to long suffering, and the tempting opportunity for removing it that is now enjoyed. The rioters are so powerful and fierce, that the legal authorities scarcely attempt to cope with them; and by the midnight of this dreadful day, the mills, granaries, and many private stores, have fallen into the undisputed possession of the mob.

At this grave juncture, Provost Dickson, after consulting with his brother magistrates, resolved on applying for aid to the chief of the law establishment in the metropolis. A communication to that effect was sent off, addressed to the Burgh's agent, "John Davidson, Esq., at his house in Castlehill, Edinburgh," with a note to that gentleman as follows: [The original is in the hands of Mr. David Laing.] -" Sir, the enclosed Letter to the Lord Justice-Clerk contains an information of a mobb that has happened here to prevent the exportation of meal from this part of the country to the `vest parts of Scotland, which the peace officers of the law have not been able to quell; and application is made to his Lordship for a military aid, and his authority and counsel on this unhappy occasion-and as dispatch and much secresy and prudence are necessary, we have thought it best to give you the trouble of managing the matter; and I beg you will immediately make the application to his Lordship, for which we shall gratefully acknowledge. - We are, Sir, your most obedt. servt., - Jno. DICKSON, Provost. Drumfries, 23 Febry., 1771, Saturday night."

It is obvious from this application, and the legal proceedings which arose out of the riot, that it must have been of a very alarming character indeed. The indictment served upon its captured leaders, charged them with holding " unlawful and tumultuous assemblies," with committing "masterful invasions, depredations, assaults, riots, batteries, and other criminal acts;" but as they were not accused of having withstood the military when sent from Edinburgh at the request of the magistrates, it may be safely inferred that peace was restored, and the law rendered paramount without much difficulty. One William Johnston, and several others, were tried at the circuit court of the Burgh in the following August, for the above crimes, perpetrated with others their associates, "during the night between the 22nd and 23rd days of February that year, in or about Dumfries and the village of Bridgend." A somewhat indefinite verdict was returned by the jury, they finding the libel not proved as to several of the panels; but as to the rest, finding it proved "that there were mobs at the time and places libelled, and that certain of the panels (whose names they specified) "were guilty art and part of the crimes libelled." The High Court of Justiciary, on being appealed to, were of opinion, though the verdict was not so distinct and accurate as it should have been, that execution should pass upon it; and therefore they sentenced two of the prisoners to be transported, and the rest to be imprisoned, some for a longer, some for a shorter term." [For a report of this appeal case, see Maclaurin's Arguments and Decisions in Remarkable Cases before the High Court of Justiciary, pp. 541-551.]

A few years after this riotous outbreak, some of its leading features were reproduced, with the addition of others still more tragical. Another dearth, with its train of suffering and repining, visits the Burgh; and it is again caused or intensified by the grain dealers and farmers exporting their stuff rather than sell it to the townspeople at a lower price. The "masterful invasions and depredations" of 1771 are repeated, only they are this time directed against vessels in the river, and the yellow corn growing upon its banks. A party of the marauders, hurrying down the Dock, lay violent hands on some farmers who are sending their produce out of port. Not a single sack can be got on board ; and the ships have to sail away minus their expected cargo, whilst the frightened ruralists beat a rapid retreat, leaving their precious stuff in the possession of the crowd. Another party of them openly resolve upon a plundering expedition to Laghall, a farm on the Galloway side of the Nith. Fortunately the announcement reaches the ears of one Janet Watson, "a servitrix" at the very farm that is threatened with such an unwelcome visit. Off at once she sets down the Dumfries bank, crosses the river, which was very shallow at the time opposite Mavis Grove, hurries to Laghall, near by, and raises the hue and cry with such effect, that before the predaceous rioters arrive such a guard is mustered at the farm that the former, resolute though they are, never venture within fighting range, and, fairly out-generaled by the faithful Janet, beat a retreat back to the Burgh-only, however, to become more unruly there.

Days elapse, and the mob becomes increasingly mischievous and threatening, till the military have to be called out; and in a moment of indiscretion, the chief magistrate bids them fire. Most of the soldiers elevate their pieces when doing so; and but for this humane movement, the results would have been dreadful. As it is, a stray shot takes effect on a fine young man not connected with the rioters, who falls lifeless on the street. Truly a tragical finale to these protracted bread riots; and the wonder is that those engaged in them did not exact summary vengeance when they saw the poor youth's blood reddening the pavement. On the day of his burial, the whole trading population turned out; so that from Townhead to St. Michael's Gate nothing was seen but a mass of mourners, with countenances expressive of grief and indignation. The funeral procession had to pass the offending Provost's shop (the first south of the King's Arms Hotel, in High Street) [At present occupied by Messrs. Lawson & Shaw, clothiers.] while proceeding to the churchyard; and the pall-bearers, acting according to a previous arrangement, advanced to the door of the premises, in order, by way of testimony, to lay the coffin for a minute or two on the counter. But, before this could be done, those inside closed the door with such critical haste, that it struck the coffin: and the bearers, unable to gain admission, knocked solemnly with it three times on the door, and then departed.

Though sometimes interrupted by disturbances such as these, and always straitened by inadequate resources, the Town Council kept the external improvement of the Burgh steadily in view, To enable them to meet liabilities and carry on public works, they, in 1770, opened a cash account, to the extent of 1,000, in the Dumfries branch of Douglas, Heron, and Company's Bank. Having such a command of funds, they effected many salutary changes. One of the principal undertakings entered upon at this time was the erection of a new butcher market and slaughter-house, on a site between the back street called East Barnraws and the Loreburn; this being associated with another scheme scarcely less important, the opening up of a market square by the removal of the existing flesh market and slaughtering place, together with part of the ruins of the New Wark ranging beside them along the east side of High Street. All that remained of that ancient structure was purchased from Mr. Patrick Heron of Heron, at an expense of 90, and nothing more was left standing of it except the north wall; the inhabitants being, it is said, thankful to see such a memorial of the late unhallowed scenes put out of the way.

All these operations, together with the opening of a street named the Wide Entry, or King Street, leading from the new square to the new flesh market, were completed in 1770, at an expense of more than 700, about 9114 of which was raised by public subscription. For the market an annual rent of from 40 to 50 was obtained, in the form of rates on the sheep and cattle slaughtered and exposed in it for sale. In the year preceding, the grain mills were rebuilt, after a design by the celebrated engineer, Mr. Smeaton, at a cost of 633. Among the minor works effected at this busy period was the enlargement of the Council-house. It was rickety with age, as well as restricted in its accommodation ; and the authorities were spurred on to its reconstruction from a rather singular circumstance. In 1769, the portrait of their patron, the Duke of Queensberry - for which he had sat, at their request, to an artist in London-arrived in due course; but, like the Vicar of Wakefield's grand family picture, it was so large that the low-ceilinged house could not take it in; so that the councillors were laid under a renewed obligation to amplify their hall, which they did accordingly. As a more striking illustration than any yet given, perhaps, of their enterprise at this time, it may be mentioned, that, anticipating the great sanitary enterprise of our own day, they patronized a scheme for supplying the town with water, to be distributed from a tank in pipes, by means of the new machinery at the mills-a most laudable project, which proved abortive owing to no fault of theirs.

A hospital or infirmary for the sick poor was still awanting; and to secure that desideratum a committee was formed, presided over by Charles, Duke of Queensberry, and with Sir William Maxwell, Bart., of Springkell, vice-president. The Town Council cordially granted an acre of the High Dock as a site for the proposed building, for an annual fen duty of 5, which the Council allows as a yearly subscription, so that no ground-rent burdens the establishment. With due masonic pomp, the foundation stone was laid on the 11th of July, 1777, by the worthy vice-president, who had from the beginning zeal ously promoted the philanthropic undertaking. The Infirmary, a neat, plain structure of three stories, was completed at an expense of 1823; and a score of patients, or more, who had been attended to in a temporary hospital, were at the close of 1778 transferred to the new house-the first of a long line of inmates that have been ministered to within its walls. No fewer than 330 patients were treated during 1789-90; and the demand for admission was such that a wing had to be added to the building, the expense of which was 458. That year the. subscriptions amounted to 229, the total receipts to 387 - figures which furnished proof that the institution was much needed, and heartily appreciated. As time rolled on, bringing an increase of population to the district, with a proportional increase of sick and poor, many more patients pleaded yearly for admission into this mansion-hospitable in the truest sense; and additional wards were obtained by the construction of a second wing in 1809, at a cost of 600. [From a period soon after the opening till 1839, a ward was set apart for insane patients-an arrangement only excusable because there was no lunatic asylum in the County. By the completion of the Crichton Institution, in that year, due provision was made for the proper treatment of sufferers from mental disease; and the Infirmary was freed from a class of patients to whom it could offer little better than seclusion and restraint, according to the old mad-house system-now, happily, exploded.] On the 13th of May, 1807, a charter from the Crown incorporated the contributors into a body politic, under the name of the Governors of the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary-the governors consisting of benefactors to the extent of twenty guineas or more, paid within two years, who thereby become governors for life; subscribers of not less than one guinea annually, and the two physicians, the two surgeons, and the treasurer for the time being. For the first fifteen years the medical officers were paid nothing for their services, except a small allowance of five shillings a day granted by the Government for military patients, when troops used to be billeted in the Burgh. That allowance having ceased in 1821, a salary was given to the staff; the amount of which at present is 20 to each of the physicians, and 25 to each of the surgeons. A house surgeon, who is termed clerk and apothecary, receives 40 a year, besides board and lodging.

The number of patients, from the opening of the house till 1826, cannot be ascertained, but 9,320 were under treatment; and if the proportion of admissions, which each year was about a twelfth, be deducted, the result - 8,544 - indicates the number of inmates during that period. From 1826 till 1859, the admissions were 14,070: total of both periods, 22,614 - a yearly average in the first period of 170, in the second of 426. These figures are exclusive of 1,026 soldiers admitted prior to 1826, and a few militiamen since. From 1836 till 1866, the average admissions yearly ranged from 371 to 614, and the patients under treatment from 405 to 650; the highest of these numbers applying to 1847, the saddest year in the annals of the institution. There are, in addition, many out-patients, who visit the Infirmary for medical or surgical treatment. Prior to 1846, they sometimes numbered fully 2,000 yearly; but of late the average has not been more than 1,350. From an elaborate calculation, we learn that medical cases in the house last twenty-three days on an average, with a mortality of 10 per cent.; and that the average period of the surgical cases is thirty days, with a mortality of 11 per cent.: the rate in both together averaging about 7 per cent. For the year ending 11th November, 1865, the death-rate was only 62. [For the sake of comparison, we give the mortality in the other principal infirmaries of Scotland in 1865:-Greenock, 15.578; Glasgow, 11.669; Edinburgh, 11.35; Dundee, 8.97; Perth, 8.33; Paisley, 8.152; Aberdeen, 7.994. - Eighty-ninth Report of the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, p. 7.]

The Infirmary is supported by donations, legacies, and church collections, in addition to annual subscriptions. During the first ten years, the subscriptions averaged 177; and in the ten years ending 1826 they rose to an average of 324. Usually the expenditure has been in excess of the annual income. In the decade ending 1836, the yearly outlay was 889, and the income 927; in the next decade, the average outlay was 1,037, and the income 811; and in the next, the average outlay was 1,153, and the income 869. The balance is made good by draughts upon the fund formed from donations and legacies, which have been truly munificent; and but for which the doors of the institution must have been long since closed, or its usefulness been very seriously impaired. [For many of these facts and statistics we are indebted to a well-written manuscript history of the Infirmary, by Philip Forsyth, Esq., of Nithside, a gentleman who takes a great interest in the establishment, and officiated for many years as chairman of its weekly committee.]

The Infirmary contains one hundred beds, which are never all occupied at a time ; and as the existing accommodation is more ample than the demand for it, no applicant for admission is rejected, provided he is recommended by one of the governors, and his complaint is not incurable. Most of the patients, as might be supposed, belong to the district; but Ireland and the north of England furnish a large proportion; and occasionally some poor foreigner, fallen down far away from his birth-place, finds a second home in the house, and, set up there anew by kindly treatment, resumes his journey grateful and rejoicing. The liberality of the directors in this respect is beyond all praise. As a whole, the Infirmary is excellently managed: it is a blessing to the poor, and a credit to the district.

Whilst prosecuting improvements, and raising or helping to raise new public buildings, the Council, prudently mindful of the old ones, caused them to be insured to the extent of X4,600, in the Sun Fire Office, London. [The policies, as still preserved, show what these edifices were, and furnish an idea of their pecuniary worth. Schedule 1 consisted of the Council Chamber, town clerk's office adjoining, and two upper rooms, occupied as a public school, in which Dr. Dinwiddie taught arithmetic and mathematics: the buildings, all under one roof, were insured for 300. 2. The grammar and writing schools, with the lodging above, occupied, among others, by Dr. George Chapman, the grammar school master-insurance, 500. 3. The Presbytery house, insured for 100. 4. The new salt market, and room above the same, also insured for 100. 5. The English school, and sheriff clerk's office under it, insured for 9200. 6. The new flesh market and slaughter-house-insurance, 700. 7. The guard-room, weigh-house, court-house above these, and rooms in the upper story, all in the Mid-Steeple buildings-insurance, 400. 8. The town's proportion-one-half-of the minister's manse, 200. 9. The Millhole mill, now used as a snuff-mill, insured for 100. 10. The town's mills, on the Galloway side, as rebuilt in 1769, insured for 2,000-the building, 700 and the machinery, 1,300.] This prudential step was well and speedily rewarded, as the grain mills were accidentally burned to the ground on the night of the 31st of October, 1780; and the managers of the insurance office, after a process of arbitration, paid the town 1,530, which, with the value of the blackened materials, and such machinery as was rescued from the flames, went far to make up the loss that had been sustained. Masons and millwrights soon made the spectral ruins give way to a more commodious erection; and, before a twelvemonth passed by, the plash of the wheels churning water into foam, and grinding husky grain into stuff for life-sustaining bread, rose as pleasantly on the ear as if no sad catastrophe had occurred.

But for the existence of Douglas, Heron, and Company's Bank, some of the town improvements noticed in this chapter could not have been carried out, and would scarcely have been undertaken. The bank itself had a brief, brilliant, meteor-like duration, going down in little more than. two years, carrying with it to ruin not a few families connected with the town and district. It was not without reason that Burns characterized it as "a villainous bubble." Originated in November, 1769, by the Honourable Archibald Douglas and Mr. Patrick Heron (the gentleman already named as owner of the New Wark), it soon acquired popularity and patronage, on account of its imposing list of shareholders, and its accommodating mode of doing business. Long and liberal credits were given; the directors being seemingly more anxious about the number than the commercial status of their customers. And the former had, among themselves, several needy adventurers, who had neither money nor respectability to lose; some who had both, but were destitute of knowledge and prudence: so that, between the knaves and fools of the directory, the original capital of 150,000 could not but melt away with fearful speed, and all the exhaustive calls that came to be made upon the proprietors failed to keep the concern afloat. At Ayr, its headquarters, a speculative mania sprang up, resulting in the production of several mercantile companies-airy nothings in a double sense, formed by partners of the bank out of its cash account, who thus traded with themselves; under the names of Whiteside and Co., Maclure and MacCree, and such like. To complicate matters, these shadowy firms transacted business with each other. The Bank of England, with its millions of bullion, could not have borne up long against such gross recklessness.

When, early in 1772, a storm from without gathered round Douglas, Heron, and Company's establishment, it had no resistive force, having been already exhausted from within. Their own notes came showering in upon them, representative of crushing debts which they could not meet nor stave off. The local crisis was intensified by the occurrence of a general monetary panic. Anything-everything, to save the doomed ship. The desperate device of selling redeemable annuities was tried among other measures, only to sink it deeper in a sea of ruin; and in June it went down. The assets of the bank, including debts and bills of exchange, amounted to 1,237,043 7s. 1d., the liabilities considerably exceeding that sum; for though there were debts due to the extent of 700,000, the larger half of this sum had been contracted, in the way already explained, by the directors themselves. A committee appointed to wind up the company's affairs, found it necessary to make a fresh call of 1,400 per share upon such partners as still remained solvent; and, from the report given in, it appeared that, after allowing for all assets, the balance against the bank was 366,000, involving a loss of 2,600 on each share, exclusive of interest.

How seriously Dumfries suffered from the collapse of this gigantic bubble company may be inferred from the many names of the burgesses belonging to the town, and of proprietors intimately connected with it, that appear in the share list. On consulting it we find that Ebenezer Hepburn, the Provost, is down for 500; that Edward Maxwell, merchant, is a subscriber to double that amount; that Gilbert Paterson, James M'Whirter, David Forbes, William Hunter, John Wilson, John Graham, junior, all merchants; Thomas Stothart, writer; and Ebenezer Wilson, bookseller, are in the list for 500 each. There are four subscribers to the extent of 2,000, including the Burgh's patron, Charles, Duke of Queensberry, and Archibald Douglas of Douglas. Henry, Duke of Buccleuch, is in the list for 1,000. The ancient family of Craigdarroch sustained a severe shock, by being involved to the amount of 1,500; and Andrew Crosbie of Holm, [Andrew Crosbie, advocate (son of Provost Crosbie, Dumfries), was a successful lawyer, and justly looked upon as one of the most eloquent pleaders of his time, at the Scottish bar. As many of the incidents in "Guy Mannering" occurred in Dumfriesshire, it was all the more natural in Scott to take the ablest lawyer of the County as the prototype of the learned, witty, and benevolent advocate who had the Ellangowan family and Dandie Dinmont for his clients. In these respects the character of Mr. Crosbie corresponded pretty closely with that of Paulus Pleydell, Esq., in the romance. ] who subscribed 1,000, lost by the disaster all the fortune he had gained by his eloquent pleadings as an advocate. Among the remaining Dumfriesshire partners were Patrick Heron of Heron, one of the projectors, E1,000; William Douglas of Kelhead, 1,000; Robert Maxwell of Cargen, 1,000; John Dickson of Conheath, 500; Captain William Maxwell of Dalswinton, 500; Gilbert Gordon of Halleaths, 500; Dr. William Graham of Mossknow, 500; John Carruthers of Holmains, 500; William Hay of Crawfordston, 500; and Sir Robert Laurie of Maxwelton, 500. Dumfriesshire furnished nearly one third of the original shareholders, and one fourth of the capital; and when the ruinous calls that were made upon them, enforced by diligence and hornings, are taken into account, it is not surprising that sad memories of the Ayr Bank still linger in the district.

The first eighty years of the eighteenth century were thus, as we have seen, fruitful of great events in Dumfries; and during that time the aspect of the place experienced a greater change than in any period of corresponding length before or since. Here, in old St. Michael's burying ground, among the dust of these generations, sleep the relics of some whose lease of fourscore years began with the century. Before they laid them down to die, what curious tales would they tell their grandchildren of what had passed before their eyes in youth and age: the burning of the articles of Union at the Market Cross; the desperate conflicts between the "runners" of tobacco and the enforcers of the revenue; the troubles of the '15, when the town was turned into a military camp; the unwelcome visit of Prince Charlie, with his reiving Highlanders, in the '45; the brewers' anti-exciseman riot; the other internecine feuds of the Burgh, crowned by the never-to-be-forgotten conflict between the Pyets and the Crows; and the fell bank catastrophe, which ruined many families, and broke some sufferers' hearts. When these patriarchs were boys, the town consisted of the High Street, the East Barnraws and the West Barnraws running parallel with it for a short way on each side; Kirkgate, by which the leading thoroughfare was continued southward to the gates of St. Michael's; the Friars' Vennel, running at a right angle from it to the Nith ; and Lochmaben-gate and Townhead Street diverging from it in other directions. Then the river wandered pretty freely according to its own sweet will, there being no banks eastward to restrain its revels; the Dock meadow, habitually visited by Lammas floods and Solway tides, lay a comparative waste, partially fringed with willows, but wearing no woodland crown. There was no harbour worthy of the name; no place of refuge for the aged or orphan poor; no asylum for the sick; only one church; and not a solitary steeple. They had seen a narrow lane widened to secure a second convenient approach to the river; St. Michael Street prolonged far past the Church; the commencement of Queensberry Street, an intermediate one between High Street and the East Barnraws; the expansion of the suburbs; the formation of extensive roads ; the construction of a new market-place, Queensberry Square; the arborial decoration of the Dock; the embankment of the wayward Nith; the erection of a caul over it below the bridge, of the grain mills on its right bank, and of Glencaple Quay on its left bank, nine miles further down. They had witnessed, moreover, the building of the Mid-Steeple, always associated in their recollection with a terrific anti-Union riot; the building of the New or Castle Church; the rebuilding and spiring of St. Michael's place of worship, at a time redolent of tartan kilts and Gaelic gibberish-the figure of a" pretty" youth mingling in the maze-with sinister faces that long afterwards terrified them when asleep; the erection of a home in which decayed burgesses and destitute children received the merited hospitality of the town; the opening of a house in which pale disease put on the hue of health, and " death, which comes to all," was rendered less dismal to the poor and destitute; and the completion of several other great undertakings, designed for purposes of utility or ornament. And if any of these octogenarians had survived another decade, they would have seen many additional improvements projected and carried into effect.

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