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 STORY OF SMUGGLERS 393
a tax of twopence on tea. Then tea would cost two
pence 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
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
394 SCOTLAND’S STORY
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 pro
tected 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.
A STORY OF SMUGGLERS 395
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
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
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
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 Ukely be pardoned,
they were furious. Sullen, angry faces were seen every
A STORY OF SMUGGLERS 397
where, 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 marketplace, no sign of
398 SCOTLAND’S STORY
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
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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