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Reign of George the First, 1714-1727, pp.390-397.

THE Tory ministry of Anne, which had certainly meditated some attempt at the restoration of the Stuart line, were paralysed by her death, and allowed the accession of George of Hanover to take place without opposition. The new king had no sooner settled himself in London, than he displaced the late queen’s advisers and surrounded himself with the Whigs, whom he knew to be his only true friends. The sharpness of this proceeding, added to the general discontent, produced an almost immediate insurrection. The Earl of Mar, after in vain attempting to obtain the favour of King George, repaired to his native country, and, on the 6th of September 1715, set up the standard of rebellion in Aberdeenshire. The miserable failure of this effort for the House of Stuart, and its dismal consequences, neither allayed the wishes nor extinguished the hopes of the Jacobite party. King George I., dying in June 1727, was quietly succeeded by his son George II.



Apr. 22. – A celebrated total eclipse of the sun, which happened about nine o’clock in the morning of this day, made a great impression in Scotland, as in other parts of Europe, over which the entire shadow passed. The darkness lasted upwards of three minutes, during which the usual phenomena were observed among the lower animals.

Sep. – On the breaking out of the Rebellion this month, there was a run upon the Bank of Scotland, rather encouraged by the directors than otherwise, from a desire to escape the responsibility and danger of keeping money during such a critical time. When the whole coin was drawn out, the Bank rendered up about thirty thousand pounds of public money which lay in its hands, that it might be lodged in the castle, and then very calmly stopped payment, or rather discontinued business, intimating that their notes should bear interest till better times should return. In May 1716, the troubles being over, the Bank began to take in their notes and resume business as usual.


Nov. – We are informed that, after the close of the Rebellion, owing to the number of people cast loose thereby from all the ordinary social bonds, ‘thefts, robberies, rapines, and depredations became so common [in the Highlands and their borders], that they began to be looked upon as neither shameful not dishonourable, and people of a station somewhat above the vulgar did sometimes countenance, encourage, nay, head gangs of banditti in those detestable villainies.’


Jan. – Wonder-seekers were at this time regaled with a brochure stating how Mr John Gardner, minister near Elgin, fell into a trance, and lay as dead for two days, in the sight of many; and how, being put into a coffin, and carried to his parish church in order to be buried, he was heard at the last moment to make a noise in the coffin; which, being opened, he was found alive, ‘to the astonishment of all present.’ Being then carried home and put into a warm bed, he in a little time coming to himself, ‘related many strange things which he had seen in the other world.’ In the same publication was a sermon which the worthy man had preached after his recovery.

June 10. – Occurred this day at Edinburgh a thunder-storm, attended with such remarkable effects, that an account of it was published on a broadside. It was little, perhaps, that it frightened the people off the streets, caused the garrison at the castle to look well to the powder-magazine, and killed a man and a woman at Lasswade. What attracted particular attention was the fate of a tavern company at Canonmills, where two barbers from the Lawnmarket had come to celebrate the Pretender’s birthday over a bottle of ale. They had just drunk to the health of their assumed monarch – one of the company had remarked with a curse how the bells were not rung or the castle guns fired on ‘the king’s birthday – when a great thunder-clap broke over the house. ‘The people on earth,’ cried one of the party, ‘will not adore their king; but you hear the Almighty is complimenting him with a volley from heaven.’ At that moment came a second stroke, which instantaneously killed one of the barbers and a woman, and scorched a gentleman so severely that he died in a few hours. ‘The rest of the company, being amazed, sent to Edinburgh for doctors to take blood of the gentleman; but the doctors told them they could do no good. They tried to let blood of him, but found none. their bodies were as soft as wool.’


Jan. 5. – ‘All persons [in Edinburgh] desirous to learn the French tongue’ were apprised, by an advertisement in the Edinburgh Courant, that ‘there is a Frenchman lately come to this city who will teach at a reasonable price.’ This would imply that there was no native French teacher in Edinburgh previously.

Oct. 17. – The genius of Scott, in The Heart of Midlothian, has lent an extraordinary interest to a murder perpetrated at this date. Nicol Mushet appears to have been a young man of some fortune, being described as ‘of Boghall,’ and he had studied for the profession of a surgeon; but for some time he had led an irregular and dissipated life in Edinburgh, where he had for one of his chief friends a noted profligate named Campbell of Burnbank, ordnance store-keeper in the castle. The unhappy young man was drawn into a marriage with a woman named Hall, for whom he soon discovered that he had neither affection nor respect; and he then became so eager to be free from the connection as to listen to a project by Burnbank for obtaining a divorce by dishonourable means. An obligation passed between the parties in November 1719, whereby a claim of Burnbank for an old debt of nine hundred merks (about £50) was to be discharged by Mushet as soon as Burnbank should be able to furnish evidence calculated to criminate the woman. Burnbank then deliberately hired a wretch like himself, one Macgregor, a teacher of languages, to enter into a plot for placing Mrs Mushet in criminative circumstances; and some progress was made in this plan, which, however, ultimately misgave. It was then suggested by Burnbank that they should go a step further, and remove the woman by poison. One James Mushet and his wife – a couple in poor circumstances – readily undertook to administer it. Several doses were actually given, but the stomach of the victim always rejected them. James Mushet undertook to knock his sister-in-law on the head for twenty guineas, and got one or two in hand by anticipation, part of which he employed in burying a child of his own.

At length, the infatuated Nicol himself borrowed a knife one day, hardly knowing what he wanted it for, and, taking his wife with him that night, as on a walk to Duddingston, he embraced the opportunity of killing her at a solitary place in the King’s Park. He went immediately after to his brother’s, to tell him what he had done, but in a state of mind which made all afterwards seem a blank to him. Next morning the poor victim was found lying on the ground, with her throat cut to the bone, and many other wounds, which she had probably received in struggling with her brutal murderer.

Mushet was seized and examined, when he readily related the whole circumstances of the murder and those which had led to it. He was adjudged to be hanged in the Grassmarket on the ensuing 6th of January. His associate Burnbank was declared infamous, and sentenced to banishment. the common people, thrilled with horror by the details of the murder, marked their feelings in the old national mode by raising a cairn on the spot where it took place; and Mushet’s Cairn has ever since been a recognised locality.


The summer of this year was remarked to be unusually dry and sultry, with little wind. the air seemed stagnant, and the water unwholesome. Vast abundance of flies resulted, and a bloody flux became prevalent. ‘In one quarter of the parish [of Eastwood, in Renfrewshire],’ says Wodrow, ‘I saw nineteen sick persons in one day [August 23], and all of them save one of the flux.’ ‘I have never seen so much sickness in East wood for twenty years.’ – Analecta.

Nov. 11. – A number of people proceeding from Galashiels and its neighbourhood to attend a fair at Melrose, and crossing the Tweed in a ferry-boat at Nether Barnsford, near what afterwards became Abbotsford, were thrown by the oversetting of the boat into the water, then in flood, and eighteen of them drowned. A boy named Williamson, son of a tradesman in Galashiels, was preserved in a wonderful way. Thrown at first to the bottom of the river, he caught a man by the hair of his head, and was thus enabled to rise to the surface. There he was kept afloat by grasping, first, a bundle of lint, and then a sackful of gray cloth, letting go each in succession as it became saturated with water. Then a deal from the ‘lofting’ of the boat came near him, and he grasped it firmly below his breast. Meanwhile he was moving rapidly down the stream. there was a place where formerly a bridge had been, and where three piers yet stood in the water. It was with difficulty he got through one of the spaces, and over a cascade on the lower side of the bridge. Sometimes, thrown on his back, he was under water for thirty or forty yards, but he never let go the deal. At length, after going considerably more than a mile in this manner, he was taken up by the West-house boat, the manager of which had been warned of his coming, and of his possible preservation, by a ploughman mounted on a horse, which, escaping from the overset boat, had swum ashore in time to admit of this rapid and dexterous movement. – Caledonian Mercury.


July 15. – The magistrates of Edinburgh issued an edict proceeding upon a recital that disturbances have arisen and may further arise, from gentlemen carrying firearms, and their servants wearing dirks and broadswords, in the streets, a practice ‘contrary to the rules of decency and good order;’ wherefore it was now strictly forbidden. It is to be remarked that in this prohibition there is no notice taken of the swords worn by gentlemen.*

Sep. 2. – A poor woman named Margaret Dickson, an inhabitant of the parish of Inveresk, was tried under the act of 1690 for concealment of pregnancy in the case of a dead child. A defence was made for her that she was a married woman, though living separate from her husband; but it was of no avail. A broadside – which proceeds upon a strong approval of the text, that ‘the works of God are works of wonder, and his ways past finding out’ – gives a minute recital of the circumstances of her execution in the Grassmarket; how the hangman did his usual office of pulling down her legs; and how the body, having hung the usual time, was taken down and put into a coffin, the cooms of which were nailed fast at the gibbet-foot. it then proceeds. ‘Being put into a cart, to transport her corpse to be interred in the churchyard of Inveresk, whither the magistrates had allowed her friends to carry her, there happened a scuffle betwixt her friends and some surgeon-apprentices and others, their accomplices, on this side of the Society Port. One, with a hammer, broke down one of the sides of the cooms of the chest; which having given some air, and, together with the jolting of the cart, set the blood and vitals agoing. the people intrusted with transporting her body having stopped at Peffermill to take a refreshment, and left her upon a cart in the highway, two joiners, from curiosity, came from a house to view the coffin, and, to their surprise, heard a noise within. Acquainting the persons concerned, they proposed to open the other side of the cooms of the chest, which, after some opposition, was agreed to. The coom being taken off, they perceived her to draw up her limbs. One Peter Purdie, a practitioner of phlebotomy, providentially breathed a vein, from which streamed blood, which recovered her so far, that twice she said: “O dear!” Being brought to her feet, she was supported by two to a brae-side, where the blood returned to her lips and cheeks, which promised a sudden recovery. Being laid upon blankets in a corn-cart, her head and body upheld by a woman, she was driven to Musselburgh, where she remained, at the magistrates’ command, all night; had restoratives and means of sustenance given her; was visited by Mr Robert Bonally, one of the ministers of that place, who prayed over her; and next morning was laid in a bed in her brother James Dickson, weaver, his house, whither a great many flock every day to see her, and not a few gave her money. She had little appearance of recovering her health or senses next day, and cried out to let her be gone, for she was to be executed on Wednesday, but it now pretty well – only complains of a pain in her neck. She went to church on Sunday last, and heard sermon, where the people were so anxious to see her, that the minister was obliged to conduct her out of the churchyard to keep her from being trodden down by the multitude. She still remains in a hopeful way of recovering strength and judgment. May this amazing dispensation of Providence be sanctioned to her, and teach all who shall hear it to act a needy dependence upon, and live to the glory of God, to whom belong the issues of life and death!’ – Miscellany Papers, Adv. Lib.

Another brief chronicler of the time informs us that Maggie devoted the Wednesday ensuing upon that on which she was executed to solemn fasting and prayer, in gratitude for her deliverance, and had formed the resolution so to employ each recurring Wednesday during the remainder of her life. It is also stated that her husband, struck with a forgiving interest in her, took her ultimately back to his house. She lived to have several children creditably born, and cried salt for many a day through the streets of Edinburgh, universally recognised and constantly pointed out to strangers as ‘Half-hangit Maggie Dickson.’

The idea of improving agricultural implements was hitherto unheard of in Scotland; but now a thrashing-machine was invented by Mr Michael Menzies, a member of the Scottish bar. On his request, the Society of Improvers sent a deputation to see it working at Roseburn, near Edinburgh; and these gentlemen reported upon it favourably.

A machine for the winnowing of corn was, as far as can be ascertained, for the first time made in this island by Andrew Rodger, a farmer on the estate of Cavers in Roxburghshire, in the year 1737. It was after retiring from his farm to indulge a bent for mechanics, that he entered on this remarkable invention, and began circulating what were called Fanners throughout the country, which his descendants continued to do for many years. This machine is well known to have been the subject of a religious prejudice among our more rigid sectaries, as indicated anachronously by Scott in the conversation between Mause Headrigg and her mistress – ‘a new-fangled machine for dighting the corn frae the chaff, thus impiously thwarting the will o’ Divine Providence, by raising wind for your leddyship’s ain particular use by human art, instead of soliciting it by prayer, or patiently waiting for whatever dispensation of wind Providence was pleased to send upon the sheeling-hill.’ The ‘Seceders’ are understood to have taken very strong ground in resistance to the introduction of fanners, deeming the wind as specially a thing made by God (‘he that createth the wind,’ Amos, iv. 13), and therefore regarding an artificial wind as a daring and impious attempt to usurp what belonged to him alone.


Aug. 8. – At an election for the county of Roxburgh at Jedburgh, a quarrel arose between Sir Gilbert Elliot of Stobbs, a candidate, and Colonel Stewart of Stewartfield, who opposed him. Colonel Stewart, who was ‘a huffing, hectoring person,’ is said to have given great provocation, and gentlemen afterwards admitted that Stobbs was called upon by the laws of honour to take notice of the offence. According to a petition to the Court of Session from the son of Stewart, Elliot stabbed him as he sat in his chair on the opposite side of a table, with his sword by his side.

The homicide took refuge in Holland, but was soon enabled by a pardon to return to his own country.


*  The Act of Parliament [George I., 11th Year, Chapter [26], 1724] to that effect has been scanned and uploaded for further information on the restrictions placed on Scots at this time. 
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