4th of May

St Monica, widow, 387. St Godard, bishop, 1038.


Born. – John James Audubon, ornithologist, 1782, Louisiana.. 
Died. – Ulysses Aldovrandi, naturalist, 1605; Louis XIII., King of France, 1643; Tippoo Sahib, Sultan of Mysore, killed at the siege of Seringapatam, 1799; Sir Robert Ker Porter, traveller, artist, 1842, St Petersburg.



On the 4th of May 1799, Seringapatam was taken, and the empire of Hyder Ali extinguished by the death of his son, the Sultan Tippoo Sahib.* The storming of this great fortress by the British troops took place in broad day, and was on that account unexpected by the enemy. The commander, General Sir David Baird, led one of the storming parties in person, with characteristic gallantry, and was the first man after the forlorn hope to reach the top of the breach. So far, well; but when there, he discovered to his surprise a second ditch within, full of water. For a moment he thought it would be impossible to get over this difficulty. He had fortunately, however, observed some workmen’s scaffolding in coming along, and taking this up hastily, was able by its means to cross the ditch; after which all that remained was simply a little hard fighting. Tippoo came forward with apparent gallantry to resist the assailants, and was afterwards taken from under a heap of slain. It is supposed he made this attempt in desperation, having just ordered the murder of twelve British soldiers, which he might well suppose would give him little chance of quarter, if his enemy were aware of the fact.

It was remarkable that, fifteen years before, Baird had undergone a long and cruel captivity in this very fort, under Tippoo’s father, Hyder Ali. The hardships he underwent on that occasion were extreme; yet, amidst all his sufferings, he never for a moment lost heart, or ceased to hope for a release. He was truly a noble soldier. As with Wellington, his governing principle was a sense of duty. In every matter, he seemed to be solely anxious to discover what was right to be done, that he might do it. He was a Scotchman, a younger son of Mr Baird, of Newbyth, in East Lothian (born in 1757, died in 1829). His person was tall and handsome, and his look commanding. In all the relations of his life he was a most worthy man, his kindness of heart winning him the love of all who came in contact with him.

An anecdote of Sir David Baird’s boyhood forms the key to his character. When a student at Mr Locie’s Military Academy at Chelsea, where all the routine of garrison duty was kept up, he was one night acting as sentinel. A companion, older than himself, came and desired leave to pass out, that he might fulfil an engagement in London. Baird steadily refused – ‘No,’ said he, ‘that I cannot do; but, if you please, you may knock me down, and walk out over my body.’1

The taking of Seringapatam gave occasion for a remarkable exercise of juvenile talent in a youth of nineteen, who was studying art in the Royal Academy, and whose name appears in the obituary list at the head of this day. He was then simply Robert Ker Porter, but afterwards, as Sir Robert, became respectfully known for his Travels in Persia; while his two sisters Jane and Anna Maria, attained a reputation as prolific writers of prose fiction. There had been such a thing before as a panorama, or picture giving details of a scene too extensive to be comprehended from one point of view; but it was not a work entitled to much admiration. With marvellous enthusiasm this boy artist began to cover a canvas of two hundred feet long with the scenes attending the capture of the great Indian fort; and, strange to say, he had finished it in six weeks. Sir Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy, got an early view of the picture, and pronounced it a miracle of precocious talent. When it was arranged for exhibition, vast multitudes both of the learned and the unlearned flocked to see it. ‘I can never forget,’ says Dr Dibdin, ‘its first impression upon my own mind. It was as a thing dropped from the clouds, – all fire, energy, intelligence, and animation. You looked a second time, the figures moved, and were commingled in hot and bloody fight. You saw the flash of the cannon, the glitter of the bayonet, and the gleam of the falchion. You longed to be leaping from crag to crag with Sir David Baird, who is hallooing his men on to victory! Then again you seemed to be listening to the groans of the wounded and the dying – and more than one female was carried out swooning. The oriental dress, the jewelled turban, the curved and ponderous scimitar – these were among the prime favourites of Sir Robert’s pencil, and he treated them with literal truth. The colouring was sound throughout; the accessories strikingly characteristic… The public poured in thousands for even a transient gaze.’2



1  Theodore Hook’s Life of Sir David Baird.
2  Reminiscences of a Literary Life, i. 145.
*  Tippoo Sahib [Tipu Sahib] is mentioned in ‘Old and New EdinburghChapter 32.


On this Day in Other Sources.


Eustace de Vesci confirms to the Abbey all the lands in his fee of Wittum, which it held on the year after Alexander Prince of Scotland rendered homage to King John of England, on the morrow of the invention of the Holy Cross (4th May). This homage was not known to our historians. It may be conjectured to have taken place on the occasion of the Prince receiving knighthood at the hands of John in 1212; but if this be the case, the date generally assigned to that event must be erroneous.1

– Sketches, pp.91-121. 

1  The chronicle of Melrose gives 8 idus Martii as the date of Alexander’s knighthood, but destroys its authority by adding ad letare Jerusalem, which Sunday happened on the 4th, not the 8th March of that year.


The queen was at St Andrews, inquiring into a conspiracy of which the Duke of Chatelherault and the Earl of Bothwell had been accused by the Duke’s son, the Earl of Arran. In the midst of the affair, Arran proved to be ‘phrenetick.’ On the 4th of May [1562], ‘my Lords Arran, Bothwell, and the commendator of Kilwinning came fra St Andrews to the burgh of Edinburgh in this manner – that is to say, my Lord Arran was convoyit in the queen’s grace’s coach, because of the phrenesy aforesaid, and the Earl of Bothwell and my Lord Commendator of Kilwinning rade, convoyit with twenty-four horsemen, whereof was principal Captain Stewart, captain of the queen’s guard.’ – D. O. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.13-29.


In the beginning of the spring this year, 1584, some of these that had fled unto Ireland, returned upon a pact [between] them and [William Ruthven] the Earl of Gowrie, who had a new again [conspiracy] to take the King; but the King hearing thereof, sent Colonel [William] Stewart to apprehend the Earl of Gowrie, who lay at the [haven] of Dundee, as if he had been going out of the land; who, after he had defended himself an hour or two in his house, he was taken and led to prison; and on the 4th day of May, this same year, was arraigned at [Stirling] before his peers on these points: 

  1. That he intended and began a new conspiracy against the King, whom he also had kept prisoner in his house before time.
  2. That he conferred by night with the servants of Angus, to seize upon the towns of Perth and [Stirling].
  3. That he resisted the King’s authority at Dundee, and had conceived a conspiracy against the life of the King and his mother.
  4. That [about] the event of his conspiracy and enterprises, he had consulted with one [Maclena],* a witch.

He being found guilty by his peers, was sentenced to lose his head, which sentence was put in execution in the [evening], a little beneath the castle wall of [Stirling]. His servants did sew his head to the body, and [immediately] buried the same. 

– Historical Works, pp.340-416.

*  Could this be Euphemia Maclean who was burned on Edinburgh’s Castle Hill in 1591 for witchcraft?


Cromwell defaced the royal arms at the Castle gate and elsewhere; yet his second in command, Monk, was fêted at a banquet by the magistrates, when, on the 4th May, 1652, he was proclaimed Protector of the Commonwealth. 

Old and New Edinburgh, pp.47-66.


May 4 [1653]. – General Monk coming down to Edinburgh to take commend of the forces against Glencairn and Kenmure, and to proclaim Oliver’s union of Scotland and England, had a most honourable reception. ‘The provost and bailies in their scarlet gowns met him at the Nether Bow Port, the haill council in order going before them.’ After the proclamation, they ‘did convoy him to a sumptuous dinner and feast, prepared by the town of Edinburgh for him and his special crowners [colonels]. This feast was six days in preparing, whereat the bailies of Edinburgh did stand and serve the haill time of that dinner.’ ‘There was great preparation for firewarks, whilk was actit at the Mercat Cross betwixt nine and twelve hours in the nicht, to the admiration of many people.’ – Nic

– Domestic Annals, pp.278-301.


The people complained loudly of being deprived of their accustomed arms in times so unsettled, and so great did the outcry become that two years later the magistrates made an attempt to get the arms back. Their minute bears that “taking to their consideratioune the great danger sundrie of our nighbours may fall in regard of the last proclamatioune emittit anent the inbringing of armes, and that many of our nighbors and com-burgesses may not now frielie trauell abrodd as they wont to doe without carieing of some armes, it is therfor concludit that the Provest sall ryd to Edinbrughe and petitioune the Lords of his Majesties Privie Counsall for granting liberty to our honest nighbors for carieing armes when they goe abroad.”1 It does not appear what success the provost had in his mission. Probably none, for it was well known that the city was at that time far from being well affected to the Stewart dynasty, and the covenanting leanings of so many of the citizens gave great offence. 

– Old Glasgow, pp.162-175. 

1  4th May, 1667.


Some of the notices of marriages in this Glasgow Journal are amusing. For example:… “May 4th 1747 On monday last Dr. Robert Hamilton Professor of Anatomy and Botany in the University of Glasgow was married to Miss Mally Baird a beautiful young lady with a handsome fortune.” 

– Old Glasgow, pp.299-307.


Taken seriatim, the records of the Tolbooth contain volumes of entries made in the following brief fashion:- 


“1756, May 4. – Sir William Dalrymple of Cousland; for shooting at Capt. Hen. Dalrymple of Fordell, with a pistol at the Cross of Edinburgh. Liberated on 14th May, on bail for 6,000 merks, to answer any complaint.” 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.123-138.


Dr. J. O. Mitchell next read a paper on the “Story of Katherine Carmichael,” which has since been published (4th May [1895]) in the Glasgow Herald. A brief abstract follows:-


   Cowthally Castle, by Carnwath, the seat of the Somervilles, was noted for hospitality: the wits of the day declared that its name should be “Cow-daily.” James V. was a frequent visitor. Especially he was there in July, 1532, on the marriage of the Laird of Cockpool to Margaret Somerville, eldest daughter of Hugh, Lord Somerville, then lord of Cowthally. Among the guests his quick eye caught a young girl whose face was new to him: he marked her beauty and grace – she was but sixteen, and country-bred. She was Katherine Carmichael, daughter of John Carmichael, laird of Medowflat, a small property in Covington, and hereditary captain of his own Royal Castle of Crawford. At once he “did affect her extremely, and begin his intrigues of love.” The Lady Somerville detected his evil purpose, and as long as the girl was under her roof safeguarded her. But the young libertine was not to be so baulked. A few weeks afterwards, “upon Saturnesday at night,” he appeared unexpectedly at Cowthally, and urged Lady Somerville to have Katherine there to meet him. On her refusal, he denounced her as ” most courteous or rather the most scrupulous persone under heaven,” and forthwith sent off a horseman to tell the Captain of Crawford he would be with him the next night.: His Majesty would go a-hunting in his own Baronie and lodge in his own castle. And so on the Sunday morning, after duly hearing mass at the “Colledge Church of Carnwath,” he rode up Clydeside, and as night fell he pulled up at Crawford Castle. What game he had come to hunt they all knew: even Katherine could not misread his purpose; but James was a young and gallant cavalier, he was the King and had her father’s fortunes in his hand to make or mar, and she could not escape his eager siege. Few in her day, maid or matron, would have needed a second summons. It says much for Katherine’s virtue that it was near a year before she surrendered, and became the King’s maitresse en titre, with the Bog House of Crawford-John as her abode; the King built it for her with the stones of the Castle of Crawford-John. In her dreary oubliette two children were born, Joneta Joanna or Jean Stuart, and John Stuart.

– Scots Lore, pp.286-292.

One thought on “4th of May

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s