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8th of September

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. St Adrian, martyr. St Sidronius, martyr, 3d century. Saints Eusebius, Nestablus, Zeno, and Nestor, martyrs, 4th century. St Disen or Disibode, bishop and confessor, about 700. St Corbinian, bishop of Frisingen, confessor, 730. The Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Born. – Lodovico Ariosto, Italian poet, 1474, Reggio, in Lombardy; John Leyden, poet, 1775, Denholm, Roxburghshire.


Henrion, a learned French academician, published a work in 1718, with the object of shewing the very great decrease, in height, of the human race, between the periods of the creation and Christian era. Adam, he tells us, was one hundred and twenty-three feet nine inches, and Eve one hundred and eighteen feet nine inches and nine lines in height. The degeneration, however, was rapid. Noah reached only twenty-seven, while Abraham did not measure more than twenty, and Moses was but thirteen feet in height. Still, in comparison with those, Alexander was misnamed the Great, for he was no more than six feet; and Julius Cæsar reached only to five. According to this erudite French dreamer, the Christian dispensation stopped all further decrease; if it had not, mankind by this time would have been mere microscopic objects. So much for the giants of high antiquity: those of the medieval period may be passed over with almost as slight a notice. Funnam, a Scotsman, who lived in the time of Eugene II., is said to have been more than eleven feet high. The remains of that puissant lord, the Chevalier Rincon, were discovered at Rouen in 1509; the skull held a bushel of wheat, the shin-bone was four feet long, and the others in proportion. The skeleton of a hero, named Bucart, found at Valence in 1705, was twenty-two feet long, and we read of others reaching from thirty to thirty-six feet. But even these last, when in the flesh, were, to use a homely expression, not fit to hold a candle to the proprietor of a skeleton, said to be found in Sicily, which measured three hundred feet in length! Relaters of strange stories not unfrequently throw discredit on their own assertions. With this last skeleton was found his walking-stick, thirty feet in length, and thick as the main-mast of a first-rate. But a walking-stick only thirty feet in length for a man who measured three hundred, would be as ridiculously short, as one of seven inches for a person of ordinary stature. 

Sir Hans Sloane was one of the first who expressed an opinion, that these skeletons of giants were not human remains. This was, at the time, considered rank heresy, and the philosopher was asked if he would dare to contradict the sacred Scriptures. But Cuvier, since then, has fully proved that these so-termed bones of giants were in reality fossil remains of mammoths, megatheriums, mastodons, and similar extinct brutes; and that the ‘giant’s teeth’ found in many museums, had once graced the jaw-bones of spermaceti whales. 

Of the ancient giants, it is said that they were mighty men of valour, their strength being commensurate with their proportions. But the modern giants are generally a sickly, knock-kneed, splay-footed, shambling race, feeble in both mental and bodily organisation. Such was Patrick Cotter, who died at Clifton on the 8th September 1804. He was exhibited as being eight feet seven inches in height, but this was simply a showman’s exaggeration. A memorial-tablet in the Roman Catholic Chapel, Trenchard Street, Bristol, informs us that: 

‘Here lie the remains of Mr Patrick Cotter O’Brien, a native of Kinsale, in the kingdom of Ireland. He was a man of gigantic stature, exceeding eight feet three inches in height, and proportionably large.’ 

Cotter was born in 1761, of poor parents, whose stature was not above the common size. When eighteen years of age, a speculative showman bought him from his father, for three years, at £50 per annum. On arriving at Bristol with his proprietor, Cotter demurred to being exhibited, without some remuneration for himself, besides the mere food, clothing, and lodging stipulated in the contract with his father. The showman, taking advantage of the iniquitous law of the period, flung his recalcitrant giant into a debtor’s prison, thinking that the latter would soon be terrified into submission. But the circumstances coming to the ears of a benevolent man, he at once proved the contract to be illegal; and Cotter, being liberated, began to exhibit himself for his own profit, with such success that he earned £30 in three days. 

Showmen well know the value of fine names and specious assertions. So the plebian name of Cotter was soon changed to the regal appellation of O’Brien. the alleged descendants of Irish monarchs have figured in many capacities; the following copy of a hand-bill records the appearance of one in the guise of a giant: 

‘Just arrived in Town, and to be seen in a commodious room, at No. 11 Haymarket, nearly opposite the Opera House, the celebrated Irish Giant, Mr O’Brien, of the kingdom of Ireland, indisputably the tallest man ever shewn; he is a lineal descendant of the old puissant King Brien Boreau, and has in person and appearance all the similitude of that great and grand potentate. It is remarkable of this family, that, however various the revolutions in point of fortune and alliance, the lineal descendants thereof have been favoured by Providence with the original size and stature which have been so peculiar to their family. The gentleman alluded to measures near nine feet high. Admittance, one shilling.’ 

Cotter, alias O’Brien, conducted himself with prudence, and having realised a small competence by exhibiting himself, retired to Clifton, where he died at the very advanced age, for a giant, of forty-seven years. He seems to have had less imbecility of mind than the generality of overgrown persons, but all the weakness of body by which they are characterised. He walked with difficulty, and felt considerable pain when rising up or sitting down. Previous to his death, he expressed great anxiety lest his body should fall into the hands of the anatomists, and gave particular directions for securing his remains with brickwork and strong iron bars in the grave. A few years ago, when some alterations were being made in the chapel where he was buried, it was found that his grave had not been disturbed. 

Cotter probably adopted the name of O’Brien, from a giant of a somewhat similar appellation, who attracted a good deal of attention, and died about the time the former commenced to exhibit. This person’s death is thus recorded in the British Magazine for 1783. 

‘In cockspur Street, Charing Cross, aged only twenty-two, Mr Charles Byrne the famous Irish Giant, whose death is said to have been precipitated by excessive drinking, to which he was always addicted, but more particularly since his late loss of almost all his property, which he had simply invested in a single bank-note of £700. In his last moments, he requested that his remains might be thrown into the sea, in order that his bones might be removed far out of the reach of the chirurgical fraternity; in consequence of which the body was put on board a vessel, conveyed to the Downs, and sunk in twenty fathoms water. Mr Byrne, about the month of August 1780, measured exactly eight feet; in 1782, his stature had gained two inches; and when dead, his full length was eight feet four inches.’ 

Another account states that Byrne, apprehensive of being robbed, concealed his bank-note in the fireplace on going to bed, and a servant lighting a fire in the morning, the valuable document was consumed. There is no truth in the statement that his remains were thrown into the sea, for his skeleton, measuring seven feet eight inches, is now in the museum of the College of Surgeons. And the tradition of the college is, that the indefatigable anatomist, William Hunter, gave no less a sum than five hundred pounds for Byrne’s body. The skeleton shews that the man was very ‘knock-kneed,’ and the arms are relatively shorter than the legs. Byrne certainly created considerable sensation during the short period he was exhibited in London. In 1782, the summer pantomime, at the Haymarket Theatre – for there were summer pantomimes in those days – was entitled, in reference to Byrne, Harlequin Teague, or The Giant’s Causeway! 

In the museum of Trinity College, Dublin, there is preserved the skeleton of one Magrath, who is said to have attained the height of seven feet eight inches. A most absurd story is related of this person in a Philosophical Survey of Ireland, written by a Dr Campbell, who gravely states that Magrath’s overgrowth was the result of a course of experimental feeding from infancy, carried out by the celebrated philosopher Berkeley, bishop of Cloyne. The truth of the matter is, Magrath, at the age of sixteen, being then more than six feet in height, had, probably by his abnormal growth, lost the use of his limbs, and the charitable prelate, concluding that a change from the wretched food of an Irish peasant would be beneficial to the overgrown lad, caused him to be well fed for the space of one month, a proceeding which had the desired effect of literally placing the helpless creature on his legs again. This is the sole foundation for the ridiculous and often-repeated story of Bishop Berkeley’s experimental giant. 

It is a remarkable, little-known, but well-established fact, that while giants are almost invariably characterised by mental and bodily weakness, the opposite anomaly of humanity, the dwarfs, are generally active, intelligent, healthy, and long-lived persons. Guy Patin, a celebrated French surgeon, relates that, in the seventeenth century, to gratify a whim of the empress of Austria, all the giants and dwarfs in the Germanic empire were assembled at Vienna. As circumstances required that all should be housed in one extensive building, it was feared lest the imposing proportions of the giants would terrify the dwarfs, and means were taken to assure the latter of their perfect freedom and safety. But the result was very different to that contemplated. The dwarfs teased, insulted, and even robbed the giants to such an extent, that the overgrown mortals, with tears in their eyes, complained of their stunted persecutors; and, as a consequence, sentinels had to be stationed in the building, to protect the giants from the dwarfs!

On this Day in Other Sources.

The 8th of September this same year [1330], Sir James Douglas, that noble knight, in his journey to the Holy Land with the heart of King Robert I. was killed in Spain in a battle against the Moors, with Sir William de St. Clair [of Rosslyn], and Sir Robert Logan [of Restalrig], knights, and diverse others [of] his followers. 

– Historical Works, pp.88-104.

The Queen remained, at Elgin, till the 8th of September [1562], when she went forward to Kinloss abbey, where she slept; and on the morrow, set out, after dinner, for Ternway, the chief mansion of the earldom of Moray, without hearing of any disturbance, where, in fact, there existed none. 

– Life of Mary, pp.62-77.

While the army, under the Queen, and Darnley, marched to Stirling, and from thence, on the 8th of September [1565], into Fife. The Earl of Morton, the chancellor, who was treacherous, by nature, and attached, by habit, to Murray, commanded the Queen’s army. It was owing to his policy, that the loyalists, and rebels, never met: And, it was owing to his accustomed perfidy, that the Queen’s army marched, to the north east, into Fife; while Murray, and his insurgents, retreated, south-westward, into Dumfries; intending to have an easy movement into England, if the Queen should press upon his rear. 

[Murray and his insurgents] were thus left full leisure to intrigue; to correspond with Elizabeth’s officers on the borders; to urge her to declare war against the Scotish Queen: And, to publish, on the 8th of September, a manifesto to the Scotish people, that they took up arms, for the religion; that they draw their swords, for a government by the nobles, according to the ancient laws, and not by strangers: They concealed their original motive of levying war against the Queen’s marriage, and now adopted other causes of revolt, to captivate the populace. 

– Life of Mary, pp.98-126.

Sep. 8 [1568]. – ‘Ane called James Dalgliesh, merchant, brought the pest in [to] Edinburgh.’ – D. O. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.35-44.

On the 8th of September, this year [1579], the Lord Esmé Stewart arrived in Scotland, and landed at Leith, to visit his cousin, the King’s majesty. He was the son of John Stewart, the brother of Matthew, Earl of Lennox, who was the King’s grandfather. He was Lord of Aubigny[-sur-Nère], a town in [Bourges], which, long since, Charles [VII.], King of France, had given to the Lord John Stewart, of the family of Lennox, Constable of France, who did most valiantly defeat the English at Baugé; since which time it [had] ever belonged to the younger sons of the house of Lennox. To return then to the Lord Esmé, him the King received and welcomed with all the demonstrations and expressions of kindness, made him of his privy counsel, Great Chamberlain of Scotland, and first created him Earl and thereafter Duke of Lennox. This extraordinary favour of the King to him, made him the main object of envy and usual discourse of the court; who daily murmured that he was a favourer of the Guises, and of the Roman religion, and sent purposely to Scotland, by secret and [hidden] means, to overthrow the protestant religion. The suspicion was much increased, [in] that he was familiar with the adversaries of Morton; and dealt to have Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst recalled from exile home, who was of all others the most assured friend to Queen Mary, which Morton by all means opposed. 

– Historical Works, pp.340-416.

On a later date “it is ordainit that thair be electit thrie score of young men apt to be tranit up in handlinge of thair armis and to begin on Tuisday next; and the dreiller to have for his panes fourtie shillings (3s. 4d.) ilk day for his cuming out of Edr. till he be dischargit, with his hors hyre home and field.”1

– Old Glasgow, pp.162-175.

1  8th Sept. 1638.

When the severities exercised by George I. upon the Scottish Jacobites brought about the insurrection of 1715, and the Castle was filled with disaffected men of rank, another plot to storm it, at a time when its garrison was the 25th, or old regiment of Edinburgh, was formed by Lord John Drummond, son of the Earl of Perth, with eighty men, mostly Highlanders, and all of resolute courage. All these – among whom was a Captain McLean, who had lost a leg at Killiecrankie, and an Ensign Arthur, late of the Scots Guards – were promised commissions under King James, and 100 guineas each, if the event succeeded; and at that crisis – when Mar was about to fight the battle of Sheriffmuir – it might have put him in possession of all Scotland. Drummond contrived to suborn four of the garrison – a sergeant, Ainslie, to whom he promised a lieutenancy, a corporal, who was to be made an ensign, and two privates, who got bribes in money. 

On the night of the 8th September, when the troops marched from the city to fight the Earl of Mar, the attempt was made. The chosen time, near twelve o’clock, was dark and stormy, and the modus operandi was to be by escalading the western walls, near the ancient arched postern. A ladder, equipped with great hooks to fix it to the cope of the bastion, and calculated to admit four men abreast, had been constructed, and all was prepared, when the plot was marred by – a lady! 

In the exultation he felt at the approaching capture, and the hope he had of lighting the beacon which was to announce to Fife and the far north that the Castle was won, Ensign Arthur unfolded the scheme to his brother, a physician in the city, who volunteered for the enterprise, but most prudently told his wife of it, and she, alarmed for his safety, at once gave information to the Lord Justice Clerk, Sir Adam Cockburn of Ormiston, who instantly put himself in communication with Colonel Stuart. Thus, by the time the conspirators were at the foot of the wall the whole garrison was under arms, the sentinels were doubled, and the ramparts patrolled. 

The first party of forty men, led by the resolute Lord Drummond and the wooden-legged McLean, had reached the foot of the wall unseen; already the ladder had been secured by Sergeant Ainslie, and the escalade was in the act of ascending, with pistols in their girdles and swords in their teeth, when a Lieutenant Lindesay passed with his patrol, and instantly gave an alarm! The ladder and all on it fell heavily on the rocks below. A sentinel fired his musket; the startled Jacobites fled and dispersed, but, the city gates being shut, many of them were captured, among others old McLean, who made a desperate resistance in the West Port with a musket and bayonet. Many who rolled down the rocks to the roadway beneath were severely injured, and taken by the City Guard. A sentinel was bound hand and foot and thrown into the Dark Pit (one of the lowest dungeons on the south) where he confessed the whole plot; the corporal was mercilessly flogged; and Sergeant Ainslie was hanged over the postern gate. Colonel Stuart was dismissed; and Brigadier Grant, whose regiment was added to the garrison, was appointed temporary governor. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.66-79.

An Edinburgh crowd never has been easily intimidated; the blood of the people was fairly up now, and they closed in upon the soldiers with louder imprecations and heavier volleys of stones. A second time the Guard faced about and fired, filling the steep narrow street with smoke, and producing the most fatal results; and as all who were killed or wounded belonged to the better class of citizens – some of whom were viewing the tumult from their own windows – public indignation became irrepressible. Captain John Porteous was therefore brought to trial for murder, and sentenced to die in the usual manner on the 8th of September, 1736. His defence was that his men fired without orders; that his own fusil when shown to the magistrates was clean; and that the fact of their issuing ball ammunition amounted “to no less than an order to fire when it became necessary.” 

George II. was then on the Continent, and Queen Caroline, who acted as regent of a country of which she knew not even the language, took a more favourable view of the affair of Porteous than the Edinburgh mob had done, and from the Home Office a six weeks’ reprieve, preparatory to granting a full pardon, was sent down. “The tidings that a reprieve had been obtained by Porteous created great indignation among the citizens of the capital; they regarded the royal intervention in his behalf as a proof that the unjust English Government were disposed to treat the slaughter of Scotsmen by a military officer as a very venial offence, and a resolution was formed that Porteous should not escape the punishment which his crime deserved.” 

As soon as the rioters had satiated their vengeance, they tossed away their weapons, and quietly dispersed; and when the morning of the 8th September stole in nothing remained of the event but the fire-blackened cinders of the Tolbooth door, the muskets and Lochaber axes scattered in the streets, and the dead body of Porteous swinging in the breeze from the dyer’s pole. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.123-138.

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