Edinburgh crime news: Captain John Porteous was murdered by a mob in Edinburgh - but why?

Captain John Porteous was found guilty of murder before being granted a Royal Pardon from the Prime Minister, a mob broke into the Tollbooth and hanged him anyway.
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This month marked the anniversary of the death of Captain John Porteous, dragged to the Grassmarket by an angry mob who hanged him and beat him.

Born in 1695 in the Borders, Porteous rose to the ranks of Captain of the Edinburgh City Guard after moving to the Capital in 1716.

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He was said to be a self important, officious and pompous man and was not liked both by the city and the guard.

The trouble began at the arrest and trial of a gang of smugglers, William Hall, Andrew Wilson and George Robertson.

Two of them, Wilson and Robertson were sentenced to be hanged, though the latter successfully escaped the Tollbooth prison and left the country.

Wilson alone faced the noose in April 1736, much to the fury of Edinburgh residents, who didn’t like the excisemen anyway ( those responsible for collecting excise duty) and supported smugglers.

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As the man’s body was cut down, a riot broke out and the City Guard were called.

The Porteous MobThe Porteous Mob
The Porteous Mob

Porteous recklessly ordered his troops to open fire on the protesters, killing six people. Bullets also fired into surrounding tenements, injuring the inhabitants.

Some people later claimed that he discharged his own pistol into the sea of rioters, though it is unclear how truthful this is.

The Captain was charged with murder that very same day and found guilty by a unanimous jury less than three months later.

The judge sentenced him to death.

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The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole was deeply concerned at the turn of events, worrying that it would encourage more unrest, and more smuggling, and he endeavoured to act.

He granted a Royal Pardon to Captain Porteous, who was due to face the noose on September 8.

The people of Edinburgh, already furious at the events on the riot day, were stirred to action at the news, and on September 7, a mob broke into the Tollbooth where Porteous was being held.

It is said that over 4,000 people turned up to drag the Captain to the Grassmarket.

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They hanged him, let him down and stripped him before hanging him again.

He was still alive and fought to escape as the crowd attempted to set fire to him.

He was eventually let down and beaten to death.

The Captain was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard two days later.

An award for information on the ringleaders of the mob was offered, but no one came forward.

No one was ever caught or charged with his death.

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A plaque sits in the Grassmarket where he was killed, and a new epitaph was written for him in 1973.

"John Porteous, a captain of the City Guard of Edinburgh, murdered September 7, 1736. All Passion Spent, 1973.”