The Heart of Mid-Lothian
And thou, great god of aquavitae!
Wha sways the empire of this city
(When fou we're sometimes capernoity),
Be thou prepared,
To save us frae that black banditti,
The City Guard!
Fergusson's Daft Days.
Captain John Porteous, a name memorable in the traditions of Edinburgh, as well
as in the records of criminal jurisprudence, was the son of a citizen of Edinburgh,
who endeavoured to breed him up to his own mechanical trade of a tailor. The
youth, however, had a wild and irreclaimable propensity to dissipation, which
finally sent him to serve in the corps long maintained in the service of the States
of Holland, and called the Scotch Dutch. Here he learned military discipline; and,
returning afterwards, in the course of an idle and wandering life, to his native city,
his services were required by the magistrates of Edinburgh in the disturbed year
1715, for disciplining their City Guard, in which he shortly afterwards received a
captain's commission. It was only by his military skill and an alert and resolute
character as an officer of police, that he merited this promotion, for he is said to
have been a man of profligate habits, an unnatural son, and a brutal husband. He
was, however, useful in his station, and his harsh and fierce habits rendered him
formidable to rioters or disturbers of the public peace.
The corps in which he held his command is, or perhaps we should rather say
was, a body of about one hundred and twenty soldiers divided into three
companies, and regularly armed, clothed, and embodied. They were chiefly
veterans who enlisted in this cogs, having the benefit of working at their trades
when they were off duty. These men had the charge of preserving public order,
repressing riots and street robberies, acting, in short, as an armed police, and
attending on all public occasions where confusion or popular disturbance might
* The Lord Provost was ex-officio commander and colonel of the corps, which
might be increased to three hundred men when the times required it. No other
drum but theirs was allowed to sound on the High Street between the
Luckenbooths and the Netherbow.
Poor Fergusson, whose irregularities sometimes led him into unpleasant
rencontres with these military conservators of public order, and who mentions