Riot in Stirling - Broadside (1823)

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The riot described in this report apparently came about when the trial of two resurrectionists, or body-snatchers, was halted pro loco et tempore. In Scots Law this phrase refers to a case where the trial is stopped but the prosecution retains the right to bring a fresh indictment against the accused. The 1820s saw mounting concern in Scotland over the theft and sale of newly-buried bodies for anatomical research. The outrage reached its peak in 1828 when William Burke and William Hare were founded to have committed multiple murders in Edinburgh to find fresh subjects for the anatomists.

Broadsides are single sheets of paper, printed on one side, to be read unfolded. They carried public information such as proclamations as well as ballads and news of the day. Cheaply available, they were sold on the streets by pedlars and chapmen. Broadsides offer a valuable insight into many aspects of the society they were published in, and the National Library of Scotland holds over 250,000 of them.

Riot in Stirling.

Riot in Stirling.

An account of a serious riot which took place in Stirling on Saturday the 19th April, 1823. when two disturbers of the Dead were almost torn to pieces by the populace, and a party of soldiers being brought from the Castle to quell the riot, fired on the mob, when several persons were wounded.

On the evening of Saturday the 19th of April last, a serious affray took place in Stirling. The populace, whose dislike ever'ywhere to the resurrection men is so well known, assembled in a tamultuous manner, and attacked the houses and persons of Jas. M'Nab and Daniel Mitchell, who had been that day dismissed from the bar of the Justiciary Court, their trial for violating the sepulchres of the dead having been deserted pro loco et tempore. The poor men escaped with much difficulty, and were forced to take refuge in the prison from which they had just been liberated.

Mr M'Donald of Staffa, Sheriff of the county, Provost Thomson, and Captain Jeffrey of the 77th regiment, used every exertion, and exposed themselves greatly in the attempt to lodge one of the men Mitchell safe in the jail, the other having been carried thither without much difficulty. Finding all their endeavours fruitless, they were under the necessity of calling in a party of the 77th, So soon as the military arrived, Mitchell was brought down from the house where he had taken refuge; but whenever he was discovered by the populace, there was an instantaneous mob, accompanied with the most threatening exclamations. The mob, especially those near the mouth of the close, became quite infuriated and unmanageable at the sight of him ; but notwithstand all this, they confined themselves to expressions of indignation, and offered no violence or outrage during the first part of the act of removal, nor till the Provost and Sheriff had reached the back, or south side of the jail, with the prisoner At this moment, one of the soldiers who was near the Sheriff, being unfortunately much intoxicated, fell down among the crowd, at which moment the Sheriff was observed to help him up, and conduct him with in the line of soldiers. directing one of his comrades to take charge of his firelock. This accident having created some confusion, by enabling the mob to press more closely on the soldiers, one of the latter, by using his musket indiscreetly, and striking the crowd violently with the butt end of it, occasioned much irritation; so much so, that at length two of the crowd attempted to take the fuselock from him, which induced him to fire.

Immediately on this, one or two more shots were fired, and an attempt to charge on the populace by some, while others of the military showed much forbearance, and seconded the efforts of their commanding officers to bring their companions to order Several of the men were in a state of intoxication, and but little under the control of any authority whatever. Stones were thrown discriminately from various quarters against the soldiers, some of whom were knocked down.

Fortunately none of the shots took effect; from which circumstance it is to be presumed that the object of the military was more to intimidate than to take away life. Two or three of the inhabitants were slightly wounded by the bayonet, and one young man received a dangerous wound a little below the breast. Several of the soldiers received contusions.

We are informed that the Sheriff, accompanied by the Provost immediately proceeded to the Castle, in order to ascertain the names of the soldiers who fired. This Captain Jeffray at once furnished. Such a measure was most proper ; for it is evident that as no order was given to the military by a Magistrate or by a Commanding Officer, those who fired were guilty of a breach of the peace. We understand five of then were immediately placed in condemnation. It was about half-past eight when the disturbance terminated.