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(Specialist Talk) – The Porteous Riot: An Illustrated Talk

12th July @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Please note that this talk takes place at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh. Reserve your free tickets on their website: https://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/porteous-riot-illustrated-talk


Join us on the anniversary of the famous Porteous Riot trial, one of the most remarkable stories in Edinburgh’s history. In our collection we have an engraving depicting the riot. ‘The Porteous Mob, 1736’ by Edward Burton (after James Drummond).

On the 14th April 1736 at the execution in the Grassmarket of a popular smuggler, Andrew Wilson, the Edinburgh mob got out of hand and the Town Guard commanded by Captain John Porteous opened fire killing and wounding several of the spectators. Move forward to the night of 7th September when a mob burned down the door of the Historic Tolbooth and dragged out Captain Porteous. Still in his nightclothes, he was lashed to a chair, his red captain’s jacket thrown over his shoulders and then carried down to the Grassmarket. Porteous was hanged from a dyer’s pole beside the spot where Wilson had been executed. The mob dispersed leaving the body of the unfortunate Porteous swinging from the pole. A huge reward was offered for information leading to the conviction of those responsible but to no avail. No-one was ever identified as being involved and yet thousands knew but no-one ever told.

This illustrated talk will use contemporary sources, including eye-witness accounts and trial evidence, to explain these extraordinary events. Consideration will be given to two questions. Was Captain Porteous an unwitting victim of the 1707 Act of Union and, on the basis of the evidence at his trial, did he deserve to be found guilty?

Eric Melvin is our speaker. Eric graduated with First Class Honours in History and Political Thought from Edinburgh University in 1967. He qualified as a secondary teacher of History and Modern Studies at the then Moray House College of Education gaining a Dip. Ed. in the process and the Staff Prize. Eric later gained an M.Ed. from the University of Edinburgh. He retired from teaching in 2005, working latterly for the City of Edinburgh Council as Headteacher at Currie Community High School. Eric has had several books published by John Murray for younger readers on aspects of Scottish History as well as ‘Discovering Scotland’ for Ladybird. Most recently Eric has had two books published on Amazon – ‘A Walk Down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile’, ‘A Walk Through Edinburgh’s New Town’ and ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’, self-published and written for younger readers and illustrated by Aileen Paterson. ‘The Edinburgh of John Kay’ was published in 2017 and Eric has just finished a book about Duncan Napier (The Fresh Air of the Summer Morning), the founder of the famous Edinburgh Herbalist business in 1860.

This is one of a series of talks being delivered jointly by Museums & Galleries Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Festival Voluntary Guides (EFVGA). This is a new venture. The EFVGA has been offering free Royal Mile Festival walks since 1947. More information about the EFVGA can be found on their web site – edinburghfestivalguides.org


12th July
2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
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City Art Centre
2 Market St
Edinburgh, EH1 1DE United Kingdom
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