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Riots and reform: burgh authority, the languages of civic reform and the Aberdeen riot of 1785

  • ANDREW MACKILLOP (a1)

Abstract:

This article explores the understudied riots which occurred in Aberdeen in mid-October 1785. It charts the climate of politicization that characterized the burgh's civic life in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution and before the outbreak of the equivalent process in France. In doing so, it challenges interpretations of the socially exclusive nature of the Scottish reform movement, the dynamics of continuity and change between this phenomenon and later political ‘radicalism’ and the role of Aberdeen as a ‘provincial’ metropolis in the Age of Revolution.

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References

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1 Whitehall Evening Post, 25 Oct. to 27 Oct. 1785 (no. 6000), 3. For reports of the riot in the Scottish press, see Aberdeen Journal, 24 Oct. 1785; Scots Magazine, 47 (Edinburgh, 1785), 514.

2 Rudé, G.F.E., ‘The Gordon Riots: a study of the rioters and their victims’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 6 (1956), 93114 ; Shoemaker, R., The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth-Century England (London, 2004), 111–52.

3 For an influential statement on the idea of a ‘conservative’ north of Scotland, see Donaldson, G., ‘Scotland's conservative north in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 16 (1966), 6579 . For its application in the eighteenth century, see Allan, D., Scotland in the Eighteenth Century (London, 2002), 140 .

4 J. Vance, ‘Constitutional radicalism in Scotland and Ireland in the era of the American Revolution’, unpublished University of Aberdeen, Ph.D. thesis, 1998, 316.

5 Harris, B., The Scottish People and the French Revolution (London, 2008), 13 and 83.

6 Harris, B., ‘How radical a town? Dundee and the French Revolution’, in McKean, C., Harris, B. and Whatley, C. A. (eds.), Dundee: Renaissance to Enlightenment (Dundee, 2009), 186 .

7 Philp, M., ‘The fragmented ideology of reform’, in Philp, M. (ed.), The French Revolution and British Popular Politics (Cambridge, 1991), 53–6.

8 Harris, The Scottish People, 13–19; Pentland, G., ‘The challenge of radicalism to 1832’, in Devine, T.M. and Wormald, J. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History (Oxford, 2012), 440–1.

9 Meikle, H.W., Scotland and the French Revolution (Glasgow, 1912), 140 ; J. Brims, ‘From reformers to “Jacobins”: The Scottish Association of the Friends of the People’, and S. Nenadic, ‘Political reform and the “ordering” of middle-class protest’, in Devine, T.M. (ed.) Conflict and Stability in Scottish Society, 1700–1850 (Edinburgh, 1990), 31–5, 66–7.

10 Harris, The Scottish People, 17–18, 38–40.

11 Armitage, D. and Subrahmanyam, S., ‘Introduction: the age of revolutions, c. 1760–1840 – global causation, connection, and comparison’, in Armitage, D. and Subrahmanyam, S. (eds.), The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760–1840 (Basingstoke, 2010), xiixvi .

12 Pentland, G., ‘Patriotism, universalism and the Scottish conventions, 1792–1794’, History, 89 (2004), 341 , 358–61; Harris, The Scottish People, 6–7.

13 The geography of Aberdeen at the time of the riot is captured in a contemporaneous map by Alexander Milne. National Library of Scotland, EMS.b.2.41, ‘A plan of the City of Aberdeen with all the inclosures surrounding the town to the adjacent country, from a survey taken 1789.’

14 Aberdonian authors took an obvious, often highly knowledgeable, pride in the city's complete and ‘ancient’ records. Skene, A., A Succinct Survey of the Famous City of Aberdeen (Aberdeen, 1685), 219 , 223, 237; The Statistical Accounts of Scotland: http://stat-acc-scot.edina.ac.uk/link/1791-99/Aberdeen/Aberdeen/19/164/, accessed 4 Aug. 2016.

15 Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archive (ACAA), C1/1/65: council register from 17 Sep. 1782 to 10 May 1788, fols. 55, 65–7; Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen, Trinity Hall (TH), convenor's court book, vol. 2, 1764–1829: 10 Mar. 1789.

16 Warren, R., Speculum ruris, urbis & aulae: or, The Looking-Glass, Representing to Town, Court and Country, the Much Need for Reform (Edinburgh?, 1785), 33l ; Letters to the Citizens of Aberdeen; Attempting as a Commentary on the Letters of Oliver and Other Publications of that Gentleman (Aberdeen, 1786), 5; Graham, R., A Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the Reform of the Internal Government of the Royal Boroughs of Scotland (London, 1788), 42 and 46.

17 Logue, K.J., Popular Disturbances in Scotland, 1780–1815 (Edinburgh, 1979), 162–4.

18 The Aberdeen Almanack, for the Year 1785 (Aberdeen, 1785), 189; Further Proceedings of the Burgesses of Aberdeen, in the Years 1785, 1786, and 1787 (Aberdeen, 1787), iv–x.

19 Aberdeen Journal, 26 Sep. 1785, 3 Oct. 1785, 13 Feb. 1786.

20 Nenadic, ‘Political reform’, 69.

21 Finlay, D. and Murdoch, A., ‘Revolution to reform: eighteenth-century politics, c. 1690–1800’, in Dennison, E.P., Ditchburn, D. and Lynch, M. (eds.), Aberdeen before 1800: A New History (East Linton, 2002), 281 .

22 Ibid ., 282.

23 ACAA, C1/1/65, fol. 140.

24 National Records of Scotland (NRS), Edinburgh, High Court of Justiciary processes main series, JC26/242, ‘Criminal letters HM's advocate agst Thomas Morice and others, Aberdeen, Spring 1786’, ‘Mob and riot’, 18 Oct. 1785, Provost Cruden and Baillies Black, Paul and Copland, testimony of Thomas Morice.

25 NRS, JC26/242, ‘Criminal letters HM's advocate agst Thomas Morice and others, Aberdeen, Spring 1786’, ‘Mob and riot’, Aberdeen, 7 Dec. 1785, testimony of George Pirie, journeyman wright, servant of John Smith, wright.

26 T.M. Devine, ‘The failure of radical reform in Scotland in the late eighteenth century: the social and economic context’, in Devine (ed.), Conflict and Stability, 52; B.P. Lenman, ‘From the Union of 1707 to the franchise reform of 1832’, in Huston, R.A. and Knox, W.W.J. (eds.), The New Penguin History of Scotland from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (London, 2001), 323–4.

27 NRS, JC26/242, ‘Criminal letters HM's advocate agst Thomas Morice and others, Aberdeen, Spring 1786’, ‘Mob and riot’, 18 Oct. 1785, Provost Cruden and Baillies Black, Paul and Copland, testimony of Thomas Morice.

28 NRS, JC26/242, ‘Criminal letters HM's advocate agst Thomas Morice and others, Aberdeen, Spring 1786’, ‘Mob and riot’, Aberdeen, 6 Dec. 1785, Roger Shand, journeyman wright in Aberdeen compared by Baillie George Adam; 5 Dec. 1785, Alexander Clerk, cutter in Aberdeen, compared by John Copland, baillie of Aberdeen.

29 Skene, A Succinct Survey, 226–8.

30 NRS, JC26/242, ‘Criminal letters HM's advocate agst Thomas Morice and others, Aberdeen, Spring 1786’, ‘Mob and riot’, Aberdeen, 7 Dec. 1785, compared David Pirie, journeyman flesher of Aberdeen.

31 Stevenson, J., ‘Popular radicalism and popular protest, 1789–1815’, in Dickinson, H.T. (ed.), Britain and the French Revolution, 1789–1815 (Basingstoke, 1989), 61–3; Harris, The Scottish People, 115–24.

32 NRS, JC11/36: Northern Circuit, May to Sep. 1786, Decimo quinto. Die Mensus, May 1786, David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes and Alexander Murray, Lord Henderland.

33 TH, incorporation of the wrights and coopers, vol. 13, minute book, 1758–1811, 194–5 (27 May 1785).

34 TH, incorporation of the wrights and coopers, vol. 13, minute book, 1758–1811, 174–5 (6 Aug. 1782); NRS, JC26/242, ‘Criminal letters HM's advocate agst Thomas Morice and others, Aberdeen, Spring 1786’, ‘Mob and riot’, 18 Oct. 1785, Provost Cruden and Baillies Black, Paul and Copland, testimony of Thomas Morice.

35 The Aberdeen Almanack, for the Year 1785, 189.

36 Finlay and Murdoch, ‘Revolution to reform’, 278–80; Aberdeen Journal, 6 Jan. 1783, 28 Dec. 1782: ‘Civis to Zeno’.

37 Harris, The Scottish People, 83.

38 Christie, I.R., Wilkes, Wyvill and Reform: The Parliamentary Reform Movement in British Politics, 1760–1785 (London, 1962), 72–3; Philp, ‘The fragmented ideology of reform’, 65.

39 Aberdeen Journal, 6 Jan. 1783, 26 Sep. 1785.

40 TH, incorporation of the weavers, vol. 31, minute book, 1728–1813 (23 Jan. 1793).

41 Meikle, Scotland and the French Revolution, 15–16, 33; Harris, The Scottish People, 14–18.

42 Dwyer, J. and Murdoch, A., ‘Paradigms and politics: manners, morals and the rise of Henry Dundas, 1770–1784’, in Dwyer, J., Mason, R.A. and Murdoch, A. (eds.), New Perspectives on the Politics and Culture of Early Modern Scotland (Edinburgh, 1982), 214–43; Kent Donovan, R., No Popery and Radicalism: Opposition to Roman Catholic Relief in Scotland, 1778–1782 (New York, 1987), 214–15, 302–9; Vance, ‘Constitutional radicalism’, 188–219.

43 NRS, RH2/4/388: State Papers Scotland, Series 2: SP 54, vol. 48, 1780–83, part I, fols. 62, 105 (quote), 102–3. I am grateful to Dr David J. Brown of the National Records of Scotland for drawing my attention to this material.

44 Whatley, C.A., Scottish Society, 1707–1830: Beyond Jacobitism, towards Industrialisation (Manchester, 2000), 158–64.

45 TH, deacon convenor's court book, vol. 2, 1764–1829, 84–5 (18 July 1775), 100–2 (2 Dec. 1777).

46 Political Papers, Chiefly Respecting the Attempt of the County of York, and Other Considerable Districts, Commenced in 1779, and Continued during Several Subsequent Years, to Effect a Reformation of the Parliament of Great-Britain: Collected by the Rev. Christopher Wyvill, Chairman of the Late Committee of Association of the County of York, vols. I–VI (York, 1794–1802), vol. III, 19.

47 Pentland, ‘Patriotism, universalism’, 344.

48 ACAA, C1/1/65, fols. 68 and 111.

49 Meikle, Scotland and the French Revolution, 19–21; Further Proceedings, 23; ACAA, C1/1/65, fols. 65–7.

50 ACAA, C1/1/65, fols. 70–2.

51 Aberdeen Journal, 26 Sep. 1785.

52 Ibid., 26 Sep. 1785; Further Proceedings, pp. 9–10, 33.

53 Aberdeen Journal, 3 Oct. 1785

54 Ibid., 26 Sept. 1785.

55 Further Proceedings, 33–8; Observations, By Civis of Aberdeen on a Letter under the Signature of A Cobler (Aberdeen, 1786), 17–18, 21.

56 TH, deacon convenor's court book, vol. 2, 1764–1829, 136–8 (5 and 25 Mar. 1784); TH, incorporation of the wrights and coopers, vol. 13, minute book, 1758–1811, 185 (14 Feb. 1784).

57 Harris, The Scottish People, 22–3.

58 TH, incorporation of the weavers, vol. 31, minute book, 1728–1813 (2 Mar. 1784); TH, incorporation of the wrights and coopers, vol. 13, minute book, 1758–1811, 186 (5 Mar. 1784); TH, ‘The taylior traide of Aberdeen’, vol. 5, minute book, 1694–1794, no. 31, fols. 301–2 (15 Mar. 1784).

59 TH, ‘The taylior traide of Aberdeen’, vol. 5, minute book, 1694–1794, no. 31, fols. 301–2 (15 Mar. 1784); TH, incorporation of the weavers, vol. 31, minute book, 1728–1813 (11 Mar. 1784).

60 Tyzack, R., ‘“No mean city”? The growth of civic consciousness in Aberdeen with particular reference to the work of the police commissioners’, in Brotherstone, T. and Withrington, D.J. (eds.), The City and its Worlds: Aspects of Aberdeen's History since 1794 (Glasgow, 1996), 150–2.

61 Further Proceedings, iii–x, 5–59; TH, incorporation of the weavers, vol. 31, minute book, 1728–1813 (25 May 1791, 23 Jan. 1793, 19 Feb. 1794).

62 The Aberdeen Almanack, for the Year 1796 (Aberdeen, 1796), 177; Tyzack, ‘“No mean city”?’, 152–3; Finlay and Murdoch, ‘Revolution to reform’, 284–5.

63 TH, ‘The taylior traide of Aberdeen’, vol. 5, minute book, 1694–1794, no. 31, fol. 302 (6 Apr. 1784); TH, incorporation of the weavers, vol. 31, minute book, 1728–1813 (19 Mar. 1784, 28 Apr. 1784); 25 May 1791, 23 Jan. 1793, 19 Feb. 1794).

64 TH, ‘The taylior traide of Aberdeen’, vol. 5, minute book, 1694–1794, no. 31, fol. 302 (6 Apr. 1784); TH, incorporation of the wrights and coopers, vol. 13, minute book, 1758–1811, 186 (14 Feb. 1784).

65 TH, incorporation of the wrights and coopers, vol. 13, minute book, 1758–1811, 186 (14 Feb. 1784), 198–9 (17 Oct. 1785); Aberdeen Almanack, for the Year 1785, 60; Aberdeen Almanack for the Year 1786 (Aberdeen, 1786), 177.

66 Warren, Speculum ruris, 43–44; Letters to the Citizens of Aberdeen, 36–37; Aberdeen Journal, 7 Nov. 1785.

67 Observations, By Civis of Aberdeen, 9; Graham, A Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt, 46.

* The author expresses his appreciation to the tailors, weavers and wrights and coopers of the incorporated trades of Aberdeen for facilitating access to their archives and, additionally, for separate permission to consult the records of the deacon convenor's court. In particular to: Ex-Deacon Convener Graeme Nicol (ex-deacon of the weaver incorporation); Deacon Convener David Parkinson (ex-deacon of the tailor incorporation); Deacon Graeme Thomson (current deacon of the wrights and coopers); Deacon Ian T. Webster (current deacon of the tailors); Deacon David Henderson (current deacon of the weavers). All periods of office refer to 2014.

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