The Bailie’s Great Adventure
At twilight on the evening of Friday, 10th March 1820, Bailie Joseph Collie and Robert Bain, Writer in Elgin, paid Bailie Francis Taylor, Merchant in Elgin, a visit at his house at the east end of the High Street of Elgin. They asked Collie be secretly let out by Taylor’s back garden door. By that way, Collie hoped to gain refuge at Grant Lodge unobserved by supporters of the Earl of Fife’s candidate who he thought were trying to abduct him and carry him off from the voting at the upcoming election. (1)
Prior to the Reform Bill of 1832, the group of burghs consisting of Banff, Cullen, Elgin, Inverurie and Kintore sent a joint member to Parliament. The Town Council of each burgh would choose a delegate to represent the community, to vote at the meeting for the election of a member to represent the group of burghs, held in each burgh in rotation which, at the time of the election of 1820, was Cullen.
The burghs of Banff and Inverurie supported the Earl of Fife; Cullen and Kintore supported the Grant cause. Elgin would determine the result and was supposed to be doubtful; to secure the vote was the grand aim of both parties. The family of Grant, for nearly 100 years, possessed a paramount influence in Elgin politics, but it was one thing to command a burgh but another to retain the support.
In 1819, on the visit to Elgin of Prince Leopold of Belgium, the local dignitaries were waiting at the town marches to confer on him the freedom of the burgh, after which Colonel Francis Grant of Grant invited the Provost and Town Council to dine with the Prince at Grant Lodge. The inhabitants of the town were to be feasted at a free banquet on the lawn there.
However, owing to a mistake of the Town Clerk, who issued the invitations, the Deacons of the Incorporated Trades were overlooked. The Convener and two of these Deacons sat on the Town Council and all possessed great influence among the freemen of the burgh. (2)
Colonel Grant went himself personally to the Deacons and made an ample apology. He assured them it was entirely a mistake of the Town Clerk and he trusted they would pass it over. Grant asked them to partake of the entertainment provided or to go to any house or inn and regale themselves with the best of meat and drink at his expense.
The Deacons answered, “No, he had looked them over before the Prince, and the King might come in the cadger’s way yet.” They would feast at their own expense and they adjourned to the Trades Hall in the High Street, sent for a cask of whisky, got uproariously drunk and proceeded to perambulate the streets, conducting themselves in a lawless and disorderly manner. (3)
Throughout the previous two years, Lord Fife made repeated visits to Elgin. The Incorporated Trades had frequent meetings with him in their hall and at one such gathering the Incorporated Trades went to Oldmills, the then local headquarters of Lord Fife, with an immense mob and a great number of torches where they took the horses from the Lord’s carriage and drew him through the streets of Elgin. (4)
Lord Fife was also in the habit of making frequent familiar visits at the houses of those persons belonging to the different Incorporations whom he knew to be of his party, treating their wives and daughters with a variety of confections and other sweetmeats which he carried with him. (5)
In his marching through the streets, and in order to command the attention of the more outrageous females, Lord Fife was provided with bits of paper in the shape of Soldiers Billets, orders to the shop of a supporter of his cause, to give the bearer some article of female dress of more or less value as they showed their zeal in his favour. He was furnished with rings, lockets, breastpins and other trinkets, which he gave away. Each time he was always attended with one or more orderlies, to point out fit persons to receive the same, and the greatest precaution was used to ensure none but those professing hostility to Colonel Grant and his friends should get any of these paltry baubles.
After the death of King George III and the dissolution of Parliament, Lord Fife applied to the members of the Town Council of Elgin for their votes on behalf of his brother General Alexander Duff, whom he wished to be elected to represent the District of Burghs to which Elgin belonged. (6)
Lord Fife, having learned the opinions of the different members of the Town Council, was in the practice of parading the public streets, making repeated calls on those members favourable to his interest and on those whom he expected to gain over. At all times he was accompanied by large mobs of men, women and children, shouting and making a great noise. In order to secure the attendance of this mob, Lord Fife would of throw handfuls of money amongst them.
When they came to the shops or dwelling houses of those who were supposed to be unfavourable to his views they were hissed at and insulted and, although the mobs were headed by Lord Fife, he was never seen or heard to use any effort to stop their outrages.
Caledonian Mercury, 18 March 1820
On one of these parading days Lord Fife assembled all the Trades in their hall. They proceeded from that place through the town attended by all the Deacons of the Incorporations and an immense mob. The general cry of the mob when not employed in hissing Colonel Grant’s supporters or cheering those of Lord Fife was “Lord Fife for ever!” and “May the diel pick out the Grant's liver!” This state of tumult and outrage continued for some time.
On the evening of Friday, 10th March the mob became extremely outrageous, parading the town with a considerable number of torches fixed to long poles, accompanied by drums and other noisy instruments. In passing the shops and dwelling houses of those in Colonel Grant's interest they showed the same spirit of insult and outrage by hissing and breaking windows; several house and shop windows were broken that night. (7)