Scotland Riots over the Malt Tax

Here are a couple of notes about the Malt Tax Riots in Scotland, as found in the London Gazette (the official government press organ).

First, an address delivered on (or about) :

An humble Addreſs of the Committee of His Majeſty’s Convention of Royal Burrows, has been preſented to His Majeſty by John Campbell, Eſq.; Member of Parliament for the City of Edinburgh, introduced by the Right Honourable the Lord Vilcount Townſhend one of His Majeſty’s Principal Secretaries of State.

To the King’s moſt Excellent Majeſty, The Committee of His Majeſty’s Convention of Royal Burrows, Moſt humbly Repreſents,

That our Duty to your Sacred Majeſty, and Concern for our Country, make us reflect, with the utmoſt Deteſtation, on the Tumults and Riots which of late have happened in ſome Places of Scotland, on putting in Execution the late Act impoſing a Duty on Malt.

That the Convention of your Majeſty’s Burrows, at the firſt Appearances of theſe Diſorders, did what lay in their Power to prevent them, and it was with peculiar Sorrow they heard that any of the Burrows were the unhappy Scene of them.

That as it has been, ſo it always will be, our unwearied Endeavour to act on the Principles of Loyalty to your Majeſty and your Royal Proteſtant Family, ſent to us by the ſpecial and kind Providence of God, to ſupport and maintain our Liberties and Holy Religion, and therefore to diſappoint all the bad Arts, or open Attempts of the Endmies to your Majeſty’s Adminiſtration, and to our ſacred and civil Rights, under whatever Maſk they diſguiſe themſelves.

That we cannot be more fully perſwaded of our own Firmneſs to your Majeſty’s Perſon, Family, and Government, than we are of your royal and gracious Intentions for the Welfare and Happineſs of all your People; and therefore are encouraged to hope that your Majeſty will not be provok’d againſt us by the inſolent and wicked Practices of thoſe who are ill affected to your Government, and to all who faithfully adhere to it, and the true Intereſt of their Country; and that your Royal Ear will be ſtill open to our moſt humble and futiful Requeſts.

That we have been, and are for giving all due Obedience to your Majeſty’s Laws; and cannot think of any Method of being relieved from ſuch Things, as we apprehend to be heard upon us, but by humbly repreſenting it to your moſt gracious Majeſty and your Parliament; and therefore we beg Leave, with the moſt profound Submiſſion, to repreſent.

That the Malt Tax is a Burthen too heavy for this Country to bear, our Poverty and want of Coin, the great Decay of our Trade, and the hitherto ſucceſsleſs Attempts to relieve it, the Meanneſs of our Grain, eſpecially this Year, occaſioned by the unnatural Seaſon, are melancholly Truths too certain and univerſally known, and are ſo many Proofs of our Inability to ſupport the Weight of this new Tax.

That this Burthen will further incapacitate us to carry on the Fiſhing Trade and ſuch other Branches of Commerce and Manufacture as Scotland appears peculiarly deſigned for, and whereby we hoped to improve this Part of your Majeſty’s Dominions, and to render ourſelves and our Fellow Subjects more able to ſerve your Majeſty on all Occaſions.

May it therefore pleaſe your moſt excellent Majeſty to conſider our Circumſtances, and to grant us ſuch Relief as to your great Wiſdom and Goodneſs ſhall ſeem fit.

May it pleaſe your Majeſty,
Your Majeſty’s moſt loyal, moſt dutiful, and moſt obedient Subjects and Servants…

“To which Addreſs His Majeſty was pleaſed to return the following moſt gracious Anſwer:”

I Am very ſenſible of the Loyalty, Duty, and Affection of my Royal Burrows of Scotland, which I have ſo often experienced, that I was greatly ſurpriſed to find that the Arts and Endeavours of diſaffected and deſigning Men had been able to raiſe ſuch Tumults and Diſorders in many Parts of Scotland, upon the Execution of an Act of Parliament for raiſing a Duty, impoſed by Authority of the Legiſlature of the United Kingdoms of Great-Britain; And as the Royal Burrows do moſt juſtly reflect with the utmoſt Deteſtation upon ſuch dangerous and illegal Proceedings, I can never think of giving the leaſt Countenance to an open Defiance of My Authority, and Diſobedience to the Laws of the Land; a dutiful Submiſſion and Compliance with the Laws under any ſuppoſed Hardſhip, being a better Recommendation to obtain legal Redreſs, than Violence and Contempt of the Legiſlative Authority.

Moſt gracious indeed. Next comes an article recounting the riots themselves, also from the Gazette (), and so with the caveat that this is the official government version of what took place:

The Malt-Tax in North-Britain commencing on , the Maltſters in and about this City gave ready Admittance to the Officers of Exciſe, to take an Account of the Stock in Hand. But the Officers who were to do the like at Glaſgow, were obliged to ſend Letters to the Commiſſioners of Exciſe here, acquainting them, that ſome of the People of that Town had threatned to ſtone them if they ſhould attempt to viſit the Malt-houſes there. The Commiſſioners hereupon made Application to Major-General Wade Commander in Chief of his Majeſty’s Forces in this Part of the Kingdom, who on ſent two Companies to Glaſgow, with Orders to aſſiſt the Civil Magiſtrates, as alſo the Officers of the Cuſtoms and Exciſe, in the Execution of their Duty, and to protect them from the Inſults of Rioters. The Companies marched with great Expedition, and arrived there . At their Entrance into the Town, they found a great Mob conſiſting moſtly of Women and Boys, who gave them abuſive Language, and threw Stones at them as they marched along the Streets, crying out no Malt-Tax. The Officer deſired them to forbear, for he intended them no Harm. He applied himſelf to the Provoſt, who gave him Billets for Quartering his Men, but told him he could not put him into Poſſeſſion of the Guard-Room, becauſe it had been locked up and the Key taken away by the Rabble when they heard the Soldiers were coming thither. The Officer unwilling to exaſperate them by forcing open the Door, ordered the Guard to be kept at a publick Houſe which he hired for that Purpoſe. ſeveral Thouſands of the Mob got together, and marched towards the Houſe of Mr. Daniel Campbell Repreſentative in Parliament for Glaſgow, threatning to plunder it. Upon which Captain Buſhel who commanded the two Companies, ſent an Officer to the Provoſt, letting him know the Miſchief they deſigned to commit, and that he was ready with his Men to aſſiſt him in preventing it, but his Anſwer was, that he thought the Number of his Soldiers was too ſmall, and therefore he would not make any uſe of them. Thus the Rabble finding no Oppoſition, nor even the Appearance of a Magiſtrate to reſtrain their Fury, with Hatchets and other Inſtruments forced into the Houſe, and turned out two or three of Mr. Campbell’s Servants (he with his Wife having the Day before retired to his Country-Houſe) and fell to plundering every thing that they could carry away, and deſtroying what was not portable. This Riot continued , when ſeveral of the Mob were lying drunk in the Houſe, with the Wine and Liquors they found in the Cellars, but the Magiſtrates did not get any of them ſecured. The Officers of the Exciſe during this Time were forced to hide, but ſome of them being diſcovered by the Rioters were beaten ſeverely. It was hoped, that the Rage of the Mob had been ſufficiently gratified in the plundering of Mr. Campbell’s Houſe, and the Town in Appearance was very quiet, when the Rioters began to meet again, Women or Men in Women’s Cloaths beating Drums about the Streets to call them together.…

There’s that mysterious motif again! Men dressed in women’s clothing leading a mob against an unpopular tax.

…The Captain of the two Companies, not knowing what their Deſigns might be, ordered the Soldiers to be near the Guard-Houſe, which the Provoſt had opened for them in the Morning: But the Mob did not long keep their Secret, for they advanced towards the Guard, ſaying their next Buſineſs was with the Soldiers: They gathered from all Quarters of the Town, began to throw Stones at the Soldiers, crying Drive the Dogs out of Town, we will cut them to Pieces: The Officers told them they did not intend them any Harm, but if they continued to provoke them they ſhould not be able to refrain from firing at them: They anſwered that they durſt not fire with Ball, and continued throwing Stones in ſuch Quantities and ſo large, that they broke ſome of the Locks of their Pieces, and their Bayonets, and wounded ſeveral of the Men: Upon which ſome of the Men were ordered to fire over their Heads, in hopes to terrify them, but they advancing ſtill upon the Soldiers, and throwing Stones in greater Quantities, the Soldiers fired on them and killed or wounded three or four; upon which they retired to ſome Diſtance. In this ſhort Interval, the Provoſt, ſent to the Commanding Officer, deſiring him to ſave himſelf and Men by retreating out of the Town, for the Rioters were collecting all the Arms they had, and if he did not ſpeedily march away there would be a great deal more Bloodſhed. The Captain taking his Advice, immediately marched for Dunbarton, being followed by great Numbers of the Mob, and ſo cloſely, that he was forced to fire now and then a Shot to ſecure his Retreat out of the Town. He was followed ſix Miles by 3 or 400 of the Rioters armed, but they durſt not come up with him. Captain Buſhel has ſent an Officer hither, from Dunbarton Caſtle, to give Major-General Wade this Account of what had paſſed; and the Major-General has received the like Account by ſeveral Perſons come from Glaſgow. The ſaid Officer relates further, that they miſs ſix of their Men, and that they left their Baggage (which he ſuppoſes is plundered) in the Town of Glaſgow.

I also found this interesting note in the Falkirk Herald:

Passive Resistance in Scotland

In these days, when the ethics of “passive resistance” are being discussed by all politicians [this was the time of the Education Act nonconformist tax resistance campaign], few people are aware that in the people of Scotland were faced with very serious possibilities owing to the “passive resistance” of the members of an influential trade.

When the famous Malt Tax Act (which caused, among many serious disturbances, the Shawfield Riot in Glasgow) was put in force, the brewers of ale began to use bad raw materials in order to evade the duty on malt. In order to end this abuse the Government passed a measure with the singularly attractive designation, “An Act for Preventing the Sale of Bad Ale.” In those days the familiar methods adopted at the beginning of the twentieth century for improving the quality of the workman’s beer were not available. All that the Government could do was to provide that “the brewers shall sell to retailers and private families the aforesaid ale at the rate of one merk Scots per gallon, and are not to give any allowance, by way of drink money or otherwise, above the rate of one barrel to the score; and the retailers shall sell the said ale at the rate of twopence the pint.”

To this paternal proposal the brewers objected. And they took the bold course of refusing to brew at all after the Act came into force. The country was faced with a curious problem. Beer was a staple article in the menu of the poorest. In the words of the Lord Advocate, the famous Duncan Forbes, of Cullenden, “This wicked project would in the course of five or six days reduce the city of Edinburgh to an utter want of beer and ale, and also of bread, to the working whereof barm or yeast from new ale is necessary, and would produce the greatest tumults and confusions, to the overthrow of all right and government in the city and irreparable misfortunes to the most innocent of His Majesty’s subjects.” Such was the effect of a “dear-food” scare two centuries ago.

The Court of Session dealt rigorously with the resisters. They declared their conduct to be “highly criminal” and “severely punishable” and commanded them to go on brewing and to give security for their continuance in the business. Such a course is not in accordance with latter-day views either of politics or social economy. But the Judges brooked no question of their authority. At first the brewers were inclined to hold out, and to go to prison in a body, believing that the popular clamour for food and drink, and their position as the providers of these necessaries, would shortly procure their release. The Lord-Advocate was equal to the occasion. He proposed to have them prosecuted for conspiracy. What the result of such a charge would have been one cannot say. There certainly was no evidence which would impress a modern jury that the worthy brewers were doing more than taking advantage, for their own ends, of a public emergency. In those days the Court was not so scrupulous in deciding causes in a purely judicial manner. In any case, the threat of a prosecution for conspiracy squashed the brewers. One of them relented, and the others had to protect themselves against the enterprise he thus showed by exchanging the role of political agitator for the more commonplace character of beermaker. In thanking Duncan Forbes for his conduct in suppressing these passive resisters, Sir Robert Walpole wrote:– “It is hard to determine whether your zeal, ability, or resolution is most to be commended.” So ended one of the most formidable “passive resistance” movements engendered even in days when England and Scotland worked together but jealously. The brewers found discretion the better part of valour, as men usually do when they attempt to starve their countrymen into submission.