1715 - Raid on Burntisland

This very little-known episode in Burntisland's history took place in 1715, and is the only account I have found of the incident. Other documentary evidence exists (see the foot of the page) but I have been unable to access it thus far. Here is "The Master of Sinclair's Narrative of the '15", taken from Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine Vol. 86, August 1859 - extracted from a much longer article:

"The Master performed a rather signal and original feat in this war, which he describes with singular modesty. It was the capture of a vessel by a small fragment of a troop of dragoons. The vessel contained a supply of arms for the Govvernment - the temptation of course to the capture. She lay in Burntisland harbour.

The object was to seize her by a detachment from the camp at Perth - a difficult operation, while Argyll was posted in great strength at Stirling. The leader of the expedition mounted a man behind each dragoon for the purpose of doubling his force, and the cavalcade crept quietly along, avoiding villages, to the margin of the Forth. The master of the vessel was quietly secured in an alehouse ashore, and the capture was easily effected. Trained, however, in the strictest military school of the day, the Master's spirit was much disturbed by the irregularities of his followers.

"We seized several small boats the minute we came into town, and after placing a few sentries about the town - which, by the way, was no easy task, since nobody cared to stand - we forced some townsmen to go along with ours to bring in the ships - Nor were there sentries to be got to post about the town, or if any posted would others relieve them; nor would any hold the few horses of those who had gone to seize the ships, who went a-strolling through the town and loosed their bridles. It is not to be conceived how those people's tongues, and other unruliness in going into alehouses, confounds at all times, but more at night, the unlucky officer who has the command of them; for there's no want of advisers, sometimes twenty speaking at once, and all equally to the purpose, but not one to obey."

Then at last, when the vessel was secured, and the precious cargo of arms had to be removed to the camp at Perth - the most serious part of the expedition, from the risk that the convoy would be intercepted by a detachment from Argyll's army - the Master says of his grievances, and his unceremonious remedy for them:

"Of the fifty baggage horses, for we had no more, none would load, or, if they did, not above four firelocks. After humbly begging these fellows to put in more to no purpose, I gave them round, without distinction, a hearty drubbing - the most persuasive and convincing argument to those sort of men." On the march back "some of the command went off without leave to pay their respects to some minister, whom they had a mind to tease; and as those irregular folks generally contrive it, they returned before break of day with noise."

The rest of the journey back to Perth was relatively uneventful."

Several records recording this incident are on file as held in the Public Records Office, Kew, London, but are unavailable online so I have not been able to research this story much further. The records include SP 54/9/6D - Bailly of Burntisland, on an incident in which a party of Jacobites from Perth seized the cargo of arms from a ship near Fife [1715 Oct 3] ; SP 54/9/8 - James Cockburn to Pringle. On news from Burntisland; and recommending Napier for the lieutenancy of Blackness Castle [1715 Oct 4 ] ; SP 54/9/9 - Lord Advocate Dalrymple, on the theft of arms meant for Sutherland, at Burntisland and other incidents: "the rebels at Perth begin to be in want, and have put forth their hands to plunder". Also concerning the possible use of gunboats on the coast [1715 Oct 4] ; SP 54/9/51C - Magistrates of Burntisland to Capt Poole. Regretting that they are unable to obey his orders as they are occupied by Mar's force [1715 Oct 9] ; SP 54/9/51D - Capt Poole to Burchett. On not firing on Burntisland, after receiving their letter; and remaining at Leith Road as an attack on Edinburgh is expected [1715 Oct 10] ; SP 54/9/51E - Capt Stewart of the Royal Ann to Burchett. Following news of the rebels advance to Burntisland, he is sailing to join the Pearl and Portmation in Leith Road; if the rebels should take Leith his ships will have nowhere on the coast to get food and water, or communicate with London [1715 Oct 11] ; SP 54/10/139 - Argyll to Secretary Townshend. Stating that he has given no promise of mercy to those rebels who have informed him of their wish to retire. Reporting that after warships were ordered to Burntisland Castle it was abandoned, and he has sent a detachment to take possession. [1715 Dec 20] ; SP 54/10/140 - James Cockburn to Pringle. On the strength of the rebels; and reporting the taking of Burntisland Castle [1715 Dec 20 ] ; and SP 54/10/143A - Lord Justice Clerk Cockburne, on the rebels leaving Burntisland Castle and their situation in Perth [1715 Dec 23]. These details supplied here may help some future researcher on this topic.