The Radical Uprising – 4th April 1820

On the 4th of April, Duncan Turner mustered a small group of men at Germiston and persuaded them to march on the Carron ironworks where they were to take the building and provide themselves with more weapons from the stores there. Citing that he had organising work to do elsewhere, Turner passed leadership of the group to Andrew Hardie, a young weaver from Glasgow. Hardie was given a torn card to be matched with that held by another supporter whom he would meet at Condorrat. This man was John Baird, weaver there who was given his half of the card by John King. More men were to be mustered along the way until they had a force capable of storming the works.

On this day, three substantial letters were written that are held in the Murray family papers. The first, from Captain Peter Speirs to Major Murray, tells of the reluctance of local men to join the militia and talks generally of the situation around Culcreuk, where he is based.

Letter from Captain Peter Speirs to Major William Murray, 4th April 1820.

Culcreuk 4th April 1820

My Dear Major

I got here last night and found very few of the troop assembled, and I hear that there are still fewer in preparation at Balfron a more ____ turn out, I never witnessed this may proceed from a variety of causes, firstly the season of the year, and their unwillingness to stop the plough and harness as owing to the hot weather, the field operations have of late been a good deal interrupted, at least in this high district of country 2ndly a number of the Yeomen have been intimidated by the bold language of the disaffected in the manufacturing districts, report adds that the malcontents have threatened violence, in the event of their moving from home, and thus are afraid should they attempt doing it that their familys during their absence would be insulted, and their property abused upon the whole a bad spirit prevails, Mr Finlayson informs me that the radicals had the placard that was issued in the name of their Provisional Government, posted up in much parts of the Village of Balfron that they paraded the streets all day, yesterday fife playing, their only musical instrument and held out that if the yeomanry attempted

warding towards Glasgow that they would prevent them, they have also (he tells me) obliged two or three people to deliver up their fire arms, and that they went to the house of Ballikinrain to know if Mr Cranston would deliver to them his fowling pieces, his reply was “with the contents whenever they wished it” the public works have met with no interruption tho’ I am cordially informed that seditious

papers have been industriously circulated amongst them, and means tried to induce them to strike work – and the men at Balfron yesterday all was quiet at the Mill, then and today still at their work there. Previous to reaching the village about a mile from this, I met two strangers accompanied by about twenty of the villagers going towards Glasgow, a few minutes then after Mr Galbraith joined me, and informed me that these two men (he was told) had been here in the morning circulating seditious proclamations, I ordered the Post Boy to turn the carriage, accompanied by Mr Galbraith I soon overtook them, and with the aid of  some of the Yeomanry seized them, and took into a neighbouring house for examination they were two brothers of the name of Cameron and had been in the vicinity of Kippen purchasing butter & meal as one of them is a Grocer at the Torrance of Campsie, the other

a weaver and a great field orator, he gave himself not a few unaccountable airs said he was a Whig and a reformer, said that we had no right to accost him without a warrant, acknowledged he had delivered a letter to one John Buchanan, that he had stopped at the village, going north in the morning to take a Gill and a bottle of ale, but refused to subscribe his declaration his brother who signed his, said he came

here to buy Meal & Butter, but did not learn of any letters or papers being left by his brother, as they had not any communication with anybody in the village. We went ___ of a[foresai]d John Buchanan who is a Wright at the Kirk he said that he had received the letter that it was not of a political nature, being from his brother in London relative to family matters, and that he had tore it they were dismissed for want of evidence, when this went off a vast multitude of men, women and children had assembled, cheered them with other symptoms of approbation, from what I hear today I have no doubt of their guilt, tho’ I cannot lead a satisfactory proof to substantiate it – perhaps it would be worth while for the Civil power to examine into the notion of Donald & Duncan Cameron coming into this neighbourhood. I have had several more resignations and I find it difficult to keep up the Establishment of the troop as I meet with no aid of an active nature from the neighbouring properties, I was led to coerce a number of  recruits from Drymen & Buchanan Parishes but have got only one tho’ they said that there was plenty willing to join – the two McDonalds belonging to this part and doing duty with Capt[ain] Neilson and a Private of the name of Liddle with the Stirling troop.

I am ever

Sincerely yours

Peter Speirs

The other two letters were from Michael Stewart Nicholson, at Falkirk to Major Murray. He wrote one at 11.30 in the morning, the other at 7 in the evening. They give good detail as to what was happening in Falkirk, Camelon and the Carron area, giving instances of individuals and their activities.

Letters, Michael Stewart Nicolson at Falkirk, to Major William Murray 4th April 1820

Falkirk April 4th

½ p. 11 a.m.

My dear Major

All is quiet here & I hope likely to continue so. There is certainly a little more elasticity than usual in the low public mind here – But I do not at all apprehend any violence or outrage. The Fiscal has told me that he saw a good many strangers suspicious looking fellows here yesterday & later in the __. The night passed off quietly. Dr Wilson has called on me this m[ornin]g & told me that about 5 this m[ornin]g six men entered his warking house where two maids were working the men swaggered & talked terrible things one had a sword he was drunk. The Dr did not mention where he or any other five moved the maids but they went harmlessly off. I believe no one has work here about today. The Camelon people have struck work not the Carron & Falkirk people are all at work I do not think you need send the carabines here but should we move towards Glasgow. Be so good as take them forward. I trust however this will be unne – cessary. I do hope the military in Glasgow & Paisley will have an opportunity of getting a fair swipe at the blackguards – I am glad the Hussars are to be at Kilsyth. I think we or some other troop at least are as well here – I hope to hear from you in the course of the day. I am just going to take the troop to the moors & practice them & myself a bit ever yours truly MS Nicholson

P.S. Henry Walker (Old James’s son) has just told me that he got a letter from Glasgow this m[ornin]g saying the Hussars had cut down 3 fellows out of a mob who were hurting them yesterday – I do hopethe boil will come to a head & have a good hot poultice clapt to it


April 4th 1820

7 p.m.

My dear Murray

Many thanks for your letter. I have given all the notes about the Carabine Belts & Buckets – both for my own & Kilsyth Troop & shall have them forwarded as soon as possible – All is perfectly quiet here much

more so in blackguard noise than last night. I do think there is nothing to fear here or hereabouts at present. But we are as well here I believe today & while any general rising is expected. My troop have

not turned out well & I should be ashamed to shew ourselves in Glasgow I must have a reform in the troop. I hope however there will be no occasion for our going to Glasgow or Kilsyth or anywhere as there must be now an overwhelming force in the neighbour hood of Glasgow. I trust in God the military will have an opportunity of acting & striking a final blow at this troublesome mischief. My father told me positively true every yeoman was entitled to two guineas from Gov[ernmen]t. This he was positive of & that it was their right. I apply therefore officially to you Major for six guineas per man for all of my troop who have turned out in ___ March & now let me know as to this point for my father was quite positive & said he had his information from the best authority. The mess today consists of Campbell, Spottiswoode, the two Dunlops & Serg[ean]t Walker serg[ean]t of the Guard. You may depend upon hearing if anything occurs. We had a drill of 3 hours today.


MS Nicholson

PS Private All is quiet here that I mean to leave Campbell in command tonight & go and & see my blind wife. I have taken such measures that were any thing to occur I could be here in a very short time – turn over I wish we had some blank cartridge to accustom our horses to stand fire. I don’t mean so much our own fire as that of our opponents whoever they may be.