The Radical Uprising – 5th April 1820

On the 5th April 1820, tensions were rising in the local area. Andrew Baird and John Hardie had been given their instructions by Duncan Turner the previous day and had been on the move with their small forces of willing rebels over night.  The two men met and showed the two pieces of torn card that allowed them to recognise each other at Condorrat at 5 am on the morning of that day. Although Baird was disappointed at the small number of men that arrived with Hardie, having been told by John King to expect an army, the 30 men continued on through the early morning towards Falkirk. Meanwhile, 16 Hussars and 16 of the local Yeomanry forces had been warned of the approach of the radicals and were mobilised to meet them at Carron. The two groups met at Bonnymuir where King had told the rebels to wait while he went to fetch reinforcements from Camelon. Shots were exchanged and there was a short skirmish that ended when the soldiers charged the small band of rebels and overpowered them. Some of the men were able to escape, but 19 were apprehended and taken as prisoners to Stirling Castle.

There are 5 letters in the Murray family papers written between military personnel on the 5th April, 4 of which were written by Michael Stewart Nicholson and give a sense of the unfolding of events as the day progressed. The urgency of Nicholson’s requests for reinforcements give a real sense of immediacy in these letters.

Letter, George Abercromby to Major William Murray at Falkirk, 5th April 1820

My dear Murray


About half our Troop arrived in good time last night & I hope this may to be tolerably strong – sword I hear are about Edin[bu]rgh on business I ordered a Patrol on towards Kilsyth etc the report I have not yet received but all is quiet I am sure. The prisoners are in a very insecure place in the Castle & when in their room yesterday the Leader was evidently insistent on his escape. I have not yet satisfied myself the place upon which the Rebels meant to sit yesterday But I shall endeavour to ascertain in the course of the day what it assuredly might be. If the Prisoners are to be examined here, I think you you might advise the Advocate to send Drummond & Hope to check the Precognitions

Yours truly


½ past 7

Letter Michael Stewart Nicolson at Falkirk to Major William Murray, 5th April 1820

Falkirk April 5


½ past 10 a.m.

My dear Major

There was a meeting of Radicals on the Callander Riggs here at 9 o’clock Mr Spottiswood has just given me positive information of 6 men having passed this way at 5 this m[ornin]g armed with Pikes. W[ilia]mRussell of the action Grangemouth has just arrived & he saw about 2 hours ago 30 men armed with pikes & guns they went with a man & took a gun I have positive information of the Camelon people being about to join them to make an attack here. I wish you would send up more muskets. Some of the Militia staff? or come up yourself with Rising Troop for mine is not strong the Fiscal & all expect an immediate attack here so send us a reinforcement swiftly I shall retire upon Stirling if I cannot face them.

Y[our]s truly

MS Nicholson

Lose no time in sending up a reinforcement

Letter Michael Stewart Nicolson at Falkirk to Major William Murray, 5th April 1820

Hamilton expects the Carron Works to be attacked.


½ past 11

My dear Murray

In case my first express should be stopt I send another. Send up a reinforcement here directly. There are a great many armed & coming this way about Camelon Lose no time.

MS Nicholson

Letter Michael Stewart Nicolson at Falkirk to Major William Murray, 5th April 1820


½ past one

My dear Major

All quiet yet. I have just returned from working the Troop & marching them through Camelon. The men at first insulted a good deal & pelted a little at Camelon. Upon which I halted the Troop. Primed & loaded pistols & said a few words which had the effect desired. We marched through again & all was profound silence. I wish still you would send some infantry here. 18 or 20 will do & then I think there is no fear. I have just forwarded a dispatch to the Lord Advocate from the officer of Hussars at Kilsyth saying that they had an attack with a body of Radicals about 30 in number that they had attacked the Hussars & Kilsyth Troop & the result was 19 Radicals were taken prisoner. Baird of my Troop was in the affray. He says the radicals fired many pistol shots at them That one Sergeant Hussars & 3 of the Yeomanry were badly wounded I have not seen Hainton since I returned but he shipped all his great guns early this m[ornin]g. The attack at Bony Bridge has had a great & good effect here in damping the Rascals hereabouts & I have magnified the killed & prisoners not a little I have just received your Dispatch of ½ past 11 & shall be glad to see the militia  The Yeomanry I shall not now want I think but perhaps they are as well here.

yours truly

MS Nicolson

Letter, Michael Stewart Nicolson at Falkirk to Major William Murray, 5th April 1820

Falkirk 4 o’clock

April 5th 1820

My dear Murray

All is quiet here & the streets are again empty & still A resigned quietness & perfect order during the night. I particularly mentioned this at the head of the Troop before a great multitude & I assured then that the slightest insult to any one of the yeomen which upon an ordinary occasion, would not have been noticed, would be so instantly tonight. The dashing & successful business near Bonny Bridge has acted as a great damper here. But still a part of the population all around are not to be depended upon for a day or two to come. I shall be glad of the infantry & shall feel much more at my ease then When I wrote my two first dispatches I was very uneasy & particularly so when I saw Hainton apprehensive. An attack upon the Carron works corresponded so with Birning’s letter last night. Where he said the fellows at Glasgow were waiting for their artillery & the informant with respect to the armed men saw them with his own eyes. There is no necessity at present here for more Yeomanry but I shall be glad of the Muskets. I wish very much you Would send me 10 rounds of Bale Cartridge per man & 10 or 12 rounds of blank cartridge do pray send them to me. I want to practice the men & horses with the latter very much & we want the other. If you will send them tomorrow as far as Torr wood Toll I will send an escort for them. Tomorrow is fee Thursday when there will be an immense crowd here & all my Troop will want much to be busy from 9 to 1 hiring servants etc. Tomorrow they say is the day in the year when there is the greatest numbers of people assembled here – that will be an excellent excuse for all idlers & blackguards to come here. I should like therefore to have a good stout reinforcement up there at the latest by 8 o’clock tomorrow m[ornin]g & I hope they will be up tonight it is said that th It is quite  necessary I think to have a good force here tomorrow & I depend upon you letting me have it. I wrote to the Provost of Lithgow this m[ornin]g begging him to get the Lithgow troop embodied & write me word he has no power to cash them out but has sent my request to the Commander of the forces I think they had as well come the length of Lauriston tomorrow but I fear they will not be able to arrive in time. I do think that now that blood has been shed & the business begun by the Radicals themselves that here  at Camelon & at St Ninians etc the principal blackguards & most notorious characters, should at least be taken up. I am sure from what I have seen today that it would have an excellent effect to take up at least 6 fellows here or as many still at Camelon no matter whether eventually anything be actually proved the fright of being taken to Stirling Castle would have great effect. They are some of them much alarmed here. At Camelon pikes have been made all along that is for many weeks back. You may depend upon it many dozen pikes have been made at Camelon. Is this in the present state of the County to be tolerated? There really ought to be some taken up at least upon suspicion. No fear of the foment created by so doing. It will strike alarm with them & the system of toleration with these villains has been carried too far & is mistaken for fear & alarm on The part of the constituted authorities.

I suggested to the fiscal & some of the principal inhabitants to meet this afternoon & construct a kind of watch & ward here. It is right they should do so at this moment. It will shew that it is not the Yeomanry alone that can & will resist the seditious villains not that the quiet & orderly shop keeper & householder can upon an occasion of this sort come forth at once & defend his property & his County & that he can strike & fight as much as a Radical & trust these mischievous turbulent wretches have not all the spirit in the County. I have enforced this & in the course of half an hour the fiscal tells me that a considerable number are to meet me in the Inn Yard at 5 o’clock & to inform me that in the event of any attack being made or disturbance occurring this night or on this occasion they are ready to stand & act together. I will keep this letter open till I have had this meeting & give you the result. Mr Hainton’s nephew is now in the room & tells me that he left Carron at 3 o’clock & that all was quiet & he said his Uncle was satisfied with the appearance of things. Mr Hainton is much on the Alert at present & is keeping a sharp look out.

Not one of his men are a missing to day.



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