The Radical Uprising – 2nd April 1820

We continue our series of blog posts commemorating the Radicals of Scotland and their uprising in pursuit of a fairer society with the letters held in the Murray of Polmaise family papers that were written on the 2nd of April.

On the 22nd March, John King, Duncan Turner and Robert Lees, the Government agents attended a meeting of radicals in Glasgow and reported that a large-scale uprising was about to happen. On the 23rd March, in Glasgow, Duncan Turner revealed plans to establish a provisional government. He also produced a draft proclamation to be posted around the city calling for radicals to refuse to work and to consider rebellion and the establishment of a new regime. The posters duly appeared on the 1st of April. The response was immediate and alarming for the government. Huge numbers of workers in central Scotland went on strike on the 3rd April. There were widespread reports of men banding together and making weapons. Men were seen drilling on Glasgow Green and locally, there was an assembly of around 200 men gathered at Balfron to discuss what should be done to further their cause. Another letter written to William Murray of Polmaise by John Fraser, one of his tenants, spoke of men making pikes in St Ninians:

Stirling 2nd April 1820

Dear Sir

A boy last night was disturbed in the act of stealing different articles from soldiers in the Castle, and while under confinement in the Guard room amused himself with drawing the figures of pikes which he said people are making at St Ninians. General Graham in consequence a this morning sent me a message, which was delivered while in church, and as the General thought it might be proper to lose no time in making a start Mr Banks and I immediately waited upon the General and examined the boy. He did also acknowledge having seen any further himself but he drew a very crude figure of one He mentioned that a Boy of the name of Davy told him that he had seen some Of them with a man in St Ninians The Boy (Davy) is an apprentice to Junkas (or some such name) a Nailer He named also a man Anderson a Nailer, whom instructed one of the Head Radicals Mr Banks and I thought it proper to examine Davy and mean to send for him tomorrow This I think is right to communicate to you, knowing the trouble you have taken in  procuring information and anxious that nothing should be done lykis calculated to contradict any plan of directing what I must suspect is going on, which you may have formed. If you would like to be present at the examination tomorrow will you take the trouble of coming to Mr Ironce the Procurator Fiscal’s at 12 o’clock I am hartlie and believe me respectfully

Dear Sir

Your faithful servant

John Fraser

W Murray Esq

Of Touchadam

The second is a copy letter written by Major William Murray himself to Sir Thomas Bradford indicating that plans for thwarting the rebels were already well in hand by this date:

Stirling 2nd April 1820


I have this instant rec[eive]d the inclosed request from Col[onel] Northcote Commanding at Glasgow & I think it proper to inform you that I have in consequence ordered the Yeomanry in this County to assemble to-morrow at their respective alarm posts being Falkirk, Kilsyth, Stirling & Fintry & shall order them to march on Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch as requested; but I must as in duty bound represent to you the great loss the farmers must sustain from leaving home just now & the great danger of disgusting them with the service altogether if they are frequently called upon & the alarms are false altho’ I am convinced they are ready at all times to turn out in aid of the civil power I had the information that a false alarm was to be made just now in the west Country & the real turn out was to be in 8 days time; this I  forwarded to Edin[bu]r[gh] to be communicated to the Lord Advocate – I would be obliged to you to inform me by the bearer if I am to move the Yeomanry s requested for I considering the peace of this County as particularly under my charge as Vice Lieutenant & therefore unless an absolute necessity occurs for moving on Glasgow I am unwilling to leave it; at the same time I shall be guided by your information & direction

I have the honour to remain


your most obed[ient] ser[vant]

signed Wm Murray Vice Lieut[enan]t

Of Stirlingshire