The Radical Uprising – 6th April 1820

There are two letters dated 6th April in the Murray of Polmaise family papers. The first, is from Captain Peter Speirs to Major William Murray and is interesting because it encloses a full report of the previous day’s happenings from Cornet William Galbraith. It gives fascinating detail about the uprising and several names of local men who were involved.

Captain Peter Speirs, to Major William Murray, 6th April 1820 enclosing report of Cornet Galbraith at Fintry dated 5th April 1820

My Dear Sir

I herewith transmit you Cornet Galbraith’s report to me, from which you will observe the state of Balfron;

the Radicals there are to be as much dreaded as any where I know and unluckily we have no acting Magistrates in this neighbourhood, I wish therefore you could prevail upon one or two to attend  Saturday and with the aid of the Yeomanry and a few ball cartridges I hope to lay hold of the ring leaders Coate qui Coate and send them to the Castle, part of the Clackmannan Y[eoman]ry or any other troops that can be spared could march to Blakline to be readiness to support us should we require their aid, let me know if this plea meets with your approbation, as it is my anxious wish to crush them as soon as possible and lay hold of their ring leaders whenever this can be accomplished all over the  Country their followers lurk in their folly and return to their usual avocations I ever am

My Dear Major

Sincerely yours

Peter Speirs

Culneuk 6 April


When I began this letter I intended it for Staffa but I have just heard that you have returned with the Stirlingshire to Stirling – all quiet Here and at Balfron and the miles At turk


Fintry 5 April 1820


In obedience to your orders I went this forenoon to Balfron to make enquiry into the facts regarding the Arms said to have been carried off from Houses in that neighbourhood. I found from Lieu[tenan]t

Finlayson that the reports which had reached you were correct. While we were in conversation, a man of the name of James Macadam a Carter in Little Boquhan from whom a fowling piece had been taken, fortunately came past. We called him in and the following is a detail of what took place in regard to the

seizure of his gun.

On Sunday night the 2nd inst, about 10 or fifteen minutes to 12, he heard a knocking at his door. He got up out of bed, and asked ‘who was there?’ the answer was ‘open the door’ he accordingly did so, when several men, more than half a dozen, came into the house, and one of them said to a great number who were without ‘let no more come in’. He asked them what they wanted, and one of them whose name he thinks is Andrew Macfarlane a weaver in Balfron said Have you a gun? He answered he had they told him they wanted her, to which he replied ‘he would like to know who wanted her’ McFarlane said they would read their warrant and McAdam having by this time lighted a candle, McFarlane read to him a printed paper, the contents of which he does not well recalled, but it said something about ‘their not being what people imagined they were, and that they wanted not plunder’ & so on this must have been the printed address which you have seen – when they further reading they again said they must have his gun, and he having answered that he would not give it when two or three of them, one of whom was he thinks William MacNair weaver in Balfron leaped upon chairs and took down the gun from where it was hanging; and the whole party immediately went off saying they would return the gun the following night – I need hardly say that they have not kept their promise besides Macfarlane & MacNair, the following persons were also in the house George Gillies, Moses Gilfillan and And[re]w Reid, all weavers in Balfron; but from the confusion in which he was, and the darkness of the night, he did not recognise any others. The same night a neighbour of McAdams a John Anderson a weaver in Little Boquhan had a fowling piece taken from him, in a similar manner; and Lieu[tenan]t Finlayson states that guns were also taken from the following persons – Alex. Neilson, John Neilson & George Leny, all farmers in Boquhan, W[ilia]m Dougal, Miller & ___ Smiley Shoemaker there. The house of Hector McLean, Road Contractor at Boquhan was also searched, but altho’ he had a gun they did not find it out. I had no opportunity however of conversing with these persons, and indeed it may be prudent not to make much further enquiry lest those concerned take the alarm. The five men whom McAdam names as having been in his house are noted characters, and W[ilia]m Finlayson thinks they might if taken by surprise be apprehended without much difficulty. Lieu[tenan]t Finlayson says the Radicals to the amount of about 200 were drilling in the neighbourhood of Balfron this forenoon. A man who saw them repeats they had no arms but merely switches in their hands; and they did little more than march & countermarch. While I remained in Balfron every thing appeared quiet – scarcely anybody to be seen on the streets which is attributed by Lieu[tenan]t Finlayson to their not having received favourable accounts from Glasgow, betwixt which they have it is understood carriers hand ling regularly I am respected Sir.

your obedient

humble servant

W[ilia]m Galbraith


Capt[ain] Speirs

The second letter is from Michael Stewart Nicholson to Major Murray and was written at 10 pm. It gives details of troop movements and some of the actions taken by groups of radicals.

Letter Michael Stewart Nicolson at Falkirk to Major William Murray, 6th April 1820

Falkirk April 6th

10 o’clock p.m.

My dear Murray

The enclosed came hereby two orderlies about ½ past 4 I opened it thinking it might require an immediate answer & read it with the liveliest satisfaction which I am sure you wil do. An order came from Sir Tho[ma]s Bradford by the same Orderlies for John Hope to move with his Troop at Falkirk  so as to arrive at Airdrie exactly ar 12 o’clock tonight & to have the horses fresh on their arrival they left this in consequence at 7 o’clock & I gave them Henry Cowburgh as a guide. Across the moor Road to Airdrie. I presume therefore that  something decided is expected tonight. At 7 this m[ornin]g I mustered my Troop & marched them a little way out of town towards Camelon & gave them a little preparatory exercise for any night work that may occur. We returned into quarters here a little before 8. I have ordered a piquet of 10 men & a Sergeant & 2 men from whom went at 10 to Cap[tain] Burdett who was to send a Hussar with them. By my advice they patrolled as far as Bony Bridge. At 12 o’clock I send a Corp[oral] & 2 men with a Hussar are to patrole that part of the Road till 3 in the m[ornin]g I have also ordered a piquet of two men to patrole the road between Carron Stenhouse Moor & this between 11 & 1 o’clock. Such are our arrangements for the night. All is quite quiet here I have received the following authentic intelligence “ that W[ilia]m Grinley’s house at Bonny Mill has been threatened to be burnt this night for his having given information yesterday of the Radicals having left the high road at Bony Bridge. This threat is to be executed By the Radicals of Camelon & Battlefield & the Colliers of Banknock about 100 many almost all armed with guns are swearing vengeance against W[ilia]m Grinley. I have also learnt this m[ornin]g from undoubted authority that 50 pikes were finished off & distributed yesterday m[ornin]g at Camelon. I shall report any thing that may occur you should surely send for Mr Cameron of Cupar cary to Stirling tomorrow to give you accurate particulars of the man Arthur now assistant in Stirling Castle

Yours MS Nicolson