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April 11th 1789

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Rumblings of revolution

In the late 18th Century there developed all over Scotland a new interest in burgh and parliamentary reform. Bodies such as the Perth Society of Parliamentary Reform and Friends of the People sprang up and were exceedingly popular. The outbreak of the French Revolution pointed the way forward and was initially welcomed by many people of all classes. There was a flourishing branch of the United Scotsmen in Perth which while ostensibly favouring parliamentary reform probably went much further and secretly espoused republicanism and probably revolution.

The attitude of the ordinary citizens in Perth may be gauged by their attitude towards the army stationed in the town. During 1789 the military commissioned a joiner by the name of Gardiner to construct a rack for the better disciplining of the men.

One morning persons living near the barracks were horrified to hear terrified screams proceeding from the orderly room. A crowd gathered, and alarmed by what they heard disarmed the guard and broke down the door. Inside they found one man who had undergone the rack, one in the process of being tortured and one awaiting his turn. The commanding officer alarmed at the course of events, ordered the drums to beat but it was to no avail. Both he and the other officers were set upon by the mob, stoned and beaten with sticks. The prisoners were liberated and the rack brought out and publicly burned at the Cross. The mob then made their way to Gardinerís shop and destroyed all his equipment. Gardiner only escaped by getting away through a back window.

The bad feeling between the people and the military showed up again later in the year. A poor, married man with four children was found taking a few potatoes from a potato field. He was court- martialed by the military and sentenced to five hundred lashes to be administered at the North Inch. News of the affair became public and a large and hostile mob gathered at the Inch. The manís wife and children were present and pleaded with the commanding officer for leniency but were curtly rebuffed and the punishment began.

The man endured the first twenty five lashes, but the second twenty five inflicted by a left-handed drummer had the effect of tearing his skin. His wife put her child down and rushed to the drummer to stop the punishment but was seized by other men and dragged away screaming. It was a signal for the women among the crowd, with their laps full of stones, to stone the soldiers. Under this barrage the soldiers retreated and the crowd was enabled to release the prisoner.

They then turned their attention to the officer. The adjutant was secured and laid face down by the crowd. As the report puts it the women removed his nether garments and administered a comprehensive flogging. In parting they expressed the hope that he would remember the incident and profit by it.

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