The Crooked Lake Review

Fall 2006-Winter 2007

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Clan Colquhoun and

Patrick Colquhoun


David Minor

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Part 2

Patrick III

Four cities in Scotland — Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow — are privileged to chose a Lord Provost rather than a mayor. In essence this means the person is also a personal representative to the Queen or King, a Lord Lieutenant. In Glasgow, today's is a woman, Liz Cameron. In 1782 the post was given to our friend Patrick Colquhoun. He was not the first of his clan to hold the post in its first three-plus centuries of existence; two ancestors had preceded him, several centuries back. The post is mostly honorary and its main purposes are to promote a spirit of co-operation with the home country and to sponsor civic and social functions. Thus his founding of the city's chamber of commerce in the middle of his two-year term.

The new Lord Provost now needed a residence worthy of his exalted situation. He purchased 24 acres of land about two miles west of the city, building a two-story mansion there where the River Kelvin enters the River Clyde from the north, surrounding it with gardens, and naming his estate Kelvingrove. Today the site is part of a popular city park, but the house no longer stands, having been demolished in 1899. An even grander Art Museum stands on the site today.

When Colquhoun's term ended in 1784 he began focusing his considerable energies beyond Glasgow's limits, spending more and more time in London, although he would not move there for another five years. Textiles were still a major concern of Colquhoun's and the trade had fallen into a slump. It was still pretty much a cottage industry and the mechanical revolution had barely gotten underway. Part of the problem was due to successful lobbying efforts by woolen merchants to have special taxes placed on cotton cloth. Our man joined forces with those launching their own counter-lobbying effort, which ended with the tax being repealed.

As new technology began coming on line and the cotton industry rebounded, Patrick turned his attentions to foreign competition, much of it coming out of the East Indies by way of the Low Countries. In 1788 he was off to Ostend, Belgium, to study the Dutch East India trade there. Ostend ships had been trading with India since 1602; he figured they must be doing something right. Perhaps it was on this mission that he first met William Hornby, recent governor of Bombay. Whenever they first met, the two men would later cooperate on a business venture with a third, but that story's for later.

When Colquhoun returned, he gathered his thoughts and took up a new occupation, that of pamphleteer and ombudsman for the local textile industries If you made it all the way through "An Important Crisis in the Calico and Muslin Manufacture in Great Britain; Explained," Colquhoun soon had several others for your perusal, edification and maybe even enjoyment. Of course, as you were reading, conditions in revolutionary France were deteriorating rapidly, war between the traditional enemies was on the horizon. Colquhoun was ready and fired off another pamphlet on that subject.

It was becoming quite evident that there was only so much a reform-minded individual could do from a distance. Colquhoun put Kelvingrove on the market and moved to London. The Victorian Web presents an overview of the Industrial Revolution in Britain at /ir/irov.html. There is a brief timeline covering the years between 1692 and 1908 (JethroTull was around long before the music group), sets of bibliographies, and a number of articles on: Preconditions; Textiles (especially prominent in Patrick Colquhoun's sphere ); Railways and Steel. Links to other sites are gathered at California's "Industrial Revolution Resources From the Chico High School Library" at: (including Simon Pontin's WXXI-FM source for "Invention Dimension," in case you'd like hard copy).

Crime on the Docks

British mystery writer P. D. James and police historian T. A. Critchley's 1971 "The Maul and the Pear Tree" recounts several brutal group murders committed in December of 1811 near the London docks. In an early section detailing the history of London's police force, in describing magistrate John Harriott they mention that he, "(in 1798) helped Patrick Colquhoun to plan the River Police with its headquarters at Wapping."

Shortly after his move to London in November, 1789, former Glasgow Lord Provost Patrick Colquhoun would seem to have felt he had Britain's textile industry more or less straightened out. While studying its transport situation he may have learned of the high loss of revenue due to theft on the docks. The disjointed efforts to fight crime in England's capital city were carried out by bands of "Churchwardens, Overseers and Trustees of the parish vestry," as well as elderly workingmen supplementing their poor daytime wages by becoming watchmen, neither group the least willing to cooperate with the other. Political patronage was rampant and the magistrates that oversaw this feeble force of decrepit watchmen were for the most part corrupt.

Whatever his original motivation, Colquhoun now had another cause that would keep him busy over the following decade. In 1792 prime minister William Pitt greatly augmented the Bow Street police court with an additional seven courts, each to be presided over by a magistrate who would be paid a stipend, or salary. Knowing of Colquhoun's interest in police affairs Pitt appointed him the stipendiary magistrate for the Westminster district. Each of the courts was assigned six paid constables. One of the biggest innovations of the scheme was the granting to the constables of the power to even make arrests of suspected persons (such power severely limited, of course; can't go too crazy). Having a chance to come face to face with the criminal element every day gave Colquhoun new insights into society's underbelly. And, of course, engendered new pamphlets —"A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis" in 1796 (plus a second on the topic later that year) and, in 1800, "The Commerce and the Police of the River Thames." The latter described the beginnings of the above-mentioned 1798 project.

Colquhoun's partner in crime prevention was William Harriott, a former naval officer and underwriter/wine trader/farmer/inventor. Three months younger than Colquhoun, and now in some financial difficulties, Harriott had been discussing with a police magistrate uncle the possibility of a similar position, and considered, as he later put it, "the great advantages that would result to all concerned in the shipping commerce of the Port of London if a River Police was established." He and Colquhoun were introduced to each other, hit it off, and began organizing such a unit, forwarding their plans in October 1797, to the city's Lord mayor John Anderson and home secretary the Duke of Portland. Approval for the scheme was granted in June of the following year.

Backed financially by the West India Company and the Exchequer, the new unit with a chief constable supervising a police staff of 50, the organization proved a success and the two founders were appointed magistrates. The Thames River police's command vessel today, used mostly for ceremonial purposes, is named the Patrick Colquhoun.

If you can't get your hands on the James/Critchley book about the 1811 Ratcliffe Highway murders in London look at as told by PC (Police Constable) Bob Jeffries. For some of Jeffries' own adventures, visit, which will also catch you up on the modern duties of the Thames Division of the Metropolitan Police.

Shootout at Wapping Corral

Half a dozen police, their pistols loaded and ready, stand in front of a London police court, on either side of the two magistrates, who are themselves armed. Magistrate John Harriott, adrenaline flowing, has coordinated the defense, the action seeming "to electrify me and make me young again." His fellow judge, Patrick Colquhoun, begins reading the riot act, the equivalent of a Royal command to disperse, upon pain of lengthy imprisonment.

The threatening mob, several hundred strong, turns ugly and begins closing in. One of them is shot and carried off by his comrades. Another shot fired, this time from the crowd, passes through a police officer's hand. A third shot wounds another officer. It's October 16, 1798. The Thames River Police, created by the two men just four months earlier, faces its first real crisis.

The station sits in the Wapping neighborhood on the north bank of the Thames, east of Tower Bridge and St. Katherine's Docks. The two men had formed the force to cut down on the high crime levels that cost the shipping industry thousands of pounds a year. One of the greatest losses is from the area coalheavers, or stevedores, on the ships who tend to the offloading of coal shipped in from the mines of Wales, Cornwall and
northern England. For as long as the commodity's been shipped into London the coalheavers have been in the habit of taking several bushels of coal each from their vessels for their own uses; so long that they've come to accept it as their god-given right. They expect the shipowners and the police to look the other way. Negotiations with the latter have gotten nowhere. It was today, while the two magistrates were examining several coalheavers for the equivalent of illegal possession, that the mob formed. They tried without success to smash though the front door. Several paving stones had then slammed through the station windows. Harriott, Colquhoun and the officers made their way out through the front door. The shots were fired.

Now, the Riot Act having been read and ignored by the oncoming men, Harriott, Colquhoun and their men fired several more volleys in their direction; the mob retreated a bit but prepared themselves for another rush. Reinforcements began arriving — reinforcements for the police. Wiser heads among the coalheavers started taking charge and the action petered out. The crisis had passed. Accounts vary, but it seems likely there was just one fatality on each side.

One of the ringleaders was eventually caught and convicted. When one member of the mob or other was brought before the court on different matters, he was told that the court forgave, but remembered. Most showed their gratitude by mending their ways.

Colquhoun was soon "kicked upstairs," serving as Receiver of Fines. That first year of the force's operation 494 arrests were made for unlawful possession of government stores with 396 convictions obtained. Harriott summed it up, "Those best qualified to form a true judgement on the subject estimate that the suppression of smuggling and the protection of public stores had saved much more than £100,000 of the public money."

London's Metropolitan Police have been face-to-face with rioters ever since the Riot Act was passed in 1715. (Not a few major riots occurred before that as well, of course). You'll find many of them described at Links down the left side of the screen will take you to stories such as: Brides of Bath, Brighton Trunk Murders, Cecil Court Antique Shop Murder, Dr. Crippen, Jack the Ripper, and The Kray Twins. A historical timeline of the police, from 1829 through 2000 is at
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
© 2006, David Minor
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