Records of the Scottish High Court of Admiralty

which mention ships and/or people of Dundee

All the records are in manuscript, either bound volumes or bundles of loose papers. They are held at West Register House, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh (the Dundee to Edinburgh buses stop at the door of WRH).


Registers of Decreets - 17th Century

AC11 - Bonds of Caution
(All dated between 1703 and 1750)

12  James Blair merchant of Edinburgh, becomes caution that the following men of Dundee will compear to answer criminal charges brought against them by the Commissioners of HM Customs in Scotland:

Merchants  Alexander Robertson  David Maxwell      Alexander Maxwell
  Thomas Wardroper James Yeaman  George Ramsay
  John Robertson    [ ] Henderson      Alexander Ranken
  William Duk   James Ogilvy  
Mariners  William Duk  Alexander Ranken  Oliver Ballingal


81   David Kid of Mains of Dudhope. That the Margaret of Dundee, master James Davidson shipmaster of Dundee, will be forthcoming to John Smith of Smithfield.
84  John Gray merchant of Perth. That the Amelia of Perth, master John Lamy shipmaster of Perth, will be forthcoming to Alexander Gall merchant of Dundee.
114 John Ballingall writer of Edinburgh. That the Margaret of Dundee, master Thomas Charters shipmaster of Dundee, will be forthcoming to James Smith merchant of Bordeaux.
119 Colin Campbell shipmaster of Leith. That the goods of Capt Alexander Wood ex-master of the Amelia of Perth, arrested in the hands of James Oliphant and Patrick McGillivy merchants of Perth and Alexander Ogilvy clerk of Dundee Custom House, will be forthcoming to Francis Blaikie merchant of Perth.
124  Laurence Oliphant of Gask and Joseph Austin of Ardagy. That James Oliphant and Co merchants of Perth, will pay any debts found due by them to Charles Lamy of London and Sylvester Lamy controller of the Customs at Dundee, brothers german to the late John Lamy master of the Amelia of Perth, and Helen Gentleman his widow.
130 Hugh Craig merchant of Edinburgh. That the goods of William Thomson carpenter of Dundee, arrested in the hands of Catherine Miller widow of Thomas Sim tenant of Seaside, will be forthcoming to Andrew Brydie carpenter of Dundee.
133 Fairholme and Arbuthnot merchants of Edinburgh; that the Isobel of Dundee, master Thomas Webster, will be forthcoming to David Daes and Co, Sail and Ropemakers of North Leith.
159 Captain William Bryden baxter of Edinburgh, and John Pettrie merchant of Edinburgh; that the Samuel of Dundee, master George Pettrie, mate John Adam, will be forthcoming to William Stewart ex bailie of Perth.
167 David Walker merchant of Dundee; that Alexander Blair writer of Edinburgh, will pay the clerk of the HCAS £18 14/- for the Isobel and Betty  of Dundee, ex-owners David Walker merchant of Dundee and James Smith shipmaster of the North Ferry of Dundee.
176  George Burn merchant of Dundee; that the sloop Isobel of Dundee, owner David Walker merchant of Dundee, arrested at Dundee, will be forthcoming to Alexander Ogilvie deputy shoremaster of Dundee.
189 David Sandeman merchant and John Blyth shipmaster of Dundee; that the Janet of Dundee, input master Robert Finlay, will be forthcoming to Andrew Johnston merchant of Anstruther and James Mansfield merchant of Edinburgh.

AC16 - Criminal Records
Most of the Admiralty cases are of a relatively minor nature, but the Court was occasionally called upon to try cases of assault and murder, when these were committed within its area of jurisdiction.

Volume 1 (5 March 1705 - 24 September 1735)
pp99 - 130       Trial of Alexander Robertson and others for an assault upon some Excise officers on board a vessel in the Harbour of Dundee in 1714. Acquitted.
pp131 - 204     Trial of John Crawford, Collector of the Customs at Bo'ness, for the murder of a Sailor belonging to a Dundee vessel in 1717. Acquitted.

AC13/1 - Commissions: 1702-1733
This is the first volume in the series of Registers of Commissions. It is labelled 1718-1733 both in the Index and on the spine. In fact the entries begin at 1702, but from the evidence of the handwriting and the way in which the entries are set out, it would appear that the book was begun in 1718, with the earlier entries being first copied in from another source - not always in strict date order.
The nature of the Commissions varies from warrants creating High Admirals to appointments of Clerks and other court officials. Most of them concern the admission of Admirals Depute, each with jurisdiction over a stated area of the coast.
The commissions occupy only the first half of the volume. The second half, whose pages are numbered independently, contains a record of bonds, discharges, dispositions etc, also beginning in 1702.
Most commissions are those granted by Mr James Graham advocate, Judge of the High Court of Admiralty of Scotland.  The commissions to Admirals Depute were granted by the Vice Admiral of Scotland. Until 1729, the Admiral was Charles Duke of Queensberry. On page 170 is recorded George II's grant of the Vice Admiralty to John, Earl of Stair, dated 5 February 1729. This commission was not registered in the HCAS until February 1730. In the meantime, Admiral Depute commissions were granted or confirmed by James Graham. These commissions are marked with an asterisk.

All the commissions were dated at Edinburgh, unless otherwise stated.
p 81 James Graham (Judge of the Admiralty Court) to Mr John Falconer, advocate, to be his deputy "Forasmuch as I am necessarily to be in the country for some time". 20 April 1714 (at Dundee)
p 91 "Forasmuch as there are two Admiral precepts raised, executed and libelled at the instance of George Robertson, writer in Edinburgh, against David Skeen skipper in Leith, James Sutherland merchant there, Thomas Mayo ropemaker, John Allan skipper in Dundee and William Sutherland merchant in Leith. And in respect George Robertson is my relation and the ground of the actions may be for his behoof. Wherefor I do not incline to decide in the matter. Therefore to have nominated, constituted and appointed....Mr John Elphinstone advocate in, judge for....deciding....the said two several actions."
10 January 1717

Contents of
second half of AC13/1

(Entries pertaining to the years 1711 - 1720)
(Dates are those of Registration of each document)

p30 Bond - John Oliphant, merchant of Dundee, is to pay the Clerk of the HCAS £130 scots for 2/9 of the Providence of Dundee, John Young last master, which was bought for him by William Govan, writer of Edinburgh, at public roup. 4 July 1705

p32 Obligement - Alexander Swinton, Clerk of the Canongate, promises to obtain a discharge to John Graham, merchant of Dundee, Robert Nairn, merchant of Elie, and all concerned in a charter party with James Swan, master of the Providence of St Andrews, for a voyage from St Andrews to the Forth and then to the Sound, in which the ship was taken and ransomed. 13 July 1705
p 208     Discharge - James Beattie, shipbuilder in Leith, has received from Alexander Gordon, clerk to the HCA, the proceeds of the roup of 1/8 of the Unicorn of Dundee, which belonged to his debtors William Sutherland, merchant of Leith, and John Clyton, skipper in Dundee, master of the Unicorn.
11 March 1718
p 212     Discharge - John, James, Robert, Thomas, William, Alexander and Henry Guthrie, children of the late James Guthrie, ex-baillie of Dundee; and their curators Mr James Guthrie of Wosthall, Thomas Scot merchant and ex-baillie of Dundee, and David Ramsay snr, merchant of Dundee. Have received from Alexander Gordon, clerk to the HCA, the proceeds of the roup of 1/8 of the George of Dundee, formerly belonging to John Oliphant, ex-baillie of Dundee. The share was bought by Thomas Johnston, writer in Edinburgh.
18 March 1718

AC 13 volume II
Commissions: 1733 – 1750

p 89 Caution: David Walker merchant of Dundee, is cautioner that Alexander Blair writer of Edinburgh, will pay the clerk of the HCAS, for the Isobel and Betty of Dundee: ex-owners the said David Walker and James Smith shipmaster of North Ferry of Dundee.
7 January 1745

The Contents of Bundles
Reference no AC8
Decrees in Absence

These bundles contain the documentation of cases in which a judgement is given in the absence of the defendant. They are quite small, containing from two to six documents each.  The number of documents in a bundle is noted on the outside, eg 1/3 = three documents. Each bundle is also endorsed with the names of the protagonists and the date of the case.
The following three types of document are almost always present in the bundles:

A precept is an instruction to an individual to carry out an action. The precepts in the AC8 and AC9 bundles are instructions to the court macer. They are in two sections. The top section sets out the circumstances of the case, often in some detail. Beneath this is a second section which comprises a warrant for a decision of the court to be carried out; eg for a defendant or witnesses to be summoned to compear or a ship or goods to be arrested. The court Macer was responsible for seeing that the summons or arrestment was executed. He might do this himself but in most cases he commissioned an official Messenger to perform the task. The back of the precept is usually endorsed with a warrant from the Macer to a Messenger authorising him to serve the summons or carry out the arrestment. The space in the warrant for the messenger to be named is often left blank.

Example - from AC9/330   Oswald  v  Ainslie
(spelling and punctuation modernised; inserted matter in italics)
Thomas Earl of Pembroke and Lord High Admiral of Great Britain, and David Earl of Wemyss Vice Admiral for Scotland and Isles thereof, to our servants and officers of our High Court of Admiralty conjointly and severally constitute, greeting.

Forasmuch as it is humbly meant and shown to us by [our lovit] Thomas Oswald, skipper in Kirkcaldy, that where Alexander Ainslie, master of the Glassworks at Leith, is justly resting and owing to him the sum of twentyfive pounds sterling as the agreed freight, for transporting two thousand one hundred and fifteen bushel of ashes and nine casks with clay from London to Leith in August last, conform to bills of lading in his own hands, signed by Henry Philp, input master in the said (?) ship. And albeit the said complainer has oft and divers times desired and required payment of the said freight since delivery of the said goods, yet he refuses, and therefore ought and should be decerned to make payment of the said sum of twentyfive pounds sterling to the complainer and five pounds sterling for expenses and damages, and ought to deliver the said bills of lading for liquidating the agreed freight.
Our will is therefore, and we charge you that you peremptorily summon, convene and charge Alexander Ainslie merchant, master of the Glasswork of Leith. Viz; if they be within this kingdom personally or at their dwelling place, and if forth thereof by open proclamation at the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh and Pier and Shore of Leith, on sixty days warning, to compear before the judge of the High Court of Admiralty at Edinburgh or where it shall happen him to be for the time: the eleventh day of October next in the hour of cause, to hear and see the premises verified and proven, and being so done, to hear and see himself decerned in manner mentioned.

Or else to allege, and if need be to give and declare their oaths of verity upon the parts of the said libelled precept insofar as shall be referred thereto and not otherwise proven by writ or witness. With certification to them if they fail, they shall be held as confessed and decerned. And in the meantime it is our will and we charge you, that upon sight hereof you pass, and in our Soveriegn's name only and ours, fence and arrest all the ships, barks, boats, goods, gear, debts, sums of money and othe whatsoever, pertaining to the said defenders. Take the sails and anchors from the said vessels (the same being always in a safe harbour) to remain under sure fence and arrestment at the said complainer's instance, until sufficient caution and surety be found acted in the books of the said Admiralty, the same shall be made forthcoming to him as law will. And if need be that you, in name and forsaid, command and charge all judges, magistrates and others whom it effeirs to concurr with and assist you in putting hereof to due execution. According to justice as you will answer to us thereupon. The which to do we commit to you conjointly and severally our full power by this our precept.
Given under our signet of Admiralty, at Edinburgh this first day of October 1709 years.
Daniel Hamilton [Clerk of Admiral Court]

This is fairly short example. The second half mentions defendants in the plural because it was a standard form and there were often more than one defendant.)

Execution (usually abbreviated 'Excn')
The Execution is a slip of paper testifying that the Macer or Messenger has carried out the instructions of the Court. Several executions were written on the same piece of paper, which was then cut up, giving each document a long, narrow shape. They follow a set formula and are signed by the official concerned and at least two witnesses. The witnesses are often other Messengers or Edinburgh tradesmen, but when a summons was served at a location distant from the Capital the witnesses could be local men.
A summons to compear was, if possible, served personally on the individual concerned. If he was not at home his wife might receive it. If all else failed it was sufficient to leave it 'in the lock-hole of the door'. An arrestment of a ship was nailed to the mast, which was also marked with a sign of arrestment. If a ship was to be rouped (auctioned) the Execution of the advertisements for the roup stated the locations in which the placards had been posted.

(Spelling and punctuation modernised. Document divided up into paragraphs)
Upon the fifth day of July 1708 I, Archibald Leckie messenger, passed at the command of the within written precept and warrant on the back thereof, raised at the instance of the within designed Mr Anthony Murray merchant of Edinburgh. And by virtue thereof in her Majesty's name and authority and in name of George Prince of Denmark, Lord High Admiral of Great Britain, and David, Earl of Wemyss, Vice Admiral for Scotland; lawfully summoned, warned and charged

James Matheson seaman, indweller in Earlsferry, present skipper of the Dogger of Elie, by delivering to him a just copy of the said precept subscribed with my hand, personally apprehended. And William Lindsay, skipper in Methil after the knocking of six several knocks at and upon the most patent door or gate of his dwelling house in Methil, and sticking in the lockhole thereof as use is. After intimation of the same to his wife and servants, because I could not apprehend him personally. Both of them to compear before the judges of the said High Court of Admiralty at Edinburgh or where it happens for them to be at the time, upon the eighth day of June instant peremptorily in the hour of cause, to answer at the instance of the said pursuer, in manner, to the effect and for the reasons and causes libelled in the principal precept. And I made certification as is within expressed.
This I did after the form and tenor of the said withinwritten precept. In all points of the which I delivered, affixed and left for the said James Mathison and William Lindsay just copies asa aforesaid, both which copies did bear the day and date hereof, with the witnesses names and designations present thereat therein inserted and hereto subscribing.
Before these witnesses William Anderson horse herder in Elie and Alexander Arthur, servitor to Mr Patrick Arthur, apothecary in the Elie, with several others at each of the aforsaid places and for the more verification of this my said execution, I and the said witnesses have subscribed the same with our hands.
Ard Leckie messr  (messenger)  William Anderson witness  Alexander Arthour  witness