One of the most peculiar events to happen in Dumfries was the town's greatest riot which took place on 6th February 1829. The crimes of the Edinburgh "body snatchers" Burke and Hare who had strangled their victims and sold them to doctors for dissection had terrified all of Scotland. Burke was tried and executed but Hare, an Irishman, turned King's Evidence to save himself. He was granted free passage to Ireland and on his way to Portpatrick his coach stopped in Dumfries.

Kings Arms Hotel about 1973

Word got around the town and immediately a huge angry mob, many thousands strong, assembled outside the King's Arms Hotel (now Boots) where Hare was lodged while waiting for his coach to leave. Some of the mob burst into the hotel intent on killing him but he was taken to a small top room, for his own safety.

The coach was due to leave at 11am but Hare did not get on it. It drew out of the inn yard and struggled to the head of Buccleuch Street where it was stopped and searched. The mob immediately surged back to the King's Arms. Oddly enough during the afternoon a number of people were allowed to visit him. One woman nearly strangled him while the police were thinking of a method to get him out. If he had remained in the King's Arms until nightfall the mob would certainly have burst in and killed him. At 3pm a chaise and pair were brought to the hotel and a trunk was loaded as if he were about to leave. This was a decoy and the mob followed if half way round the town. Hare, however, had jumped out of a rear window and was bundled into another carriage at the rear of the hotel. The plan was to get him safely into the prison in Buccleuch Street. Some of the mob realised what was happening and set off in pursuit. He just made it to the prison. The mob was furious at being cheated and were about to burn down the door when a hundred special constables arrived to reinforce the police and militia.

By midnight, however, most of the mob had melted away and by 1am there were none left. Hare was woken from his sleep in the early hours and conveyed on his way. Everyone in Galloway knew he was coming and so instead he was set on the Annan road to England. Six months later his sister came to the hotel to collect some of his clothes which had been left behind in the confusion. They were pointed out to her, still lying in a corner of the top room - no one would touch them.

Buccleuch Street Prison and Courthouse

Back to