Infamous shooting by pupil to be relived in victim's home

Share this article

IT WAS an infamous crime that shocked 16th century Edinburgh.

A prominent businessman and city magistrate shot and killed by a pupil outside the old Royal High School in the Old Town.

Even in a day when students regularly carried guns to school and often staged rebellions against school authorities, the case was a cause clbre, which was reported to James VI.

While other city crimes, such as those of Burke and Hare, have become part of folklore, the murder of Bailie John Macmoran has largely been forgotten.

Now, more than 400 years after his death, the story is to be re-told on stage in Edinburgh - in the victim's former house.

Gentlemen's Bairns, by CS Lincoln, tells how Bailie Macmoran - said to be the wealthiest merchant in the city - was shot twice in the head after being called to the old Royal High School in 1595.

He was summoned after the pupils, all the children of wealthy businessmen or politicians, had started a "barring-out" - a rebellion in which they took over the school. The trouble had flared following the appointment of a new teacher, Hercules Rollock, who was unable to keep order in the class.

As a result of the amount of study time missed by students, the school board had threatened to cut their week-long autumn holiday - which caused outrage.

The pupils proceeded to lock themselves in the school with food and weapons to make their protest.

As a magistrate, Macmoran was called to help deal with the situation, but when he and several other men approached the doors to the school with a battering ram one of the pupils shouted down a warning that he would be shot.

He ignored the warning, and seconds later was killed after being shot twice in the head by one of the students, William Sinclair.

Seven boys were put in prison for the crime, but as they were all the sons of important gentlemen - Sinclair, later Sir William Sinclair of Mey, was the grandson of the Earl of Caithness - they were not kept long and their only punishment ultimately was expulsion.

The play retelling the story is to be performed in Riddle's Court, off the Lawnmarket, Macmoran's former home which is now an established arts venue.

Liz Hare, who is directing the play, said: "It is a fascinating bit of local history, even more so as we are performing it in Bailie Macmoran's old house.

"Holding the play here is a little like bringing the story full circle."

A theatre production of the story was put on by Royal High pupils in 1948, and the story is one which is still talked about.

Robert Forman, honorary secretary of the Royal High Club, said: "This is an infamous incident from the school's history and one that is constantly brought up when former pupils get together."

• The play by the Citadel Arts Group at Riddle's Court, off the Lawnmarket, is being staged from August 15 -19.