ID: 25901
Report of the trial of the issues, in the action of damages for libel in the Beacon,

TRIAL: Duncan STEVENSON,, Report of the trial of the issues, in the action of damages for libel in the Beacon, James Gibson of Ingliston, Esq. Clerk to the Signet - Pursuer, against Duncan Stevenson, printer in Edinburgh - Defender. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Co. 1822.

8vo., (8) + 139 + (1) + 2 + (2)pp., including the half-title and final advertisement leaf, recently well bound in cloth, spine gilt lettered. A very good copy.

First edition.

This action relates to allegations printed in the Beacon newspaper subsequent to prosecution of Frances Mackay for passing forges banknotes, and is a notable Scottish libel trial. Duncan Stevenson & Co. was a highly successful Edinburgh printing company, Stevenson himself being a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, entirely opposed to political and social reform. The early 1820s was a time of considerable political confrontation with Stevenson's company being used to print highly contentious material. From its very first issue printed by Duncan Stevenson & Co. the Beacon contained a vituperative attack in its leading article on the Whigs and their paper the Scotsman. In 1821 occurred a nasty confrontation with James Stuart of Dunearn and in the following year (1822) a libel action brought against the Beacon by Lord Archibald Hamilton M.P. "Much more serious was the Beacon's libel of John Gibson of Ingleston, a Writer to the Signet and agent of the Bank of England in Edinburgh, who was described as 'a great agent of Whiggism.' The newspaper accused Gibson of impropriety in bringing a prosecution in 1819 for counterfeiting (then a capital offence) against Frances Mackay, whom he had paid to turn King's evidence. With the backing of the Bank, Gibson went to court. The trial, which followed that of Lord Archibald, was aglitter with many senior figures in Scottish public life appearing at witnesses. As the Beacon had also cast doubt on the independence of the Scottish judiciary, the judge and counsel at the trial of Frances Mackay, along with Frances herself and her father, appeared as witnesses. The trumped up nature of the attack became obvious when it emerged that Frances, who believed she was on trial for her life, had been relieved to be spared the alternative punishment of transportation by a Royal Pardon. The evidence made it clear that her trial had been conducted fairly and properly. During the trial, questioning of William Mitchell, a friend of Stevenson, revealed that when Mitchell had urged him to apologise to Gibson, Stevenson had admitted 'Ruined I am backed by those who could stand for a million of damages'. It then emerged that none other than the Lord Advocate, Sir William Rae, and other leading Tories had signed a bond as sureties for 100 each for any debt that Stevenson might incur with the Bank of Scotland. In the circumstances, the jury took little time in awarding Gibson 500 damages. The hot-blooded James Stuart was not satisfied and demanded satisfaction of the Lord Advocate who, with no taste for duelling, disavowed his association with the paper. Gibson then challenged Walter Scott, who had been a reluctant signatory of the bond, to a duel. The Earl of Lauderdale agreed to be his second but, before the bullets flew, good sense intervened. It was agreed that the Beacon should cease publication immediately and the threats of duels were withdrawn. These events seem to have done Stevenson no harm, for in 1823 he became Printer to the University." [Michael Moss, The curious case of Duncan Stevenson: printer to Edinburgh University.