The Storming of Dundee

On 1st of September 1651, the storming of Dundee and the siege of General Monck began. General George Monck, Commander-in-chief to Oliver Cromwell, stormed the town of Dundee and captured its townsfolk. A bloody battle and siege ensued, provoked by Cromwell’s outrage at the Royalist stance of it’s people. Dundee was completely walled-in at that time – viewed by many as one of the safest towns in the country – and was a rich, thriving community. Dundee was home to the largest gold depository in Scotland and the majority of the wealth of many viscounts and earls lay nestled within its confines. A previous warning from General Monck to the people of Dundee for their surrender was met with refusal, and he was greatly angered by this.

Legend says children from Dundee knew a secret way in and out of the town and had revealed to Moncks’ troops that the Dundee garrison had a habit of being drunk by lunchtime, so Monck attacked sometime in the morning of 1st September. A different theory offers that it may not have been a local child who helped Monck, but, in fact a short, child-like man employed by the bloodthirsty General to infiltrate the games of the town’s children in an attempt to glean vital information without arousing suspicion. Upon forcing entry, Monck promised his troops 24 hours free licence to loot and pillage the besieged town. Monck quickly lost control of his troops, and, as a result, the killing and looting went on for 3 days or more.

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The town’s defenders were rounded up and massacred without mercy. The town was pillaged, set on fire, women raped and men, women and children put to the sword in a killing frenzy. The Governor of Dundee, Robert Lumsden was executed, beheaded and then had his head placed on a spike, which was then displayed from the parapets of the Steeple.
The streets literally ran with blood for 3 days, and it was said that it took the sight of a dead woman with a baby still feeding at her breast to move Monck to pity and call off his men. The troops pillaged everything of value they could find, and a fleet of 60 ships, many commandeered from the harbours of Dundee was needed to take the vast amounts of treasure back to England. A collection of over 200,000 gold coins, estimated to be worth up to £12 billion is suspected to have been on board, but the full value of the treasure pillaged from Dundee is not known.

When the fleet sailed from Dundee, stories say that a freak storm rose up to swallow all 60 ships to the bottom of the Tay estuary. Other stories refer to a fire on one of the ships, which quickly got out of control and spread to the rest of the fleet, causing the ships to sink. Whatever tragedy befell the vessels, one thing remained clear – the treasure had been lost. Despite many subsequent search efforts, the ships have never been recovered, and the wrecks of the 60-strong fleet laden with treasure remain lost to the sea, eager to be found and returned to land.

Some say the once wealthy and prosperous town never fully recovered. The English Army occupied Dundee for 9 years after the siege, and we still walk today over the bodies of those fallen in this bloodiest of Dundee battles, buried in mass graves underneath the streets of our city centre.

Many have tried to find the loot, but all have failed. Perhaps the strong currents have washed the wrecked ships and treasure with it further away, perhaps the quick moving sands on the sea bed have already buried the treasure far below the surface. Whatever the fate of the fleet who ransacked Dundee, their actions left our city ravaged; forever changed by the deeds of Monck and his terrible army.

The following is a short extract from a diary of proceedings we found at www.generalmonck.com, which gives a small insight into what happened during what could be Dundee’s bloodiest and darkest days:

Sept. 1. About 4 o’clock in the morning our great guns began to play before Dundee round about the line. The enemy for two or three hours answered us gun for gun, besides small shot from their works, til such time as large breaches were made in two of their most considerable forts… Mr. Hane the engineer played the mortar piece…

Three hundred horse and dragoons, being eleven of [each?] troop, were appointed to fall on with the foot with sword and pistol. Our men were drawn forth in ambuscades by daybreak to fall upon when breaches were made, and with them 200 seamen who had their posts assigned, and 400 horse appointed to second them mounted…

Capt. Hart led on the forlorn of Lt. General Monck’s regiment on the west side, Major Robinson the horse, and Col. Ashfield’s regiment went on the east side. Capt. Ely led on the Pioneers [engineer troops] who made way for the horse [through the breaches], and the Lt. General went in person. Our word was “God with us,” and the sign a white cloth or shirt hanging out behind.

About 11 o’clock the signal was given, and breaches being made into the enemy’s forts on the east and west sides of the town, our men entered, and after about half an hour of hot dispute, diverse of the enemy retreated to the church and steeple, and amongst the rest the Governor, who was killed with between four and five hundred soldiers and townsmen…

There was killed of ours Capt. Hart and about 20 soldiers, and as many wounded.

When our men got to the marketplace they gave quarter, and took about 500 prisoners, and amongst the rest Col. Coningham, Governor of Sterling, who was in the town with many of his soldiers which marched thence [after their surrender August 14].

The soldiers had the plunder of the town for all that day and night, and had very large prize, many inhabitants of Edinburgh and other places having sent their ware and gear thither.

There were about 60 [or 190] sail of ships in the harbor of 10, 6, and 4 guns, which were all prize; about 40 pieces of ordnance, many arms and store of ammunition…

By the best testimony we could get, the townspeople were most obstinate against a rendition on terms, being confident of their own works and strength, having formerly beat out Montrose, but they have now most suffered for it, and paid dearly for their contempt.

Sept. 2. Proclamation was made by the Lt. General that the soldiers should forbear further plundering or rifling of the houses in Dundee, and order given to the inhabitants to bury the dead.

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The following text is the Act of Parliament for additional voluntary contributions to help with rebuilding the town from the aftermath:

Act of parliament, in favour of the Burgh of Dundee, for a voluntary contribution, in respect of the loss incurred at the Storming of the Town and destruction of the Walls, dated 23rd December, 1669
At Edinburgh the twentie-third day of December, one thousand six hundreth threescore nyne years: The King’s Majestie and Estates of Parliament takeing to their consideration the loyaltie, affection, and fidelitie of the Burgh of Dundie to His Majestie’s service, and that in September 1651 the samen was stormed and taken violently by the Usurpers, and their town plundered, with the loss of many lyves; and the great loss latelie sustained by the said Burgh & inhabitants thereof through the breaches made upon their Walls from their hospitall to the seagateport, and upon the harbour & bulwark to the utter demolishing thereof and loss of several of their ships, goods, and vessels, occassioned by the great storm and tempest of wether in the month of October lastly past, so that besides their losses sustained by them in their private fortunes, one hundreth thousand pund Scots will not repair their publick losses, Whereby the said Burgh and Inhabitants thairof are rendered unable to repair the said harbour without some supplie be granted to them for that effect. Therefore his King’s Majestie, with advice and consent of his Estates of Parliament, doe seriously Recommend the condition of the said burgh of Dundie to the archbishops, Bishops, and Ministers of the gospel, and all incorporations within the kingdome, for a free and voluntary contribution, to be gathered for the help and supplie of the said Burgh towards the reparation of their harbours and bulwark; And Recommends to them to order and direct the fittest and best way of contributing thairof, and that the samen may be delivered to any person who shall be entrusted by the Provost, Baillies, and Councill of the said burgh of Dundie having their Commission to receive the said contribution. – Extracted furth of the Records of Parliament by me, Sir Archibald Primrose of Thestor, Knight & Barronet, Clerk of his Majestie’s Councill Registers and Rolls.
A. Primrose, Clk. Reg

2 thoughts on “The Storming of Dundee

  • February 5, 2016 at 12:20 am
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    I have applied for a grant to the visual arts/Dundee museum for the sum of five hundred pounds. I propose to make a boxed window diorama depicting the painting-the siege of undee.it will look exacty like the room in the old steeple being defended by lumsdem and his comrades. it will be 75mm in scale.hopefully it will be displayed in the museum or perhaps the new v/a.

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