Leith Custom House and Ned Kelly’s Gang?

I was in Leith recently (see www.edinburghwalks.com for a guided walk to Leith) and  just off the Shore is the Bernard Street Bridge leading into Commercial Street. On the left is a tenement terrace of restaurants and flats which had sustained damage on the night of the Zeppelin attack on the area on 2nd April 1916. Directly opposite is the imposing Custom House of Leith which escaped any damage during this air raid. Built in 1812, taxes and levies were collected from the movement of goods through the Port of Leith, but in recent years the building has been used for storage by the National Museums of Scotland. Presently, the building is for sale and a move to have the Leith Museum housed here has gathered support and momentum.


The building is adjacent to Dock Place and the old Bondside of Commercial Street where restaurants and bars like Mithas, The Kitchin, Teuchters Landing, Fatma and Bistro Provence have brought this area to light and are all highly recommended.

But the Customs House was the subject of an international incident that, for it’s day, was an outrage. On Friday 4th February, 1881 around 11pm, two uniformed Sergeants by the name of Arnot & Reid from the world famous Leith Police (of “The Leith Police Dismisseth Us” tongue twister) were on patrol when they fell upon two males who were peering in the window of the Customs House. These two males gave their names as Seymour and Grant and stated they were from a ship in the Docks. One stated he was Australian, the other Irish/American. The Sergeants knew of no ship and detained the two, leading them towards the small Police Station at the Dock Gate where Teuchters Landing sits today.  On approach the men drew pistols and shot both unarmed Sergeants and ran off. A chase ensued and another Police Officer was shot and wounded. At the far end of the Bondside opposite the old Cromwellian Citadel Seymour was cornered and having fired his gun again, took his own life. Grant was arrested having tried to commit suicide, but his gun jammed. Grant was arrested and taken to Leith Police Station in Queen Charlotte Street. He later received 14 years gaol.


All three Officers that were shot survived and received commendations and financial redress. The Chief Constable of the Leith Police James Grant wrote to the Chief Officers of Police in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Dunedin and Adelaide as he believed the two men had come to Leith via London from Melbourne on board a ship called The Melbourne and had given different names. The Chief Constable stated that their proficient use of guns showed they may have used them in nefarious deeds in Australia and New Zealand. A copy of his letter is printed in the New Zealand Herald, dated 8th April 1881. It is a fascinating read.

But the rumour that spread around Leith was that these two bushrangers were in fact the remnants of the Australian Ned Kelly’s Gang and his associates who had recently been arrested, gaoled or executed. Had they fled to start a life of crime on the otherside of the world…………