The Greenock Massacre – Saturday 8th April 1820

On Saturday 8th April 1820, the last bloody act of Scotland’s short-lived Radical War took place, although more blood was to be spilled later that year. On the Saturday, the men of the Port Glasgow militia were escorting five Radical prisoners from the overcrowded gaol at Paisley to the gaol or bridewell, as it was then called, at Greenock, farther down the river Clyde.

Part of the harbour at Greenock around 1820

The militia and their prisoners reached Greenock around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. They found a hostile crowd waiting for them. One woman stepped in front of Adam McLeish, telling him he and his fellow volunteers were all ‘ill-looking blackguards. If there is any spirit in Greenock not one of you will return home this night.’ He told her to get out of his way. The militia delivered their prisoners to the bridewell and were starting for home but the crowd pursued them and starting throwing stones. The militia retaliated with lethal force, shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. Eight people died, including an 8-year-old boy, and more were wounded.

Greenock Dead and Injured (Courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive)

Incensed, and shouting ‘Remember Manchester’, the crowd stormed the bridewell and freed the five Radical prisoners, who were never re-captured. A public inquiry was held, at the end of which the Port Glasgow Militia was fully exonerated.

Memorials in Greenock remember the dead and wounded of the Greenock Massacre.

Names of the dead


Greenock Helping Hand Memorial (Sculpted by Angela Hunter)
Greenock Massacre Memorial Riverside Players