Key to the Characters

Characters in the Painting

The Painting shows Parliament Square teeming with individuals.  Many of the people, particularly those in the foreground, are copied from Kay’s Portraits or from the paintings of David Allan and are individuals whom John Kay would have seen frequently from his shop window. Some are distinguished Edinburgh citizens – prominent lawyers, doctors, clerics and business men. Others are more humble characters often selected because of their eccentricities which made them stand out from the crowd.  With help from family, I identified as many characters as possible from Kay’s original portraits, before discovering that this had already been done in an undated Key-Plate published by Alexander Hill[i]. This Key-Plate is an engraved copy of the 1844 engraving of the Painting by John Le Conte from which a few details have been omitted including the group of boys and a dog seen playing in the right hand side of the Square in the original.  With a single exception our identification agreed with that of the Key-Plate. I have used the numbering of the Key-Plate in the following vignettes of the characters. Most of the information in the vignettes has been obtained from the anonymous accounts contained in Kay’s Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings, 2 vols 1838. Additional sources are given references. 

The capital letters in the Key-Plate identify:-

A The splendid entrance to Parliament House with the statues of Justice and Mercy in the pediment above the door. B Part of the roof of the Old Tolbooth. C The spire of St Giles’ cathedral. D The statue of King Charles II. E John’s Coffee House.


Key-plate published by Alexander Hill [1]
  1. William Robertson DD (1721-1793)
  2. Sir Islay Campbell, Lord Succoth (1732-1823)
  3. Archibald Campbell-Colquhoun (1754-1820)
  4. Archibald Maconochie (Lord Meadowbank) (1777-1861)
  5. Donald Kennedy,Sedan Chairman
  6. Donald Black, Sedan Chairman
  7. Andrew Nicol,Vexatious Litigant
  8. Mary Walker, Vexatious Litigant
  9. John Skene,Vexatious Litigant
  10. Two unidentified ladies
  11. Two unidentified ladies
  12. Francis Anderson
  13. James Hunter
  14. Alexander Wood, (1725-1807)
  15. Dr Glen
  16. Laird Robertson or ‘the Daft Highland Laird’
  17. Lord Adam Gordon (1726-1801)
  18. Charles Philippe, the Count D’Artois(1757-1836)
  19. Highland Shepherd
  20. John Dowie, vintner
  21. The Three Beaux of Edinburgh
  22. The Three Beaux of Edinburgh
  23. The Three Beaux of Edinburgh
  24. Hugo Arnot (1749-1786)
  25. John Duncan or Gingerbread Jock 
  26. Ebenezer Wilson, brassfounder 
  27. Rev John Erskine (1721-1803)
  28. Rev Joseph Robertson Macgregor 
  29. James Marshall WS (1731-1807) 
  30. Thomas Elder, (1732-1799)
  31. Alexander Monro Secundus(1733-1817) 
  32. Rev Dr Alexander Turnbull(1748-1831) 
  33. The Edinburgh fishwife 
  34. A City Porter
  35. Andrew Bell (1726-1809) 
  36. William Smellie (1740-1795) 
  37. Dr Gregory Grant (c1718-1803) 
  38. Dr James Gregory (1753-1821) 
  39. Dr Andrew Hunter(1743-1809) 
  40. George Brown (c1722-1806)
  41. The chimney sweep boy 
  42. John Dhu, a City guardsman
  43. Jamie Duff 
  44. Dr James Hamilton Senior (1749- 1835)
  45. George Williamson (c1749- 1823)
  46. Geordie Cranston
  47. Samuel Macdonald (c1762-1802)
  48. Mr Maxwell
  49. The Vendor of Water 
  50. The Tronmen 
  51. Lachlan McBain (1716-1818)  
  52. Town Officer
  53. Mr James Laing, writer
  54. Captain James Burnet
  55. John Morrison
  56. Margaret Suttie, Salt Vendor

[i]Alexander Hill was the older brother of David Octavius Hill, the pioneering photographer. Alexander published many of his brother’s photographs and other prints from his shop in 67 Princes Street.  He died in 1860 so the Key-Plate, which is a simplified copy of the engraving of 1844, was presumably made between that date and the date of his death.