Anatomical Museum

Bowed Joseph

The man who tamed the Edinburgh "Beast"


Rioting In Edinburgh in the mid to late 18th century was commonplace.  In Edinburgh's Old Town there were 25,000 people living and working between the Castle and the Canongate.  Living conditions were poor and this made rioting easy and at this time the Edinburgh mob became known as "The Beast" and it found a leader in Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith, otherwise known as "Bowed Joseph" or General "Bowed Joseph", was a cobbler who lived in the Cowgate. He was severely deformed by rickets but had very muscular arms. He was a force to be reckoned with as he was used by the City Council to settle the grievances of the Edinburgh citizens as he was able to control the crowds whether it be to gather a crowd to do his bidding or dispersing a crowd after acting as a negotiator. He used to walk through the city banging a drum with his wife walking behind him and could easily raise a crowd of 10,00 persons ready to do his bidding. He always managed to obtain a hogshead of ale to appease his followers.

One time during a scarcity, the Edinburgh mob at his bequest compelled the meal-dealers to sell their meal at a restricted price. However, one of them used a measure that only gave three-quarters of the usual measure. When Joseph found out he forced the culprit to give the whole amount before his premises were ransacked by the avenging mob while the law looked on.

This leader of the people was killed by a fall from the top of a stage-coach when returning from Leith races in an intoxicated state in 1780.