John The Painter


John The Painter

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James Aitken, alias James Boswell, alias James Hill, alias James Hinde was born in Edinburgh in 1752, one of twelve children. His father died when he was young. He trained as a house painter but couldn't find work and tramped the country looking for jobs, housebreaking and pick-pocketing.

Along the way he became an impassioned supporter of the American Revolution. A two-year spell in America - where again he couldn't find work and was refused by the army - didn't dampen his ardour. As terrorists always do, he decided to strike where it would hurt most - in the naval dockyards.

They were vital to keep British naval supremacy. No ships = no navy. His first act of terror was to burn down Portsmouth Dockyard in December 1776 but luckily he only managed to destroy the Rope House.

Bristol was next, where he set some fires. As always with terrorists, the country was terrified and the newspapers full of scare stories. Was he acting alone? Or part of a gang? And who were his American masters? At the height of the scare, George III was being briefed daily and offered a personal reward.

Habeas corpus was suspended. In the end, the huge rewards offered for information led to his capture and inevitable execution.

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