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Dumbarton is situated on the river Leven, near its confluence with the Clyde. Although thus a place of great antiquity, the history of the town practically centres in that of the successive fortresses on the Rock of Dumbarton, a twin-peaked mount, 240 ft. high and a mile in circumference at the base. The fortress was often besieged and sometimes taken, the Picts seizing it in 736 and the Northmen in 870, but the most effectual surprise of all was that accomplished, in the interests of the young King James VI., by Thomas crawford of Jordanhill on March 31, 1571. The castle was held by Queen Marys adherents, and as it gave them free communication with France, its capture was deemed essential. Crawford decided to climb the highest point, concluding that, owing to its imagined security, it would be carelessly guarded.

Favored with a dark and foggy night the party of 150 men and a guide reached the first ledge of rock undiscovered. In scaling the second precipice one of the men was seized with an epileptic fit on the ladder. Crawford bound him to the ladder and then turned it over and was thus enabled to ascend to the summit. At this moment the alarm was given, but the sentinel and the sleepy soldiers were slain and the cannon turned on the garrison. Further resistance being useless, the castle was surrendered.

During the governorship of Sir John Menteith, William Wallace was in 1305 imprisoned within its walls before he was removed to London. The higher of the two peaks is known as Wallaces seat, a tower, perhaps the one in which he was incarcerated, being named after him. On the portcullis gateway may still be seen rudely carved heads of Wallace and his betrayer, the latter with his finger in his mouth. Queen Mary, when a child, resided in the castle for a short time. It is an ugly barrack-like structure, defended by a few obsolete guns, although by the Union Treaty it is one of the four fortresses that must be maintained. The rock itself is basalt, with a tendency to columnar formation, and some parts of it have a magnetic quality.

The town arms are the elephant and castle. Dumbarton was of old the capital of the earldom of Lennox, but was given up by Earl Maldwyn to Alexander II., by whom it was made a royal burgh in 1221 and declared to be free from all imposts and burgh taxes. Later sovereigns gave it other privileges, and the whole were finally confirmed by a charter of James VI. It had the right to levy customs and dues on all vessels on the Clyde between Loch Long and the Kelvin. Offers dues on foreign ships entering the Clyde were also exacted.

The first steam navigation. company was established in Dumbarton in 1815, when the Duke of Wellington (built in the town) plied between Dumbarton and Glasgow. But it was not till 1844, consequent on the use of iron for vessels, that shipbuilding became the leading industry, though that has now passed.

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