The Murder of the “ Red Fox “ - a mystery unsolved for over 250 years

                                                    Murder suspect Ailean Breac Stewart
                                                               Recreated likeness

Murder Site Memorial Cairn

To the memory of a man  hanged in a travesty of justice

This tale is  perhaps geographically out with the normal range of this “ Blog “ but the recent  press  coverage and general interest deem that I include it  for  the wider  audience .

As a schoolboy in those  so far off days I was nurtured on the works Stevenson and Scott as well as  the  more modern John Buchan . Buchan  just happened  to have been a pupil at the same establishment I attended albeit  some  years prior ! Stevenson’s“ Kidnapped  “ was  undoubtedly amongst the  most popular  of the “ home  readers”  we had  to digest in the quest for the basics of our  Scottish heritage . “ Kidnapped “ introduced  me to the tale of the Appin Murder which is indelibly marked in the story of the great conflict that was the ’45 Uprising .

James Stewart of the Glen ( Seumas a’ Ghlinne ) was convicted and hanged  for the murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure – the” Red Fox “  - who was the Hanoverian Government’s Factor ( manager and rent collector ) . He was on his  way to evict the ex tenants  of exiled Stewart chieftains . James Stewart was a Jacobite who had  fought at Culloden . His arrest and subsequent trial and execution are still regarded  as total fix  and  set up that cannot be justified in terms of Scottish law , Eleven out of the fifteen jurymen were Campbells – clansmen of the murdered man . The trial was held in Inverary home of the Duke of Argyll – Chief of the Clan Campbell and  incredibly the  senior  of the three judges on duty at the trial ! The Campbells  were strong  supporters of the Hanoverian establishment and strongly opposed  to any one or anything  connected  with the Jacobite Stewarts ! After  a non stop 53  hour session James Stewart was found  guilty . He was executed  near the southern  end  of where the present Ballachullish Bridge now stands some distance  to the east of where the  murder was committed .

For 18 months the body of James Stewart - James of the Glen - was left to hang on the gibbet at an elevated and highly visible spot on the south end of the Ballachulish Ferry.

It was a sinister aftermath to one of the most shameful episodes in Scottish history - the Appin Murder. It claimed the lives of two men - one killed by sniper fire, the second "judicially" murdered after a rigged trial which paid no heed to justice, only the needs of vengeance and political expediency. The gruesome public display of the hanged man's remains was one of the final flourishes of the bloody maelstrom that was clan warfare in Scotland.

Stewart unquestionably went to the gallows an innocent man. His own clan family knew that from the beginning but refused to turn in the guilty man. Instead, in one of the best kept secrets in history, the identity of the killer was passed down to selected Stewarts through the  generations before being revealed by one , Anda Penman , an 89 year old resident of an Inverness Nursing Home . She was a direct descendant of the Stewarts of Appin and claimed that the real murderer was Donald Stewart , son of Stewart of Ballachulish .

Amongst the suspects and  one identified  by Stevenson in his novel “Kidnapped “ was Ailean Breac Stewart ( Allan Breck of the novel ) whose likeness has  just been replicated by Professor Caroline Wilkinson of Dundee University . She has an international reputation in the art of head reconstruction   or “ craniofacial identification “ .

The Appin Murder happened in May 1752, six years after the Battle of Culloden. The dead man was Colin Campbell of Glenure, Argyllshire. Known as "The Red Fox", he was the factor of several estates which had been forfeited from pro-Jacobite clans and his challenging task was to collect taxes from clan leaders.It has been claimed that on the day he was shot Campbell was about to indulge in a spot of "ethnic cleansing" by evicting Stewart families from their houses on the Ardsheal estate and replacing them with Campbells. That claim has never been proved but post-Culloden, anti-Campbell sentiment was rife in the west Highlands. The Campbells, living in the heart of clan country, were however loyal to the Hanoverian monarchy and deeply unpopular among those who had fought with Charles Edward Stewart, the Bonnie Prince himself. They had also been seen to "do the bidding of their English masters" at the Massacre of Glencoe 60 years earlier.

Colin Roy Campbell was 44 and ambitious. His work was distasteful but the more fair-minded regarded him as a decent man who made the best of a difficult job. At Ardsheal, James of the Glen helped him collect Stewart rents and the two men often consulted.

On 14 May, Campbell and four others had just crossed Loch Leven on the ferry and were passing the road at Lettermore Wood when a musket shot rang out. Campbell lay dead and the killer disappeared into the rugged countryside. Within two days James of the Glen had been arrested and taken for trial .

One of those who fell under suspicion was Stewart's half-brother, Alan Breck Stewart, described as a vengeful young hothead who had stirred up anti-Campbell hatred among his clansmen. Robert Louis Stevenson became so fascinated with the story that he based the novels Kidnapped and Catriona on the episode - with Alan Breck as one of the leading characters.

Back in 1754 the sight of the remains of James Stewart was too much for one of the locals . "Daft Macphee" is said to have uprooted the gallows and thrown  it into Loch Linnhe and that it then floated into Loch Etive before coming to rest further south near Bonawe. The wooden gibbet was used as a bridge across stream and the bones of James of the Glen were carefully gathered and buried - by none other than young Donald Stewart of Ballachulish.

This week ( the first one in September 2013 ) the Royal Society of Edinburgh have organised a two day event to re examine  the murder of Colin Campbell – the “ Red Fox “. A number of eminent  forensic science , legal  and academic  figures will gather together and applying  modern techniques attempt to threw some light on this macabre mystery !

Further Reading : I would recommend a superb book written by Dr James Hunter called Culloden and the Last Clansman published  by Mainstream ( ISBN 1840184833) Jim Hunter  grew up in Appin and as a child played in the ruins of the house of James of the Glen . He helped  found the Scottish Crofters Union and  for a number of years chaired the Board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise . He has written extensively on the Clearances and other matters  concerning the Highlands .

 BBC NEWS SUMMARY 05 September 2013

The Appin murder inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Kidnapped.

Modern forensic techniques have been used in an effort to reveal evidence in the case.

As well as a reconstruction of Ailean Breac's face there has been a detailed examination of how the murder weapon would have fired.

The experts include forensic scientist Prof David Barclay, retired judge Lord Kenneth Cameron of Lochbroom and historian Prof James Hunter.

Prof Hunter, who as a boy played in the ruins of Seumas a' Ghlinne's house in Duror, wrote a book about the case.

In setting out the murder's historical context for the review, Prof Hunter said Ailean Breac and Donald were suspected of the shooting.

The historian said: "To be part of this review has been one of the most enjoyable things that I have done in a long time.

"To see work of the forensic experts and scientists, and the seriousness and amount of effort they have put in, has been fascinating."

The team has been presenting its findings during a two-day event in Fort William. It concludes later on Thursday.



Popular posts from this blog

Methven : Some Historical Tales including a defeat for Robert the Bruce . Methven the cradle of the Stewart Dynasty

The March from Callum’s Hill in Crieff to Tibbermore

Culloden Attrocities in the Aftermath