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The Appin Murder

The Appin Murder (Scottish Gaelic: Murt na h-Apainn) was the assassination of Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure on 14 May 1752 near Appin in the west of Scotland. The murder occurred in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and led to the execution of James Stewart of the Glens, often characterized as a notorious miscarriage of justice. The murder inspired events in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel Kidnapped. 

Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure, nicknamed "The Red Fox", was the government-appointed factor to the forfeited lands of the Clan Stewart of Appin in north Argyllshire. During the Highland Clearances, a series of reprisals against Jacobite sympathizers in the aftermath of the rising of 1745, Campbell had ordered several evictions of members of Clan Stewart. On 14 May 1752, Campbell was shot in the back by a marksman in the wood of Lettermore near Duror, and died. 

The search for the killer targeted the Clan Stewart. The chief suspect, Alan Breck Stewart having fled, James Stewart of the Glens, the tanist of the Stewarts, was arrested for the crime and tried for the murder in a trial dominated by the pro-Hanoverian Clan Campbell: chief Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll was the presiding judge and the 15-man jury contained mainly Campbell clansmen (the jury list is pretty eye opening!) Although the trial showed that James was not directly involved in the assassination (he had a solid alibi), he was found guilty "in airts and pairts" (as an accessory; an aider and abetter).

James Stewart was hanged on 8 November 1752 on a specially commissioned gibbet above the narrows at Ballachulish, now near the south entrance to the Ballachulish Bridge. He died protesting his innocence, lamenting that people of the ages may think him capable of a horrid and barbarous murder. Before mounting the scaffold, he sang the 35th Psalm in Scottish Gaelic:

"False witnesses rose; to my charge things I not knew they laid. They, to the spoiling of my soul, me ill for good repaid." ~Psalm 35

To this day in the Highlands, it remains known as "The Psalm of James of the Glens".

James's corpse was left hanging at the south end of the Ballachulish Ferry for eighteen months as a warning to other clans with rebellious intentions. It was guarded to prevent people taking the body away for burial. Over those months, it was beaten and battered by winds and rain. At one point, the skeleton disintegrated into a pile of bones and the guards were told to put it back together using wire, and re-hang the body, which they then had to carry on guarding. 

There is a movement afoot to gain a pardon for James of the Glens. In 2008, Glasgow lawyer John Macaulay asked the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to reconsider the case on the grounds his study of the trial transcripts shows there was "not a shred of evidence" against Stewart but was denied due to the case being so old it was not in the interest of justice. As of 2010, the application lies with the Scottish government. Do you agree with John Macaulay that the trial transcript shows there was not a shred of evidence against Stewart? You can read the trial transcript below and decide. The appendices contain a lot of additional information (including the story about the guards having to rebuild the body) so I have included those for completeness.

pdfChronology996.29 KB
pdfNarrative4.61 MB
pdfIndictment and list of witnesses5.09 MB
pdfPreliminary proceedings 14.12 MB
pdfPreliminary proceedings 24.4 MB
pdfEvidence for the prosecution3.64 MB
pdfEvidence for the defence3.37 MB
pdfClosing speech for the prosecution5.65 MB
pdfClosing speech for the defence3.64 MB
pdfVerdict1.16 MB
pdfJames Stewart's speech from the scaffold2.16 MB
pdfAppendices 1-75.92 MB
pdfAppendices 8 onwards7.65 MB

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