Appin Murder

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Coordinates: 54°53′42″N 2°56′02″W / 54.895°N 2.934°W / 54.895; -2.934

Appin Murder
Part of the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745
Seumas a' Ghlinne memorial
Memorial to James Stewart of the Glen who was wrongly convicted and executed for the Appin murder
Date14 May 1752
Wood of Lettermore near Duror, Appin, Scotland
Result Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure killed
James Stewart executed
Allan Stewart exiled
Kingdom of Great Britain British Government Jacobites
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great Britain Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure Allan Stewart
James Stewart of the Glen
Casualties and losses
Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure killed James Stewart executed
Allan Stewart exiled

The Appin Murder occurred on 14 May 1752 near Appin in the west of Scotland, which resulted in what is often characterized as a notorious miscarriage of justice. It occurred in the tumultuous aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of 1745.[1]

The murder inspired events in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel Kidnapped. [2]


Statue of Allan Stewart (left) and the fictional David Balfour (right), from Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped.

On 14 May 1752, Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure, 44, the government-appointed factor to the forfeited lands of the Clan Stewart of Appin in north Argyllshire, Scotland, was shot in the back by a sniper in the wood of Lettermore near Duror. The search for the killer targeted the local clan, the Jacobite Stewarts of Appin, who had recently suffered evictions on Campbell's orders.

The chief suspect, Allan Stewart (or Alan Breck Stewart) having fled, James Stewart (also known as Seumas a' Ghlinne [James of the Glen] and brother of Ardshiel), the tanist of the Stewarts, was arrested for the crime and tried for the murder.[2] Although the trial clearly 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) by a jury consisting of people from the locality where the crime occurred.[3] The presiding judge was pro-Hanoverian Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell; 11 Campbell clansmen were on the 15-man jury.[2]

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 and sang the 35th Psalm in Scottish Gaelic before mounting the scaffold. To this day in the Highlands, it remains known as "The Psalm of James of the Glens."


Ironically, Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure had actually been very well liked, even by many veteran Jacobites. Shortly before his murder, Jacobite poet and propagandist Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair poked fun at Colin's loyalties in his Anti-Whig polemic An Airce.

In the poem, which begins by skewering the conventions of Aisling poetry, the poet describes meeting the ghost of a beheaded Jacobite who prophesies that his Campbell clansmen will soon be punished for committing high treason against their lawful king by a repeat of the Ten Plagues of Egypt followed by a second Great Flood on their lands. The bard is instructed to emulate Noah by building an Ark for Campbells loyal to the Stuart cause. Some, however, are first to be purged of their "treason" by receiving a good, proper soaking.

Ge toil leam Cailean Glinn Iubhair
B' fheàrr leam gu 'm b' iubhar 's nach b' fheàrna;
Bho 'n a threig e nàdur a mhuinntreach,
'S gann a dh' fhaodar cuim thoirt dà-san.
Cuir boiseid de ionmhas Righ Deorsa,
De smior an òir mu theis-meadhon;
'S ìobair e 'Neptun ge searbh e,
Mur grad-ainmich e 'n righ dlighneach.
"Though Colin of Glenure I much esteem,
Would that he was not alder but true yew;
Since he forsook the allegiance of his sires,
To be reprieved is not his due.
"A girdle of the treasure of King George
Of finest gold around his middle fling,
And to the sea-king offer him, though hard,
Unless at once he name the rightful King".[4]

Recent scholarship[edit]

In 2001, Anda Penman, an 89-year-old descendant of the Clan Chiefs of the Stewarts of Appin, revealed what she alleged to be a long-held family secret. She said the murder was planned by four young Stewart tacksmen without the sanction of James of the Glens. There was a shooting contest among them and the assassination was committed by the best marksman among the four, Donald Stewart of Ballachulish.[5][6] According to other stories, Donald desperately wanted to turn himself in rather than allow James to hang and had to be physically held down to prevent this. Several years after James's execution, when the body was finally delivered to the Stewart Clan for burial, Donald Stewart of Ballachulish was responsible for washing the bones before the funeral.[5]

Lee Holcombe, PhD, has written the most thorough examination of the Appin Murder published to date. She concluded, based on substantial evidence, that James of the Glens was indeed guilty of ordering the murder of Colin Campbell.[7] She also reported the information that Donald Stewart, rather than Allan Breck Stewart, was probably the actual shooter.[5][6]

In Walking With Murder: On The Kidnapped Trail (2005), Ian Nimmo has addressed the mystery of who shot Colin Campbell, applying modern police methods to the documents in the case, including two post-mortem reports. According to Nimmo, Alan Stewart did not pull the trigger, and the secret of who did has been handed down through the Stewart family for 250 years. Nimmo does not choose to reveal it, stating that "it is not mine to give away".[8]

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.[2] This was rejected.<ref>Commission rules against 18th century murder review, The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 9 December 2008<ref>


  1. ^ Hunter, James; Kennedy, Kate (3 September 2013). "The Appin Murder – Historical Context" (pdf). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. The Royal Society of Edinburgh 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Auslan Cramb (14 November 2008). "18th Century murder conviction 'should be quashed'". The Daily Telegraph.
  3. ^ Mackay, David N., ed. (1905–15). Notable Scottish trials. James Stewart The Appin Murder. Glasgow and Edinburgh: William Hodge & Co. p. 288. OCLC 563059557. Archived from the original on 6 March 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2020.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  4. ^ MacDonald 1924, p. 258-261.
  5. ^ a b c Lundy 2005.
  6. ^ a b McMee 2004.
  7. ^ Holcombe 2004.
  8. ^ Boztas 2005.


Further reading[edit]

  • Nicholson, Eirwen E. C. (2004). "Stewart, Allan (fl. 1745–1752)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 52. London: Oxford University Press. p. 628. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/62076.
  • Nimmo, Ian (2005). Walking with Murder: On the Kidnapped Trail. Birlinn Ltd. Paperback.
  • Gibson, Rosemary (January–February 2003). "The Appin Murder". History Scotland. 3 (1).

See also[edit]

External links[edit]