The smuggler, the exciseman,
murder most foul and the BBC By Ross N. Hutton
mother, whose middle name was Kennedy, used to tell a tale that the name
came from one of our ancestors named Phillip Kennedy who in addition to
being a small scale farmer on Scotlandís North East coast was also
involved in smuggling.
continued the tale by saying that one night, when offloading a cargo of
smuggled brandy from a French ship, Kennedyís band (for he was not the
only one involved) were set upon by the local excisemen.
fight ensued and the story continued that Kennedy killed an exciseman. The
authorities acted swiftly and he was arrested the next day and sent to
Edinburgh for trial where he was found guilty and hanged.
all there was and as a small boy I was, of course, fascinated by the story
and wished that there was more to it. But it was still impressive enough
for me to be pleased to be related to this smuggling swordfighter...the
fact that he was also a murderer I seem to have conveniently overlooked.
Anyhow we apparently had a real skeleton in the family cupboard.
know if it was true but there were details in the story, for example the
name, the fairly specific location and the swordfight, all of which seemed
to indicate more than a grain of truth.
years I had done some family history research but had never seriously got
around to looking for Kennedyís in the family but I never forgot my
mothers little story.
one day about six years ago I noticed a request in the Radio Times asking
for anyone to contact the programme makers if they had a family history
mystery that would make interesting programme material. On a whim I wrote
and told them the Kennedy story.
year later I got a call from the producer advising that they had
researched the story and were going to use it on BBCís Radio 4, Making
History programme. I was quite excited by the call because I was told that
their research had shown that Phillip Kennedy had existed, he was a
farmer, he lived in the Parish of Slains in Aberdeenshire, he had been a
smuggler and he was involved in swordfight in 1798. But, and here is the
most fascinating bit, he did not kill the exciseman but rather he was
killed by the exciseman.
remarkable discovery and with an amazing twist to my motherís story.
visited by the BBC and had my story recorded and it was subsequently
broadcast on August 4th 2000 on the Radio 4 Making History programme.
in the meantime, been making some more detailed enquiries and via the
Internet was able to track down some missing portions of the family tree.
I was able to establish that Phillip Kennedy (1760-1798) was my ggggg
no idea, however, when the family story got changed to Kennedy being the
killer as opposed to having been the victim. Evidently at some point it
was considered a better story for him to be a killer than to have died as
a "common criminal" in a fight with the authorities.
Additional details were provided from the radio programme, for instance
the name of the exciseman, Patrick Anderson, who actually committed the
foul deed, the exact location of the fight, the fact that is was gin being
smuggled and the burial place of the unfortunate Kennedy. This all proved
to be tremendously exciting and was the springboard for the retrieval of
even more information. A book, by Frances Wilkins, on the subject of
smuggling, emerged and in it the whole Kennedy story is recounted. Frances
Wilkins was also on the radio programme where she provided a wonderful
outline of the life and times of Kennedy as well as a vignette of the
whole smuggling ethos in 18th century Aberdeenshire.
details provided by Frances showed that the band of smugglers had, in
fact, been "shopped." The excisemen were thus expecting them and lay await
in ambush. When the fight started Kennedy was left alone, his companions
having run off never to be identified. Anderson felled him with a "cutlass
blow to the head". For reasons not clear, the excisemen also left at this
point but Kennedy was not dead. He managed to struggle to a nearby
farmhouse at Kirkton of Slains where he perished. Francesís book also
records the fact that Anderson was sent to Edinburgh for trial on a murder
charge, but, quite properly, he was cleared as it had been committed in
the performance of his duties.
Following the programme I visited Collieston, in the Parish of Slains,
just to see the grave and the location of where it had all happened. In
this picturesque seaside village I went to see Rear Admiral Steve Ritchie
(who had also been on the programme) because, amazingly, in his possession
is the deas (a sort of wooden settee) on which Kennedy had breathed his
last. I had a photograph taken of me sitting on this tangible link with my
realise that all this information was there for me to find if I had set
about it methodically....but this way was much more fun!!
It really is fascinating stuff when your family history
comes to life.
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