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Colin Campbell of Glenure
by J J Jardine
from Scottish Journal, August 1999
After the Battle of Culloden (1746), the brother of King
George II, Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (commonly called "The Butcher" ), set
about destroying the clan system and Jacobite sympathies in the Scottish Highlands. Those
sought out for special, spiteful and cruel punishment were the followers of Prince Charles
Edward that remained in their lands. Cameron of Locheil ("Gentle Locheil") and
the Stewart of Appin had fled to France and their lands, in many cases, were confiscated,
the natives driven off and Factors (managers/supervisors) were put in charge of their
lands. This handed a nice profit to the factors whose task it was to rent out the lands to
Colin Campbell of Glenure, also known as "Red Colin", was not present at
Culloden although he held a commission in Lord Loudens regiment during the uprising. After
resigning his commission, Glenure became one of these factors, having sway over the
Cameron lands of Lochaber and Stewart lands in Appin.
Let us pause a moment to reflect over the fact that most of the Scottish vs. English
conflicts were in fact Scottish vs. English and Scottish. And so it was in the 1745
uprising. There was Scottish cavalry and foot soldiers fighting for the Hanovarian
Government and quite a few clans came out for the Government such as Clan Gunn and Clan
Colin of Glenure's Mother was a Cameron of Locheil which added to the hatred towards him
by members of Clan Cameron as they considered him to be a traitor. By his zeal in evicting
and persecuting the hapless people of Lochaber and Appin, he accrued a lot of money and
even more enemies than was good for his personal well being.
An example of his actions can be found in an incident wherein he learned the whereabouts
of a MacColl who had retrieved his own sequestered cattle. Colin set out to arrest him.
Upon hearing of Colin's arrival, MacColl ran for it and Colin drew his gun. MacColls
mother- in- law threw herself in the way and Colin shot her in the chest. Nothing more was
said of this as Colin said that "she had no right to place herself between me and an
The Laird of Fasnacloich owned some land on which some relatives of Colin were tenants.
When the tenant's leases expired, Fasnacloich took back the land and re-let the lands to
some Stewart relatives. When Colin heard of this he flew into an uncontrollable rage
and swore an oath that he would now make sure that no person of the Cameron name would own
one piece of Lochaber; and not one person of the Stewart name would own one piece of
land in Appin.
An important part in this tale appears now in the person of James Stewart of Ardshiel,
brother of the exiled Charles Stewart of Ardshiel. He rented land very cheaply from
Colin of Glenure. At one point he was even a sub-factor for Colin. He collected the
rents, kept as much of it as he needed for himself and gave the balance to his exiled
brothers wife, The Lady of Ardshiel. She in turn used the money to assist exiled Jacobites
in France. Some blabber-mouth reported this to Colin. After the prosecution and conviction
of James (also known as James of the Glen), he was stripped of all his possessions and
left impecunious. He succumbed to alcohol and through the drink became a loud mouth and a
braggart. His behavior became bellicose and belligerent in tone. He never let a chance go
by without bad-mouthing Colin Campbell of Glenure. A local wag, in front of a crowd
seeking to have sport with James, asked him what he would do if he saw Colin Campbell
hanging on the gallows. James unfortunately replied that he would pull on his legs. A
remark like that alongside many others in the same vein were remembered; and would come
back and (as we say today) bite him !
With so many people hating him, it is small wonder that there were attempts upon his life.
The people of Lochaber knew where Colin usually took an afternoon stroll and the Laird of
Callart took a gun and was determined to put a bullet through Colin and rid the Highlands
of him. The plan went awry when someone accosted Colin and they went back to the house.
Callart spent the night with the Laird of Fasnacloich and it was probably there
that the beginning of the plot to kill Colin was begun.
They convened a meeting between some men of Lochaber and Appin near a place called
Glenstockdale, but far enough away that no shots could be heard. Those that met decided
that as they only had three guns between them, the best shot should be fired from the best
gun, regardless of ownership. Donald Stewart, a nephew of The Laird of Ballachulish, had a
good Spanish gun; the Laird of Fasnacloich also had a Spanish gun; Dugald MacColl had a
double-barreled Spanish gun called the "Slinneanach". They all took turns
at firing all three guns and it was decided that Dugald's double-barrelled gun, the
Slinneanach, was the best gun and that Donald Stewart was the best shot. The Laird of
Fasnacloich was the second best shot so he was chosen as companion to Donald Stewart.
Colin of Glenure and his nephew Mungo were returning from Lochaber where they had
completed some evictions and collected some rents. He never felt safe in Cameron country,
the land of his Mother - and who knows what his Mother thought of him - and felt
more secure in the lands of Appin and Argyle.
It was on that day, those who were to settle the final score put themselves into the order
they had decided upon. Donald and Fasnacloich were on the southern bank of Loch Linnhe,
after Ballachulish. Others in the plot, The Laird of Callart and the Laird of Onich were
on watch at Onich; while Big Donald MacMartin of Dochnassay was at Corran with John
Stewart (not to be confused with Ardsheil).
Colin, Mungo and a young ghillie named John MacKenzie passed Corran without mishap. Big
Donald berated his companion, John Stewart, for being asleep when the party passed by -
and he, in turn berated Big Donald for being late anyway. As the ill fated
party passed Onich and now being aware of hostiles in the area, ghillie John MacKenzie
rode closer to Colin to protect him. As MacKenzie was a local man and a neighbor, they
were afraid to fire lest they hurt the wrong man. Big Donald went after Colin's
party until he reached Onich where the Lairds of Callart and Onich had lain in wait.
Big Donald was furious that they had passed unscathed again. He told them he did not care
if MacKenzie was in the way or not, they should have shot them both. After berating them
more he sat down and said that he would wait until he heard the shot from the other side
of the Loch, as he was sure Donald Stewart and Fasnacloich would perform a better job than
his bungling companions
Upon meeting the Laird
of Ballachulish and refusing his offer of overnight hospitality; also refusing to listen
to Archie MacInnes,the ferryman with one eye and second sight, Colin crossed that part of
Loch Linnhe and proceeded in the direction of Ardsheil where he had some important
evictions to perform.
Colin and Mungo rode ahead of Laird Ballachulish and the ghillie. Colin and Mungo reached
the Black Rock near the entrance to the woods at Lettermore. It was there that Donald
fired the long double-barreled "Slinneanach" and two balls hit Colin in his left
side between his ribs and armpit. His horse reared and threw Colin against a post and to
the ground. He never spoke again.
As Mungo tried to staunch the life's blood that was flowing out of his uncle, there passed
a woman with a new linen shawl around her shoulders. Mungo asked her to sell it to him and
she replied in the negative saying that she had bought the shawl at the shop and if he
wanted one then he should go and buy one himself. Mungo pleaded that this was Colin
Campbell of Glenure and he had been shot and was dying, to which she is supposed to
have replied, "Then let the hunter drink his soup".
Mungo sent John MacKenzie to get help from a relative at Kentallan. The relative not being
home, he rode on to Aucharn where he told James Stewart of Ardshiel the horrifying news.
James wanted to go and help as, asked to, but his wife forbade it. She was afraid of what
would happen to him in the midst of so many Campbells. Reminding himself of his past
boasting and bitter utterances against Glenure; he said that no matter who did it ,
they would blame him.
And blame him they did. He was arrested, tried and convicted on perjured testimony and
hanged. This became a very famous case in Scottish legal history which deserves a
complete story of its own and has already been written about extensively (See
"Notable British Trials" by D.N.Mackay).
Now we have the aftermath of the trial. The Campbell Clan ransacked the Appin territories
looking for recompense. Someone informed the Sheriff that the Laird of Fasnacloich had
been seen the same day as the murder, armed and on the moors. he was brought in and tried
and acquitted for lack of evidence
A new character appears in the person of a gentleman named Allan Breck. There were not
many gentlemen in the region who could be counted upon to be above suspicion and they
feared for their lives and their property. On receipt of a certain amount of money, Allan
Breck of the Stewart clan fled to France and wrote a letter of confession to the killing
of Colin. The letter did not arrive in time to help James Stewart of Ardsheil. Breck
joined the French army and received a commission and fought in the British-French war in
North America. A story handed down relates that Breck's French troops had encircled
the British force and would annihilate them at dawn. Breck went to the British camp where
he knew there were many men from Argyle and out of kinsmanship, left a break in the circle
by which they could escape. While he was with the men of Argyle, he gave the officer a
letter recanting his confession to the murder.
Some years later the same nephew of the Laird of Ballachulish, Donald Stewart,
was out hunting on the moor with the younger brother of Colin Glenure, Alexander. Donald
had the long double-barreled "Slinneanach" with him and shot a stag. Upon
inspection Alexander noted that the two balls were exactly the same as those that shot his
brother. Donald retorted that if Alexander suspected him in complicity of his brother's
death, then he would not leave this moor alive today. Alexander backed down but their
friendship cooled after that incident.
General John Campbell of Manmore succeeded as the new Duke of Argyle and was made
inspector of all Scottish castles. Part of his route passed near Ballachulish whereupon
the Laird went out and offered the Duke overnight hospitality. After ingratiating himself
into the Duke's good graces, the Duke gave them a parcel of woodland from which he may
earn an extra living. The relations between the Campbells and Stewarts grew warmer
than at any time since the murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure.
This is only one of the legends concerning the demise of Colin Campbell of Glenure but I
do think that it is the more romantic and probably as close to the truth as we may get.
The letter from Allan Breck would have cleared James Stewart if it had arrived in time.
Now the actual culprits will never be officially known and the killers did go free.
The present chief of the Clan Campbell, H.G. Ian, Duke of Argyle, is reported to have
remarked soon after his succession that he seemed to be spending a lot of time apologizing
for his ancestors. No need for an apology this time, Your Grace!
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