Oscar Slater – Trial (Podcast) – Random Scottish History
St Eustochium, virgin, about 419. St Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse, beginning of 5th century. St Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia, martyr, 938.
Died. – Emperor Lothaire I., 855; Henry VI., emperor of Germany, 1197; Jean Baptiste Massillon, celebrated French preacher, 1742; Dr Karl Ritter, distinguished geographer, 1859, Berlin.
In the year 1749, the remote Highland district of Braemar, in Aberdeenshire, was the scene of a murder, which was subsequently alleged to have been discovered through the instrumentality of the ghost of the murdered person; to which effect evidence was given on the trial of two men before the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. From the details of the trial, which have been printed in a separate volume by the Bannatyne Club, Sir Walter Scott framed a brief narrative, which may serve on the present occasion, with the help of a few additional particulars:
‘Upon the 10th of June 1754, Duncan Terig alias Clark, and Alexander Bain Macdonald, two Highlanders, were tried before the Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh, for the murder of Arthur Davis, sergeant in Guise’s Regiment, on the 28th of September 1749. The accident happened not long after the civil war [of 1745], the embers of which were still reeking, so there existed too many reasons on account of which an English soldier, straggling far from assistance, might be privately cut off by the inhabitants of these wilds. [Davis had a fowling-piece, and money and rings upon his person, and some of his valuables were afterwards seen in possession of the accused. Robbery seems to have been the sole object of his murderers.] It appears that Sergeant Davis was amissing many years without any certainty as to his fate. At length an account of the murder appeared from the evidence of one Alexander Macpherson [or Macgillies], (a Highlander [a farm-servant at Inverey, and about twenty-six years of age], speaking no language but Gaelic, and sworn by an interpreter), who gave the following extraordinary account of his cause of knowledge: He was, he said, in bed in his cottage, when an apparition came to his bedside, and commanded him to rise and follow him out of doors. Believing his visitor to be one Farquharson, a neighbour and friend, the witness did as he was bid; and when they were without the cottage, the appearance told the witness he was the ghost of Sergeant Davis, and requested him to go and bury his mortal remains, which lay concealed in a place which he pointed out, in a moorland tract, called the hill of Christie. He desired him to take [Donald] Farquharson as an assistant. Next day the witness went to the place specified, and there found the bones of a human body, much decayed. the witness did not at the time bury the bones so found; in consequence of which the sergeant’s ghost again appeared to him, up braiding him with his breach of promise. On this occasion, the witness asked the ghost who were the murderers, and received for an answer that he had been slain by the prisoners at the bar. The witness, after this second visitation, called the assistance of Farquharson, and buried the body.
‘Farquharson was brought in evidence, to prove that the preceding witness, Macpherson, had called him to the burial of the bones, and told him the same story which he repeated in court. Isabel Machardie, a person who slept in one of the beds which run along the wall in an ordinary Highland hut, declared that upon the night when Macpherson said he saw the ghost, she saw a naked man enter the house, and go towards Macpherson’s bed. [More in detail her evidence was this: ‘She saw something naked come in at the door; which frighted her so much that she drew the clothes over her head: that when it appeared, it came in a bowing posture; that she cannot tell what it was; that next morning she asked Macpherson what it was that had troubled them the night before? and that he answered, she might be easy, for it would not trouble her any more.’]
‘Yet, though the supernatural incident was thus fortified, and although there were other strong presumptions against the prisoners, the story of the apparition threw an air of ridicule on the whole evidence for the prosecution. It was followed up by the counsel for the prisoners asking, in the cross-examination of Macpherson: “What language did the ghost speak in?” The witness, who was himself ignorant of the English language, replied: “As good Gaelic as I ever heard in Lochaber.” “Pretty well for the ghost of an English serjeant,” answered the counsel. The inference was rather smart and plausible than sound, for the apparition of the ghost being admitted, we know too little of the other world to judge whether all languages may not be alike familiar to those who belong to it. It imposed, however, on the jury, who found the accused parties Not guilty, although their counsel and solicitor,1 and most of the court, were satisfied of their having committed the murder.’
Scott’s hypothesis for the explanation of the alleged apparition, is that giving information is unpopular in the Highlands, and Macpherson got up the ghost-story, ‘knowing well that his superstitious countrymen would pardon his communicating the commission intrusted to him by a being of the other world.’ This hypothesis (whatever other may be adopted) is not only without support in positive fact, but it assumes a degree of anxiety for the execution of justice wholly gratuitous, and certainly far from characteristic of the Braemar Highlander of that day. It also ignores the corroborative evidence of Isabel Machardie. What is even more important, it is out of harmony with the chronology of the story, for Macpherson related his ghostly visitation and buried the sergeant’s bones three years before any measures for the vindication of justice were taken, and, for anything that appears, no such measures would ever have been taken, but for the active interference of a retired officer of the army, named Small. This gentleman seems to have been inspired with a strong feeling as a friend of the government and of the army, in contradistinction to the Jacobite sentiments which then largely prevailed. So vigorous were his efforts to make out evidence against the murderers of Davis, that it was taken notice of in the formal defences of the accused, and orally by their counsel, the eminent Mr Lockhart, who was notoriously a Jacobite. Small felt so much exasperated by the insinuations of the counsel, that he next day appeared in the Parliament Close, with his sword by his side, and made an assault upon Mr Lockhart, as the latter was walking to the court; for which offence he was put in prison by the Lords, and only liberated on his making an apology.2 It seems to have been to this circumstance that Wedderburn alluded in his famous retort upon Lockhart, in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, when, stung by the overbearing manner of his senior, he reminded him of his having been disgraced in his person and dishonoured in his bed – a burst of sarcasm followed by his laying down his gown, and deserting the Scotch for the English bar. (See Book of Days, vol. 1. p. 39.)
1 A brief account of the case is given in the European Magazine for May 1793, apparently from the recital of the agent for the prisoners, then surviving. The circumstance of the agent’s being fully persuaded of the guilt of his clients is there stated.
2 Scots Magazine, 1754.
On this Day in Other Sources.
Sep. 28 . – This day commenced a famous disputation between John Knox and Quintin Kennedy, abbot of Crossraguel, concerning the doctrines of popery. After a tedious correspondence between the two regarding the place, time, and number to be present, they met in the house of the provost of the collegiate church of Maybole, under the sanction of the Earl of Cassilis, and with forty persons on each side. The conference commenced at eight in the morning, being opened by John Knox with a prayer, which Kennedy admitted to be ‘weel said.’ It will scarcely be believed that three days were consumed by these redoubted controversialists in debating one question; and, for anything we can see, the disputation might have been still further protracted, but for an opportune circumstance. Strange to say – looking at what Maybole now is – it broke down under the burden of eighty strangers in three days! They had to disperse for lack of provisions.
– Domestic Annals, pp.13-29.
[Lennox] now presented to her Elizabeth’s letter of good offices. The Scotish Queen’s answer of the 28th of September  is preserved, in Keith; and is conceived with great elegance, and is executed with remarkable happiness, though somewhat debased, by the vulgar language of that age: “Besydis,” said she, to her good cousin, “that we intend to deal so favourabillie with him, and our said cousin, his wyff, in all thair suitis, and caussis, reasonabill, that thai sall haif gude occasioun to acknaulege thameselffis bund unto zow [themselves bound unto you], for the benefyte thai sall receave at oure handis.” We shall perceive, in our progress, that Mary dealt, indeed, very favourably with the whole family of Lennox.
– Life of Mary, pp.78-98.
Before the Reformation the meetings of the town council appear to have been held in the castle, but after the flight of Beton they were removed to the Old Tolbooth at the Cross. Under date 28th September, 1576, there is an entry in the burgh accounts of a payment “for bringing doun of the counsal hous burds furth of the castell;” and another for the bringing of “furmes, coilles, and peittis fra the castell.” After this the building fell into disrepair. It was partially restored in 1611 by Archbishop Spottiswoode, who made it his residence. Ray, writing in 1681, speaks of it as “a goodly building,” and still in good preservation; but Morer, who wrote his “Short account of Scotland” in 1689, speaks of it as a building “formerly without doubt a very magnificent structure, but now in ruins.” For some time after this, however, it was occasionally used as a prison.
– Old Glasgow, pp.116-124.
Blair Street, and Hunter’s Square, which was built in 1788, occasioned the removal of more than one old alley that led down southward to the Cowgate, among them were Marlin’s and Peebles’ Wynds, to which we shall refer when treating of the North and South Bridges. The first tenement of the former at the right corner, descending, marks the site of Kennedy’s Close, on the first floor of the first turnpike on the left hand, wherein George Buchanan, the historian and poet, died in his 76th year, on the morning of Friday the 28th of September, 1582, and from whence he was borne to his last home in the Greyfriars’ churchyard. The last weeks of his life were spent, it is alleged, in the final correction of the proofs of his history, equally remarkable for its pure Latinity and for its partisan spirit. He survived its appearance only a month.
When on his death-bed, finding that all the money he had about him was insufficient to defray the expense of his funeral, he ordered his servant to divide it among the poor, adding “that if the city did not choose to bury him they might let him lie where he was.”
The site of his grave is now unknown, though a “throchstone” would seem to have marked it so lately as 1710. A skull, believed to be that of Buchanan, is preserved in the Museum of the University, and is so remarkably thin as to be transparent; but the evidence in favour of the tradition, though not conclusive, does not render its truth improbable. From the Council Records in 1701, it would seem that Buchanan’s gravestone had sunk into the earth, and had gradually been covered up.
– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.242-246.
Sep. 28 . – Died in Edinburgh, George Buchanan, in his seventy-seventh year, immediately after concluding his History of Scotland. His high literary accomplishments, especially his exquisite Latin composition, have made his name permanently famous. His personal character was not without its shades, yet it stands forth amidst the rough scenes of that time as something, on the whole, venerable.
– Domestic Annals, pp.81-98.
ALEXANDER CAMPBELL THE LAIRD OF CALDER
HIS PURSMAISTERIS COMPT.
xxviij of September being Tysday.
Item giffin to Effie Campbell for your dischone, the haill barronis and gentill men foirsaid with yow for biff, mowtoun, soddin and rostit keponis, braid and aill
Item for ane quart Spenis wyne
Item ane point Frence wyne
vj s. viij d.
Item ane musking aquavytie
Item your collatioun et evin on Tysday, the haill baronis and gentill men foirsaid with yow, ane point of Spenis wyne
Item ane point Frence wyne
vj s. viij d.
Item any quart aill
Item any queyt braid
Item giffin to the toun pyper
vj s. viij d.
– Sketches, Appendix VIII.
Sep. 28 . – William Woodcock, ‘late officer in Leith,’ was this day licensed by the magistrates of Edinburgh to set up ‘ane hackney-coach, for service of his majesty’s lieges, betwixt Leith and Edinburgh.’ The hire up and down for a single person was to be a shilling; and if the person engaging the carriage chose to wait for one or two persons more to accompany him, the same fare was to be sufficient. ‘If any mae nor three, each man to pay four shillings Scots [fourpence sterling] for their hire; and the persons coming up to Edinburgh, to light at the foot of Leith Wynd, for the steyness [steepness] thereof.’ This arrangement was not to prevent Woodcock from ‘serving others going to and from the country to other places, as he and they can agree.’
– Domestic Annals, pp.302-321.
A fund had been raised to assist those whose houses were burned, called at the time “the brunt moneye,” and we find a grant made to one John Dainziell, the amount being limited to 400 pounds Scots, “if he build his windowes with daills in Saltmercat,” but he is to have 600 pounds “if he build them with stone.” And again, a grant of 500 merks is paid to Mr. John Bell, “more than what he gote formerly, for building his land in a “decent way and decoring Bell’s Wynd.”1
– Old Glasgow, pp.68-80.