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Appin Murder

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Colin Campbell memorial cairn, 2004
Colin Campbell memorial cairn
© Colin Wynne-Parle

The Appin Murder took place on May 14, 1752, while emotions were still running high in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising and defeat by the Hanoverians at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Appin lies to the north of Oban on the west coast of Scotland, and has become known as the site of an infamous and unsolved murder. The story also became the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped.

The murdered man was Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure, Argyllshire, also known as The Red Fox, factor of several estates which had been forfeited from pro-Jacobite clans and who had the challenging task of collecting taxes from the defeated clan leaders. While his work was distasteful, the more fair minded regarded him as a decent man who made the best of a difficult job, although anti-Campbell sentiment was still rife in the west Highlands, as the Campbells were loyal to the Hanoverian monarchy. At Ardsheal, James Stewart, also known as James of the Glen, helped him collect Stewart rents and the two men often worked together.

On the day of the murder, Campbell was going about his usual business of collecting taxes. Some accounts claim he had also intended to to evict some Stewart families from their homes on the Ardsheal Estate, and give the houses to Campbells, however there has never been any proof to back up this claim.

Having disembarked from the Loch Leven ferry, Campbell and four others were passing the road at Lettermore Wood when a musket shot was heard and Campbell fell to the ground dead, while his killer escaped into the wilderness.

Within two days, James Stewart had been arrested and taken to Inveraray, to face trial in the Campbell stronghold of Inveraray Castle.

The result of the trial came as no real surprise. Stewart had presented a defence of alibi, claiming that he had been several miles away from the scene on the day of the murder. No evidence was presented to show that he had been involved in a conspiracy to murder, and the main witness could only state that he had seen a man with a gun some distance away but was unable to identify who the man was. The presiding judge was the chief of clan Campbell, the Duke of Argyll. The jury of 15 contained 11 Campbells. James Stewart was found guilty of the murder, and sentenced to death. On the day of the hanging, it is said that the man who actually fired the shot had to be held down at a house in Ballachulish to prevent him from giving himself up. Stewart's half-brother, Allan Breck Stewart, was suspected of the killing, and had a reputation as a vengeful young hothead who would stir up anti-Campbell sentiments within the Stewart clan. In Stevenson's Kidnapped, Alan Breck came to be one of the novel's leading characters.

Even after the hanging, the incident was not over, and the body of James Stewart was left to hang on the gibbet for 18 months, in an elevated and highly visible spot at the south end of the Ballachulish Ferry. No-one dared remove it, and the story is that the remains were eventually cut down by the loacl halfwit, and finally buried.

Colin Campbell memorial cairn

A cairn erected on the old road from Ballachulish to Duror marks the place where Colin Campbell was shot.

The plaque on the cairn reads:


14TH MAY 1752

James Stewart memorial

Memorial inscription, 2007
Memorial inscription
© James Yardley
James Stewart memorial, 2008
James Stewart memorial
© Chris Downer

In 1911 a memorial cairn was placed at the site of James Stewart's execution.

The inscriptions reads:


NOV 8TH 1757

Identity of the murderer

In 2001, a member of the Stewart family claimed to know the identity of the murderer, but was not supported in her claim:

In 2001, nearly 250 years after the incident, an 89-year-old descendant of the Stewarts of Appin, Anda Penman, claimed it was time to break the family silence. She said the murder was planned by four young Stewart lairds and that the gun was fired by the best shot among the four, Donald Stewart of Ballachulish, who had been elected assassin. Penman died soon afterwards and no member of the Stewart family has substantiated her incredible story.

- The Appin murder: who killed Red Fox?[1]

In 2005, the author of a book related to the story claimed to have identified the murderer, but then declined to reveal his finding:

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."

- Walking with Murder: On the Kidnapped Trail[2]


In 2002, a new exhibition opened in Edinburgh, aimed at examining one of Scotland's most celebrated miscarriages of justice. The National Archives for Scotland displayed photographs by archivist RM Gibson, together with documents and letters relating to the case, which was immortalised in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped.

The Will and Testament of Colin Roy Campbell July 13 1753

The Will and Testament of Colin Roy Campbell, dated July 13, 1753, has been placed online by ScotlandsPeople, the official Scottish genealogy resource.[3]


In November 2008, a Glasgow solicitor, John MacAuley, asked the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to look into the case of James Stewart. He described the trial as a "farce" which "needs to be quashed".[4]

Appeal rejected by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC)

In what appears to a non-legal expert to be a less than convincing argument, the SCCRC turned down the request for the Appin Murder to be reviewed, saying that it "fell on the second test which basically is in the interests of justice". They also mentioned the time elapsed since the murder as being a contributing factor in the decision.[5]

Given that that one of the relatives of the victim revealed that the identity of the convicted man was wrong, a finding that the the review was not "in the interests of justice" seems incomprehensible.

Again, and commenting as a non-legal expert who understands that there is no statue of limitations on a capital crime such as murder, rejecting the application on the basis of time elapsed since the crime was committed, implies a statute of limitation on their pursuit, which is surely not within the commission's scope.

There now appears to be two possible routes which can now be pursued. The first being an application for a judicial review; and the second is an appeal to the Justice Secretary, a post occupied by Kenny MacAskill at the time.

2013 Forensic re-examination

In August 2013, it was reported that a panel of forensic experts was to re-examine the evidence using modern methods of detection. They will consider the evidence presented at the original trial and show how modern-day forensic evidence from DNA, ballistics, and the bullet wounds on Campbell’s body might have helped to secure the correct verdict.

The article suggest the possibility of two shooters, or a load with two musket balls:

A sniper hidden in the woods shot him twice in the back with a musket after he crossed Ballachulish ferry in a murder that outraged the establishment.

This could indicate he was shot by one gunman as it was standard hunting practice then to load a musket with two balls but some members of the panel believe there was more than assassin.

David Barclay, a forensic scientist who has advised the makers of film maker and television series, including Waking the Dead, is not convinced two bullets from the same musket would have had enough velocity to pass through Campbell’s body.

- Forensic scientists to re-examine Appin Murder.[6][7]

2016 Further suspects added to list

In 2016, two historians added to the list of those who may have murdered Colin Campbell:

Some believe the killer was Stewart's son Donald or his foster son Ailean Breac.

However, Prof Allan MacInnes believes Campbell's nephew - and the murder's only witness - pulled the trigger.

Prof MacInnes, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Strathclyde, has examined what was recorded of the incident and also possible motives.

Another historian, Mhairi Livingstone, also agrees the nephew, Mungo Campbell, did the killing.


But Prof MacInnes believes the Stewarts were not to blame.

He said James Stewart, known as James of the Glen, was said to have been a "decent, God-fearing Highlander" but Mungo Campbell, was said to be a "difficult and ruthless" man.

"Mungo was a nutter," said the historian.

Prof MacInnes said members of the Campbell clan - including Mungo Campbell - were given the responsibility of finding the murderer.

He added: "Mungo was there solving the case, beating up prisoners, forcing confessions out and persuading people, working to take the blame away from himself."

Mungo Campbell also took over the role his uncle had held before his death.

Ms Livingstone said: "Usually murders are committed by people very close by, if not related.

"I think Mungo Campbell was in the perfect place and had the perfect motive, the means and the opportunity."

-The Appin murder: Victim's nephew suspected as murderer - BBC News[8]

Story of revised suspects repeated in 2016

A few months later, The Scotsman followed with the same story, and again quotes from Prof MacInnes and also the 2013 investigation:

In 2013, The Royal Society of Edinburgh held a meeting in Fort William to review the original forensic and ballistic evidence.

Professor Sue Black, forensic pathologist, led a team of experts in the re-examination of how the case was presented in court.

It concluded that two shots were fired from separate muskets from close quarters.

The panel also discounted that the man seen running up the hill at the murder site was Alan Breck.

Ealier, Anda Penman, a descendant of James, shortly before her death in 2001, claimed the murder had been planned by four young Stewart lairds and Donald Stewart was the most likely shooter.

Her theory sits with a strong traditional locally that Donald Stewart was the guilty man.

Others, however, disagree.

-Appin Murder: the 1752 miscarriage of justice - The Scotsman[9]


1 The Appin murder: who killed Red Fox? scotsman.com, October 3, 2005

2 Ian Nimmo, Walking with Murder: On the Kidnapped Trail, Birlinn Ltd, 2005.

3 The Appin Murder, 14 May 1752 - the Will and Testament of Colin Roy Campbell ('The Red Fox') - ScotlandsPeople Retrieved May 28, 2012.

4 Appeal over 250-year-old murder, BBC News, November 14, 2008

5 Local report of rejection of appeal. December 10, 2008.

6 Forensic scientists to re-examine Appin Murder Retrieved August 15, 2013.

7 The Appin murder: Scotland's 261-year search for a killer Retrieved September 08, 2013.

8 The Appin murder: Victim's nephew suspected as murderer - BBC News Retrieved July 12, 2016.

9 Appin Murder: the 1752 miscarriage of justice - The Scotsman Retrieved October 13, 2016.

External links

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