• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Book hero at centre of historic murder mystery

The face of a key suspect in a major murder conspiracy, who is also one of the great heroes in Scottish literature, has been painstakingly reconstructed for the first time.

AILEAN BREAC STEAWRT: Reconstruction.
AILEAN BREAC STEAWRT: Reconstruction.

The new image of a major suspect in the 1752 Appin murder has been created by one of ­Scotland's leading forensic scientists to help in a high powered re-examination of the controversial case.

The face of Ailean Breac Stewart is the work of Caroline Wilkinson, Professor of Craniofacial Identification in Dundee University's Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification.

Today, she will join other ­leading forensic science, legal and academic figures on a visit to the scene of the famous Highland murder, 261 years later.

They are the guests of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which has organised a two-day event to re-examine the murder of Colin Campbell, taking account of modern methods of detection and scientific forensic techniques.

James (Stewart) of the Glen, Seumas a' Ghlinne, was convicted and hanged for the Appin Murder, after a trial in what is now viewed by many as little more than a kangaroo court.

He was executed beside the southern end of where the ­Ballachulish Bridge is today, a little to the east of the murder site.

The murder shook the powers-that-be as the victim was Colin Campbell of Glenure, the Hanoverian government's factor who was on his way to evict ex-tenants of exiled Stewart chieftains.

James Stewart was a Jacobite who had fought at Culloden. Eleven out of 15 jurors in his trial were Campbells and Hanoverian; the senior of the three judges was the Duke of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell; and the court sat without a break for 53 hours.

The murder was central to the plot for one of Scotland's most celebrated novels, Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, published in 1886. In the book, a man with a gun is seen running away, up the hill. When David Balfour, follows him, he finds his one-time travelling companion, Ailean Breac Stewart, Allan Breck in the novel, armed only with a fishing rod.

One of those featuring at the Royal Society event is Highland historian Professor Jim Hunter, who as a child used to play in the ruins of James of the Glen's house in Duror.

His book on the murder, Culloden and the Last Clansmen, argues that while James was not guilty, a murder conspiracy had been hatched by the Stewarts, including Ailean Breac.

He was to leave for France to avoid arrest as a one-time deserter from the British army turned Jacobite, so things were arranged so that everything would point to his guilt. But the authorities were to pursue James, his foster father instead.

However, when Prof Hunter's book was published in 2001, Anda Penman, 89, a descendant of the Stewarts of Appin who was in an Inverness nursing home, identified Donald, the son of Stewart of Ballachulish, as the real killer. She said she had kept the family secret that had been passed down by word of mouth.

Professor Wilkinson said: "What I have done with Ailean Breac is to make a composite from the verbal descriptions written about him. They talked about a long narrow face, deep-set eyes, dark curly hair, pock marks on his face and a long nose. It was produced in the same way as one produced from interviewing a witness.

"It does seem like the wrong person was convicted, and there are a couple of suspects. Ailean Beac was one of them."

Also participating are her colleague, forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black; Professor David Barclay, forensic scientist and investigator; Anthony Busuttil, professor of forensic medicine at Edinburgh University; retired Lord Kenneth Cameron of Lochbroom, and Dr Karly Kehoe, historian.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

179961