IN the year of Our Lord 1721 an enormous sperm whale was cast ashore in the Forth and behind closed doors the Jacobites still schemed the Restoration of the Stuart dynasty. But what cared Edinburgh lass Catherine Shaw for such fribbles? She was in love.

As the chroniclers of the period tell us Catherine, who lived with her father, Shaw the upholsterer, had ``encouraged the addresses of John Lawson, a jeweller''. Faither, however, had other plans and wanted his popular daughter hitched with the son of a friend and neighbour, Alexander Robertson.

Here we have the classic recipe for domestic strife - the dour, determined father and the love-struck daughter - and the inevitable huffs and slanging matches, recriminations and tears. Alas, this particular squabble turned into a long-running tragedy which was to stun the Scots capital.

When the father had what he declared to be the final word on the matter, a huge argument ensued during which the girl was heard by neighbours through the wall to shout passionately of ``barbarity, cruelty, and death''. At length the father left the apartment, locking the door behind him.

Sometime after his departure Morrison, a watchmaker who lived next door, heard groans from the Shaws' house. Listening at the door Morrison and the neebors are said to have heard Catherine moan: ``Cruel father, thou art the cause of my death''. The constable was called and, in the time-honoured tradition, broke the door down with his shoulder.

Inside, the daughter was ``weltering in her own blood'' with a knife by her side. She was still alive and when asked if her father had been responsible for the attack, appeared to nod before expiring.

Shaw himself then walked in on this dramatic and tragic scene. His face lost all its colour, he started to tremble, and looked set to collapse. Quite an act, his detractors were to whisper later. He was cairted off to the Tollbooth.

At his trial he tried to explain a bloodstain on his clothing as the result of a workplace accident and not from an attack on his daughter. Sadly, no blood group testing was available in those distant days. Evidence, albeit circumstantial, appeared so powerful that the conviction was certain and the man was executed and his body hanged in chains at Leith.

Now, while the prosecutors were able to pat themselves on the back temporarily, the story did not end there. Some brave soul, desperate for accommodation, took over the Shaws' apartment despite its grisly history, and about a year after Shaw's execution he discovered a paper which had fallen into a cavity on one side of the chimney.

The letter was signed ``Catherine Shaw'' and relatives confirmed it was her signature. It read: ``Barbarous father, your cruelty in having put it out of my power ever to join my fate to that of the only man I could love, and tyrannically insisting upon my marrying one whom I always hated, has made me form a resolution to put an end to an existence which has become a burthen to me''.

The remains of William Shaw were taken down from the gibbet and given a proper funeral and as a token of his innocence the magistrate ordered a ``pair of colours'' to be waved over his grave.

The stranding of a whale was

often seen in the eighteenth century

as a token of misfortune and in the

case of the sad Shaws it was certainly that. It didn't work out too well for

the Jacobites either, come to think

of it.