On this day 1752: Government agent Colin 'Red Fox' Campbell killed in Appin Murder

It has been described as the Highland mystery that has never been laid to rest, with disquiet surrounding the execution of the man convicted of the murder existing for more than 250 years.

James Stewart was hanged on a spot overlooking Loch Leven near Ballachulish for the murder of Colin Campbell - but disquiet has existed about his conviction ever since. PIC: Flickr/Markus Trienke.
James Stewart was hanged on a spot overlooking Loch Leven near Ballachulish for the murder of Colin Campbell - but disquiet has existed about his conviction ever since. PIC: Flickr/Markus Trienke.

On May 14, 1752, Colin Campbell of Glenure was shot in the back with two musket balls as he walked through the woods at Lettermore.

These were the post-Culloden years, when estates of prominent Jacobites were forfeited with Colin Campbell installed as a factor on the Stewart esates.

Sign up to our History and Heritage newsletter

Within two days, James Stewart was arrested and taken to face trial at the Campbell stronghold of Inveraray Castle.

Read More

Read More
The island where Highland clans buried their dead

The presiding judge was pro-Hanoverian Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell with 11 Campbells on the 15-man jury.

The Crown claimed Stewart was an accessory to the murder carried out by his half-brother Allan Breck Stewart, who went on the run after the killing.

The court heard the two men were “guilty, actors, or art and part of the heinous crime of murder”.

No evidence was presented against James Stewart, who presented an alibi that he was several miles away at the time.

But found guilty, he was hanged on Wednesday November 8 at Cnap a’ Chaolais near the Ballachulish ferry.

Tied to a horse and accompanied by eights soldiers, he was led to his death. In his last moments, he forgave those who wished him evil and mounted the gallows before reciting words from Psalm 35.

“False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good..... Lord, how long wilt thou look on? Rescue my soul from their destructions.”

This has become known as Psalm of James of the Glen.

Wrapped in chains, his decomposing remains stayed on show for several years in a warning to locals with his bones collected one by one by a friend as they fell to the ground.

Disquiet about the conviction has simmered ever since.

In 2013, The Royal Society of Edinburgh held a meeting in Fort William to review the original forensic and ballistic evidence with Professor Dame Sue Black, forensic pathologist, lead 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.

In 2016, Professor Allan MacInnes, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Strathclyde, claimed he had solved the case and that the murder was an “inside job.”

After studying the evidence, he believes Campbell’s nephew, Mungo, who walked with his uncle in Lettermore Woods at the time of his death, fired the shot in order to realise his own ambitions.

After the murder, Mungo Campbell inherited his uncle’s lucrative post.

Professor MacInnes described Mungo as a “nutter.”

Professor MacInnes said at the time: “[Mungo] was a very difficult man and a very ambitious and ruthless man.

“Whereas I think James of the Glen was, you have to say, partial to a strong drink, he was a decent, God-fearing man, a typical Highlander in a sense, but Mungo was a nutter.”

Following his research, Professor MacInnes said the Scottish Government should issue a formal pardon to James of the Glen.