Man convicted of 1830s murder by ‘second sight’ witness

Hugh Macleod in jail in the BBC Alba documentary played by  Lorne MacDonald
Hugh Macleod in jail in the BBC Alba documentary played by Lorne MacDonald
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THE hanging of 30-year-old Hugh Macleod attracted thousands to the streets of Inverness in the 1830s – but his murder conviction was anything but ordinary, as his trial was the only one ever in Scotland which allowed the old superstition of second sight.

Foretelling was still very much alive in the Highlands in the 19th century, where this intriguing tale of murder and execution took place.

Murdoch Grant as played by Daniel Cahill

Murdoch Grant as played by Daniel Cahill

Now BBC ALBA is to tell the story in full for the first time.

The TV documentary describes a crime that led to the exposure of a high-ranking member of society, an investigation that saw ancient rituals played out in a tight-knit community – and a man recognised as a gifted ‘dreamer of visions’ taking centre stage from the witness box.

The story unfolds in 1830, in far north west Sutherland.

Murdoch Grant was a pedlar or ‘packman’ who made a decent return on the clothing and goods he brought north from Inverness, selling them on in scattered villages where the people had no access to shops.

Often given a bed for the night as he went about his lengthy travels on foot, Grant was a popular character.

On 11 March, there was a large wedding in the township of Assynt.

Murdoch Grant attended, and enjoyed a sales boost from the many celebrating guests. He set off in the direction of Lochbroom, and was never seen alive again.

A month later, his badly decomposed corpse was spotted floating in remote Loch Tòrr na h-Èiginn.

The small community was thrust together in panic and before long, the word ‘murder’ had been spoken.

With no policeman near to hand, villagers turned to the local schoolmaster. Hugh Macleod, a dapper figure, promised to raise the authorities from Inverness.

But as the programme reveals, there was far more to young Macleod than met the eye.

An only child and a bright one, his parents had indulged him from an early age.

As a teenager, he had developed an appetite for ‘damsels, dress and drams’.

By the age of 21 when the death of Grant took place, he had fallen into ‘Sabbath breaking’ and ‘carousing late’ – despite his responsibilities as schoolmaster.

And no-one could ignore the fact that following Grant’s disappearance, Macleod was seen to be enjoying something of a windfall.

While the law took its course, another unlikely tip came from within the community.

A man long known as ‘Kenneth the Dreamer’ declared that he had experienced a vision of Grant’s murder in his sleep.

READ MORE: Scots belief in the second sight - the gift of premonition

The net began to close in on Hugh Macleod, who had walked past the loch every day since, on his way to and from the schoolhouse.

Had he seen the grim evidence of his crime, rise slowly to the surface? Did he believe his authority would protect him? And why would the justiciary be in the end so willing to listen to the testimony of a man known only as a ‘dreamer’?

Shortly before he was hanged in chains, Hugh Macleod was paraded through the streets of Inverness in front of a jeering crowd of three thousand. He was the only Scottish defendant in history whose trial had admitted the evidence of second sight.

With expert opinion from a detective, lawyer, psychologist and journalist, this bizarre story of 19th century Highland crime is realised in rich drama reconstruction for BBC ALBA.

A Dream of Death / Bruadar a’ Bhàis

BBC ALBA – Thursday 10 March 9.00 – 10.00pm

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