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Kidnapped in Balquhidder

Peter discussed Robert Louis Stevenson's novel 'Kidnapped' with Mark Stephen of BBC Radio Scotland in a programme broadcast on the 'Out of Doors' programme on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th September 2012 . In chapter 24 and 25 of the novel, the fictional David Balfour with Alan Breac Stewart travel from Rannoch to Balquhidder and meet with Robin Oig MacGregor. We considered the nature of the glen in the early 1750s, the people, and why Alan Breac and Robin Oig may have been hostile when they met.

Almost everyone knows, from the “History” dreamed up by Sir Walter Scott, that Rob Roy MacGregor, father of Robin Oig, had duelled in 1734 with Stewart of Invernahyle, kin to Alan Breac. On the death of Malcolm MacGregor of Marchfield whose lands included Invernentie, one of the MacLarens had taken over Invernentie farm. This was much to the annoyance of Rob Roy who had intended placing one of Marchfield's kin on the farm. Rob Roy raised a number of armed MacGregors to drive MacLaren and his friends off the property, but the MacLarens brought in two hundred Stewarts of Appin, led by their chief, Stewart of Ardsheal. Rob Roy conceded to the superior force but the young Stewart of Invernahyle offered single combat to Rob Roy to satisfy honour. At the age of 63, Rob Roy was past his best, and after a wound in the arm, conceded to the younger man. However, the wound became infected and he died not long after.

General David Stewart of Garth wrote in 1822 that this tale came from the imagination of Walter Scott in 1817. The difficulty for Scott's version of history, was that the disposition of Invernentie to a MacLaren by the Duke of Atholl took place in May 1736, eighteen months after Rob's death at the end of 1734.

The truth of the duel was that Charles Stewart of Ardshiel had journeyed through Balquhidder in the summer of 1734 and stayed overnight at the inn where he met with Rob Roy. After a presumably friendly drinking session, they had quarrelled over events during the Jacobite rising of 1715 and agreed to settle their argument with a duel. Ardshiel drew blood from a small cut to Rob’s chin, ending the duel. Thus, there was no “clan battle settled by a single combat with Stewart of Invernahyle”. Rob did, however, subsequently sicken and died at the end of the year. It is not clear whether this may have been a consequence of the duel. Rob was 63 years old in 1734, perhaps a little too old and, according to Garth, corpulent for duelling with younger men. [1]  

The murder, however, was a real event and not a figment of Scott's imagination. On March 14th 1737, Rob’s youngest son, Robin oig then aged 19, did murder MacLaren of Invernenty. He enlisted in the army to avoid retribution. [2]  

Robin Oig deserted from the British Army following the battle of Fontenoy and served as an officer in the Jacobite army during the '45, In December 1751, Robin Oig, with his brothers' assistance, kidnapped and forcibly married Jean Key, a young widow from Edinbellie, near Balfron. Her relatives raised a legal action against them; as a result both James Mor and Robin Oig were outlawed with a warrant of fugitation.

Stephenson set his fictional story immediately following the murder of the "Red Fox", Colin Campbell of Glenure, on 14th May 1752. While is is possible that the real Robin Oig could have been in Balquhidder in 1752, perhaps visiting his brother Ranald who farmed and owned the inn at the Kirkton of Balquhidder, his whereabouts were unknown to the authorities (and history) until he was reported in Balquhidder at the begining of May 1753.

At the end of May 1753, the real Robin Oig was arrested. He was tried and hanged in Edinburgh at the start of 1754. His brother James Mor, had escaped in November 1752 and fled to France. The escape of James Mor was dramatised by RLS in his sequel novel 'Catriona'. Alan Breac and the noted outlaw Sergeant Mor Cameron have both been suggested as the murderers of Campbell of Glenure, but according to Campbell of Barcaldine, James Stewart of the Glens had offered a reward and commission in French service to Robin Oig if he would kill Glenure. However, Barcaldine's source for this had been James Mor himself, in August 1752, while imprisoned in Edinburgh tolbooth as part of a "plea bargain" for his release.

Click here to listen to a BBC podcast of part II of the narrative, Glencoe to Corstorphine, by Mark Stephen.

All title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to the BBC Podcasts shall remain the property of the BBC.

Gutenberg copy of Kidnapped by RLS .. Gutenberg copy of Catriona by RLS

[1] Dewar MSS Vol I, pp 162-164
H.L. McLaurinn has pointed out to me that the account in the Dewar MSS was reprinted The Celtic Monthly, A magazine for Highlanders edited by John Mackay, Glasgow Number 5 Vol. XIII February, 1905 page 82

TRADITIONS OF THE STEWARTS OF APPIN. THE STEWARTS OF ARDSHIEL, --- the true account of the meeting, which took place at the Clachan of Balquhidder, is as follows :
— Charles Stewart of Ardshiel, who commanded the Stewarts and M'Colls of Appin in 1745, was, previously to that period, desperately in love with one of the three daughters of Haldane of Landrick. There being at that time no made road to the Highlands, the shortest and most direct way from Appin to Landrick Castle was by the Clachan of Balquhidder. Ardshiel paid several visits to Miss Haldane, but was not successful.
In his last and almost despairing visit, he fell in on his way with Rob Roy, who happened to be at his brother's, at the Clachan of Balquhidder. During the course of their conversation a quarrel took place ; and each being provided with an Andrea Ferrara, they immediately encountered in a kail-yard. Ardshiel was the conqueror ; and Rob Roy, on his way up the glen, was not only heard in the greatest fury exclaiming that ' Ardshiel was the first that ever drew blood of him,' but it is said, moreover, that he threw his broadsword into Lochvoil, nearly opposite to Stronvaar House, where there is reason to believe it still remains.
But Ardshiel not only conquered Rob Roy — he also won the fair lady; for, on the report of the rencontre reaching Landrick Castle, Miss Haldane was so flattered with it, that she favoured his addresses. '1 his account of the matter is well known to several of the inhabitants in the parish of Balquhidder; and there is no doubt of its being Ike correct one.
This encounter is also mentioned by General Stewart of Garth.* " As the laird of Invernahyle was brother to Stewart of Ardshiel, it is probable," says our correspondent, "that, in the many conversations which Sir Walter Scott held with his friend (Stewart of Invernahyle, nephew of aforesaid), adventures were related of the chief which were afterwards set down to the name of the narrator.
* Sketches of the Highlanders of Scotland, to Vol. II. Append, p. xx.

[2] The murder was recorded to have occurred on March 14 1736, which suggests that MacLaren was murdered BEFORE the disposition of Invernenty to him in May 1736! However, until 1752, the new year began on April 5th, hence the murder took place in March 1737 and thus not before the disposition of the tenancy in the previous May.