Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


Y, Page 142. Report of Highland Convicts

On reference to the proceedings of the Court of Justiciary in the northern counties, it will be found that the capital convictions at Inverness, from the year 1747 to 1817, have been fifty-nine. Of these, there were

10 men for murder,

9 women for child-murder,
[This crime is less frequent since the strictness of church discipline has been softened. Only one woman has been condemned since 1763.]

2 men for rape; one of them rape and murder near Elgin,

1 man for fire-raising,

12 men for cattle-stealing,
[This was at the earlier period, before the nature and danger of ” lifting cattle, as it was called, was properly understood by the Highlanders. None have been convicted of cattle-stealing since the year 1765. When it was known to be a crime, the practice ceased. Two of the above offenders were in the knowledge of all the Pretender’s movements after the battle of Culloden. They gave him information, supplied him with provisions, were taken up on suspicion, threatened with instant execution, if they did not confess what they knew of him, and, at the same time, offered the tempting reward of L. 30,000. But all in vain. Neither the prospect of immediate death, or the offer of immediate wealth, had any influence over the minds of these poor men, in a case where they thought their honour was concerned. They were afterwards hanged for stealing a cow!]

1 man for sheep-stealing,
[This was at a later period, when the stock graziers got possession of the pasture grounds. Many sheep were stolen at that period. Four men were banished for this crime; one of them from Glengarry is in possession of considerable property in Botany Bay. He was taken up near Perth, where I saw him a prisoner. His appearance was remarkable; six feet three inches, stout, well formed, and with a florid handsome countenance.]

2 men for house-breaking and theft, 9 men for theft,

3 men for robbing.

Of these criminals eight were strangers, soldiers quartered in the different garrisons, and others, who committed crimes as they passed through the country, and were apprehended and tried there. This Circuit includes the lowland part of the counties of Moray and Orkney, (in the latter, crimes of magnitude are very rare), containing a population of 238,681 souls, out of which there were 59 persons (51 natives) convicted in the course of seventy years, making the proportion of one criminal to 283,180 souls. From 1756 to 1761, and from 1767 to 1773, there were no convictions. From 1773 to 1783, there was only one man convicted; his crime was murder. From 1794 to 1817, there were three convictions for murder, but none for robbery, housebreaking, or any other crime. In May 1817, a woman was condemned for theft.

The feudal powers and jurisdiction of the Duke of Argyll were abolished in the year 1748, and the first assize court was held at Inveraray in May 1749. From that period till 1817, the number of convictions has been eight. The crimes were,

3 for murder,

1 for cattle stealing,

3 for theft, (two women, and one man),

1 man for forgery.

This last case happened in the year 1782. The offender’s name was Macaffie. The forgery was committed in Dublin, but, attempting to pass his notes in Inveraray, he was apprehended, tried, and condemned. On some certified question of law, however, he was taken to Edinburgh, when the point was decided against him, and he was executed there. If we except this conviction of a stranger, and that of James Fullarton for theft in 1783, there were none condemned at Inveraray for a period of fifty-one years, from 1753 to 1804. There have been two convictions for murder since. One in 1805, [This was a travelling tinker from Athole. He was executed for throwing his wife into a river, where she was found drowned, near the King’s House Inn, Glenorchy.] another in 1817. The Inveraray Circuit includes the counties of Argyle and Bute, containing a population of 82,261 persons.

The population of that part of the Aberdeen Circuit, which may be properly called Highland, and which includes portions of the counties of Kincardine and Banff, amounts to 14,596 persons. From 1747 to 1817, there were two men condemned from that part of the country; one for murder in the year 1770, and another for fire-raisin 1785. From 1770 to 1784, there was no capital conviction in Aberdeen.

As the Highland parts of Perthshire constitute but a small part of that Circuit, which comprehends Perth, Fife, and Angus, 1 shall only notice the native Highlanders tried and condemned at Perth, from 1747 to 1817. The number was sixteen, of whom

5 men were convicted for murder,

4 men for cattle-stealing,

4 for theft,

2 women for child-murder,

1 man for rape.

The population of the Highlands of Perthshire is about 40,130, giving a greater proportion of criminals than either of the other circuits.

Proportion of Convicted Criminals to the Population in the different Districts in the Highlands, from 1747 to 1817.