08 February 2007

Kidnapping History

While writing the piece from yesterday, I was reminded that one of the great children's books of all time was based in factual events with a memory that continues to this day. In fact the City of Edinburgh will be giving copies out this year so that the whole city can read the same book at the same time. If you do manage to get to Scotland, you can visit almost all of the places in the book. So brush up on the facts below, grab a copy and read along:

The Mystery of


Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was given a book of history titled "The Trial of James Stewart". Stewart was a Jacobite clansman hanged for the murder of a government agent named Colin Campbell. It was the official record, but the more Stevenson studied the case the more he was convinced a terrible miscarriage of justice had taken place. James Stewart had hanged without a shred of evidence against him. Of the 15 jurors at his trial, 11 of them were Campbells, and the murdered man's brother helped to select them. The greatest Campbell of all, the Duke of Argyll, was the officiating judge as Lord Justice General.

This mystery is known as the Appin Murder. James Stewart was hanged for conspiracy, but someone else killed Campbell. The name of that someone has become the Stewart Secret. Into this cauldron of bubbling clan feud, hate, murder, revenge and intrigue, Stevenson introduced his hero of Kidnapped, the fictional David Balfour.

Stevenson wove his fiction into the historical fact so cleverly that it is impossible to tell one from the other. He plotted David Balfour's adventures through locations he knew well so they could be described in detail, which lent even further authenticity. For example, David's Uncle Ebenezer had him kidnapped at the Hawes Inn at South Queensferry to be sold into slavery in the Carolinas. Sometimes Stevenson stayed overnight in the Hawes so he was able to describe the scene with great accuracy.

Stevenson knew Peebles and the Borders well. He explained that David Balfour came from Essendean, somewhere in Ettrick. You will find Essenside and Essen Loch, but Stevenson waved his literary magic wand and changed the village of Ashkirk into Essendean.

Rest and Be Thankful at the top of this article was chosen for David Balfour's farewell to Allan Breck, his great friend and fellow fugitive. In real life, Allan Breck was the prime suspect for the Appin Murder. Alexander Stoddart's statues of the Kidnapped heroes now stand in Edinburgh. Stevenson intended to cover both the Appin Murder and James Stewart's trial in Kidnapped, but his illness proved too much and he decided instead to write a sequel. It was, of course, Catriona, published in 1893, the year before his death.

What makes Kidnapped particularly enthralling is the fact that the secret name of the Appin murderer is still being passed down among senior Stewarts to this day.



Fussin' and fightin' ever since the world began.

You forgot to leave an address. for that code.

I need a name for the Bear.

Smalltown RN said...

Oh I am glad my post on the poem inspired you. I too loved wykn blynk and nod. When my girls were little I would by them an ornament for the tree...this one year I bought them each one that represented one of the poems we were enjoying at the time. And that was one of them.....


carol g. said...

Me thinks I need to read that book again... it has been quite a while... actually, I think I only originally saw the movie... time to go to the library... thanks again Jamie