The Highland clans of Scotland, as a
rule, have been almost as warlike and turbulent as the Irish; the
Lowlanders, as every reader of Sir 'alter Scott remembers, were not in the
olden time remarkable for the mildness of their dispositions; and the
chiefs of both the one and the other were not apt to endure provocation
peaceably, but were rather ready to draw the sword upon one another, and
to 'take the law into their own hands,' instead of carrying their personal
grievances to Edinburgh, to be laid before and settled by the wise Lords
Judges of Session.
name is almost as well known in Ayrshire as that of the Campbells in
Argyll and Perth-had held broad lands in the Lowlands from the day when
their founder -a scion of the old Norman stock of the English and Welsh Montgomeries-married the fair heiress of the Eglintons, a niece of King
Robert III of Scotland.
The name of the Castle
of Eglinton, or Eglintoun, the seat of their head, Lord Eglinton, was
brought into public notice some forty years ago, by the revival, within
its grounds, of a mediaeval tournament, in which Lord Alford, Lord
Waterford, Sir Charles Lamb, and Prince Louis Napoleon were among the
combatants, whilst the late Duchess of Somerset, then Lady Seymour,
presided over the lists as the 'Queen of Beauty.' The Montgomeries have
taken their place from generation to generation at the council board of
Scotland; and the third Lord Montgomery, and first Earl of Eglinton, was
one of the Scottish peers who met at Stirling Castle in 1513 to arrange
the coronation of James V. They mated, in successive generations, with the
Maxwells, the Drummonds, the Edmonstones, the Boyds, and the Setons, and
they fought at Flodden, and also at Marston Moor, where we find a father
and a son in opposite ranks.
In 1586, I find a
record of Hugh, the fourth Earl of Eglinton, being assassinated, in
consequence of a private feud, by the Lairds of Robertland and Aiked, or
Aiket, and others of the name of Cunningham. With the details of this
murder I am not acquainted, and it is not to this event that the title of
the present paper refers. The 'tragedy' which I
have to relate happened just two centuries later, when George III. had
been nearly ten years upon the throne of England. It happened on this
Alexander, the tenth
Earl of Eglinton seems to have been a Scottish laird who had very high and
exalted notions of the prerogatives of birth, station, and fortune, and a
very rigid enforcer of the Game Laws, which, whether right or wrong in the
abstract, have certainly been the occasion of many crimes and deeds of
violence on both sides of the Tweed. In the neighboring town of Saltcoats
there lived an exciseman, of good birth and fair education, named Mungo
Campbell, who was as passionately fond of field sports as the earl
himself, but who could not indulge his tastes upon his own lands for the
simple reason that he had not an acre of woods or of moorland to shoot
over. Accordingly, if the truth must be told, he was in the habit of
carrying a gun over part of his lordship's estates, which stretched half
across the county. This trespassing and poaching propensity had made him
anything but a favorite at Eglinton Castle, and the earl had often been
heard to speak of him in tones of aversion and contempt. This dislike was
reciprocated in full. Of course some 'good-natured friend' was found to
make the 'bad blood' a little worse, or rather
to fan into a flame the embers of mutual dislike-such 'good-natured'
friends are seldom or never far to seek. One fine afternoon, in the month
of October, 1760, Lord Eglinton went out pheasant-shooting in his coverts
along with his friend and neighbor, Lord Kellie, followed by a retinue of
servants and keepers with horses, dogs, and guns. They bad not gone very
far from the castle when they came upon two gentlemen, gun in hand, and
accompanied by a brace of pointers or setters. One of the attendants
having remarked to Lord Eglinton that he was sure that one of the scamps
in the distance was Mungo Campbell, I am afraid that on hearing his name
Lord Eglinton was very much excited, and swore rather roundly and
emphatically that he would make him pay dearly for his day's sport; so,
mounting one of the led horses, he galloped after the trespassers.
Approaching the exciseman, he accused him of having broken his word by
again trespassing and shooting on the castle grounds although he had so
lately been detected in killing a hare, and had been let off from
punishment on a promise not to repeat the offence.
'I have not broken my word,'
was Mungo Campbell's reply, ' for I have not fired off a gun to-day.'
Lord Eglinton, however,
was not satisfied with this assurance, but demanded of him at once to give
up his gun, and to be off without any more words.
'Deliver up my gun,
indeed!' replied Campbell; 'I ask pardon for my
trespass, for I know that I have no right to be here; but I certainly will
not give up my gun to you or to any man alive!'
'I must and will have
it, sir,' was Lord Eglinton's reply, for he could not brook being thus
'bearded' in his own park, and almost in sight of his own castle windows.
'I have been to - on
duty,' was Campbell's answer, 'and it is very
hard that I may not carry my gun with me when I go from home. If I have
infringed your rights, my lord, you can punish me by the law of the land;
but two wrongs do not make a right; and, earl though you be, I
will never submit tamely to the indignity of
being robbed of my fowling-piece.'
Lord Eglinton pressed
on his horse as if he would ride over him; but the exciseman retreated
backwards, keeping his face to the earl, pointing his gun at him at the
same time, and warning him to keep his distance. The earl, however, would
not give in. His pride was fairly roused, and he spurred or whipped his
horse, charging at his opponent.
'Keep off, my lord, or I
shall be obliged to shoot you in self-defense.'
Lord Eglinton then
dismounted, and asked his servant for a loaded gun, saying, 'I can shoot,
sir, as well as you.'
He then continued to
advance as Campbell retreated; and the latter again and again bade him to
keep his bands off, for no man should take his gun from him, and that he
would repel force by force. At this moment Campbell, in stepping
backwards, fell to the ground; and Lord Eglinton, thinking to seize the
opportunity, made a wrench at the gun in the hands of his foe; but he was
forestalled in his movements, and received the contents of the exciseman's
gun in his breast. He had met with his death
wound, and he expired before his attendants could do more than just lift
It was too late now to recall
the act, whether it was intended at the moment or purely accidental. The
servants, however, seized Campbell before he could escape or even fly; and
flight would have been useless, for his face and his person were well
known throughout half Ayrshire. He was bound and carried off to prison, to
answer for his misdeed.
Early in the year 1770
he was arraigned before the Justiciary Court at Edinburgh, and, after a
long trial, in which he sought to show that the deed was unpremeditated
and done in the heat of passion, and did not therefore amount to murder,
but only to manslaughter at the roost, he was found guilty on the capital
charge and sentenced to be hung at the Tolbooth. In vain was it urged by
his counsel that, over and above the right of every freeman to carry arms,
Mr. Campbell was expressly authorised to carry them by licence from the
Earls of Loudoun and Marchmont, and that, for this reason, Lord Eglinton
was not acting within his right when he
endeavoured to seize and deprive him of his gun, and that, in the present
instance, his lordship had no right to do more than to prosecute him for a
trespass. At that time a private person, or a common exciseman like Menge,
Campbell, or his near neighbour and acquaintance Robert Burns, had but
little chance of even handed justice in a
Scottish law-court, where the greatest indulgence was shown to the rich
feudal lords, the sole owners of the soil, whose forefathers had owned and
had exercised the right of life and death over their clansmen.
The sentence, as a
matter of fact, was never carried out; by no fault, however, of the law or
the lawyers; for a day or two before that appointed for the execution poor
Mungo Campbell managed to forestall the hangman's rope by suicide. Various
opinions, however, were entertained as to the correctness of the finding
of the jury, which produced a pamphlet of the celebrated Dr. Langhorne
protesting against its correctness, and against the legality of the
capital sentence. For the moat part, whilst members of the landed classes
and the 'great families' to the north of the
Tweed applauded the sentence of the court, there can be no doubt that this
tragedy helped to open the eyes of the more enlightened legislators to the
Draconian severity of the Caledonian lava, and in the end to bring about a
mitigation of their severity analogous to that which was wrote in the
English law by the exertions of Sir Samuel Romilly and other
philanthropists. Happily, in our day a man who
caused the death of another in a struggle for life, and in defence of his
personal rights, real or imagined, would be in no danger of suffering the
extreme penalty of the law.
It only remains to add
that the earl who met with this tragic fate was not actually an ancestor,
but only a kinsman of the late popular Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and the
reviver of the 'Tournament' above-mentioned. He had no child, and the
brother who succeeded him in the earldom left only a daughter, from whom
the present house of Eglinton is descended.
Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887
Chapters From the Family Chest