Today (November 13) is the 168th anniversary of author Robert Louis Stevenson’s birth so I was intrigued to find this unusual reference to him on a recent visit to Stirling.
The owner of this car might not be paying tribute to a much-loved author, he or she might simply have a name with the same initial letters, but I like the idea that this driver is commemorating the creator of some wonderful, popular literature.
Born in Edinburgh in 1850, Stevenson is best known for his novels Kidnapped and Treasure Island and the novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but he was a prolific writer. In all, before his death in 1894 he had published nine novels, several short story collections, poetry and a substantial body of travel writing and other non-fiction work. A further three novels were unfinished.
Stevenson was the grandson and namesake of the renowned engineer Robert Stevenson, whose Bell Rock lighthouse, the oldest rock lighthouse in the British isles, rises from the sea 12 miles off the east coast of Scotland. Stevenson’s father, Thomas, was also a leading lighthouse engineer but Robert had no enthusiasm for engineering and having written stories since childhood, opted for a life of letters. His health was poor for most of this life and, after travelling in England, Europe and the US in search of a climate that would help his respiratory disease, he eventually settled in Samoa in the South Pacific in the final years of his life.
My favourite of Stevenson’s novels is Kidnapped. Inspired by the still-unsolved Appin Murder of 1752, the story has young David Balfour and Jacobite Allan Breck Stewart running for their lives from Government soldiers after being implicated in the murder. The historical events behind the story continue to fascinate historians and writers and in 2013 were the subject of a re-examination by a panel of forensic experts convened by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. James Stewart, the man tried, convicted and hanged in relation to the murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure, known as the Red Fox, was never thought to have fired the fatal shots but was found guilty of helping Allan Breck Stewart carry out the killing.
Campbell was a Government official responsible for the administration of three West Highland estates forfeit to the Crown in the wake of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and was murdered the day before he was expected to evict the Jacobite Stewart tenants from two properties to make way for his own family and associates. Six years after the Battle of Culloden, the British Government still considered the Jacobites a threat and the murder was immediately assumed to be a Jacobite plot. (The Jacobites were supporters of the exiled Stuart monarchs who were deposed by William of Orange and his wife Mary in an invasion and revolution in 1688. The Jacobites sought restoration of the Stuart dynasty, protection for their Episcopalian faith and, later, the dissolution of the 1707 political union of Scotland and England.)
In contrast to the Stewarts, the Campbells were supporters of the British Government and the Hanoverian kings who had succeeded William of Orange’s sister-in-law Anne as monarchs. Chief of the Clan Campbell was the Duke of Argyll, the British Government’s principal representative in Scotland. It was he who presided over the trial of James Stewart with a jury on which 11 of 15 members were also Campbells.
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) expert panel concluded James Stewart was wrongly convicted in an unfair trial but came to no firm conclusion about the identity of the murderer. Allan Breck Stewart remained the prime suspect. However, recent research by Professor Allan MacInnes, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Strathclyde, suggests the culprit was closer to home and the motive was personal rather than political.
Colin Campbell of Glenure was thought to have been killed by musket shots fired from a hill behind him but the RSE panel concluded that the fatal shots could as easily have been fired from in front of him. Based on this finding and inconsistencies in his account, Professor MacInnes proposes Campbell’s nephew Mungo Campbell as the murderer, shooting his uncle at close range with a pair of pistols fired simultaneously. Known to be an ambitious man, he was alone with Campbell at the time of the shooting and his rapid succession to his uncle’s position on the three estates points to a possible motive.