1591: Barnabe Brisson, at the hands of the Sixteen 1326: Edmund FitzAlan, the Earl of Arundel

1700: Jamie Macpherson, Highlander

November 16th, 2014 Headsman

The legendary Highlands freebooter Jamie Macpherson was hanged on this date in 1700 in Banff.

Macpherson is said to be an illegitimate half-Gypsy child with every talent necessary to live larger than life — and if gigantism can be inferred from the size of his enormous alleged sword, that would be extremely large indeed.

Besides his elite SPARQ score, Macpherson was blessed with complementary gifts for making music and sweet sweet love, and plundered livestock and merchandise and maidenheads as he sprang through the vicinities of Banff and Aberdeen. Despite living by his prowess with the sword every source concurs that he never used it to harm anyone that the audience would sympathize with.

But he outraged the local grandees, and at length he was apprehended (as befits his outsized tale) by a fellow with the improbable name “Duff of Braco” — then was duly condemned to hang on market-day (“Forasmeikle as you James McPherson, pannal are found guilty by ane verdict of ane assyse, to be knoun, holden, and repute to be Egiptian and a wagabond” etc.).

In the week before his hanging, Macpherson reportedly composed an air variously described as “Macpherson’s Lament” or “Rant” or “Farewell” which he then performed on the gallows.

In the most picturuesque version, he played his own fiddle in this exit performance, then dramatically smashed the instrument. As Chambers’s Journal observes, it seems hard to accept that the sheriff would have given this veritable Goliath the free use of his hands at such a desperate moment. Indeed, local legend has it that the authorities were so afraid that a reprieve might arrive that upon catching sight of an approaching rider on the horizon, they put the town’s clocks 15 minutes forward.

At any rate, several versions of the Lament/Rant/Farewell survive and one can follow its evolution in this open-source Annals of Banff. Robert Burns’s eventually immortalized the verse with this gloss on it from the late 18th century:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous Last Words,Hanged,History,Outlaws,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Scotland,Theft

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5 thoughts on “1700: Jamie Macpherson, Highlander”

  1. dusty roads52 says:

    “Now go do, that voodoo, that you do, so well”

    Blazing Saddles

  2. Flitcraft says:

    It’s funny how that legend grew up, but It was the leader of the gang, Peter Broune, who ‘played on the wiol’, not Macpherson who had no known musical talents, and the stuff about shifting the clocks isn’t true either (I once had to investigate it!). Macpherson actually has an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article – are you able to get at that? It’s very helpful. I love the detail that he was charged with “having undertaken to cure a man of a boil, and then stolen two mares from the man, which he claimed were payment.” and also that part of the accusation was that he and his fellows “‘had a particular language which wes not Irish [Gaelic]”. This could have been the Romani language, if the description that he was half Romani was correct, but Highland travellers had their own language too – Beurla Reagaird.

  3. Meaghan says:

    Was I the only person who thought “sword” was a euphemism for something else?

    1. JCF says:

      As befits one who “plundered livestock and merchandise and maidenheads” (and livestock maidenheads? The cows and mares are nervous!)

      RIP, Jamie.

      1. Meaghan says:

        “Now I don’t have to tell you good folks what’s been happening in our beloved little town. Sheriff murdered, crops burned, stores looted, people stampeded, and cattle raped.”

        — Blazing Saddles

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