Argyll’s murderous past explored
BENDERLOCH’S Bookends Festival will explore Argyll’s bloodthirsty past this month.
Lindsay Campbell, the daughter of a police constable, who lives in Kilmore near Oban, has always been fascinated by true historic crime and the human issues behind it, and Argyll has proved fertile ground for a series of three books – so far.
Her first book, Ane Compact of Villany, tells the true story of a gang of outlaws, led by Lachie Campbell, who roamed the hills around Oban and Nether Lorn stealing coins, fishing nets and salmon guns.
Lindsay said: ‘It struck me as a story that needed to be told. I kept meeting the gang in old records and felt it would make a perfect story for local historians, but then a publisher became interested, too.’
The publisher explained: ‘From the 1680s to the 1700s, a gang of early Jacobites, thieves, housebreakers and highwayman ran a protection racket across the mist-sodden, famine-ravaged Argyll hills, bringing misery and fear to their own people and dismay to the authorities. In the end, a working-class hero, inspired by a widow’s plight and bolstered by his own dogged determination, brought the gang to justice.’
Researching the book took Lindsay 15 years, and included tracing lost farmsteads and tracks in the hills around Scammadale, Dalavich and Appin, working with original old documents and exposing the human stories behind true historic crime.
‘The places they targeted are not easy to find,’ she said: ‘The face of Argyll has changed so dramatically. It gave me the opportunity to explore these places in the hills. You see a lot of things that you do not notice on maps: you see the way these places were connected to each other, how the gang were able to pounce on these places suddenly. You begin to get inside of the mind of these criminals.’
The book proved popular and the story of the highwaymen, thieves and protection racketeers operating across Argyll in the late 1600s continues to capture the imagination of locals and visitors.
Lindsay continued: ‘I did not realise the appetite for true crime in this area. People in Argyll are a bloodthirsty lot and are starting to link in with their local murders.’
Her second book, which Lindsay will be reading from at the Bookends Festival before it comes out on November 28, is called Now Prisoner Within, and presents 12 cases of true crime in old Argyll.
She said: ‘Most of the cases are previously untold, and involved theft, murder, riot, psychopathy and fraud from Campbeltown to Keil, Tobermory to Dalmally and beyond. One crime is possibly solved more than 300 years after it occurred and an anomaly in the midst of another is at last explained.
‘In other chapters, islanders rebel against mainland rule, inebriated gentry brawl, a farmer’s wife poisons her husband, and a son kills his father.
‘Some stories were gory, but these were human beings. Some of the stories are so sad. You get a feel for the people you are researching.
‘I do feel for the accused and the victims: they would not be treated that way now.
‘There is no getting away from the fact the sheriffs were quite harsh. I am convinced innocent people have been hung at Inveraray, and guilty people have got away.’
True crime in historic Argyll is proving such a rich seam that Lindsay is now writing her third book of cases called Accused and Persewed. Benderloch’s second Bookends Festival of the written and spoken word runs from September 23-30, featuring authors reading books ranging from King Arthur to free outdoor fitness. The Victory Hall in Benderloch is turned into a sumptuous reading room, where most of the action takes place.
Book bins are continuing to spread around Argyll. From Bonawe to Taynuilt and Kilmore, and many locations in between boxes and bins will be rolling up filled to the brim with a collection of pre-loved books to give you a chance to swap, borrow or keep some new titles, and whet your appetite for more titles to come at the festival.
If you have books you wish to donate to this year’s Bookends, leave a message the festival’s website, www. bookends.scot or phone Joy Cameron on 01631 720247.
Authors Graeme Pagan, Russell Campbell and Lindsay Campbell at Bookends event in Taynuilt in February this year.