His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet Read Online (FREE)
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I am writing this at the behest of my advocate, Mr Andrew Sinclair, who since my incarceration here in Inverness has treated me with a degree of civility I in no way deserve. My life has been short and of little consequence, and I have no wish to absolve myself of responsibility for the deeds which I have lately committed. It is thus for no other reason than to repay my advocate’s kindness towards me that I commit these words to paper.
So begins the memoir of Roderick Macrae, a seventeen-year-old crofter, indicted on the charge of three brutal murders carried out in his native village of Culduie in Ross-shire on the morning of the 10th of August 1869.
It is not my intention to unduly detain the reader, but a few prefatory remarks may provide a little context to the material collected here. Those readers who prefer to proceed directly to the documents themselves are of course free to do so.
In the spring of 2014, I embarked on a project to find out a little about my grandfather, Donald ‘Tramp’ Macrae, who was born in 1890 in Applecross, two or three miles north of Culduie. It was in the course of my research at the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness that I came across some newspaper clippings describing the trial of Roderick Macrae, and with the assistance of Anne O’Hanlon, the archivist there, discovered the manuscript which comprises the largest part of this volume.
By any measure, Roderick Macrae’s memoir is a remarkable document. It was written in the gaol at Inverness Castle approximately between the 17th of August and the 5th of September 1869, while Roderick awaited trial. It was the existence of the memoir, rather than the murders themselves, which turned the case into something of a cause célèbre. The memoir – or at least the most sensational parts of it – was later reprinted in countless chapbooks or ‘penny dreadfuls’ and provoked great controversy.
Many, especially among the literati of Edinburgh, doubted its authenticity. Roderick’s account revived memories of the Ossian scandal of the late eighteenth century in which James Macpherson claimed to have discovered and translated the great epic of Gaelic poetry. Ossian quickly assumed the status of a classic of European literature, but was later found to have been a fake. For Campbell Balfour, writing in the Edinburgh Review, it was ‘quite inconceivable that a semi-literate peasant could produce such a sustained and eloquent piece of writing … The work is a hoax and those who extol this most pitiless murderer as some kind of noble savage will in time be left red-faced.’* For others, both the murders and the memoir attested to the ‘terrible barbarism which continues to thrive in the northern regions of our country [and which] all the efforts of our dedicated presbytery and the great improvements† of the past decades have failed to eradicate.’‡