Scuffle at Balinakill

In February of 1827, an altercation took place at Balinakill House between Angus Macalister, whose home it was, and Alexander Campbell, Messenger at Arms in Lochgilphead. Macalister’s brother John was also involved. The meeting was “disastrous” and led to charges being filed by each party against the other: The Macalisters charged Campbell with ‘hamesucken’ (forced entry to a man’s home with intent to assault him) and assault; Campbell charged the Macalisters with assault as well, along with interfering with a Messenger in the course of his duties. 

The purpose of Campbell’s visit is unclear, but in light of this last charge, it seems that he had come to deliver some sort of court document.[1] He then had a considerable wait for his transport to return from Campbeltown on its way back north. Angus Macalister refused to let him stay for the evening meal, so Campbell went to nearby Clachan for food. Afterwards he returned to Balinakill House, and this seems to be where the trouble began.

At this point, the accounts given by those involved diverge. Mr Campbell reported that when he returned to Balinakill (“on pretence of seeking for something”, according to John Macalister), Angus Macalister “knocked him down, repeatedly leaped upon his body, cut and bled him, and . . . called out ‘Murder’ six or seven times”. Campbell’s assistant, Donald Jackson, backed up this version of events.

Upon investigating, however, the Procurator Fiscal heard a very different story from servants who were in the house at the time. They told him that they “heard no noise or quarreling or cries of Murder. One of them who was in the room saw Campbell asleep on a sofa and heard Ballinakiel refuse to give him dinner and no person saw marks of violence on Campbell except Jackson”. John Macalister claimed that, rather than being attacked by Balinakill, Campbell upon returning had struck both Macalisters violently, apparently for no real reason; a doctor confirmed that the blow was serious enough to put John’s life in danger for several days.

For the modern reader, with little knowledge of the individuals and personalities involved, it is hard not to conclude that everyone involved behaved badly. The Macalisters were inhospitable, Campbell was vindictive, and all of them were evidently prone to exaggeration. It is likely, however, that these men knew one another and had histories together that might have led to ill will. The Procurator Fiscal, who investigated, reported to the Sheriff that “ ‘I am disposed to believe that Campbell is the guilty person and that he is the one who ought to be taken up in place of Ballinakiel. For my own part however, I would not venture to apply for a warrant against either.’

“The same view was taken by the Lord Advocate’s office and no proceedings took place.”[2]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012 

[1] A Messenger at Arms is a civil officer of the court responsible for serving documents (such as summonses and letters of horning) and enforcing court orders. The fact that the Macalisters were clearly not happy to have him there might be further evidence of this.
[2] This story comes from A. I. B. Stewart’s article “The Duel”, in Kintyre Magazine (issue 18, Spring 1985). Links to the web version of this publication keep disappearing, but you can find the article at

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