The Ayrshire man who cheated the hangman’s noose

The dictionary defines character as being ‘A combination of qualities distinguishing a person’ and characters of unusual qualities are the foundations of many tales which interest those sitting around a winter fireside.

One such character was Mungo Campbell whose father had at one time been the Provost of Ayr and well connected. This was in the early 1700s when a good but risky investment was the profit on trade goods from abroad. Unfortunately the ship carrying Mungo’s father’s investment sunk impoverishing him which combined with the fact that he had some twenty three children (whew)to support brought him to an early grave. Many of the children had to be farmed out among the relatives and Mungo landed up with an uncle at Mauchline.

Mungo Campbell on completion of his education enlisted in the Scots Greys where he served with distinction for some twelve years. However without the necessary finance he could not become an officer as in those days commissions had to be purchased and did not depend on military ability.

Mungo left the army and after a few escapades settled down as an exciseman at Saltcoats where he used his skill of marksmanship to fill his larder. Unfortunately his path crossed that of the 10th Earl of Eglinton who was apparently a bully and acted very aggressively to anyone he thought poaching on his land.

Mungo used to carry a rifle when he patrolled the shore in the company of another exciseman and on one occasion came face to face with the Earl who accused him of poaching. However Mungo had been between high and low watermark in an area owned by the crown plus it was near land where he had permission to shoot game and he rebutted the Earl’s claim. This did not change the Earl’s mind who commanded one of his men to fetch his rifle and he advanced on Mungo lunging for his rifle, Mungo stepped back, tripped over a stone, the gun went off and the Earl was hit with a fatal wound. Mungo Campbell was arrested and sent for trial in Edinburgh where naturally a court of peers found against a common ex-soldier and lowly exciseman as snobbery was rife in those days.

However Mungo cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his cell which infuriated the inhabitants of Edinburgh who had been looking forward to a public hanging. They dragged Mungo’s corpse through the streets until it was rescued by friends who gave him a decent burial. Mungo Campbell suffered because he refused to doff his cap in the face of aristocratic privilege.