Taken from the book Romantic Narratives from Scottish History and Tradition, by Robert Scott Fittis, published in 1903.

A Wild Scot of Galloway - Sir Godfrey McCulloch.

My tale I will tell that the sceptic may scan,
If the Galloway Wild Scot was merely a man.
- Joseph Train.

AN old family among the "wild Scots of Galloway" bore the surname of Maculach, Mackulagh, or McCulloch - one of the oldest families, indeed, in that rude and turbulent province of Scotland and claimed as progenitor a king of the Britons of Strathclyde.

From an early period the Maculachs held lands in Wigtonshire and the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright: and they, like many other Galwegians, supported John Baliol in his competition with Robert Bruce for the Scottish crown. Moreover, when Baliol was driven from his throne by Edward I., the Maculachs ranged themselves on the side of the victorious invader, to whom a William Mackulagh swore fealty at Berwick, in 1296: and to that side the family steadfastly adhered throughout the War of Independence under Wallace and Bruce. In reward of his constancy, Thomas Mackulagh, the head of the house, was raised by King Edward, in 1305, to the dignity of Sheriff of Wigtonshire. Eventually all Galloway submitted to King Robert Bruce. But Edward Baliol's enterprise to dispossess the infant King, David Bruce, of his regal birthright, was stoutly backed by Patrick Maculach, to whom, in 1337-38, Edward III. of England granted a pension of £20 ; and in 1341, the same monarch ordered payment of £2 and 14 pence to Gilbert Maculach, as his wages in the English service. The star of Baliol, however, set in disaster, and David II. was restored to his throne.

When David invaded England, and was defeated and taken prisoner at the battle of Durham, in 1346, Edward Baliol, judging that his star was emerging from the abyss of misfortune, entered Galloway, and was cordially welcomed by the Maculachs and others ; but his cause made no head the stars in their courses were fighting against him. Negotiations being set on foot by the Scots for the ransom of their sovereign, Baliol appointed three Commissioners, one of whom was Patrick Maculach, to protest before Edward III. and his Council against the liberation, on any terms, of the royal captive. The protest was duly made, and in response King Edward gave assurance that nothing should be done prejudicial to the Baliol interest. But King David was ultimately released, and Baliol's adherents in wild Galloway were soon subdued.

The Galwegians rose in support of the insurrection in 1488, against James III., and were led to the field of Sauchie, under the command of Lord Gray. Among them was Alexander McCulloch of Myretown, the head of the family, who obtained from James IV. the appointment of Master of the King's Hawks, with a pension of £100.

In 1664, the McCulloch house of Myretoun, in the Wigtonshire parish of Mochrum, was honoured by Charles II. with a baronetage of Nova Scotia. But even then that house had entered on decline, which in after years progressed by rapid stages to utter ruin. Facilis est descensus Averno.

The lands of Cardiness or Cardoness, in the Kirkcudbright parish of Anwoth, with their ancient square tower surmounting a height which overlooks the river Fleet as it debouches into the bay of that name, had once, it seems, been owned by the McCullochs, but were now owned by a family called Gordon. A claim to this property was set up by the baronet of Myretoun, who had his residence at the house of Bardarroch, on the same side of Fleet Bay. The claim was denied in toto, and so he resolved to oust the Gordons by any means fair or foul. At first, he tried to give his proceedings the colour of law. The Gordons, like most of their neighbours, were owing debts, and these, which were of no considerable amount, Sir Alexander began to buy up from the creditors whenever he found opportunity, "He did buy certain pleas, debts, comprisings, and factories of the estate, and used all means to get himself intruded there-unto" by procuring diligence and "Letters of Ejection," or Ejectment, against the Gordons. But they withstood his practices, and would not be ejected. He was a man of violent passions, and the resistance and consequent disappointment roused him to resort to measures beyond the law, which as yet was little respected in that half-civilized province.

By the year 1664, the Laird of Cardiness was dead, leaving a widow, Marion Peebles, styled by courtesy of the country Lady Cardiness, and two sons, William and Alexander, who lived in family with her at the house of Bussabiel, or Bush o' Bield, in the same parish of Anwoth. This house, which was somewhat of baronial structure, having been probably built for some Laird, and stood in the midst of sheltering trees (hence the word Bush) had been the residence or manse of the famous Samuel Rutherford while minister of Anwoth, 1627 to 1639, except during his banishment to Aberdeen for about a year and a half previous to February, 1638. The Lady Cardiness was now an aged and infirm woman, obliged to walk with a stilt. She was liferentrix of the estate, which, after her death, was to pass to the heir, a young grandson.

The Myretoun baronet resolved to deal with the strong hand by instituting a "reign of terror," which would, he thought, frighten the Gordons out of house and land. With this view, he, on Friday, the 19th August, 1664, assembled an armed band comprising his two sons, Godfrey and John, three McCulloch kinsmen, Alexander Ferguson of Kilkerran, and others, and leading them on to Bush o' Bield, began a series of barbarous outrages, which probably could only have been perpetrated in Galloway. The poor old lady was in bed when her enemies came; but this did not prevent them assailing her with blows till she fainted among their hands; and next they pulled down the roof of the room where she lay, with the evident intention of smothering her. Thinking they had effectually disposed of the mother, they fell foul of the son William, "wounded him dangerously in the arm and hand, to the hazard of his life, not permitting the servants to give him drink, or go for a chirurgeon to dress his wounds, or administer any kind of help or comfort to him for a long time." When the gang had done all this mischief, they took their departure. What did the law, so outrageously broken, do in the case? Nothing. William Gordon, dreading a recurrence of the onfall, and justly afraid for his life, thought it best to seek safety in another part of the country, where he remained for some while; but his mother still kept her place.

William was quite right in judging that McCulloch would return like the dog to his vomit. Next year and the year after, he and his emissaries renewed their attacks. On one occasion they treated the old lady in the most unmanly and savage manner; they "did first beat her almost to death with the stilt wherewith she walked, and then dragged her out of the house and left her upon the dunghill!" This was the form of Galwegian eviction upon impetrated "Letters"! At another visit, the ruffians behaved with equal inhumanity, dragging the infirm woman out of the house and flinging her down in the open field, and then wantonly breaking and destroying everything within doors. It was perhaps at this time, whilst the house was being ransacked, that Myretoun discovered the title-deeds of Cardiness and took possession of them brevi manu to strengthen his assumed claim. Still, despite all his violence, the lady would not "flit and remove herself." So he came back again on another day. She was in bed, and he and his gang "did keep her from sleep as well as meat; and, further, did throw down water and other liquid matters upon her, so that she was forced to retire and shelter herself within the bounds of the kitchen chimney for her safety." At intervals of weeks, Myretoun persistently returned, continuing his course of barbarity. He sought to murder the lady's two son's, and seized "all her rents, corns, goods, and gear, whereupon she could have lived." In the end, worn out by such prosecution, she burst a blood-vessel and died.

Appeal was made to the Privy Council of Scotland, who, after pottering over the case, passed sentence of fine and imprisonment upon the depredators; but it was never carried into effect. Myretoun, however, ceased his attacks, and the Gordons kept possession of Cardiness.

Time mellows wine, but it did not mellow the spirit of the McCullochs. "As the auld cock craws, the young ane learns;" and so it proved with them. Sir Alexander's two sons were indurated in lawlessness by his example; and when Godfrey, the eldest, succeeded on his father's death to the lands and baronetcy, he speedily showed that, like Rehoboam, he would make his little finger thicker than his father's loins. Prodigality and profligacy gradually involved him over head and ears in debt. His creditors took steps to adjudicate and sell his estate, the value of which, however, was not considered equal to his obligations. But Sir Godfrey, for a space, boldly kept his creditors at bay, defying them to do their worst.

Eventually reduced to extremity, the knight cast about for some means of livelihood. When James II. came to the throne, our desperate hero conceived that by making a feint of perversion to Rome, he might propitiate the bigoted King's favour. Accordingly, he sent his eldest son to the Roman Catholic School established in the Palace of Holy rood the result being that he soon obtained, by royal order, a grant of five hundred merks annually out of his lands, and was allowed to occupy ad interim his house of Bardarroch. On the 2ist April, 1685, the Privy Council appointed him one of the new Commissioners of Justiciary, for trying and punishing Covenanting recusants in the southern and western shires. It was by this Commission that at Wigton, on 13th April - eight days before McCulloch's appointment - Margaret Lauchlison and Margaret Wilson were tried and sentenced to be drowned. Thus, as a "prosecutor," Sir Godfrey added to his already evil-enough reputation.

The grant of five hundred merks yearly secured the needy baronet from sheer destitution; but not content, he proceeded to circumvent his creditors by ultroneously lifting the rents of the estate, cutting down and selling the trees thereon, and withholding the title-deeds. In July, 1689, his conduct was brought before the Privy Council, who ordained him to deliver up the titles and remove from Bardarroch House, but at the same time assigned him an annual aliment of six hundred merks out of the rents. Sir Godfrey gladly took the six hundred merks, but in no respect did he obey the Council's orders. A warrant of ejectment was issued against him; but where was the power to enforce it? Not certainly within the bounds of wild Galloway.

In the midst of this embroglio, Sir Godfrey's old animosity to the Gordons of Cardiness blazed out afresh. William Gordon, the assaulted in former days, had now come by succession into the Cardiness heritage, and lived at Bush o' Bield. He had neither wife nor child; and his niece, Elizabeth Gordon, who was his next of kin, was the spouse of William Stewart, Laird of Castle-Stewart. Gordon had poinded and impounded some cattle belonging to two persons, his debtors, who straightway went to Sir Godfrey, as the true laird of Cardiness, and besought him to help them in recovering their bestial. He eagerly caught at the chance of gratifying his long-hoarded vengeance.

On Thursday, 2nd October, 1690, the knight armed himself with a loaded gun, and, in company with the two debtors, repaired to the house of Bush o' Bield; and, having reached the place, was told at the gate that Gordon was at home, upon which he directed the servant to inform his master that a person outside desired to speak with him. Evidently the servant did not know the visitor, otherwise he would have put his master on his guard. A sermon was to be preached that day in Anwoth Kirk a small, confined edifice, built in 1626; and Mr. Michael Bruce was incumbent, having been admitted in 1689. Gordon was making ready to attend the service; but, on receiving the treacherous message, he came out to the gate, and must have started on seeing who it was that awaited him. Some short colloquy took place concerning the poinded cattle, which apparently were in the yard, and which Gordon refused to give up. Upon this, Sir Godfrey presented the gun at him and fired. The shot broke one of the victim's legs below the knee, and he fell to the ground. The assassin, advancing, stood over him and exclaimed "Dog! I have now avenged myself!" When the servants ran to lift their master, McCulloch not only prevented them by deadly threats, but savagely ordered the cattle to be driven over the fallen man –“the dog," as he wickedly called him. The two debtors, horrified at the deed, left the murderer, and never saw his face again for more than six long years.

His dastardly purpose accomplished, Sir Godfrey quitted the spot at his leisure. About half-a-mile distant, at a place called Goatend, he entered the house of a man named Samuel Brown, where he boasted to the inmates of what he had done at Bush o' Bield. He stayed till word came that Gordon was mortally wounded and would not live many hours. This news struck the assassin with consternation; and, fearing that the countryside would rise upon him, he consulted his own safety by taking to the road with all speed. Within five or six hours, William Gordon expired.

Galloway nay, broad Scotland itself was too hot to hold the assassin, and he knew it. He made his way to the Continent, ridding wild Galloway of its wildest pest.

How the fugitive managed to subsist in foreign parts is unknown; but several years of exile passed over his head. At length, thinking that all danger of being called to account was obviated by the lapse of time, he came across to England. Indeed, it seemed as though the avenger of blood was pacified; for the Laird of Castle-Stewart made offer that, if the Cardiness titles were restored to him, he would use his utmost influence to procure the murderer's pardon. Sir Godfrey was mad enough to reject this offer with disdain. Moreover, he had the temerity to come down in disguise to Edinburgh in the month of December, 1696, where he took obscure lodgings, and assumed the name of Mr. Johnstoun. What object he expected to attain cannot be divined. Presuming that he was unrecognisable, he ventured to attend church one Sunday; but his careful disguise was penetrated by the keen eye of a Galloway gentleman, one of his creditors, who, starting up in his pew, exclaimed in a voice of thunder "Shut the doors, there's a murderer in the house!" Sir Godfrey was pointed out, seized, and hurried to the Tolbooth.

There he lay a prisoner until Tuesday, the 16th February, 1697, when he was brought before the High Court of Justiciary upon an indictment at the instance of Elizabeth Gordon, niece and nearest of kin to the deceased William Gordon of Cardiness, and William Stewart of Castle-Stewart, her husband, as also at the instance of Sir James Stewart, His Majesty's Advocate, for His Highness' interest, charging him (the panel) with the assassination of William Gordon. He pled not guilty; but the proof adduced against him was clear and conclusive, especially the evidence of the two owners of the poinded cattle. He was found guilty. The following are the jury's verdict and the sentence pronounced by the Lords:


The said day the persons who passed upon the Assize of Sir Godfrey McCulloch, returned their Verdict in presence of the saids Lords whereof the tenor follows:-

The Assize having elected Sir William Binning of Walliford, their Chancellor, and Mr. George Rome, their Clerk, they in one voice Finds it proven by the testimonie of the Witnesses adduced, that the Pannell Sir George McCulloch of Myretoun, did give the deceast William Gordon of Cardiness a shot in the leg, beneath the garter, by which his leg was brock: and Finds it also Proven by the concurring testimonie of the Witnesses adduced, that the said deceast William Gordon of Cardiness dyed that same night. Sic sub, William Binning, Chancellor, George Rome, Clerk.


The Lords Justice Clerk and Commissioners of Justiciarie having considered the Verdict of Assize above written: They therefore, by the mouth of John Ritchie, Dempster of Court, Decern and Adjudge the said Sir Godfrey McCulloch to be taken to the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh, upon Fryday the fyfth day of March next to come, betwixt two and four o'clock in the afternoon, and there to have his head severed from his body, and all his moveable goods and gear to be escheat and inbrought to his Majesty's use, which is pronounced for doom.


But Sir Godfrey did not lose his head on the afternoon appointed. On the previous day, the 4th March, he petitioned the Lords for a respite, setting forth that believing his crime would have been condoned by the lapse of years, he was "exceedingly surprised and unprepared to die." A respite was granted till Friday, the 26th of March, when he was brought to the Cross of Edinburgh and beheaded by the axe of the "Scottish Maiden." The following speech he delivered on the scaffold:

THE LAST SPEECH of Sir Godfrey McCulloch of Myreton, Knight and Baronet, who was beheaded at the Cross of Edinburgh, the twenty-six day of March, 1697.

"I am brought here, good people, to give satisfaction to justice for the slaughter of William Gordon, designed of Cardines, and therefore I am obliged as a dying man, to give a faithful and true account of the matter.

"I do declare in the sight of God I had no design against his life, nor did I expect to see him when I came where the accident happened. I came there contrair to my inclination, being pressed by these two persons who were the principal witnesses against me (they declaring he was not out of bed), that I might relieve their goods he had poinded: I do freely forgive them, and I pray heartily God may forgive them for bringing me to that place.

"When I was in England, I was oft-times urged by several persons who declared they had commission from Castle-Stewart and his Lady (now the pursuers for my blood) that I might give up the papers of these lands of Cardines, whereupon they promised not only a piece of money but also to concur for procuring me a Remission; and I have been several times since in the country where the misfortune happened, and where they lived, but never troubled by any of them; although now after they had got themselves secured in these lands without me, they have been very active in the pursuit, untill at last they have got me brought to this place.

"I do acknowledge my sentence is just, and does not repine; for albeit it was only a single wound in the leg, by a shot of small hail, which was neither intended nor could be foreseen to be deadly; yet I do believe that God in his justice hath suffered me to fall in that miserable accident, for which I am now to suffer, because of my many other great and grievous unrepented for sins; I do therefore heartily forgive my judges, accusers, witnesses, and all others who have now, or at any time, injured me, as I wish to be forgiven.

"I recommend my wife and poor children to the protection of the Almighty God, who doth take care of and provide for the widow and fatherless; and prays that God may stir up and enable their friends and mine to be careful of them.

"I have been branded as being a Roman Catholick, which I altogether disown, and declare, as the words of a dying man, who am instantly to make my appearance before the Great Tribunal of the Great God, that I die in the true Catholick reformed Protestant religion, renouncing all righteousness of my own or any others, relying only upon the merits of CHRIST JESUS, through whose blood I hope to be saved, and whom I trust will not only be my Judge but also Advocate with the Father for my redemption.

"Now, Dear spectators, as my last request, again and again, I earnestly desire and by the assistance of your fervent prayers, that although I stand here condemned by man, I may be absolved before the tribunal of the great God, that in place of this scaffold, I may enjoy a throne of glory; that this violent death may bring me to a life of glorious rest, eternal in the heavens; and that in place of all these spectators, I may be accompanyed with an innumerable company of saints and angels, singing Halhlujah of the great King to all eternity.

"Now, O Lord, remember me with that love thou bearest to thy own, and visit me with thy salvation, that I may see the good of thy chosen ones, and may glory in thine inheritance. Lord Jesus, purge me from all my sins, and from this of blood-guiltiness, wash me in thy own blood. Great are my iniquities, but greater are the mercies of God! O let me be amongst the number of those for whom Christ died; be thou my advocat with the Father. Into thy hands do I commend my spirit; come Lord Jesus, come and receive my soul. Amen.


Although Sir Godfrey, in his Last Speech, spoke of his wife, he had never been married; "but he left behind him several illegitimate children, who, with their mother, removed to Ireland on the death of their father. One of his grand-children suffered capital punishment in that country for robbery, about the year 1760.


The Scottish Nation, vol. ii., p. 712; McKerlie's Galloway, pp. 219-222; New Statistical Account of Wigtonshire, pp. 225-227; and of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, pp. 376-377; The History of Galloway: Kirkcudbright, 1841, vol. ii., p. 329, Appendix, p. 52; Chambers's Domestic Annals of Scotland, vol. ii., p. 321 ; vol. iii., p. 174; Maclaurin's Criminal Cases, p. 15 ; Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, vol. ii., p. 316; Murray's Life of Samuel Rutherford, p. 358.  

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