The story of Ewen MacPhee, the last Highland outlaw, is one of those tales that has many versions and in which it is hard to separate the facts from the elements of myth and legend. Two things, however, are certain - he deserted from the British Army some time during the Napoleonic Wars and lived outside the law for a further 40 years.
Ewen (sometimes Ewan) MacPhee was born in the Glengarry area of Lochaber in the mid-1780s. He was conscripted, against his will, into the British Army but he proved himself to be an able soldier and rose to the rank of Sergeant. However, being illiterate, he was unlikely to rise any further.
When the promise of further promotion failed to materialise he resolved to desert the regiment. Some versions of the story also say that he was accused of stealing money which had been intended to fund Spanish guerrilla activities in the Peninsula War.
He managed to return to Lochaber, evading capture as he went, until he was eventually discovered at his sister's house at Fedden, and arrested. However, he jumped over a precipice while being taken to a ship anchored at Corpach and made his escape.
He was a large man whose appearance whose character was as wild as his appearance. He spent about two years as a fugitive in the north of Lochaber, around Loch Arkaig, before moving to an island in Loch Quoich where he built a bothy. He took for his wife (some say abducted) a fourteen year old girl from nearby Glen Dulochan and they raised a large family. Their life there was untroubled by the law despite MacPhee making his living largely through poaching and selling his own illicit whisky.
Then, in the late 1840s, he was arrested for stealing sheep from his neighbours. Incriminating evidence was found on the island and MacPhee was imprisoned at Fort William. Whilst still awaiting trial there, he died.
The island, which became known as Eilean MacPhee (MacPhee's Island), was eventually submerged when the level of Loch Quoich was raised as part of the Garry-Moriston Hydro-Electric Scheme in the early 1960s.
This is a postcard showing the work of the Scottish artist R R McIan. It is one of a series of illustrations in which he portrays aspects of rural life in the Highlands. The illustrations were published in the book 'Gaelic gatherings, or the Highlanders at Home on heather, river and loch', published 1847-49, with accompanying text by James Logan.
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