A Damnd Rascal

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A short article on the murder of William Ross of Kindeace at Delny.

On the 7th of April 1688, William Ross the younger of Kindeace was murdered by James Sutherland, Lord Duffus. The two men had been in each other's company most of the day drinking, first at Balnagown Castle and then at Delny House; before heading off together to the ferry at Invergordon. Sometime after leaving Delny House Lord Duffus, who was travelling with his servants and friends, killed Kindeace with his sword. He claimed it was in self-defence whilst Kindeace's family accused Duffus, who owed William 10,000 marks, of cold-blooded murder.

Although Lord Duffus was well-connected in the Highlands and a member of Scotland's Privy Council his guilt was never in doubt and he immediately escaped to England. David Ross of Balnagown acting 'as Chief' for the Kindeace Rosses raised criminal proceedings against Lord Duffus and his 'Hag-butters' John Sutherland and William Mitchell; whilst he also accusing John Bayne of Delny of being involved. 

Following the murder, Balnagown was heard threatening Delny several times, saying "as long as ever he could command a dollar he would bestou it in perseuing him for his lyfe." Bayne, no doubt terrified, raised proceedings of slander against David Ross of Balnagown. He took out a bond on April 24th promising to "Observe his Majesty's Peace."  This bound not just himself but "his kindred, friends, followers and tenants, as also William Ross of Invercharron, John Ross of Auchnacloigh, Alexander Ross of Esterferne, Alexander Ross, burgess of Tayne, and Malcolm Ross, son of Malcolm Ross of Kindeas" not to harm "James, Lord Duffus and his friends, etc", under the penalty of 10,000 merks.

The friends of Lord Duffus, which included his wife's relative the influential Lord Tarbat, moved quickly to help. He succeeded in pushing the case to be heard before the privy council, although he failed in his attempts to get it dismissed from the courts altogether. Letters reveal, that Duffus's friends, realising Balnagown was in Edinburgh rushed to get witness statements before he returned north. He did not make it in time, whilst he was windbound in Ardieser for three days the statements were collected; much to his frustration and Duffus's friend's delight.

Those present at the murder, other than Lord Duffus, were his servants John Sutherland and William Mitchell; his friend George Ramsay son of the Bishop of Ross; John Munro servant to the Laird of Gordonstone; John Baine of Delny; John Munro, his servant; and Hugh Munro of Newmore. Their statements seem to all agree that Duffus killed Kindeace with his sword. The following, extract of John Baine's statement is typical of them all.

“Mr John Bayne of Delny, aged 50 years... states...

Kindeace alleged that George Ramsay had called him a damnd rascal. Lord Duffus and the witness, having come to them endeavoured to persuade Kindeace that George Ramsay had spoken no such words and that he heard Lord Duffus say to Kindeace 'Will ye believe me,' 'he spoke no such words,' to which Kindeace answered, he would not believe him.

Lord Duffus said 'Then you make me a lyer,' and upon that Lord Duffus did lift up his cane and gave him a stroke, and upon that Kindeace did draw out his pistol and cocked it, and the witness having seen that, rode in betwixt them and separated them. They got again together and were grappling and Lord Duffus was pulled from his horse, and his cloak, staff and wig fell several ways.

The witness saw Kindeace close at Lord Duffus with a cocked pistol, when he was lying on his back but Lord Duffus having recovered himself did draw his sword and went towards Kindeace who was on horseback with his cocked pistol presented to Lord Duffus, who thrust him through the left side with his sword, of which single wound he died, having ridden a few steps... fell from his horse; and seen Lord Duffus go up to him and look on Kindeace's body and regret very much the accident had fallen in his hand and protested before God that he had no more design to kill him than to kill his own father...  And this is the truth, as he shall answer to God. (Signed) M. J. Bayne."

Hugh Monro's statement informed the council that they checked Kindeace's pistol after the murder and it was found not to be loaded. All the witnesses, present at the murder, agreed that the incident began with Kindeace accusing George Ramsay of calling him a 'dammed rascal.' But, whilst Duffus and his friends insist this was over a proposed horserace, the three local witnesses make no mention of this; and none of their statements mentions the 10,000 Merks debt! Was this perhaps the reason behind the rush to secure the statements? It was only when further statements were taken, from people not at the scene, that tension between the two over this debt was revealed. 

The case was being examined by a special committee of the Privy Council at the end of July 1688 but due to the rather urgent matter of a Dutch invasion, the privy Council was closed and the case was postponed indefinitely. This was a stroke of luck for Duffus, as even though he was arrested for supporting King James VII in 1689; his friends still managed to purchase a pardon for him from a king desperate not to jeopardise his fragile position.

The few history books that mention the murder are clear the motive was the debt that Duffus owed to Kindeace and they make no mention of a horse race. I failed to find out if Duffus ever repaid his debt to the Kindeace Rosses but it seems very clear he got away with murder.