Mungo Campbell (d. 1770) Saltcoats Exciseman who was controversially found guilty of the murder of the 10th Earl of Eglinton.

On 27th February 1770 Mungo Campbell, the Saltcoats Exciseman, was found guilty of the murder of Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglinton on the sands of North Bay, Ardrossan. 

On the morning of 24th October 1769 Mungo Campbell and John Brown, Customs Officer, had gone to Montfode estate, Ardrossan, where Mungo had permission to hunt, with the intention of bagging a woodcock, before checking for smuggling activities on their return journey. As usual Mungo carried his gun. Not finding a woodcock, they climbed a small hill to obtain a view of Horse Island, a regular haunt of the smugglers, before crossing Montfode Burn and making their way to the sands, with the intention of checking known smuggling hotspots. 

Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglinton left Eglinton Castle to travel to his Southannan Estate in Fairlie. Travelling with him were Andrew Wilson, a Beith lawyer and four servants. At Parkhouse, Ardrossan, they were joined by servant Alexander Bartleymore. Passing through the Parish of Ardrossan, servant John Milliken observed two persons walking through the fields, one of whom was carrying a gun, who Bartleymore identified as Mungo Campbell.  

The Earl was extremely strict about preserving game and fish upon his lands and frequently prosecuted poachers. The previous year, Mungo and two Saltcoats shipmasters, after searching for smugglers, had been returning along the King’s Highway, close to Parkhouse, when they were startled by a hare, which Mungo shot. He later apologised to the Earl of Eglinton. 

Alexander Montgomerie, deciding to investigate, mounted a horse and rode, unarmed, towards the two men accompanied by Andrew Wilson and servant John Hazle. Upon reaching the sands, Alexander said “Mr Campbell, I did not expect to have found you so soon hunting upon my grounds, after your promise when you shot the hare”.  

Repeatedly demanding that Mungo hand over his gun, the Earl dismounted, shouting to John to fetch his gun from the coach. Mungo refused. His gun was cocked and held in the defensive posture. 

Handing over the reins of his horse, the Earl continued to advance upon Mungo, who was heard to say, “Keep off my lord, or I will shoot you”. Bartleymore upon reaching them said, “For God’s sake, Mr Campbell, deliver up your gun to my lord”, to which Mungo replied that he had a right to carry a gun. The Earl replied, “You might have a right to carry a gun, but not upon my lands or without my liberty”. John Brown, alarmed by the conflict, had retreated a distance. 

Continuing to retreat Mungo Campbell tripped over a rock and fell backwards. The witnesses stated that Mungo raised himself on his elbow and shot the Earl in the stomach, delivering an ultimately fatal wound. In the ensuing fight Mungo tried to wrench the Earl’s gun from John Milliken but was prevented by Bartleymore. While the servants secured Mungo Campbell, Milliken rode for the doctor. 

The Earl was taken to Eglinton Castle and John Moore, a Glasgow surgeon was sent for who quickly ascertained that the gun shot was mortal. The Earl died shortly after midnight. 

Mungo Campbell was taken to the Tolbooth in Irvine where he admitted to the Justice of the Peace, Charles Hamilton of Craiglaw, Esq., Provost of Irvine, that he had deliberately shot the Earl. Three days later he again admitted his guilt to the Sheriff of Ayr, William Duff, Esq., and John Murdoch, the Sheriff Clerk Depute of Ayr. Mungo was then taken to Edinburgh and imprisoned in the Tolbooth to await his trial. 

At the start of his trial, Mungo Campbell pleaded ‘not guilty’. His defence team argued that the gun had gone off accidentally and that he should be tried for manslaughter rather than murder. Portrayed by the prosecution team as a common poacher, disgraced soldier and ferocious ruffian, the defence team countered that Mungo Campbell had been honourably discharged from the Scots Greys on 4th December 1744; received a commission as an Exciseman in 1746; was posted to Saltcoats in 1766 and that it was essential he carried a gun against armed smugglers. Rather than being a common poacher, Mungo held licences from seven landowners to hunt, preserve the game and prosecute poachers. Those from the Earls of Loudoun and Marchmont were produced, but he also held licences from the landowners of Montfode, Boydstone, Seabank, Grange and Ardeer. 

The judges ruled that the Earl of Eglinton did not have the right to take the accused’s gun by force. When questioned Mungo testified that following the shooting of the Earl, his servants had attacked him and in fear of his life he had tried to take Milliken’s gun. It was also revealed that in July 1769 Bartleymore had been caught smuggling 80 gallons of rum, which had Mungo had seized and taken to the Excise Office in Irvine.  

On 27th February 1770 Mungo Campbell was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be executed by hanging at the Grassmarket, Edinburgh on 11th April 1770, after which his body was to be delivered to Dr Alexander Munro, Professor of Anatomy and publicly dissected. His moveable goods were seized for his Majesty’s use. 

The day following his verdict, Mungo Campbell committed suicide, hanging himself with a silk scarf in his jail cell. Since he was not publicly hung, his friends requested his body and buried him under Salisbury Crags, Edinburgh. Sadly, his burial site was discovered and a furious mob, denied a public hanging, dug up his body and dragged it through the streets. Upon its recovery, his friends buried Mungo’s weighted body at sea.