March 20, 2023


The Tour And Travel Enthusiasts

A Walk in the Past: The Cairns Murder of Clackmannan

2 min read
A Walk in the Past: The Cairns Murder of Clackmannan

LAIRD JOHN BLAW had an orchard, and farmed at Castlehill by Culross in the 18th century.

He managed to make a good enough living for himself and his family.

One of his customers was William Cairns, who Blaw suspected of defrauding him; moreover, both he and his son John, he suspected, were helping themselves to the apples from the orchard.

It happened that the Clackmannan fair was to be held so he decided to set up a stall to sell his apples.

During a break, Cairns, his son and Blaw met up at a local hostelry where the drink flowed freely. Soon, tempers flared between the men.

Young Cairns confirmed that he had stolen the fruit and, in a moment of defiance, held up an apple in front of Blaw.

Goaded by the young man, Blaw drew his three-inch-long pen-knife from his pocket and stabbed the young man, severely wounding him.

Cairns’ father stepped in to save his son, but was mortally wounded. The young man recovered and told his story to the police and Blaw was arrested and incarcerated at the Tollbooth in Clackmannan.

He was tried and convicted of the killing and sentenced to hang at Stirling jail. He was to be detained for 14 days and given only bread and water.

Before the trial took place, Blaw had the presence of mind to try and sign over Castlehill to his brother Daniel to avoid its forfeiture.

Blaw’s two sons had gone abroad but no-one knew where they were and it was believed they had died. In the end, his daughter Jane succeeded to the estate.

Legend had it that Daniel Blaw, or some other relatives, cut down Blaw following the hanging on October 30, 1769, in order to resuscitate him, and a dummy was said to have been dressed up in his clothes before being placed in the coffin laden with stones.

The hearse made its way to Culross where the ‘body’ was buried at the West Kirkyard.

Meanwhile, Blaw was said to have been taken to a place of safety. A short time later he supposedly boarded a ship and made his way to Holland where it is said he died.

Not knowing whether her husband was really dead, his wife had the grave opened and the buckles from Blaw’s shoes were brought to her. Permission was given for the shoes to remain outside the grave where they stayed for many months.

At the time of the murder, John Blaw was an old man and the mystery remains – did he survive?