[From The Newgate Calendar, circa around 1730 or so. The actual events took place
in the reign of James the First of Scotland, so say in the 1420s or so. In fairness
it should be added that Scots Nationalists deny this ever happened, and claim it
is evil Sassenach propaganda and defamation. - HAC]
An incredible Monster who, with his Wife, lived by Murder and Cannibalism in a Cave.
Executed at Leith with his whole Family in the Reign of James I.
SAWNEY BEANE was born in the county of East Lothian, about eight or nine miles eastward
of the city of Edinburgh, under the reign of King James I in Scotland. His parents
worked at hedging and ditching for their livelihood, and brought up their son to
the same occupation. He got his daily bread in his youth by these means, but being
very much prone to idleness, and not caring for being confined to any honest employment,
he left his father and mother, and ran away into the desert part of the country,
taking with him a woman as viciously inclined as himself. These two took up their
habitation in a rock by the seaside, on the shore of the county of Galloway, where
they lived upwards of twenty five years without going into any city, town, or village.
In this time they had a great number of children and grandchildren, whom they brought
up after their own manner, without any notions of humanity or civil society. They
never kept any company but among themselves, and supported themselves wholly by robbing;
being, moreover, so very cruel, that they never robbed anyone whom they did not murder.
By this bloody method, and their living so retiredly from the world, they continued
such a long time undiscovered, there being nobody able to guess how the people were
lost that went by the place where they lived. As soon as they had robbed and murdered
any man, woman or child, they used to carry off the carcass to the den, where, cutting
it into quarters, they would pickle the mangled limbs, and after- wards eat it; this
being their only sustenance. And, not- withstanding, they were at last so numerous,
they commonly had superfluity of this their abominable food; so that in the night
time they frequently threw legs and arms of the unhappy wretches they had murdered
into the sea, at a great distance from their bloody habitation. The limbs were often
cast up by the tide in several parts of the country, to the astonishment and terror
of all the beholders, and others who heard it. Persons who had gone about their lawful
occasions fell so often into their hands that it caused a general outcry in the country
round about, no man knowing what was become of his friend or relation, if they were
once seen by these merciless cannibals.
All the people in the adjacent parts were at last alarmed at such a common loss of
their neighbours and acquaintance; for there was no travelling in safety near the
den of these wretches. This occasioned the sending frequent spies into these parts,
many of whom never returned again, and those who did, after the strictest search
and inquiry, could not find how these melancholy matters happened. Several honest
travelers were taken up on suspicion, and wrongfully hanged upon bare circumstances;
several innocent innkeepers were executed for no other reason than that persons who
had been thus lost were known to have lain at their houses, which occasioned a suspicion
of their being murdered by them and their bodies privately buried in obscure places
to prevent a discovery. Thus an ill placed justice was executed with the greatest
severity imaginable, in order to prevent these frequent atrocious deeds; so that
not a few innkeepers, who lived on the Western Road of Scotland, left off their business,
for fear of being made examples, and followed other employments. This on the other
hand occasioned many great inconveniences to travelers, who were now in great distress
for accommodation for themselves and their horses when they were disposed to bait,
or put up for lodging at night. In a word, the whole country was almost depopulated.
Still the King's subjects were missing as much as before; so that it was the admiration
of the whole kingdom how such villainies could be carried on and the villains not
be found out. A great many had been executed, and not one of them all made any confession
at the gallows, but stood to it at the last that they were perfectly innocent of
the crimes for which they suffered. When the magistrates found all was in vain, they
left off these rigorous proceedings, and trusted wholly to Providence for the bringing
to light the authors of these unparalleled barbarities, when it should seem proper
to the Divine wisdom.
Sawney's family was at last grown very large, and every branch of it, as soon as
able, assisted in perpetrating their wicked deeds, which they still followed with
impunity. Sometimes they would attack four, five or six foot men together, but never
more than two if they were on horse- back. They were, moreover, so careful that not
one whom they set upon should escape, that an ambuscade was placed on every side
to secure them, let them fly which way they would, provided it should ever so happen
that one or more got away from the first assailants. How was it possible they should
be detected, when not one that saw them ever saw anybody else afterwards? The place
where they inhabited was quite solitary and lonesome; and when the tide came up,
the water went for near two hundred yards into their subterraneous habitation, which
reached almost a mile underground; so that when some who had been sent armed to search
all the by-places about had passed by the mouth of their cave, they had never taken
any notice of it, not supposing that anything human would reside in such a place
of perpetual horror and darkness.
The number of the people these savages destroyed was never exactly known, but it
was generally computed that in the twenty-five years they continued their butcheries
they had washed their hands in eke blood of a thousand, at least, men, women and
children. The manner how they were at last discovered was as follows.
A man and his wife behind him on the same horse coming one evening home from a fair,
and falling into the ambuscade of these merciless wretches, they fell upon them in
a most furious manner. The man, to save himself as well as he could, fought very
bravely against them with sword and pistol, riding some of them down, by main force
of his horse. In the conflict the poor woman fell from behind him, and was instantly
murdered before her husband's face; for the female cannibals cut her throat and fell
to sucking her blood with as great a gust as if it had been wine. This done, they
ripped up her belly and pulled out all her entrails. Such a dreadful spectacle made
the man make the more obstinate resistance, as expecting the same fate if he fell
into their hands. It pleased Providence, while he was engaged, that twenty or thirty
from the same fair came together in a body; upon which Sawney Beane and his bloodthirsty
clan withdrew, and made the best of their way through a thick wood to their den.
This man, who was the first that had ever fallen in their way and came off alive,
told the whole company what had happened, and showed them the horrid spectacle of
his wife, whom the murderers had dragged to some distance, but had not time to carry
her entirely off. They were all struck with stupefaction and amazement at what he
related, took him with them to Glasgow, and told the affair to the provost of that
city, who immediately sent to the King concerning it.
In about three or four days after, His Majesty himself in person, with a body of
about four hundred men, set out for the place where this dismal tragedy was acted,
in order to search all the rocks and thickets, that, if possible, they might apprehend
this hellish cure, which had been so long pernicious to all the western parts of
The man who had been attacked was the guide, and care was taken to have a large number
of bloodhounds with them, that no human means might be wanting towards their putting
an entire end to these cruelties.
No sign of any habitation was to be found for a long time, and even when they came
to the wretches' cave they took no notice of it, but were going to pursue their search
along the seashore, the tide being then out. But some of the bloodhounds luckily
entered this Cimmerian den, and instantly set up a most hideous barking, howling
and yelping; so that the King, with his attendants, came back, and looked into it.
They could not yet tell how to conceive that anything human could be concealed in
a place where they saw nothing but darkness. Never the less, as the bloodhounds increased
their noise, went farther in, and refused to come back again, they began to imagine
there was some reason more than ordinary. Torches were now immediately sent for,
and a great many men ventured in through the most intricate turnings and windings,
till at last they arrived at that private recess from all the world which was the
habitation of these monsters.
Now the whole body, or as many of them as could, went in, and were all so shocked
at what they beheld that they were almost ready to sink into the earth. Legs, arms,
thighs, hands and feet of men, women and children were hung up in rows, like dried
beef. A great many limbs lay in pickle, and a great mass of money, both gold and
silver, with watches, rings, swords, pistols, and a large quantity of clothes, both
linen and woolen, and an infinite number of other things, which they had taken from
those whom they had murdered, were thrown together in heaps, or hung up against the
sides of the den.
Sawney's family at this time, besides him, consisted of his wife, eight sons, six
daughters, eighteen grandsons, and fourteen granddaughters, who were all begotten
These were all seized and pinioned by his Majesty's order in the first place; then
they took what human flesh they found and buried it in the sands; afterwards loading
themselves with the spoils which they found, they returned to Edinburgh with their
prisoners, all the country, as they passed along, flocking to see this cursed tribe.
When they were come to their journey's end, the wretches were all committed to the
Tolbooth, from whence they were the next day conducted under a strong guard to Leith,
where they were all executed without any process, it being thought needless to try
creatures who were even professed enemies to mankind.
The men had their hands and legs severed from their bodies; by which amputations
they bled to death in some hours. The wife, daughters and grandchildren, having been
made spectators of this just punishment inflicted on the men, were afterwards burnt
to death in three several fires. They all in general died without the least signs
of repentance; but continued cursing and venting the most dreadful imprecations to
the very last gasp of life.