Assault at the Smithy 1856
by John Dye

Transcribed handwritten material from the office of the Procurator Fiscal of Tobermory, currently held in the Argyll Archive at Lochgilphead.

John McPhail, the blacksmith's apprentice was charged with assaulting Allan Tolmie, the Minister's little brother and wounding him in the leg with a pair of red hot tongs

This was not the only time in 1856 that he was in trouble, see also


DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Allan Tolmie Young brother of the Minister, assaulted at the Smithy
John McPhail Blacksmith's apprentice, the assailant
Dugald Maclachlan Servant of John Tolmie, the Minister. who was with Allan
Hugh Cameron At the Smithy at the time when this all took place
John Cameron At the smithy, skinning an otter with John MacPhee
John MacPhee See above

CHAPTER ONE ALLAN TOLMIE, THE MINISTER'S YOUNG BROTHER, WAS AT THE SMITHY ON NEW YEAR'S DAY AND TELLS HOW HE WAS ASSAULTED
CHAPTER TWO DUGALD MACLACHLAN, SERVANT TO JOHN TOLMIE, THE MINISTER, WAS WITH ALLAN TOLMIE AT THE SMITHY AND REPORTED WHAT HE WITNESSED
CHAPTER THREE MALCOLM MACPHERSON AGED 16 WAS ALSO THERE AND SAYS WHAT HE SAW
CHAPTER FOUR HUGH CAMERON ADDS TO THE STORY
CHAPTER FIVE JOHN MACPHEE AGREES WITH HUGH CAMERON AND ADDS A BIT EXTRA OF HIS OWN
CHAPTER SIX ANGUS CAMERON, WHO TIED DUGALD MACLACHLAN'S HANDKERCHIEF ON ALLAN TOLMIE'S LEG, DESCRIBES WHAT HAPPENED ON THE FATEFUL DAY

CHAPTER ONE

Precognition, Henry Nisbet P.F. Agst. John McPhail, 1856

The charge: That information is lodged with the petitioner upon the first day of January Eighteen hundred and fifty six years, on or near the public road at Strontian and near the Smithy at Bridgend, then and now or lately occupied by Ewen Young, Blacksmith nor or lately residing at Anaheilt, all in the parish of Ardnamurchan and County of Argyll, John McPhail, apprentice Blacksmith to the said Ewen Young and now or lately residing at Anaheilt aforesaid, did wickedly and feloniously attack Allan Tolmie, brother of and residing with the Reverend John William Tolmie, Minister of Strontian, and did with a red hot Iron poker or red hot Bar of iron or other red hot weapon to the petitioner unknown, strike the said Allan Tolmie one or more severe blows on the leg or other part of his body and did otherways maltreat and abuse him to the great effusion of his blood, the serious injury of his person and danger of his life.

ALLAN TOLMIE, THE MINISTER'S YOUNG BROTHER, WAS AT THE SMITHY ON NEW YEAR'S DAY AND TELLS HOW HE WAS ASSAULTED

Having collected some books from school, he passed the Smithy on the way to get a newspaper and was promised an otter skin if he returned later

Compeared Allan Tolmie, brother of and residing with The Reverend John William Tolmie, Minister of Strontian in the parish of Ardnamurchan & Shire of Argyll who says:

I am 13 years of age. On the 1st January 1856 I left my brother's house shortly after breakfast & went to the School house at Anaheilt for my books & slate as I had it in view to leave this part of the Country for the Island of Skye two or three days afterwards. I got the Books & Slate and went down to the house occupied by Mr Ralston for a Newspaper. In going there from the Schoolhouse I had to pass the Smithy door at Strontian occupied by Ewen Young.

I saw John McPhail, Young's apprentice in the Smithy and also John McPhee, Ardnastaing and John Cameron, Anaheilt. I told them where I was going - Cameron said to me make haste and return and he would give me the present of an Otter skin - I immediately went off to Mr Ralston and returned to the Smithy in less than fifteen minutes.

I found McPhee and Cameron still there. McPhail was also in the Smithy at work. McPhee was engaged skinning an otter, the skin of which I was to get. As it would be a short time before the skin would be ready for me and as I intended to wait ¼ (page missing)¼ Ardnastaing were also in the Smithy when MacPhee and John Cameron went out.

He came back, but after a while, when it became clear that he alone would not be getting the skin, he decided to leave, but found that someone had hidden his slate

After I saw I wasn't to get the skin for which alone I waited in the Smithy, I went to the door to get my slate but it was not there. I asked McPhail for the slate as I thought he had taken it down and hid it. He said that he hadn't & that he knew nothing about it.

A boy of my own age from Ranachan whose name I don't know then told me that he had seen McPhail take the slate down from the door & hid it. He told me this in a Whisper & McPhail did not hear it. Dugald Maclachlan, my brother's servant said that it was behind a barrel in the Smithy. I was insisting before Maclachlan told me this on McPhail to give me the slate but he still said he knew nothing about it and he lifted his foot and kicked me on the hand and cut me, drawing blood.

On this I turned round and struck him twice across the back with a small switch I had in my hand and ran off. McPhail chased me and caught me near the Smithy door, took the switch from me & struck me below the knee with it. I wore a Kilt and he struck me on the naked skin. McPhail was angry but he did not say anything. He only appeared to be angry.

I returned to the Smithy for my slate and immediately after I got there Duncan McPherson, an old man who had previously been in the Smithy and accused McPhail of tying a piece of iron to his back. He had the Iron in his hand to which I saw attached a piece of string that was on my slate which I had hung it on the door. McPhail denied that he had done it & he & McPherson both got angry.

After an altercation with John McPhail, the blacksmith's apprentice, who had meanwhile also provoked old man McPherson, the slate was eventually found and retrieved

McPherson left the Smithy immediately & I searched and got my Slate behind the barrel. McPhail was blowing the bellows & had the tongs in the fire. He ordered me home. I said that I wouldn't go home till Dugald Maclachlan was ready to go with me and I added that I wouldn't go home for him unless I liked.

A second altercation took place and McPhail was struck by a switch carried by Allan Tolmie and in consequence pursued him with some red hot tongs

I asked him why he had touched my Slate and why he had taken the string off it. He said it was none of my business. I then struck him in fun with the switch before spoke to & which I found in the Smithy. McPhail chased me with the tongs in his hand over his shoulder, they were red hot out of the fire.

He threw these tongs at me while I was running with his full force and they struck me on the back part of the left leg immediately below my Kilt on the bare skin. It was the red hot part of the tongs that struck and I was about ten yards distant from McPhail when he threw the tongs. I continued to run (as I was afraid of McPhail) for a short distance, but feeling my leg be very sore & blood running down my leg I stood up & examined it, and I then found a large cut & burn on the back part of my leg immediately below the knee joint.

McPhail threw the tongs and after being cut and burnt by them, Tolmie had his wound attended by his brother's servant and some others

I saw McPhail come up and lift the tongs & return to the smithy & I have not seen him since. (I lost a great quantity of blood as the wound bled freely during the whole afternoon till late in the Evening, I suffered very great pain, it was both a burn and a cut). Dugald Maclachlan and Angus Cameron came up to me & Cameron put a leaf of tobacco to the hurt and tied McLachlan's handkerchief over it and Dugald McLachlan & I afterwards went homewards.

I walked about ½ a mile, but getting very lame & finding the leg grow sore, Maclachlan had to carry me the remainder of the road, about ¼ of a mile home. I was 10 days confined to the house & to the sofa with it.

Allan Tolmie was incapacitated for ten days afterwards and was attended by Dr Howie

Dr Howie saw me on the following Friday & prescribed. I am still unwell tho' able to walk a short distance. I was much fevered and felt severe pains in my head in consequence. I think McPhail was angry when he threw the tongs but I did not hear him say anything.

(Signed) Allan Tolmie


CHAPTER TWO

DUGALD MACLACHLAN, SERVANT TO JOHN TOLMIE, THE MINISTER, WAS WITH ALLAN TOLMIE AT THE SMITHY AND REPORTED WHAT HE WITNESSED

He says that he and Allan Tolmie went to the smithy at Strontian and saw John Cameron and John MacPhee skinning an otter there

Strontian 16 January /56: Compeared Dugald Maclachlan, Servant with The Reverend John William Tolmie, Minister of Strontian aforesaid, who says:

I am 35 years of age. I was in the Smithy at Bridgend, Strontian in the forenoon of 1 January 1856. I found my master's brother, Allan Tolmie, John McPhail the Blacksmith's Apprentice, Hugh Cameron, Ardnastaing, John Cameron & John McPhee in the Smithy.

When I went in McPhee & John Cameron were skinning an otter. Allan Tolmie was standing looking on, when the otter was skinned, John Cameron left the Smithy taking the skin along with him. Shortly after Cameron went out I heard Allan Tolmie ask McPhail for his slate which he accused McPhail of hiding. McPhail denied it. They were in fun. I saw a Slate, it was behind the water tub near the bellows hearth and I pointed it out to Allan Tolmie who got it there.

Allan Tolmie's slate had gone missing and after it was found, he playfully struck John McPhail a small touch with a switch

After Tolmie got the Slate he went over to McPhail who was blowing the bellows having a piece of iron in the fire heating. I had gone to and was standing at the door at this time. I heard a renewed altercation between Tolmie & McPhail about the Slate and on turning round I observed Tolmie strike McPhail across the back with a small switch which he held in his hand. It was merely a touch & it appeared that Tolmie was in jest. Tolmie ran out of the Smithy immediately afterwards. I saw John McPhail (who was blowing the bellows at the time) draw the tongs which he had in use out of the ¼(page missing)¼ that he had been cut and burned by the blow.

McPhail responded by wounding Tolmie with tongs from the fire and Maclachlan carried him the last part of the way home

The wound which appeared to be deep and a serious one, was bleeding freely. Angus Cameron put a tobacco leaf over it & tied my handkerchief which I gave him for the purpose, round his leg. I saw at this time some blood on Tolmie's hand & a small cut at the place. He told me that McPhail had kicked him on the hand in the Smithy & cut it. After the leg was bandaged, Tolmie & I went of home together, the distance to the manse being about a mile. After ½ a mile, Tolmie became so lame & he complained so much of the pain of his leg and inability to walk that I had to carry him home the remainder of the way on my back.

I did not hear McPhail order Tolmie home out of the Smithy, nor did I see him strike or kick Tolmie except what I have spoken to. I did not see Tolmie strike McPhail with the switch before that, nor did I see him except the once chase him out of the Smithy. All which is truth - I cannot write.


CHAPTER THREE:

MALCOLM MACPHERSON AGED 16 WAS ALSO THERE AND SAYS WHAT HE SAW

He confirms that there were a group of people at the smithy including Allan Tolmie and the people two skinning the otter and John McPhail the blacksmith's apprentice, although Ewen Young, the blacksmith was not himself there

16th Jany. 1856: Compeared Malcolm McPherson, son of and residing with Mary McGillivray or McPherson, a Widow at Anaheilt in the parish of Ardnamurchan aforesaid, who says:

I am 16 years of age. I was in the Smithy at Bridgend, Strontian on a day about a fortnight ago in the forenoon.

Allan Tolmie, the Minister's brother, was there, John McPhail, the Apprentice & John McPhee & John Cameron were also there. Ewen Young the Blacksmith was not in.

John Cameron and John McPhee were engaged skinning an Otter. After the Otter was skinned John Cameron went away taking the Skin with him. McPhail was not (sic) at Work at the fire. Shortly after Cameron went out I heard Tolmie ask McPhail for a Slate & I heard McPhail say that he knew nothing about it. Dugald McLachlan, Angus Cameron & Hugh Cameron were also in the Smithy at this time. The two former came in while the Otter was being skinned. The latter came in Afterwards. I was standing near to the bench & I was not paying any particular attention to what was going on between McPhail & Tolmie, who were near the fire, the former engaged at work. I heard McPhail order Tolmie home but tho (near) Tolmie I don't remember what he said. I thought they were in fun.

McPhail was working whilst Tolmie was hanging around and then eventually Tolmie struck McPhail lightly with a switch, apparently in fun

I saw Tolmie run out chased by McPhail who immediately returned & began to blow at the bellows. Tolmie remained for a considerable time at the door. I did not observe either strike the other at this time nor did I see McPhail take a switch from Tolmie. After standing near the door for a considerable time, Tolmie came again into the Smithy. He had his slate in his hand but I don't know how or where he got it. I saw him go up to McPhail who was at the time blowing the bellows and strike him, as I thought, in fun, across the back with a small switch which he had in his hand. I can't say whether or not the blow was a severe one. I think not. I think some words passed between them at this time but I don't remember what was said.

McPhail pursued Tolmie with a red hot pair of tongs and afterwards returned

Tolmie ran out immediately after he had struck the blow. McPhail pulled a pair of Smith's tongs which he was using, from the fire, the points of which I saw were red hot, and chased Tolmie with the tongs in his hand. They both got outside and out of my sight. McPhail was Angry. I remained inside the smithy.

McPhail returned almost immediately with the tongs in his hand and resumed his work. A cry got up immediately before McPhail came in that he had thrown the tongs at Tolmie & hurt him severely on the leg, but I did not see this done. Hugh Cameron asked McPhail why he had struck Tolmie but I didn't hear & can't say whether or not McPhail gave any reply.

Tolmie was bandaged and taken home by Dugald Maclachlan

I went to the door & I saw Tolmie standing on the road at a short distance with his leg cut and bleeding. I did not Examine the wound, but I saw Angus Cameron put a piece of tobacco on it and tie a handkerchief round the leg to stop the bleeding. Tolmie and Dugald Maclachlan went away home together. I did not speak to McPhail about the injury sustained by Tolmie & I did not hear him make any remark about it.

Just before this, McPhail had played a trick on old man McPherson, who was cross

Shortly before this, an old man, Duncan McPherson, came into the smithy. McPhail came to me and asked me for a knife. I had none. I saw Tolmie's slate at this time hanging on the Smithy door. McPhail said he wanted the knife to cut a string. I saw McPhail tie a piece of Iron with a string to the hind button of McPherson's coat. I think the string was that in Tolmie's slate as I saw afterwards that the slate was not on the door.

McPherson left the smithy with the Iron on his back & returned in a few minutes in a rage & accused McPhail for putting it there. McPhail denied it and laughed at him, we were laughing at the joke. McPherson soon afterwards left & it was after he was gone that Tolmie accused McPhail for taking his slate from the door & hiding it. I did not see McPhail do it as my back was to the door while I was standing at the bench. All which is truth.

 


CHAPTER FOUR:

HUGH CAMERON ADDS TO THE STORY

He confirms the same group at the smithy including Allan Tolmie and John McPhail

Strontian 16 January 1856: Compeared Hugh Cameron, Crofter, residing at Ardnastaing in the parish of Ardnamurchan and county of Argyll, who says:

I am 50 years of age. I went into Ewen Young's Smithy at Bridgend, Strontian on a day about a fortnight ago. In the forenoon. I can't remember the date more precisely. Ewen Young was not in. His apprentice, John McPhail was at work.

Allan Tolmie, Dugald McLachlan, John Cameron and John McPhee were also in the smithy. John Cameron was taking the skin of an otter, McPhee was assisting him and the others were looking on. After the skin was taken off, John Cameron went away, taking the skin with him.

He says he saw Allan Tolmie recover his slate and to strike McPhail a "bit touch" on the back

Shortly after he left I heard Allan Tolmie ask someone in the smithy for a slate, but I can't say whom as I was not paying attention. I saw Tolmie in a short time afterwards in the smithy with a slate in his hand. He got it from someone who was sitting on or near the hearth. I can't say who it was for the same reason above stated. Very soon, not more than five minutes after, I saw him with it , I saw Tolmie strike McPhail a bit touch with a small switch across the back.

McPhail was blowing the bellows and at work at the time. Tolmie ran out and McPhail gave a jump after him and chased him to the door but I saw no blows struck there. McPhail immediately returned to his work as before. In a very short time Tolmie returned and gave McPhail another small touch on the back with the switch. It was in fun, at least I thought so, It did not hurt McPhail in the least.

He saw Tolmie twice run out of the Smithy, pursued by McPhail who returned a second time saying nothing, but with the tongs in his hand

Tolmie as before ran out. McPhail this time drew the tongs from the fire, the points of which I saw were red hot, and chased Tolmie outside with them in his hand. They both got out of my sight, I remained in the smithy. A cry got up that McPhail had thrown the tongs at Tolmie and had cut him with them on the leg. I went to the door to see and met McPhail returning into the smithy with the tongs in his hand. He did not speak. I can't say whether or not he was angry.

Afterwards he saw that Tolmie, a little boy, was injured by McPhail, a grown man and he told McPhail that he had done wrong

On getting to the door I saw Tolmie, who is a little boy (while McPhail is a grown man) standing on the road near the door with his leg cut and bleeding. Angus Cameron and Dugald Maclachlan were beside him. The cut appeared to be a very bad one, a piece of Tobacco was put to the wound and a handkerchief tied round the leg by Cameron.

After that was done, he and Dugald McLachlan went away home. I saw that Tolmie was lame and scarcely able to walk. He wore a kilt and the wound was on the bare skin above the hose and below the kilt. I turned into the smithy and told McPhail that he had injured the boy very much and that he had done wrong.

I don't remember whether or not he made any reply. I rather think he did but I don't remember its import. After he threw the tongs he did not wait to see whether Tolmie was much hurt. As he returned immediately to the smithy and after he knew that he was cut and bleeding he did not go to see him. I now see a pair of tongs in the possession of Allan Cameron, but I can't say whether they are those which McPhail had in his hand but they are like them. All which I declare to be truth.


CHAPTER FIVE:

JOHN MACPHEE AGREES WITH HUGH CAMERON AND ADDS A BIT EXTRA OF HIS OWN

He says that the strokes given to McPhail by Tolmie were innocent and applied in fun

Compeared John McPhee, son of and residing with Donald McPhee, Crofter, Ardnastaing, in the parish of Ardnamurchan aforesaid, who says:

I am 23 years of age. I concur with Hugh Cameron, the preceding witness with the following additions:

Between the times that Tolmie struck McPhail with the switch I heard McPhail ordering Tolmie home. The boy answered to the effect that he would go home when he liked or something similar. The strokes were very innocent and Tolmie was in fun. The whole cause was that McPhail had cut the string from his slate and hid it and would not tell him where it was.

But McPhail lost his temper

McPhail was angry when he chased Tolmie having the tongs in his hand. A cry got up immediately that McPhail had thrown the tongs at Tolmie and had cut and burned him in the leg. I ran to the door and met McPhail coming into the smithy with the tongs in his hand. He resumed his work at once without waiting to enquire or see the extent of Tolmie's injuries. I am not sure whether or not McPhail was working with the tongs at the anvil or whether he drew the tongs from the fire when he ran after Tolmie the second time in any case the tongs were heated at the points to such an extent as to burn.

And Tolmie was wounded

I saw on going to the door that Tolmie was cut on the hind part of his leg immediately below the kilt and that it was bleeding. I saw the wound which was a severe one bandaged and he and Dugald McLachlan go home together. Tolmie ¼(page missing)


CHAPTER SIX:

ANGUS CAMERON, WHO TIED DUGALD MACLACHLAN'S HANDKERCHIEF ON ALLAN TOLMIE'S LEG, DESCRIBES WHAT HAPPENED ON THE FATEFUL DAY

Although the preceding page is missing, it is evident by what he says, that this witness is Angus Cameron

…. years of age. I called at the smithy at Bridgend, Strontian on a day about the beginning of January current, in the forenoon. John McPhee and John Cameron were engaged skinning an otter.

I saw Allan Tolmie standing beside them and I also saw John McPhail engaged at work at the fire. I waited only a few minutes and then went on to the Post Office which is distant from the Smithy about 200 yards. On my way home I again called at the Smithy. I found that the otter had been skinned during my absence and that John Cameron had left.

McPhail appeared to have hidden Tolmie's slate and when it was found, Tolmie playfully touched McPhail across the back with a switch

I found Dugald McLachlan and Hugh Cameron in the smithy besides those already named, with the exception of John Cameron. Tolmie was searching for a slate and he accused McPhail for hiding it. McPhail denied that he had done so and was laughing at him. In a little while afterwards someone handed Tolmie the slate, having got it on the Smithy hearth. After he got it I saw Tolmie give McPhail a slight touch with a switch across the back. It was in fun and didn't hurt him.

Tolmie ran out pursued by McPhail. McPhail returned immediately to the smithy and resumed his work at the fire blowing the bellows. He was making nails. The tongs were in the fire. In about five minutes Tolmie who had been standing near the door advanced to the fire and gave McPhail another touch with the switch, a very slight one on the back or shoulder, and ran out. I considered he was still in fun.

After Tolmie gave McPhail a second playful strike as he was making nails, McPhail chased him outside with a pair of red-hot tongs

McPhail who was blowing the bellows at the time, drew the tongs from the fire, which I observed were red hot at the points, and chased Tolmie. They both got outside. I did not follow them. In a minute I heard Dugald McLachlan cry that McPhail had thrown the tongs at Tolmie and wounded him on the leg. At this I ran out, I met McPhail coming in at the smithy door with the tongs in his hand. He did not speak and I did not think he was angry. On getting outside I saw Tolmie standing near the smithy on the public road with his leg cut and bleeding.

Seeing that Allan Tolmie was injured, he went outside and with the help of Dugald McLachlan, bandaged him up

I went up to him and put a piece of tobacco over the wound, and tied Dugald McLachlan's handkerchief round the leg to staunch the bleeding. The tongs had struck the boy on the bare skin, on the hind part of the leg immediately above the hose. The wound was burned as well as cut. After I tied the bandage over the leg, Tolmie went home accompanied by Dugald McLachlan. Tolmie was lame and appeared to suffer much pain tho' he did not complain much of it. I returned to the smithy but I did not say a word to McPhail on the subject nor did he to me. I did not hear him say anything to any other person. Being shewn a pair of smith's tongs in the possession of Allan Cameron, I can't identify them. They are like¼(ends here)

The final part of the report consists of a series of reports by Dr Howie of Ardheallach following the course of Allan Tolmie's treatment up to July 1856, when he had recovered.

There is no indication as to whether McPhail went to prison, or was even brought to court.

(Note: McPhail was at liberty six months later in June 1856, when he and Ewen Young the Blacksmith, were found guilty of assaulting Charles Cameron - see Blacksmiths' Second Fight 1856)