Macpherson’s Rant

boy-playing-a-violin

 

‘Macpherson’s Rant’, written originally by the outlaw Jamie Macpherson and rewritten by Robert Burns, tells the tale of Macpherson’s final hours. Condemned to die, then hanged on November 16, 1700, Sir Walter Scott claims that he played the tune below the gallows, before breaking his fiddle over his knee and saying “No one else shall play Jamie MacPherson’s fiddle”. The broken fiddle is still apparently in existence at the MacPherson Clan museum near Newtonmore, Inverness-shire.

The story goes that the Duff of Braco, having seen a rider approaching with a pardon for Macpherson, turned the clock 15 minutes before, so as to hang him before the rider arrived.

In memory of this, the town clock was kept 15 minutes early for many years after the fact.

The actual text of his death sentence is still extant:

fiddle

Macpherson’s fiddle

“Forasmeikle as you James McPherson, pannal [accused] are found guilty by ane verdict of ane assyse, to be knoun, holden, and repute to be Egiptian and a wagabond, and oppressor of his Magesties free lieges in ane bangstrie manner, and going up and down the country armed, and keeping mercats in ane hostile manner, and that you are a thief, and that you are of pessimae famae. Therfor, the Sheriff-depute of Banff, and I in his name, adjudges and discernes you the said James McPherson to be taken to the Cross of Banff, from the tolbooth thereof, where you now lye, and there upon ane gibbet to be erected, to be hanged by the neck to the death by the hand of the common executioner, upon Friday next, being the 16th day of November instant, being a public weekly mercat day, betwixt the hours of two and three in the afternoon….”

 

 

The lyrics to this version by Hamish Imlach are as follows

Fareweel ye dark and lonely hills
Fareweel, beneath the sky
MacPherson’s time will no be long
On yonder gallows high.
Sae rantonly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly played he.
He’s played a tune and he’s danced it a-roon,
Below the gallows tree.

It was by a woman’s treacherous hand
I am condemned tae dee
Below a ledge at my window she stood
A blanket she threw o’er me.
Sae rantonly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly played he.
He’s played a tune and he’s danced it a-roon,
Below the gallows tree.

There’s some come here to see me hang,
Some to buy my fiddle
But afore that I would part wi’ her
I’ll brak her thro’ the middle
Sae rantonly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly played he.
He’s played a tune and he’s danced it a-roon,
Below the gallows tree.

He took the fiddle into both of his hands
broke ot o’er a stone
Says, naither a hand shall play on thee
When I am dead and gone
Sae rantonly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly played he.
He’s played a tune and he’s danced it a-roon,
Below the gallows tree.

The reprieve was comin’ o’er the brig o’ Banff
To set MacPherson free;
But they pit the clock a quarter afore
And hanged him to the tree.
Sae rantonly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly played he.
He’s played a tune and he’s danced it a-roon,
Below the gallows tree.

O little did my mother think
When first she cradled me
That I would turn a rovin’ boy
Die on the gallows tree.
Sae rantonly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly played he.
He played a tune and he danced a-roon,
Below the gallows tree.

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