the disemboweled judge

The clan Morrison was strong on the Isle of Lewis, mainly in the area around Ness and Barvas. They held the hereditary office of brieve, meaning they were the judges in the area; a station of absolute power but not always absolute integrity.

©nme the disembowelled judge Graveyards of Scotland

One John Morrison, brieve of Lewis, had come to the conclusion that the chief of the Macleod’s, Torquil Dubh, was in his way. He wanted him gone and he got the support of the Mackenzies of Kintail to achieve hat. One day the brieve captured a Dutch vessel with good wine on board (by the way not exactly a legal enterprise). The pirate judge then invited Torquil Dubh to enjoy the loot and offered him a present out of his spoil as well. How could Torquil Dubh resist that?

©nme the disembowelled judge Graveyards of Scotland


©nme the disembowelled judge Graveyards of ScotlandTorquil Dubh had just been visiting his friend Donald Cam Macaulay at Uig and brought him along. The two and a few of their men came aboard without suspicion and started feasting on the wine supplied, not knowing that there were men were waiting under deck  and that the ropes of the ship had been cut. They were drifting towards the open sea.

©nme the disembowelled judge Graveyards of ScotlandWhen the party was in full swing, the armed Mackenzies appeared and killed most of the guests. Torquil Dubh was taken to Ullapool, in chains they were stuck in prison. Only Donald Cam and his brother-in-law escaped, they had rather an Odyssee coming back. Torquil Dubh didn’t. He was beheaded in Ullapool.

©nme the disembowelled judge Graveyards of Scotland“It was a black day for Lewis for Torquil was reckoned a very good chief and on the morning of his decapitation, July 1597, it is said that the sun was darkened and there was an earthquake in Lewis and that the dairy maids could get nothing from their cows but squirts of pure red blood.”


Donald MacDonald: Tales and Traditions of The Lews. Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2009

The Macleods were determined to avenge the death of their chief and his men but they could not get a hold of the judge. The Morrisons were hiding on the West coast, a part of Scotland that belonged to the clan Morrison until one of the Macleods found him at Inverkirkaig in Assynt. Little John was as the name suggests not a tall warrior and on first sight an unlikely candidate to avenge the chief but he was determined. He and his men killed the brieve even though they were outnumbered.

©nme the disembowelled judge Graveyards of Scotland

The Morrisons turned up to take the body of John the brieve home to bury him at Ness on Lewis. Only that proved impossible, the winds were against them and after a few days of trying to reach home in vain, they stopped at a small island to disembowel the corpse and bury his innards. Disemboweling slows down the decomposition of the body, a common practice since the middle ages. The wind changed and they took what was left of the body home to Ness.

The disemboweled judge was interred in Ness.

©nme the disembowelled judge Graveyards of Scotland


2 thoughts on “the disemboweled judge

Add yours

  1. Thank you for this old tale of the Morrison’s! I’ve come to understand that my ancestors came from Dun Eistean (sp?) off the west coast of Isle of Lewis. I am so interested in the history of these isles, and happy to see the occasional mention of my clan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: