Sergeant Arthur Davies, 30-year-old leader of the English platoon stationed at Dubrach, Scotland, was last seen alive on the morning of 28 September 1749. Taking leave of his platoon, he set off into the hills for a spot of hunting and never returned. After four days, the search for him was abandoned, but foul play was not suspected given the notoriously treacherous Highland Terrain, its crags, bogs and powerful water-currents could do for a man and easily conceal his corpse.
In fact, Davies was almost certainly murdered at the hands of Duncan Clerk and Alexander MacDonald, a deerstalker and a forester whose motives were wrapped up in the acrimonious atmosphere between the Scots and the English which had pervaded since the English brutalities of 1746. Without witnesses, a body or even a suspicion of murder, however, the chances of the case ever coming to court should have been non-existent. But today, anyone caring to visit the General Register House archives in Edinburgh can peruse the Court Record book for the years 1752-1754 and read about it for themselves.
Ten months after the disappearance of Sergeant Davies, a young shepherd named Alexander McPherson, who lived a couple of miles south of Dubrach on the slopes of Christie Hill, had a very weird experience. As he lay in bed, he saw the figure of a man who announced that he was Sergeant Davies and spoke to him at some length.
On 11 June 1754, McPherson took the stand in high court, as a witness for the prosecution. An Excerpt from the court transcript of the prosecutor’s declaration reads:"
" . . . The Deponent rose from his Bed and followed him to the Door and then it was as he had been told that he said he was Sergeant Davies who had been murdered in the hill of Christie about near a year before and desired the Deponent to go to the place he pointed at where he would find his bones. . . "
The terrified McPherson followed the spectre’s instructions and found some skeletal remains. Not Knowing what to do, he left the cadaver and fled. The court records report that the apparition returned to McPherson’s home on a second occasion, an account corroborated by Isobel McHardie, the wife of McPherson’s employer, who was also present. This time, the spectral sergeant asked McPherson to give his remains a proper burial and to contact his friend Donald Farquarson. And for good measure, Davies named his murderers.
Farquarson’s court testimony asserts that he was initially skeptical of McPherson’s story, but he allowed the young stranger to lead him to the remains, which he positively identified as those of his friend, the hair color and tattered remnants of clothing being a definite match. For many reasons – the atmosphere of political tension, the reluctance to admit involvement in ghostly goings-on and the lack of any concrete evidence being but three – although the men fulfilled Davies’s wish for a burial they agreed not to report the murder.
Many months later, the court heard, McPherson was sacked from his job and found himself employed instead by Duncan Clerk, one of the men Davies had fingered. During a row with Clerk, McPherson accused him of the murder, and was surprised when the man offered him twenty pounds to keep it quiet.
It was not long before village gossip reached the ears of the authorities, who brought the case to court, since, aside from the rather out-there ghost story, there was the more acceptable evidence of McPherson’s hush-money (which had taken the very tangible form of a written and signed IOU from Clerk). Also there was the fact that two distinctive rings which had belonged to Davies were found on the fingers of Clerk’s mistress. The authorities even found two witnesses to the murder. MacDonald and Clerk were eventually acquitted.
Ironically, it was not the legally ground-breaking ghost testimony which led to the acquittal, but a complex bout of hostility between the British prosecutor and the Scottish defense advocate which started with one of the witnesses being hanged for an unrelated felony and ended with charges of intimidation which brought the trial to a close.
Davies may not have succeeded in having his murderers put away, but he achieved the distinction of being the first ghost to have his testimony tacitly admitted as legal evidence in court.