What is it about the desolate Scottish highlands that drives men to such desperate acts? Sawney Bean and his family were a thieving, murdering clan of cannibals that lived along the coast of the county of Galloway.
For more than 25 years, they remained hidden from polite society, sheltered by a low sea-cave that dissappeared with each day's high-tide (the cave is supposedly very difficult to find, to this very day.) The Beans were careful in their murderous crimes: only taking victims by overwhelming numbers; leaving no witnesses alive. The only evidence for their heinous crimes was the occasional discarded limb or cutlet, overflow from their full larder of pickled victim-parts. They finally overreached, and lost a victim, who returned to guide a 400-strong posse from Edinburgh. The hidden sea-cave was hidden no more:
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 laid in pickle, and a great mass of money both gold and silver, with watches, rings, swords, pistols and a large quantity of cloths, both linen and woolen, and an infinite number of other things which they had taken from those they had murdered, were thrown together in heaps or hung up against the sides of the den.Legend tells that the whole family met their justice in Edinburgh: with no need for a trial (their acts being widely regarded as crimes against humanity itself) the Beans were executed in a manner befitting their nature. The men, dismembered and left to bleed to death. The women forced to watch, before being burned alive in a pile.
Sawney’s family, at this time, besides himself, consisted of his wife, eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grand-sons, and fourteen grand-daughters, who were all begotten in incest.
I should note that this 'legend' may be just that -- a legend only. Critics point to the utter lack of historical record surrounding the events, and it should also be noted that the legend may have originated in England (and charges of cannibalism are common when trying to dehumanize another group for easier subjugation.)
An earlier Scottish cannibal seems somewhat more sympathetic. At a time of famine, Andrew Christie was a butcher from Perth who arrived seized upon a desperate idea:
At Christie’s side a woman ceased to groan. The thought struck him that the woman may be dead and he put a hand over her mouth to confirm the fact. She was no more. The dead body was a talisman in the temple of misery – in a short time that body was gone. A prejudice overcome is an acquisition of liberty, though it may be for evil, and the death of this one woman had saved the lives of them all.And that death led to many others. Christie's preferred method of hunting was "a large iron hook fixed to the end of a pole, an invention of Christie’s which afterwards gave him the dreadful name by which he became known." Christie-cleek.
Unlike Sawney Bean, when Christie's inquisitors finally came, Christie himself escaped their punishment. Christie-Cleek became a bogeyman, whispered to children to hush their boisterous ways. Including his own children, the daughters (dochtors) of David Maxwell, a prominent merchant of Dumfries, who - on his death bed - revealed his terrible secret.