Murder of Captain James Moodie of Melsetter

The murder took place close to Baillie Fea’s house in the Broad St., in Kirkwall at 2.00pm in the afternoon of 26th October 1726.  Robert Honeyman prepared an eyewitness account , half an hour later.

The attack was made by Sir James Stewart of Burray and his brother, Alexander Stewart who where enthusiastic Jacobite supporters and therefore prejudiced against Captain Moodie who supported the Hanoverians.

William Robertson of Myers, in his evidence at the subsequent trial of Robert Honeyman on a charge brought by the Lady Melsetter, said that he saw Sir James Stewart of Burray and his brother, Alexander Stewart, come rushing out of the door of Baillie Fea’s house.  He saw Alexander Stewart strike Captain Moodie with a stick or cane and then saw Sir James Stewart with a sword and make a push at him.  He heard Sir James call to fire, upon which Oliver Irving, Alexander Irving’s servant, fired a pistol and that hit Hugh Halcro.  When called to fire again, William Robertson saw the pistol in Irving’s hand and fire.  Captain Moodie clapped his hand on his shoulder and Robertson heard him say that he was shot and saw smoke come from his body.  William Robertson’s account was essentially corroborated by other witnesses.

Robert Honeyman failed to detain the Stewarts, perhaps due to concern for his son who had also been wounded.

The wounded Captain Moodie staggered through the entry to Baillie Fea’s house. He was able to go into the house and upstairs to safety where he could receive attention.  William Robertson, his tenant, got medical assistance. After the removal of two bullets, Captain Moodie was in a critical condition. Lady Moodie continued to press Robert Honeyman into action to capture the Sir James and Alexander Stewart.

On the 30th October 1726, a will was drawn up in which Captain Moodie left all his possessions to Benjamin Moodie, his only son and expressed his wish to be buried in the “burial place in the Island of Walls among my ancestors.”  This never actually happened as the Moodies were in a feud the minister at Walls at the time. The Kirkwall minister, the Rev Thomas Baikie, visited Captain Moodie in his last days and officiated at the burial.

Eighteen witnesses saw some of the events, yet the assailants were never brought to court.  Lady Honeywell, the widow of Captain James Moodie of Melsetter concentrated on the actions of Robert Honeyman and brought an action against him in 1726.  Neither that action nor an action brought by her son in 1740 mention an earlier incident in Walls in October 1725 which may have provoked the attack.