The name Alexander Dalzeel doesn’t have a particularly piratical twang to it, but the privateer from Partick certainly ranks as one of the most gruesome to have ever sailed. Allegedly up to no good from an early age, Dalzeel hooked up with ‘Master Pirate’ Henry Avery and the two enjoyed a profitable career looting around Madagascar. Tired of playing Robin to Avery’s Batman, Dalzeel soon decided to go it alone, taking a ship and heading to the West Indies. There his crew struggled for plunder and were close to starvation when they spotted a huge Spanish war galley. Despite the difference in manpower and ships, Dalzeel ordered his men to attack the larger vessel while simultaneously boring holes in the underbelly of his own ship. With his ship now sinking, his men had no choice but to fight it out onboard the Spanish warship. Luckily for Dalzeel he won. Unluckily for him he was captured in Jamaica soon afterwards.
Somehow Dalzeel escaped major punishment but was once again caught. This time the authorities weren’t in a forgiving mood and he was sentenced to hang at sea. A knife in a guard’s neck and a dash overboard saved him from the noose and it wasn’t long before he was back sniffing about for swag.
This time he entered the service of the French and fought against the English and Portuguese. Apprehended a fourth time he was somehow pardoned, but rather than take the hint proceeded to capture a French man o’ war. Once in control of his new flagship he tied the crew’s necks to their feet and threw them overboard in a sort of celebration of his villainy. Caught once more in Scotland, he was hung in London for his crimes in 1715.
The Black Douglas
The story of the Black Douglas is one of riches to rags and then back again. One of Scotland’s most successful soldiers during the War of Independence he is probably every bit as important as William Wallace. Coming back from a glorified gap-year in France, Douglas landed to find his family had had their castle, estate and titles confiscated by the English army. Rather than accept that ‘shit does happen’ the young squire threw his helmet in with new King Robert the Bruce and took to harrying the English forces in the borders.
He turned out to be pretty good at killing people and was rewarded with a knighthood by Robert before the Battle of Bannockburn. After the Scottish victory, The Black Douglas spent the next few years successfully raiding in northern England where he captured Berwick for the Scots and inflicted some pretty unpleasant defeats on their rivals.
One eye witness account tells how Douglas and 200 men burst into an English camp close to Durham. There his men butchered the English force and Douglas himself was narrowly prevented from catching Edward III. It wasn’t all fun and games though, Robert the Bruce, The Black Douglas’ best friend passed away in 1329. Before he died though, he is reported to have asked the knight to take his heart on Crusade. In true bromance fashion The Black Douglas did just that traipsing both the Monarch’s organ and a troop of knights to Grenada to fight the Moors on his way to Jerusalem.
Perhaps fittingly it was here that the Black Douglas met his end. Some accounts tell of a strategic blunder by Douglas that left him isolated, other tales have him in the thick of the fighting right till the end. Whichever is true he still died a legend.
Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham
Born in 1852 Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (we’ll call him Bob) turned out to be one of the strangest Scottish characters of that century.
Fluent in Spanish from a young age, Bob went on to study at Harrow and in Belgium before settling on Argentina as the base for his first adventures. After buying some land the well travelled Scot became something of a cowboy. Living out on his ranch he managed to get into all sorts of stereotypical ‘western’ scrapes. A good friend of Buffalo Bill, the two shared an interest in the wild frontiers of the new world and putting ropes round the necks of cows.
While Bob undoubtedly enjoyed donning spurs and Stetson, he was equally at home masquerading as a Turkish Sheikh in Morocco or teaching fencing in Mexico City. On his return to Scotland he became heavily involved in politics, standing in the 1886 General Election for the Liberal Party. If elected he promised the people of Lanarkshire that he would campaign for such wacky reforms as universal suffrage, an eight hour working day, free school meals and Scottish independence.
Bob died well into his eighties while on a trip to Argentina. His body lay in state there for some time while the people of his adopted homeland visited him to pay their respects.