Sir Archibold Gordon Kinloch was the promising son of a Scottish baronet. Like many younger sons of landed families, he entered the military when he was about 20. The army life suited him. He cut a charming figure in a red uniform and his sociability made him a popular officer in the regiment. He served with distinction in Ireland and Nova Scotia. After ten years serving the British empire, his superiors promoted him to Major and sent him to the West Indies where the army enforced the oppressive economic order of the plantation economy.
In 1779, Major Gordon, as his friends knew him, landed in the burning tropical paradise of St. Lucia. His close friend, Samuel Twentyman, accompanied him. Mosquitos crowded the air, and with each bite they spread a fatal fever. Military doctors dubbed the illness St. Lucia Fever, and they knew little about it except its deadliness. 1800 out of the 5000 soldiers who landed at St. Lucia died. Gordon fell ill and lost any hold of his reason. Two soldiers had to stand on either side of his bed pinning him down to contain his paroxysms of delirium. The disease infected his brain, dragging demons of depression, anxiety, and mania to the surface. His superiors agreed that Twentyman would accompany Gordon to Barbados where he could receive better care. On the boat, Gordon’s servant fell ill. Driven mad, he jumped overboard and drowned.
Gordon lived, but he was changed. With time, he regained his physical health. He was once again a strong, healthy man of thirty. But he was not the poised, sociable officer that had landed on St. Lucia. He was sullen, irascible, and jealous. He could not pay attention to any subject for long; his thinking clouded and his intelligence declined. He gave up his commission and returned to Scotland. His family found a stranger in the body of their Gordon. A melancholy knawed at him. He stabbed one of his wrists, but afterward insisted he had injured it by accident. Dr. William Farquharson attended to Gordon, and for two months after the suicide attempt, he tried to help him find some way to soothe his mind. He had not been able to help, but he never forgot Gordon. He grew ever more dependent on alcohol and laudanum — a solution of opium and alcohol — to numb his anguished brain.
At times, he descended into mania and lost any grip on his reason. Years later, Twentyman found himself in the same town as Gordon. He received a flurry of strange, anonymous notes urging him to come to an inn. When Twentyman finally agreed to come, he found Gordon. His socks and shoes were so dirty that Twentyman doubted that he had changed in days, if not weeks. His hair had grown into messy, dirty mop. Gordon spoke of pressing “projects,” but his words were incoherent. He kept looking beyond the door, paranoid that someone was watching him. Twentyman decided to avoid his old friend forevermore.
But Gordon’s family never cut him off. Francis, Gordon’s older brother and the heir to Gilmerton, felt that his brother’s madness was an affront to the family’s reputation, but he wanted to help. The family urged Gordon to retire to the countryside or find some occupation to draw him out of melancholy. 15 years passed. At moments, his insanity lifted and he became the humane, generous man of his youth. He nursed his father, Sir David, as he died. But when the family’s property and titles passed to Francis, Gordon convinced himself that Francis had cheated him out of his full inheritance. He insisted that Francis had burned papers entitling him to at least £200 more than he had received. Gordon lived alone with his servants at Gilmerton after his father died. The servants became so concerned about their master that they contacted the Kinloch’s family friend, Reverend George Goldie, to visit Gordon. Goldie was distressed by what he saw. Gordon beat his head and chest, raging against his brother as he paced the room. His hand shook so much that he could not hold a drink without spilling it. Goldie urged Francis to lock Gordon away before he harmed himself or someone else.
Francis moved forward with a step he had resisted for years; he would confine his brother. He ordered a strait jacket to Gilmerton and hired a nurse trained to care for the insane. Francis had begun to bolt his door from the inside when he visited his brother because he was afraid of what he might do. Yet, he still tried to integrate his brother into conventional family life. On April 14, 1795, he arrived at Gilmerton and hosted a dinner with Gordon and several guests. The night before, Gordon had been found wandering through the woods. Then he barricaded himself in his room, only emerging in the evening to beg for laudanum. But he came downstairs for dinner, where brandy and gin flowed freely. The party did not disperse until three in the morning. Not long after Gordon retired, he stumbled downstairs with two loaded pistols hidden in his clothes. He turned to go back to his room, but Francis followed. Gordon doubled back and shot his brother on the stairs.
Francis died a slow and painful death over the next two days. Doctors pried the bullet, inches from his spine, while he was still alive. They could not save him. Francis did not blame his brother. He asked that no one call the authorities. For two weeks, the family waited at Gilmerton, unsure how to move forward. But then Gordon was arrested and imprisoned in Edinburgh.
David Hume, the nephew of the famed philosopher, defended Gordon. Gordon could not remember shooting his brother, but when he discovered what he had done, he was horrified. He wanted no defense. Yet, some of the leading legal and medical men in Scotland helped him. In an early instance of the insanity defense, Hume argued that Gordon could not be held responsible for his brother’s murder. “His heart and purpose have not been in the deed, but his hand only — that it was not the work of malice and design, (without which there is no murder,) but of pure fatality and misfortune, which he could not avoid, and for which he is not the object of punishment, but of sympathy and commiseration,” he told the jury. Although several medical witnesses did not consider Gordon insane, his family and friends testified to his mental decline. The jury ruled that he was guilty, but that he was insane and thus did not deserve to be punished.
In one of the most unusual judgments in British legal history, the state passed Kinloch into the care of Dr. William Farquharson. Six years had passed since Dr. Farquharson had cared for Gordon after his first suicide attempt, but he pitied him ever since. After the murder, he visited Gordon in prison every day. He cared for Gordon until 1800 when he died. In 1800, the title of baronet passed to Gordon’s younger brother and life returned to some normalcy at Gilmerton.