Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duncanson, Robert

DUNCANSON, ROBERT (d. 1705), colonel, was ‘of the family of Fassokie in Stirlingshire’ (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 109), a family distinguished for its adherence to the Argylls. When Archibald, ninth earl of Argyll, made his descent on Scotland in 1685, he sent off Sir Duncan Campbell, with the two Duncansons, father and son, to attempt, at the last moment, new levies in his own county (Fox, Reign of James II, 4to edit. p. 193). Duncanson, as major of Argyll's foot regiment, was second in command to Lieutenant-colonel James Hamilton, who had the planning of the Glencoe massacre. On 12 Feb. 1692, Hamilton having received orders to execute the fatal commission from Colonel John Hill, directed Duncanson to proceed immediately with four hundred of his men to Glencoe, so as to reach the post which had been assigned him by five o'clock the following morning, at which hour Hamilton promised to reach another post with a party of Hill's regiment. Whether Duncanson hesitated to take an active personal part in the massacre is matter of conjecture. ‘The probability is,’ says Dr. James Browne, ‘that he felt some repugnance to act in person,’ as immediately on receipt of Hamilton's order he despatched another order from himself to Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, who had already taken up his quarters in Glencoe, with instructions to fall upon the Macdonalds precisely at five o'clock the following morning, and put all to the sword under seventy years of age (Browne, Hist. of the Highlands, ed. 1845, ii. 216, 217). ‘You are to have a speciall care,’ runs this despatch, ‘that the old fox and his sone doe on no acct escape yor hands. Yow're to secure all the avenues that none escape; this yow are to put in execution at 5 a cloack precisly, and by that time, or verie shortly efter it, I'll strive to be at yow wt a stronger party. If I do not come to yow at 5, yow are not to tarie for me, but to fall on’ (Papers illustrative of the Highlands of Scotland, Maitland Club, pp. 72, 73, 74). Fortunately, the severity of the weather prevented Duncanson from reaching the glen till eleven o'clock, six hours after the slaughter, so that he had nothing to do but to assist in burning the houses and carrying off the cattle (Browne, ii. 220). No proceedings were taken against him. The Scotch parliamentary commission of inquiry of 1695, indeed, recommended the king ‘either to cause him to be examined in Flanders about the orders he received, and his knowledge of the affair, or to order him home for trial,’ but William declined acting on either suggestion (ib. ii. 224). Duncanson was promoted to the colonelcy of the 33rd regiment, 12 Feb. 1705, and fell at the siege of Valencia de Alcantara on the following 8 May.

[Authorities as above; Burton's Hist. of Scotland, 2nd edit. vii. 404; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 109, 193, 252, 3rd ser. vii. 96–7.]

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