The Siege of Knockie
Fifty years ago in 1968 when a student in the south of England, I picked up a Sunday paper one morning to discover that Knockie Lodge in Stratherrick featured in a leading article. Although not yet living in the area I knew the location from summer holidays with my aunt in Errogie.
Some of the sensational details have remained in my memory bank and the recent discovery of some old newspaper clippings from the time have served to fill in the missing gaps. The “Siege” took a few years after the widely publicised court case on whether the novel by D.H Lawrence “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (her gamekeeper) should be banned from publication on the grounds of obscenity. One newspaper led with the headline “A real- life Mellors tried who tried to kill his Lady Chatterly”
The trial of Richard Graves Martin Cawthorne, a former commando sergeant, took place in Perth Sherriff court. Lady Rosemary Mactaggart then resident in Knockie was the legal wife of Sir Ian Auld Mactaggart of London but styled herself as Mrs Cawthorne. In 1967 Cawthorne was accused of assaulting William Donald Fraser of Knockie cottages and Edward James Fraser of Dorran cottages Dell, by willfully discharging several bullets from a rifle at them to the danger of their lives and attempting to murder them having previously evinced malice and ill- will towards Rosemary Cawthorne.
He also pleaded guilty to a charge of breach of the peace and brandishing a knife.
The build up to these events had started when the Mactaggarts attended Cawthorne’s exclusive west London shooting school. He was very popular and became the trusted confidant of the titled and wealthy receiving invitations to shoot with various well to do clients. Friendship blossomed and after an invitation to the Mactaggart’s Islay sporting estate Lady Mactaggart and he became business partners in the promotion of their sporting estates including Knockie and she then became pregnant and had a daughter by him.
However, their relationship and business arrangements eventually began to unravel and then one Sunday morning in December 1967 when she was out at church Cawthorne came across legal papers in which Knockie was to be held in Lady Mactaggart’s name only, so, later in the day, primed by drink he went on the rampage, threatened his partner with a knife and fired five shots into the Lodge study from outside the building keeping her Ladyship, and Donnie and Eddie Fraser pinned down in the room.
The police had meantime been alerted and managed to arrest Cawthorne variously described as an ex -trapper, superb shot and general “rough diamond” who was eventually sentenced to 9 years in prison for trying to murder his lover. As he was led from the dock of the High Court in Perth, the sophisticated millionaire’s wife said – I am still fond of him but I never want to see him again. Lord Avonside had told Cawthorne – Your character until now appears to have been unimpeachable. I am therefore able to moderate your sentence.
The whole episode was extensively reported in the popular press including Sir Ian’s subsequent divorce proceedings when he described Cawthorne as “the best of the bunch”.