Kidnapped is a historical fiction adventure novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, written as a boys’ novel and first published in the magazine Young Folks from May to July 1886. The novel has attracted the praise and admiration of writers since it was published in 1893. Kidnapped is set around real 18th-century Scottish events, notably the “Appin murder“, which occurred in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Many of the characters are real people.


Cover by William Brassey Hole

The central character and narrator of Kidnapped is 17-year-old David Balfour. His parents have recently died, and he is out to make his way in the world. He sets out to visit his uncle, Ebenezer Balfour. David arrives at the ominous House of Shaws and is confronted by his paranoid Uncle Ebenezer, who is armed with a firearm.

His uncle is also miserly, living on porridge and small ale, and the House of Shaws itself is partially unfinished and somewhat ruinous. David is allowed to stay and soon discovers evidence that his father may have been older than his uncle, thus making David the rightful heir to the estate. Ebenezer asks David to get a chest from the top of a tower in the house but refuses to provide a lamp or candle. David is forced to scale the stairs in the dark and realises that not only is the tower unfinished in some places, but the steps simply end abruptly and fall into an abyss. David concludes that his uncle intended for him to have an “accident”.

David confronts his uncle, who promises to tell David the whole story of his father the next morning. A ship’s cabin boy, Ransome, arrives the next day and tells Ebenezer that Captain Hoseason of the brig Covenant needs to meet him to discuss business. Ebenezer takes David to a pier, where Hoseason awaits, and David makes the mistake of leaving his uncle alone with the captain while he visits the shore with Ransome. Hoseason later offers to take them on board the brig briefly, and David complies, only to see his uncle returning to shore alone in a skiff. David is then immediately struck and passes out.


Depiction of Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour

David awakens, bound hand and foot, in the hold of the ship. This catapults David into an adventure full of greed, sickness, and murder. Accompanied by companions such as Alan Breck Stewart, the supposed murderer of the “Red Fox” and Alison Hastie a lovely innkeeper’s daughter.


Many of these events and characters actually took place. On 14 May 1752, Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure, was shot in the back by a marksman in the wood of Lettermore near Duror. The search for the killer targeted the local clan, the Jacobite Stewarts of Appin, who had recently suffered evictions on Campbell’s orders.

The Jacobite rising of 1745, also known as the Forty-five Rebellion or simply the “45” , was a dark attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, and the House of Stuart. It took place during the War of the Austrian Succession, when the bulk of the British Army was in Europe.

The chief suspect of the murder was none other than Allan Stewart who fled (which after fleeing is when he in the novel, meets up with David). But James Stewart, one of the last leaders of Stewarts, was arrested for the crime and tried for the murder. Although it was clear at the trial that James was not directly involved in the assassination (he had a solid alibi), he was found guilty “in airts and pairts” (as an accessory; an aider and abetter) by a jury consisting of people from the locality where the crime occurred.

If you’d like to read the full harrowing and at times heartwarming tale you can purchase it here.

This post is apart of our 13 days of Halloween series. Checkout our other spooky posts:

  1. Washington Ghost Stories
  2. Out of Place Artifacts
  3. Henry Rathbone
  4. Charon and the Journey to Hades
  5. Post-Mortem Photography
  6. All Hallows Eve Divination Games
  7. Saved By The Bell and other Idioms
  8. Halloween Coins
  9. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. Coins Connecting You to the Spirit World
  11. Ancient Egyptian Alien Coins
  12. Superstitions Around the World
  13. A Brief History of Halloween