Big Sam, the affable giant

Big Sam was born in 1762, and raised in Lairg in Sutherland. A noted “strongman”, when he came of age, he first joined the 2nd Sutherland Fencibles in 1779, and then, in 1791, he went on to join the Royal Scots, wherein he served as their Drill-leader. He was then employed as a porter for the prince of Wales sometime later. And because of his giant stature, meantime, he had even appeared as Hercules in a play at Drury lane Theatre; his formidable bulk and countenance perfectly suitable for the role. Eventually, after leaving behind the glamour of show business, he had then enlisted with the 93rd Sutherland regiment, where he would go on to serve until his death. Though during his time as an enlisted soldier, and thanks to his great stature, he was often regulated to the side of any formation of troops, and handpicked to lead the regimental mascot, a deer. The big-yin’s image was even used as a recruiting tool, where it was plastered across recruiting posters throughout Scotland, and the rest of Britain. Though as hard as I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to track down any images of those posters, so here’s this one instead:

ww1
“Here we, here we, here we fuckin’ go! Lets go, lets go, lets go fuckin’ mental!” – Traditional Ned fighting song.

Now, being the giant that he was, Sam often found himself, of course, as the center of attention wherever he went. And in one instance, the countess of Sutherland, so taken by his height and breadth upon sighting him and hearing of his exploits, declared then that he should be paid two shillings and a six pence more a day than the average man, solely to satisfy the appetite he must surely have possessed.

Benandonner and Finn McCool
Benandonner V Finn McCool 2.0. Picture this, only with Benandonner not on his knees, but about to defeat Finn with a handshake.

And in yet another account of the affable giant, Big Sam, whilst on duty in Ireland, was said to have been challenged to a fist-fight, by an equally massive Irishman. However, Sam being the gentleman that he was, had insisted that they shake hands first. The Irishman agreed, and so took Sam’s hand, only to have the very blood crushed from his fingers until his entire hand was said to have run pale, and then numb. The Irish “giant” was understandably quick to back down as a result.

And whilst still stationed in Ireland, another tale concerning him and an Irishman took place, though this time in a butchers shop in Dublin. There, the owner had flat-out refused to believe any of the stories of Sam’s great strength, and thus, duly challenged him to carry a Bullock all the way back and to his barracks, which, were situated more than two miles away. And, If he did? He would get the entirety of his order for free. Of course, Big Sam would never allow the weight of a small cow to stand in the way of himself and a good meal, and so did indeed carry that beast all the way back to his barracks, and without even stopping once on the way.

carrying a coo
An artists recreation. That artist was me…

But, the best example of what kind of a man Big Sam was, comes from his own camp mates. Assigned to guard duty on one especially cold winters night, he had been ordered to guard a cannon. And there, in the freezing cold, he guarded that cannon for several hours, stuck there alone in the dead of night with neither fire, nor friend for company. After a while however, he understandably grew tired of his situation. Weary of the cold and the solitude, he had reasoned that he was left with only choice, and so, bending down, he then wrenched the whole cannon up and out from its placement. Unassisted, he then carried the weapon (that could have weighed up to 3,400 lbs) all the way to the nearest guardhouse; guided only by the warm glow of the campfire’s light outside of it. And when the incredulous guardsmen noticed his approach, and then rushed out to question him likewise dumbfounded, Big Sam was said to have Remarked, and rather earnestly, that he could guard the cannon just as well here by the fire, as he could over there; a door stop-like thumb casually thrust back over his shoulder toward where he had just come.

Cinead MacAlpin.

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