MacPherson was a "Robin Hood"-like outlaw who was hanged for stealing cattle in 1700.
He was also an accomplished fiddler, and the night before his execution he composed this tune
and a farewell letter which Robert Burns rearranged in verse to fit the tune. He played the
tune on the scaffold before being hanged, then broke his fiddle to prevent anyone else from
ever playing it and threw the pieces into the crowd gathered to watch. The final verse
refers to the town sheriff who, on hearing that a letter of pardon for MacPherson was to arrive
shortly, set the town clock 15 minutes fast so that MacPherson could be hanged at
the appointed hour before the letter of pardon could arrive.
thee weel, you dungeons dark and strong,
Fareweel, fareweel to thee.
Macpherson's rant will ne'er be lang,
On yonder gallers tree.
Sae wontonly, sae dauntonly,
O rantinly gaed he,
He played a tune an' he danced aroon,
Below the gallers tree.
Well the laird o' Grant, you highlan' Saint
That first laid hands on me,
He plead the cause o' Peter Broon,
He watched Macpherson dee.
By a woman's treacherous hand
That I was condemned to dee,
High on a ledge of her window she stood,
And a blanket she threw over me.
come here noo tae see me hang
And some to buy my fiddle,
Before I'll pairt wi' thee,
I'll brak' her through the middle.
Come ye loose the bands from off my hands
Bring tae me noo my sword,
There's nae a man in a' Scotland
That'll brave him at his word.
Little did my mother think
When first she cradled me,
That I would turn a rovin' boy
And die upon the gallers tree.
The reprieve was comin' o'er the brig o' Banff,
To set Macpherson free,
They pu' the clock a quarter fast,
And they hanged him to the tree.