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Angus Mor MacAskill
Angus Mor MacAskill
Angus (1825-1863), was a son of Norman MacAskill and Christina Campbell of Sheabie, Berneray. Angus Mòr had an older brother named Angus who was born in around 1818. When Angus was about two or three years old, the family moved and initially settled in Quidinish, Harris. The family then emigrated to Cape Breton in about 1831, making their home at Englishtown, St Ann’s Bay. Norman earned a living by fishing and farming.
As a young child, Angus’s height was unremarkable, but by the age of twelve he had started to outgrow other children. At fourteen he was nicknamed Gille Mòr or ‘big boy’. His father altered the house to provide headroom, including the construction of an eight foot long bed. Angus’s strength, too, was becoming apparent. When helping in the timber yard he succeeded in lifting a heavy log onto the saw bench, a log which had confounded the combined attempts of three men.
Even in his twenties Angus was still growing. His eventual height was 7’ 9” and he weighed 425 pounds. However, he was well proportioned, with dark curly hair and blue eyes.
Being different, Angus had to learn to cope with being teased. On one occasion, a group of his friends were helping to pull his boat up above the high tide line. Secretly they planned to pull it further up away from the beach. As soon as he realised this he pulled in the opposite direction. Unfortunately this tug-of-war resulted in the boat being split into two!
Strangers heard about Angus and wanted him to wrestle to prove his strength, something he tried to avoid. A famous fighter visited St Ann’s especially in order to challenge him. Angus politely refused. The man became so angry and rude that he annoyed Angus, who asked him to leave. As they shook hands to say goodbye, Angus squeezed so hard that the fighter’s blood rushed to the ends of his fingertips. The man left and never again asked the giant to fight.
In 1849, aged twenty-four, Angus went on his first tour as “The Giant MacAskill”. He toured as a giant, not as a strong man. His first tour was with a Mr Dunseith, later with Noah Fifield, and at one stage he worked for the famous Phineas T Barnum, alongside the dimunitive Major Tom Thumb, who was only three feet high. During his travels Angus saw little of the places he visited. His agent had decided that people would never pay a dollar to see a giant if they could see him for nothing in the street.
Over the years Angus travelled throughout Canada and the United States of America, to the West Indies and Europe. He had an audience at Windsor Castle with Queen Victoria, who was so impressed that she presented him with two gold rings.
On his last tour Angus was walking along a dockside when he was challenged by a group of sailors to lift an anchor weighing over a ton. He did so with ease. However when he went to set it down, one of the flukes caught his shoulder, injuring it. The Giant’s health began to fail, probably as a direct result of this injury.
He retired back home to Englishtown in the 1850s, where he built a grocery shop and bought a flour mill. Angus had good business sense and treated his customers fairly, so the shop proved a success. One of the goods he sold was tea, either by the pound or by the fistful - for the same price. One day a customer asked for a pound of tea - Angus measured a fistful. Doubting the correctness of the weight, the customer asked for it to be weighed properly. As it happened, the fistful of tea weighed over a pound. Angus gave the man only the pound he had asked for.
Angus lived in Englishtown until his death on 8th August 1863, aged thirty-eight years old. A deeply religious man, he was buried in the churchyard overlooking the bay.
On the 23rd July 1992 a memorial cairn to Aonghas Mòr was unveiled at the site of his birthplace on Berneray. The visitor centre on Berneray contains an account of his life. There are also museums dedicated to Giant MacAskill in St Ann’s and at Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye.