Angus Macaskill

I am fascinated with stories of giants in human history.  I was first captured by stories of the Philistines in the bible.  When I came across stories of “The Leopard People” of indian lore, it seemed very similar to the stories of the Philistines.

But these are all stories, poorly documented and seemingly further on the side of “tall tales” than historical fact.  This is what really intrigues me about Angus Macaskill.  He was a true giant, not one of the ones with a faulty pituitary.  He grew to nearly 8 feet tall, and was strong like the Gods of old.  From Wiki:

MacAskill was born on the Isle of Berneray in the Sound of Harris, Scotland. His father was Norman MacAskill, who stood 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m) tall, and his mother was Christina Campbell. Angus had twelve siblings, several of whom died young. Apparently Angus was an ordinary-sized baby.[1] After several years in Stornoway, Outer Hebrides, the family settled in the fishing community of Englishtown, Cape Breton Island around 1831.[2]

As a child he was also said to be of normal stature, but in entering his adolescence he began to grow rapidly and by his 20th year had attained 7 ft 4 in (2.24 m), eventually reaching 7 ft 9 in (2.36 m) within another year or two. His early adult weight was 425 pounds (193 kg), but usually was over 500 pounds (230 kg). His shoulders were 44 inches (110 cm) wide, and the palm of his hand 8 inches (20 cm) wide and 12 inches (30 cm) long; by 1863 he was wearing boots 17.5 inches (44 cm) long. His feet were probably around 13 in. long and 8 inches wide. He had deep-set blue eyes, a musical, if somewhat hollow voice and a mild and pleasant manner. Despite his size he was well proportioned.[2]

He was known in his home community of St. Ann’s as “Gille Mòr” (translated to “Big Boy”). He was also known to many as the “Cape Breton Giant” or simply “Giant MacAskill.”

When MacAskill was approximately 14 years old he travelled on a fishing schooner from St. Ann’s to North Sydney and the crew took him along to a dance. An altercation with a dancer led to MacAskill striking his tormentor’s jaw with his fist. That gentleman landed in the middle of the floor and was unconscious for so long the other dancers thought he was dead.[1] When the captain returned to his schooner he found MacAskill on his knees praying that he had not killed the man.

MacAskill was well known for feats of strength such as lifting a ship’s anchor weighing 2,800 pounds (1,300 kg) to chest height, and an ability to carry barrels weighing over 300 pounds (140 kg) apiece under each arm or reputedly able to lift a hundredweight (50kg) with two fingers and hold it at arms length for ten minutes. People also claimed to see Angus lift a full-grown horse over a 4-foot (1.2 m) fence, without breaking a sweat.

In 1849 he entered show business and went to work for P.T. Barnum‘s circus, appearing next to General Tom Thumb. In 1853 he toured the West Indies and Cuba.[2]Queen Victoria heard stories about MacAskill’s great strength and invited him to appear before her to give a demonstration at Windsor Castle, after which she proclaimed him to be “the tallest, stoutest and strongest man to ever enter the palace”, and presented him with two gold rings in appreciation.[1][3]

The fishermen of St. Ann’s envied MacAskill’s strength. While they laboriously bailed their boats, MacAskill set his weight under his half ton boat, tipped it on its beam ends and reportedly emptied the bilge water. He also reportedly single-handedly set a 40-foot (12 m) mast into a schooner.

There are various accounts of an incident with an anchor that may have taken place in New York or New Orleans. French sailors apparently taunted MacAskill to lift an anchor lying on the wharf, which was estimated to weigh 2,200–2,700 pounds (1,000–1,200 kg). MacAskill easily did so and walked down the wharf with it, but one of the anchor’s flukes caught in one of his shoulders, crippling him. However this was not the cause of his death, as he lived for many years thereafter.[1]

After a show business career demonstrating his size and strength in Europe and North America, he returned to his home community of Englishtown and purchased a gristmill and several other real estate holdings as well as a general store. One story is that a customer wanting to buy tea would be asked by the giant, “will you take a pound or a fistful?”. Since tea was expensive in those times, most would ask for a pound, realizing that MacAskill’s fist would easily hold more than a single pound of tea.

This man was truly a mountain.  Being 450-500 lbs is nothing special (especially in modern America).  But the fact that he was so strong…this is what surprises me.  This is what is noteworthy.

I am a former weightlifter.  I understand the difficulty in getting just 1 barrell that weighs 300 lbs hoisted.  It is unwieldy, at best.

This is a gentleman that I surely would have loved to have met.  The “Cape Breton Giant” is among the largest and strongest men in recorded history.

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