Angus MacAskill: Cape Breton giant

AbbyMac By AbbyMac, 11th Jul 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Celebrities>Personalities

Angus MacAskill was billed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the Tallest and Strongest Man (non-pathological) in the 1981 edition. He is recorded as standing seven feet nine inches tall and weighing 425 pounds. His tales are legendary; stories show him to be a gentleman and a role model.

The Cape Breton Giant

Angus was born in 1825 on the Isle of Berneray off the western coast of Scotland. He was an undersized child born into a very large family of ten children. According to oral tradition his grandfather, Neil Mor (Gaelic for 'Big Neil') was 7'9" and the whole MacAskill sept came from a tribe of huge, strong men back to their Viking roots. The MacAskills were servants of the clan MacLeod who valued them highly because of their size and strength.

Angus, his siblings and parents emigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada in the late 1820s or early 1830s with many other Scottish families during the Highland Clearances. A group of them settled in Englishtown on Saint Anne's Bay, Cape Breton Isle in Nova Scotia. They received tracts of land to farm and the windswept desolation must have reminded them of the home they left behind.

Angus' growth seemed normal till his teen years when he just kept growing well into his twenties. His parents were forced to put a moveable transom on the front door of the house to let him access the door freely. His furniture and clothes all had to be especially made for his size. He is thought to have been naturally tall (non-pathological) as there was no sign of the typical characteristics of the so-called pituitary giants. He was said to be as strong as six men. His strength, even if exaggerated, describes a healthy man.

In order to help raise money to support his family he toured America briefly with PT Barnum and a small man, variously identified as General Tom Thumb or Commodore Nutt. He appeared before Queen Victoria at her behest and she declared him to be the tallest man to ever visit Windsor Palace.

J. Gillis, biographer and author of The Cape Breton Giant-A Truthful Memoir shares many stories and conversations of Angus and his friends, families and strangers. His family and neighbors called him "Gille Mor" (Big Boy) and the public began referring to him as The Cape Breton Giant. According to the memoir, strangers enjoyed picking fights with Angus to match themselves to his strength. Angus would patiently put up with the taunts but eventually was forced to shut the fools up. To show off to a group of sailors he picked up an anchor weighing over 2,000 lbs, carried it down the wharf and tossed it in the water. When he threw it one of the flanges caught on his back, seriously injuring him. Done with showing off to the world he returned home to Englishtown.

He settled down and opened a general store and grist mill, where he worked for a number of years until his death of "brain fever" in 1863. Some accounts say he was never well again after the anchor incident, others say he was healthy till his death at the age of 38. The Giant never married or had children. His descendants all come from his brothers' and sisters' children.

Angus is buried in Englishtown in The Auld Cemetery. His grave was forgotten for years and the marker damaged and buried till a renewed interest in the history of the Giant in the mid 1900s led to the renovation of the site and marker. There is a museum dedicated to all things Angus, including his clothing, furniture, tools and accounts from his store, across the road from the site of his general store just down the road from the cemetery. There is another museum on the other side of the pond in Dunvegan, Isle of Sky, Scotland, near the Castle of the MacLeods, also dedicated to the Giant. Both museums are run by his descendents.


Angus Macaskill, Cape Breton, Englishtown, Giant, Pt Barnum, Scotland

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author avatar AbbyMac
I am a mother of two teenage girls, living on a farm where we raise award-winning Corriedale Sheep. I have homeschooled for 11 years and currently own a homeschool curriculum store. I enjoy writing about homeschooling, animals and mysteries of the ...(more)

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