Sawney Bean is a legendary Scottish cannibal who, along with his family, is said to have lived in a cave at Bennane Head, three miles (5 km) north of Ballantrae on the west coast of Scotland. Bean and his wife had fourteen children, eight sons and six daughters, who mated among themselves to produce thirty-two grandchildren.
To support themselves, the Bean family waylaid lone travellers along the shore road, robbed them, and carried their victims back to the cave to be butchered and eaten, “their only sustenance”.
Doubts have been expressed over whether the story of Sawney Bean is based on historical fact or is a literary invention designed to sell books.
The earliest accounts of Sawney Bean appear in The Lives and Actions of the Most Famous Highwaymen, written by the probably pseudonymous Captain Charles Johnson and dated 1734, along with four undated chapbooks.[a] Details vary, but most accounts agree on the following series of events:
- A chapbook is a small booklet sold by peddlers.