In 1981 the Guinness Book of World Records recognized MacAskill as the largest true giant to have ever lived, the strongest man who ever lived and the man with the largest chest measurements of any non-obese man.
The distinction of his status as a ‘true’ giant hinges on the fact the Angus was purported to be free of any growth abnormalities.His stature was proportional in every way and his immense size and strength was due only to his natural genetic gifts.
MacAskill was born in 1825 on the Isle of Berneray in the Sound of Harris, Scotland. He moved to Nova Scotia at with his family as a child and eventually settled in the fishing community of Englishtown, Cape Breton Island somewhere between 1830 and 1835.
In adulthood, MacAskill stood 7 ft 10 in tall and weighed an astonishing 580 lbs. His shoulders measured an otherworldly 44 inches wide, the palm of his hand was nearly a foot wide and his shoes measured 19 inches in length. Despite these startling proportions, he was reportedly a handsome man with deep blue eyes and a deep voice described and ‘soothing’ and ‘musical. In his home community he was affectionately known as Big Boy or ‘Gille Mòr’ and to others he was known simply as the ‘Cape Breton Giant’.
During his lifetime, MacAskill was known for his incredible feats of strength.These displays began well before he entered into exhibition and mainly manifested from MacAskill showing off while doing daily menial chores. MacAskill was able to lift a 2800 lb ship’s anchor to chest height. Was known to carry barrels weighing over 300lbs under each arm, was able to singlehandedly set a 40-foot mast into a schooner deck and was also known to lift a full-grown horse hover a four-foot fence.
In 1849 MacAskill entered show business and went to work for P.T. Barnum’s circus, appearing next to General Tom Thumb. 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.
After a show business career demonstrating his size and strength in Europe and North America, MacAskill returned to his home community of Englishtown and purchased a gristmill and several other real estate holdings as well as a general store.
In the summer of 1863 MacAskill undertook a trip to the colonial capital at Halifax where he had been planning to sell produce and purchase stock for his store from the city’s wholesalers which he would need for the winter season. During the trip he suddenly became seriously ill and was returned to St. Ann’s where he died peacefully in his sleep on August 8, 1863.
To this day, many tall tales about MacAskill continue to circulate due to the fact that his gentle manner contrasted his appearance so dramatically that he endeared all who knew of him.
image: MacAskill and Tom Thumb