Colum MacKenzie is Jamie's maternal uncle. He is a man who reigns over a powerful clan, but must rely on his brother Dougal to be the true muscle. Colum suffers from a condition now known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome, a degenerative disease that renders his legs immobile at times, and fills his days with great physical pain. Colum, using wine to dull the pain, is able to rise to the occasion when needed, parading around at clan dinners and gatherings, solidifying his position as clan leader.
The eldest son of Jacob and Anne MacKenzie, Colum grew up preparing to be the future laird of the clan, marrying Letitia Chisholm as part of an alliance between the clans. Around age eighteen, however, Colum took two bad falls; the broken bones of his legs never healed properly, and it became clear that it was permanent damage. It was around then that his father died, and suddenly the question of who would lead the clan was in question—could Colum lead, when he would clearly never be able to lead his men in battle? Or ought Dougal, his brother, to become chieftain? The clan held a great Gathering to decide the matter, and eventually Colum was chosen over Dougal. The younger MacKenzie, it was decided, lacked the judgment and levelheadedness needed in a leader. Moreover, Dougal stood by his brother's side and vowed to be his brother's legs and sword-arm, to follow Colum's orders and lead the clan as war chieftain in time of battle.
Events of the Novels
Soon after her arrival at Castle Leoch, Claire Randall is brought before the MacKenzie, who introduces himself with his full name of Colum ban Campbell MacKenzie. Claire thinks he has a beautifully modeled head and long torso that ended in shockingly bowed and stumpy legs. He should have topped six feet, but barely came up to Claire's shoulder. Claire privately diagnoses him with Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome, a degenerative disease of bone and connective tissue, whose victims are invariably sterile and often impotent.
During the meeting, Colum questions Claire on how she came to be lost in the woods and while Claire attempts to keep to the truth as much as possible, Colum remains suspicious. He offers her his hospitality, but makes it clear she is welcome only until he finds out who she is.
During dinner that night, Colum welcomes Claire to his table and introduces her to his wife Letitia and son Hamish. Claire notes that Hamish seems to be a miniature version of Colum's brother Dougal who was sitting next to his daughters Margaret and Eleanor.
During Colum's Hall, the time when the head of Clan MacKenzie dispenses justice to his tacksmen and tenants, Colum publicly welcomes Claire as an English lady from Oxford in need of succor and safe refuge.
One day, Colum summons Claire to a room deep in the castle. He tells Claire he's heard that she has some skill as a healer and tells her the room was formerly occupied by Davie Beaton, from the Beaton clan, well known for their healing skills. Unfortunately, Davie Beaton died of a fever soon after coming to Leoch. Colum asks Claire to take over the late Davie's practice and wishing to keep busy, Claire agrees.
During the Gathering, the time when all of the fighting men of Clan MacKenzie to make their oaths of allegiance. Colum wishes Jamie to swear an oath to him, which will mean Jamie will have to follow Colum's orders. Instead, Jamie tells him that his oath is pledged to the name he bears, but instead offers freely the things he does have: his help and goodwill, his obedience and will hold himself bound by Colum's word as long as he feet rest on MacKenzie lands. Colum accepts Jamie's offer and will hold him in good faith as an ally of Clan MacKenzie.
Colum orders Dougal to take Jamie and Claire along with his to gather the rents from the tenants and tacksmen that couldn't attend the Gathering. Jamie because he's good with horses and Claire to take her to Fort William in the hope that the commander there will be able to assist her in finding her family in France.
Colum summons Dougal and party back to Leoch early when the Duke of Sandringham arrives. Colum, and Jamie, is hoping the duke can arrange for a pardon for Jamie for the charge of murder. When they arrive, Colum is surprised to learn of Jamie and Claire's marriage, but accepts it and grants Jamie some things he's entitled to by the terms of his mother's dower contract. Jamie also demands his share of the quarterly rents from the MacKenzie lands so he can buy Claire a wedding ring.
Claire overheard Colum and Dougal arguing about what Claire later figures out is Dougal's affair with Geillis Duncan and her pregnancy. Colum assures Dougal that he will take care of the situation for him. While borrowing a book from Colum, Claire lets him know that she knows Hamish is not his son.
Colum hosts a hunt for the Duke of Sandringham, despite the man's reputation for a fondness for young boys. Colum hopes the duke can arrange a pardon for Jamie.
Colum gives Claire a beautiful rosary of carved jet beads and a silver-inlaid crucifix as a token of his gratitude for Claire's assistance in the birth of the foal Losgann.
Colum arranges for Geillis Duncan to be charged with witchcraft, a plan that results in Claire's capture as well. Colum forbids anyone from the castle to going to the village to keep them from being caught up in the witchhunt. He does nothing about Claire being accuses because of her knowledge of Hamish's paternity.
Later, Claire learns from Dougal, that Colum allowed his younger brother to take Letitia to bed in the hopes of getting her pregnant with a son and heir.
Dragonfly in Amber
While in Paris, Dougal says he must take back some of their wine for Colum, who needs something stronger than his usual wine to help him sleep nights. Claire wonders how long it is before he needs opium for relief.
Despite his disability, Colum makes the painful journey to Holyrood castle in Edinburgh at the request of Prince Charles. Before he offers his support of the Clan MacKenzie to the rising, he requests to speak with Claire, rudely dismissing the Prince. Once alone, Colum offers Claire an apology for not intervening when she was accused of witchcraft. She accepts, telling him she knew he meant her no harm. He asks her why she went to the village and she says she was led there by Laoghaire. Colum asks Claire if she would have vengeance on the girl, but despite being wronged and nearly killed because of the girl's actions, Claire accepts the apology.
Claire offers Colum opium for his pain, but Colum wants something a bit stronger and she realizes he means to take his own life. She gives him a small vial of cyanide.
Colum summons Jamie and Claire to the kirk where he meets them in the sunny yard. He tells Jamie that he is, like his father Brian Fraser, a man of honor and wants to know to which cause he should commit the MacKenzies. Jamie tells Colum to go home to Leoch and take his men with him. However, Colum dies that night and Dougal, firmly with Prince Charles, decides the MacKenzies of Leoch will march with the Highland army.
Colum dies in 1745, before he has a chance to use the cyanide and months before the final battle at Culloden.
Colum was cultured, courteous and thoughtful, with a reserve that all but hid the steely core within. With his health and strength, Dougal was a warrior born, but it was obvious that it was Colum who was the chieftain. He was quick and ruthless and would not hesitate to take any advantage of a situation to help his clan.
Colum was a man who liked luxury, enjoying the latest books and finest wine, particularly those from the Rhine region. Colum drank copious amounts of alcohol to combat the pain of his disease. Rather than hide his condition, Colum would often choose to walk a long distance in a deliberate contrast to his tall, straight-bodied younger brother.
Colum shares several of the strong MacKenzie traits with his brother, Dougal, though Colum's eyes are dove-gray like his older sister Ellen's. From the waist up, Colum has the long torso and imposing presence of the MacKenzies, but his legs are crippled by the degenerative disease he suffers, which Claire privately diagnoses as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome. His skin is pasty and prematurely wrinkled, an effect caused by the poor circulation associated with the disease. Still, Colum's strength of character and "steely core" are undiminished by his affliction, and Claire views Colum as the stronger of the two brothers.
- Colum is the Irish form of Columba, which in turn is a Late Latin name meaning "dove". The form Callum, which is used in the UK edition of Outlander (titled Cross Stitch), is the Scottish variant of Columba. The use of the Irish Colum is in keeping with several hints at the Leoch MacKenzies' ties to Ireland.
- MacKenzie is the anglicized form of MacCoinnich, a Gaelic patronymic name meaning "son of Coinneach". The personal name Coinneach means "handsome" or "comely".
- Colum suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome, though the disease was not named so until over a hundred years later by its famous sufferer, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
- Showrunner Ron Moore explains that actor Gary Lewis wore special socks that could later be manipulated in the visual effects department to appear bowed. Lewis also wore shoes with wedges in them and practiced the peculiar gait with which Colum walks, to better simulate his deformity.
- His name and its spelling varies slightly between the novels.
- In the television series, Claire gives Colum a vial of yellow jasmine, rather than cyanide, which will allow him to drift off to a peaceful and permanent sleep.