Macalisters in Pigot & Co.’s Commercial Directory of Scotland

In August 1837, Pigot & Co. published their National Commercial Directory of the Whole of Scotland and the Isle of Man. Like the directories of various counties in England and Wales and of Ireland, this pre-telephone directory was intended to be an aid to business, and both businesses and individuals are listed with their addresses. General information is given about the towns or parishes listed, and other useful data – such as the names of postmasters, costs of shipping, and timetables for coaches and ships – is also included.

Macalisters by this time are to be found throughout Scotland, but the main Macalister families are still mostly in the west: Charles Somerville McAlester of Kennox, who had been recognised in 1808 as clan chief and proper representative of the Loup family, is in Stewarton, Ayrshire; Keith Macalister is found at Glenbarr, and his mother, the widowed Mrs Matthew Macalister, living in Campbeltown; Angus Macalister is at Balinakill. Keith Macdonald Macalister of Inistrynich – whose wife, Flora, was the daughter of Norman Macalister, late Governor of Prince of Wales Island (Penang) – is named in both Bonawe and Inverary; it is unclear to me whether he held two properties, or whether his property simply lay between the two places and was included in both lists.

Representing the Clann Alasdair Bheag are Major M’Alister of Springbank (Arran) andJames M’Alister of Rothesay (Isle of Bute). Also identified as ‘gentry’ by the directory but of unclear connexion to the others are several Macalisters in Dunbartonshire: James M’Alester and Mrs John M’Alester in Auchincarroch, and Mrs William M’Alester in Dumbarton proper.

Unlike the Directory of Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Seats published twenty years later, however, this directory lists not only the landholdersand representatives of the major families but also ordinary people, working ordinary jobs in numerous places. Members of this clan in 19th-century Scotland appear to have been an industrious lot. Macalisters are well represented in the professions, as schoolmasters in Ardnaw, Rothesay, and Lochwinnoch; two solicitors and a depute session clerk in Dumbarton and Glasgow; surgeons in the Isle of Skye; insurance agents in Paisley and Dumbarton; and clergymen in Edinburgh and Dundee (both Presbyterian, but also apparently both Gaelic speakers, suggesting that their origins lay further west).

Macalisters can also be found as makers and sellers of all sorts of things: They are merchants of food and wine or spirits; ironmongers; tailors and milliners; makers of shoes and household furnishings; of linen, cambric & muslin; of cabinets, candles and trunks. There are stonemasons, tin- and coppersmiths, joiners, coopers and painters. There is a M’Alester selling timber in the shipbuilding trades of the west cost; numerous bakers and an innkeeper. A surprising number of the merchants are women, apparently running their own businesses. Only two of those listed appear to be directly connected to agriculture – one as a cowkeeper and the other milling corn – though there were no doubt numerous tenant farmers who would have had no need to attract business through a directory. 

The directory published by Pigot & Co. in 1837 offers us a contemporary record of the position of early 19th-century Macalisters in Scotland.  It is now available for free online.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

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