News of the Day

On this day in 1803, issue no. 5 of the Ayr Advertiser[1] went on sale. A copy of this issue, held by the South Ayrshire County libraries, is the earliest known surviving issue of Scotland’s first weekly newspaper. It was discovered in January 2015 in an attic in Edinburgh.[2]

Issue no. 5 provides an interesting snapshot of life in Ayr in the Napoleonic period. One article noted that the Ayr races for the season had been cancelled, as “almost every Nobleman and Gentleman is doing duty with one corps or another in defence of the country”.[3]

Charles Somerville McAlester, 12th of Loup, was at this time one of the ‘noblemen and gentlemen’ of Ayrshire. In the 1790s, his father Angus had (with Charles’s consent) resigned the family’s properties in Kintyre into the hands of trustees, to be sold in order to pay off heavy debts – an unfortunate position in which many Highland landowners of this period found themselves. (Most of these properties, after several owners, ended up in the possession of the Glenbarr family.) However, Charles’s marriage in 1792 to the heiress of the Somervilles of Kennox, in Ayr, had restored the Loup family’s fortunes and brought them to live in Ayrshire, where Charles seems to have quickly involved himself in the county’s social set. It is likely that this included maintaining an interest in horse racing, which was very much a part of Ayrshire landed society.

Although horse races had taken place since the 16th century all over Scotland, it was only in 1777, when the racecourse at Ayr was built, that racing really took off.[4] Many races were part of – though not the purpose of – annual local fairs, but racing as an organised sport was controlled by the area’s landowners: the nobles and gentry mentioned in the Advertiser article. These landholders were the only ones whose horses could be spared regularly from the demands of farming, and they also had the influence needed to protect a form of entertainment that did not always meet with approval from some quarters. John Burnett, in an interesting article on this topic, points out that it is no coincidence to find horse racing developing and surviving as a sport in places like Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, which had a large number of landed proprietors, rather than in places like Aberdeen, where this class of people were fewer.[5]

As it happened, however, in 1803 there was little point in holding the races. The Peace of Amiens – a treaty signed the previous year with France – had broken down several months before this, and Napoleon was now gathering his forces and preparing to cross the Channel and invade. The men who were needed to keep the races going – and no doubt many of those who just enjoyed watching them – were all away preparing to protect the country.

On the first of September 1803, Charles of Loup was serving as a captain with one of the corps mentioned in the article, the Ayrshire Militia. This force had been formed from the core of the 7th North British (Ayr and Renfrew) Militia, which had disbanded the previous year with the Peace of Amiens. It was reactivated (and renamed) in January 1803. The militias did not serve overseas, and as we now know, Napoleon never made it to Britain. However, local militias were considered an important part of homeland defence, and the Ayrshire Militia raised in response to the Napoleonic threat was not stood down until 1816.[6] On this day in 1803, they were stationed in Perth, with more important things to worry about than missing the races.

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] At this point it was actually the Air Advertiser; the spelling was changed in 1839 (British Newspapers On-line: Ayr Advertiser, accessed 31 August 2015).

[2] South Ayrshire Libraries, “Oldest known Ayrshire newspaper discovered“, South Ayrshire History blog, 10 January 2015.

[3] ibid

[4] John Burnett, “The Sites and Landscapes of Horse Racing in Scotland before 1860” in The Sports Historian, No. 18, 1 (May 1998): 64, accessed 31 August 2015.

[5] ibid, p. 57

[6] Records of the Ayrshire Militia, from 1802 to 1883 (privately printed in 1884; published 2011 by South Ayrshire Libraries).


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

Loup Lands Lost (sort of . . .)

On this day in 1803, William McNeill of Hayfield was seised in (registered as owner of) the Loup lands of Portachoillan, Corran, Margard, Shirgrim, and Shenakeill with the mill, on disposition by trustees for the creditors of Angus McAlester 11th of Loup; McNeill also purchased three merklands of Dunskaig and two merklands of Lemnamuick from Angus’s widow, Jane McDonald, and the wife of their son Charles (these properties were also held by Angus’s trustees.) Angus and Charles had appointed trustees for the Loup lands eight years earlier, giving them the right to sell any or all of the estate in order to pay Angus’s debts.[1] By this time, the Loup family had already settled in Ayrshire, having acquired the Kennox estate by marriage (see Macalister of Loup and Kennox.)

Local historian Ian MacDonald explains the loss of the Loup lands as the result of the family’s support for the Jacobite cause in the ’45, saying that “Generally all of the old Highland estates who supported the House of Stuart failed with the second Jacobite rebellion”.[2] However, the forfeited estates of Jacobite families had been restored to their heirs by 1784, nearly two decades before this occurred. Furthermore forfeited lairds would not have had the luxury of appointing trustees to dispose of their lands or profiting from the sales. 

A more likely explanation is given by Alexander Fraser, who notes that the late 18th century saw the beginnings of “an economic landslide in Mid-Argyll . . . . The accumulated difficulties of more than one hundred years proved insupportable, and the landed families . . . failed, one after another”.[3] Historian T. M. Devine agrees: “Manifestly, the minor lairds were under considerable economic pressure before the 1750s.”[4]

But new families were rising in Kintyre as the old ones disappeared. Within five years of MacNeill’s acquisition, most of the Loup lands were purchased by Keith Macalister of the Kingsburgh family, who was building up what became the Glenbarr estate.[5] In 1984 part of that estate was donated to the clan by Keith’s descendant, Angus Macalister of Glenbarr; it now serves as the Macalister Clan Centre.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] “Clan McAlester” Report, p. 5

[2] personal correspondance with Ian MacDonald, Oct. 2000

[3] North Knapdale in the XVII and XVIIIth Centuries, p. 81. 

[4] Scotland‘s Empire and the Shaping of the Americas, p. 67

[5]  For some time after this, apparently assuming that the designation went with the property, Keith and his close relatives titled themselves ‘of Loup’. (see, e.g., NSA, vol. 14, p. 305). However, in 1847, the Lord Lyon recognised Charles McAlester of Loup and Kennox as the “heir male and representative of the ancient family of the Macalesters of Loup.” (“Clan McAlester” Report, pp. 9–10; Castleton, p. 173), decreeing that the designation ‘of Loup’ remained with that family despite the loss of the Loup lands.

Macalister of Loup and Kennox

On this day in 1792, Charles McAlester, 12th of Loup, married Janet Somerville, heiress to the Ayrshire estate of Kennox near Stewarton. In 1805, Charles adopted the name and arms of Somerville and was thereafter known as Charles Somerville McAlester of Loup and Kennox. The name Somerville has been used in the Loup family ever since. Charles and Janet inherited the Kennox estate on the death of her mother and settled in Ayrshire.

Any marriage is of significance to the parties involved, but this particular marriage has greater significance in the history of the Macalisters. The Wikipedia article on Kennox House says “the McAlester’s [sic] were Jacobites and had lost their estates and money after 1745, however this marriage restored their fortunes.” Although it is certainly true that the Loup family were Jacobites, and it’s possible that they suffered forfeiture like other supporters of the Stuart family, by the late 18th century they had long since been restored to possession of their estates. But like other old families of Kintyre, regardless of political persuasion, the McAlesters of Loup had fallen on difficult times. Shortly after this marriage, the family’s debts required that their estates be turned over to trustees of their creditors, and by 1800 all of their lands had been sold. Charles’s marriage to an Ayrshire heiress did indeed restore the Loup family’s fortunes, but it also took them permanently out of Kintyre. 

Once established in Kennox, Charles quickly made himself a part of Stewarton society. He served in the Ayrshire Militia and held several civic appointments, such as Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant and Land Tax Commissioner for the county.[1] In 1839, he and Janet attended the tournament at Eglinton Castle – by all accounts the social event of the decade, with guests like the future Napoleon III of France; Charles served as one of the stewards at the banquet which followed.[2] In 1845, the New Statistical Account names four modern buildings in the parish of Stewarton as being “most worthy of notice” – one of these is that owned by Col. M’Alister of Kennox.[3]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]“A Collection of the Public General Statutes Passed in the Sixth and Seventh Year of the Reign of His Majesty King William the Fourth, 1836”, Cap. LXXX., pp. 593-4.
[2]According to Wikipedia, this information is provided in Accounts of the Tournament at Eglinton Castle in August 1839. Vol. II. p. 73; I have not yet obtained this publication. An interesting account of the tournament – from its conception to its aftermath – is Ian Anstruthers’ The Knight and the Umbrella (Sutton Publishing, 1986); McAlester’s attendance is listed there as well.
[3]County of Ayr, parish of Stewarton, pp. 732, 734