Loup & Tarbert, J.P.

On this day in 1663, Mcalaster of Loup and Mcalaster, Captain of Tarbert, were among those appointed justices of the peace for Argyllshire. These commissions were to last until the king decided to issue new orders.[1] The appointment of these men to a position of civic responsibility suggests that for the moment, both of the clan’s main branches were on the right side of the law. That might have had something to do with the company they were keeping: Most of the other appointees were either Campbells or Macleans. Apparently Clan Alasdair’s leaders had distanced themselves from the Macdonalds after MacColla’s rising ended in disaster in 1647. 

Neither Macalister’s personal name is given in transcription, so perhaps they were illegible. I think this is probably the last record of Hector Macalister, 6th of Loup. He was certainly dead by June 1665, when his son is called ‘Laird of Loup’ in a land document (13 June 1665) and ‘Gorrie M’Alister of Loup’ in his brother’s wedding contract (30 June 1665).[2]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Records of the Parliament of Scotland, 1663/6/144 (http://www.rps.ac.uk/)

[2] Inventory of Lamont Papers, p. 253, items 843, 844


Battle of Loup Hill

On this day in 1689, the Battle of Loup Hill was fought in Kintyre. This battle was part of the first Jacobite rising, in which those loyal to James VII/II hoped to instigate counter-revolution and drive William of Orange from the throne. The ‘battle’ was really just a skirmish, and today it is more or less forgotten, but Loup Hill would prove strategically decisive because the loss of Kintyre cut the Scottish Jacobites off from Ireland, where the exiled King James had established his court.[1] It was the last battle ever fought in Kintyre.

Although there were many who felt that James was the rightful king, this first Jacobite rising “managed to attract fewer than 2000 men. Most of these were drawn from a small number of West Highland clans”[2], specifically those Paul Hopkins calls ‘the non-Campbell clans’, including the Macalisters.[3] Early in May, expecting the arrival of reinforcements from Ireland, Alexander Macalister of Loup and Archibald Macalister of Tarbert, along with Macneill of Gallachoille and Macdonald of Largie, had seized Skipness Castle on the eastern side of the peninsula. There they were joined by others, including the Macalister lairds of Balinakill and Kenloch – but not by the promised Irish regiments. The Jacobites eventually totalled about 400 and controlled a good part of northern Kintyre. They were thus able to block the southward advance of a hurriedly assembled government force sent to retake the peninsula under Capt. William Young. Young opted instead to cut across to the west, where he could threaten the estates of Loup and Largie. Loup and Largie had posted about 200 men on Loup Hill, and as Young’s force passed to the south, the Jacobites attacked.

Accounts of the actual fighting are few, and those that exist are contradictory, but despite the advantage of height, the Jacobites fought ineffectually and were routed. Some fled into the hills and some north into Knapdale; some headed back to Skipness to take shelter in the castle. With his inexperienced force, Young opted not to pursue, and he and his men continued on to Clachan for the night. There, local supporters who had been waiting for outside help began to join the government force. Two proposals (one of them from Loup) arrived that night for surrender on terms, but Young insisted on complete and immediate submission and the Jacobite chiefs abandoned Kintyre.

The Macalister lairds fled to King James in Ireland. Tarbert was back by autumn to take the Oath of Allegiance, along with Balinakill. But Loup and Kenloch remained in arms, returning to fight at Killiecrankie, where Viscount Dundee was killed and the rising effectually came to an end. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Much of the information in this post comes from Dr. Paul Hopkins, ‘Loup Hill, 16th May 1689: The First “Battle” of Dundee’s Jacobite War’, Kintyre Magazine, issue 29 (Spring 1991).
[2] T. M. Devine, The Scottish Nation, p. 32
[3] The Earl of Argyll had supported William, mainly because King James had refused to restore his family’s forfeited estates. William had agreed to support Presbyterianism in Scotland, mainly because the bishops of the Episcopalian church refused to renounce James. Neither the restoration of Argyll nor the imposition of Presbyterianism sat well with these clans.


On this day in 1746, the last pitched battle on British soil was fought at Culloden Moor between the Jacobite forces under Prince Charles Edward Stuart and the forces of King George II under the Duke of Cumberland. It was the final act in a story that had begun in 1688, when Charles Stuart’s grandfather, King James VII/II[1], fled his kingdom and was replaced by William of Orange. William, who claimed the thrones of Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales by right of his wife, Mary (James’s daughter), had been invited to replace the Catholic King James by the leaders of the Protestant establishment. After holding out in Ireland for a time, James eventually went into exile on the Continent.

Though King James never returned to Britain, some in Britain remained loyal to him and his family, and his son and grandson both attempted to retake their kingdoms by force. The rising of 1745 was the last and most successful of these attempts. Gathering his forces as he went, Charles captured Edinburgh and marched into England – so far south that London seriously began to panic. And then, for no apparent reason, the Jacobites withdrew. Despite a few military successes during their retreat, they were chased into the Highlands to Culloden, where in the space of an hour they were utterly defeated. Once those on the field had been killed, Cumberland’s forces began to chase down those who had escaped, anyone who had supported them . . . and some who’d had nothing to do with the rebellion at all. So many people were killed off the field that Cumberland became known as ‘the Butcher of Cumberland’. Even so, many of those who had survived Culloden reassembled several days later, willing to fight on. But Charles knew the cause was lost. He dismissed his followers, urging them to save their own lives. 

Although the story is well known, a number of misconceptions are often accepted as fact – perhaps especially in the New World, where the details of the conflict itself are largely forgotten. For example, the Rising of 1745-6 had nothing to do with Scottish independence. The Stuart kings had been kings of England as well as Scotland since 1603; they had, frankly, preferred England. Neither Charles Stuart (The Young Pretender) nor his father (The Old Pretender) had any intention of setting up a kingdom in Scotland and leaving their cousins on the throne to the south. It is true that there was greater support in Scotland than in England for the House of Stuart. However, not only were there Jacobites among the English, but a decent number of English soldiers deserted to the Jacobites during the campaign.[2]

“The ’45” was also not a matter of Highlanders versus Lowlanders. Again, there were more of the former than the latter in their ranks, and certainly the Highlanders bore the brunt of the government’s retaliation. But parts of Lowland Scotland – particularly the northeast (where Marischal College in Aberdeen saw all but one of its professors deposed for Jacobitism after the rising of 1715) – were considered hotbeds of Jacobite activity. Whole units of Lowlanders are included among the Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46.[3] In fact, if there was any clear division between those who supported the Stuarts in 1745 and those who did not, it was along religious lines. Catholics in Scotland and England of course supported the Stuarts, but research has shown that the vast majority of the Jacobite forces in Scotland were Episcopalians[4]; it’s likely that in Scotland the Jacobite cause was seen by some of these as the only defence against total Presbyterian dominance.[5]

The Macalisters as a clan did not fight at Culloden – indeed, there are not that many of them named in the Muster Rolls or the prisoner lists. The Loup family had always been Jacobites, as were the Tarbert family early on; by the time of the last rising, however, the Tarbert family were once again tenants of the anti-Jacobite Campbells of Argyll, and Tarbert allowed a force to be stationed on his land specifically to prevent local Jacobites from joining Charles’s army. It is possible, too, that Loup was one of the many Highland chiefs who thought the rising of 1745 doomed from the start and opted to sit it out. 

Nonetheless, individual Macalisters did serve in Charles’s army as part of the Clan Donald contingent. Seven of them are known to have survived the battle of Culloden, though at least six of these were later captured. And one branch of the clan found another way to serve ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’: It was to the home of Ranald and Anne Macalister of Kingsburgh in Skye that Flora MacDonald brought Charles Stuart – famously dressed as her maid – during his escape back to France after the defeat at Culloden.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]The king was the seventh King James of Scotland; he was only the second King James of England.
[2]Seton & Arnot, The Prisoners of the ’45, edited from the State Papers, vol. 1-3 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1928).
[3] Livingstone of Bachuil, Aikman & Hart, eds., Aberdeen University Press, 1984. See also McDonnell, Jacobites of 1715, North East Scotland, and Jacobites of 1745, North East Scotland (Clearfield, 1997).
[4]“Well over 75 percent of the manpower mobilized for the Stuarts consisted of Episcopalians”, according to Andrew MacKillop of Aberdeen University (Oxford Companion to Scottish History, p. 350).
[5]When the Scottish bishops refused to support him, William of Orange gave in to the demands of the Estates of Parliament that prelacy be abolished and Presbyterianism established as the official Church of Scotland.

Macalisters in the 1857 Gentlemen’s Directory

In March of 1857, the Directory to Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Seats, Villages, etc. etc. in Scotland: Giving the Counties in which they are situated, the post-town to which each is attached, and the name of the resident was published in Edinburgh under the patronage of the Scottish post office. The information for this directory was obtained by means of questionnaires sent to post offices and individual residences. If a questionnaire was not returned, no information could be given about the residents, but the place was listed anyway so that the information could be included later.

The Directory gives us a glimpse of the location of significant Macalister families in Scotland at this time. The chiefly family had settled in Ayrshire some time before this, and there they are found in 1857: Major Somerville Macalister, proprietor of Kennox House, is the clan chief, Charles the 13th of Loup; also living at Kennox House is C[harles] S[omerville] M’Allister, the future 14th of Loup. James Macalester of Chapelton, near Stewarton (Ayrshire) is the brother of the chief – he is erroneously called John in the index.

N. M. Macalister, MD, represents both the Tarbert family (on his father’s side) and the Strathaird family (through his mother). This is Norman, brother of Alexander of Torrisdale who had by this year removed himself and his family from Scotland. Norman seems to have been left in charge of the Strathaird estate, although most historical references to the estate indicate that Alexander was the actual proprietor.

The Clan Alasdair Bheag is represented by James D. Macalister, a farmer in Kilcattan (Bute), and Robert Macalister of Ascog (also Bute). There are also three whose origins are not clear: Reverend D. M’Allister at Stitchell Manse (4 miles from Kelso in Roxburghshire); Archibald Macalister of West Clyth Cottage, Caithness; and William & John Macalister, thread manufacturers in Paisley, who I’m guessing were probably brothers.

It appears that Glenbarr, Balinakill, and Inistrynich were among the questionnaires not returned. The places are listed, but no further information is given. This is unfortunate, because aside from Glenbarr (which was owned by Keith Brodie Macalister), I am not sure who was living in the other two locations. Angus of Balinakill had died in 1839; his only child, Charlotte, married Edward Seaton in 1846, and by 1861 was living in England.[1] The Inistrynich estate had passed on the death of Keith Macdonald Macalister (about 1855) to his daughters Ann Amelia Crichton and Margaret Frances North. However, Ann and Charles Crichton were living in Fort William and Margaret and Brownlow North in Oxford, so neither seems to have taken up residence on their father’s estate.[2] It’s possible that their step-mother and young half-sister were still living there, but by 1858, when the property was rented by the painter Philip Gilbert Hamerton, ownership had evidently passed to William Campbell Muir.

The Directory of 1857 can be found online here.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Sir William MacKinnon did not purchase the Balinakill estate until 1867.
[2] Journal of the House of Lords, vol. 88 (1856-7), pp. 49-50ff.

Campbell of Kilmory

On this day in 1589, Archibald Macalister, heir apparent of Tarbert, was named in a bond of caution signed by Sir James Campbell of Ardkinglas for the good behaviour of Donald Campbell of Kilmore (Kilmory) and Donald’s son Dougall. The Kilmory Campbells were “particularly aggressive and unruly, and gave much trouble to the family of Tarbert”, according to Castleton.[1] In fact, these men had been harrying, or possibly feuding with, several local lairds – in addition to Macalister, James Lamont of Inchirin and John MacSorley of Moneydrain are named.[2]

Bonds of caution could serve several purposes, but in cases like this, they were essentially restraining orders. Donald and Dougall Campbell were henceforce to leave Inchirin, Moneydrain, and the heir of Tarbert, as well as their tenants and servants, alone. Sir James, who was a kinsman of the Kilmory family, was required to put up £1,000 as surety for Donald’s compliance and £500 for Dougall’s. The money served a double purpose: Should the Kilmory Campbells continue to misbehave, it could be given as compensation to their victims, and the threat of its loss provided strong motivation for Sir James to keep his lawless relations in line. 

It appears that in this case, the bond of caution was effective; if further action was taken, I have found no mention of it. The next few glimpses we get of the Tarbert family have them in the role of aggressor, a role with which they seem to have been rather more familiar. There is however a mildly interesting post-script to the story: Prime Minister David Cameron is a direct descendant of the “aggressive and unruly” Donald Campbell of Kilmory.[3]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]Donald J. MacDonald of Castleton, Clan Donald, p. 167
[2]Alistair Campbell of Airds, A History of the Clan Campbell (vol. 2), p. 96
[3]Campbell is David Cameron’s 12-great-grandfather. (This information comes from http://fabpedigree.com/s032/f104208.htm, though the page’s owner gives no source. The descent can be traced through various editions of Burke’s Peerage – see http://www.thepeerage.com/p19850.htm#i198494.)

Archibald of Tarbert

On this day in 1737 was registered the testament of Archibald Macalister, 7th laird and 4th Captain of Tarbert. Archibald had lived a relatively long life in eventful times. Though probably born after the civil wars of the 1640s had ended, he nonetheless grew up in the wake of devastation they left on Kintyre. His early childhood was spent under the Commonealth, surrounded by people who were probably still angered, and perhaps still shocked, by the loss of their autonomy and the death of their king.[1] On top of that, the war had taken on a very local hue in Kintyre, becoming the latest, and possibly the most destructive, battle in the ongoing feud between the Macdonalds (with their allies) and the Campbells (with theirs). Each group in turn had committed acts that would now be considered atrocities, and yet they continued to live side by side; suspicion and hard feeling must have persisted.

The Tarbert family seems to have done well after the wars. Archibald’s father held local appointments under Charles II in the 1670s and maintained the official position of Captain of Tarbert under the Campbells of Argyll. However, 1685 – the year in which Archibald succeeded his father as captain – was a turning point. At the death of King Charles, the Earl of Argyll joined in a rebellion against the newly crowned – and Catholic – James VII; the rebellion failed, the earl was executed, and his family lost its possessions in Kintyre.[2] The Macdonalds and their allies, seeing an opportunity to avenge the wrongs done them in the wars of the previous generation, ran amok over what had been Campbell territories. Archibald did his part, raiding Campbell strongholds with his friends. Based on the number of things they stole, it’s possible that Archibald joined in the destruction more as an opportunist than out of any real grievance against the Argyll family. On the other hand, more than one observer has pointed out that loyalty to the Stuart kings and opposition to the Argyll family were essentially the same thing in seventeenth-century Kintyre. Certainly when King James was ousted four years later, Archibald became an early and enthusiastic Jacobite, apparently remaining so all his life.

In 1689 Archibald joined in the first of the Jacobite risings. On the 16th of May, along with Macalister of Loup and MacDonald of Largie, he took part in the last battle fought in Kintyre, the Battle of Loup Hill. The Jacobites were routed, however, and Archibald fled to Ireland. He took no part in the Jacobite victory at Killiecrankie in July, and the death in that battle of Viscount Dundee effectively ending the rising. William and Mary remained on the throne and Argyll’s son was restored to all his father’s titles and possessions, including the Tarbert properties. Archibald returned to submit to the new government in September. 

After this, he seems to have lived at peace with both his Campbell overlord and the new administration. He appears in a legal capacity as executor of the testament of John Macalister of Balinakill in 1693, and purchases the Balinakill property from another Campbell family five years later. In 1704, he is on record as a Commissioner of Supply for Argyllshire, suggesting that he was trusted by the authorities – at least with their money![3] In 1705, in one of its final acts before ceasing to exist, the Scottish parliament granted Archibald the right to establish a quarterly fair and weekly market in East Tarbert – events that continued for centuries. 

But the records hint that Archibald’s Jacobite sympathies remained. A list made in 1715 of the heritors of Argyll marked him as one of those believed to have signed an address of welcome to James VIII (‘the Old Pretender’), whose invasion was imminent. Of the 19 named heritors in the Argyll division, only six are so marked, two of them Macalisters. Not long after this, a list was sent to King George of those Argyll landlords he could rely upon for support; Archibald’s name is noticeably missing. It appears that despite his family’s longstanding connection to the Argyll family, Archibald’s loyalties lay entirely with the exiled Stuarts. Perhaps he even anticipated that another opportunity would arise to fight for his king. As it was, he died eight years too soon.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011

[1] Even Charles’s enemies in Scotland, including the Marquess of Argyll, had been appalled by his execution. The Covenanters, led by Argyll, had sought to limit the king’s powers, especially over the kirk, but they had never questioned his right to rule. When the English Parliament tried and executed Charles for treason, they killed not only their own king, but also the king of Scotland, a separate nation in which he had been neither tried nor convicted of any crime. It didn’t go over very well in Scotland.
[2] Tarbert castle and its lands reverted to the Crown, which left the Macalisters in place as Captains of Tarbert. However, the Tarbert family ceased to live in the castle at about this time. According to Dr Paul Hopkins, Tarbert, along with most of the area’s other castles, had been dismantled in the wake of Argyll’s 1685 rebellion; other sources say that it had simply fallen into disrepair, but whatever the reason, the Macalisters built themselves a new home nearby.
[3] Commissioners of Supply were local men appointed to collect various special assessments when these were felt necessary by the government. These assessments sometimes related to the costs of wars, other times to necessary infrastructure improvements or other temporary needs.

Death of a Librarian

On this day in 1925, Sir John Young Walker Macalister died in London, aged 69. Sir John was one of the Macalisters of Tarbert, though the Tarbert lands had been lost long before his time and he was raised in Aberdeen and Liverpool. His memory is often overshadowed by that of his illustrious brother, Sir Donald Macalister, who was principal of Glasgow University for twenty-two years and chancellor for four years after that, but it could be argued that his influence was felt much more widely. 

Forced by ill health to abandon a medical degree at Edinburgh University, Sir John instead pursued a career in librarianship. After working in Liverpool and Leeds, he settled in London, where he combined his two interests to become the resident librarian for the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. He then joined the struggling Library Association, which he completely transformed: From a handful of mainly London-based library clerks with expertise in a variety of subjects but no proper training as librarians, he built it into a nationwide organisation of professionals. He organised international conferences so that librarians from different countries could learn from each other. When, in 1877, the Library Association received its Royal Charter, it was almost entirely due to Sir John’s efforts.

Macalister also wrote extensively on librarianship. At a time when open access was controversial, he advocated public libraries that would make information accessible to all. His concern that there should be uniformity in the standards of librarians’ knowledge and service was part of what led to the establishment of the first library school, at University College, London. For years he edited the Library Journal, through which he was able to spread his ideas about librarianship as a profession. In fact, many of the principles valued by the library profession today were first articulated by Sir John Macalister. 

During the First World War, Sir John was founder and secretary of the War Office Surgical Advisory Committee; he organized an Emergency Surgical Aid Corps for the Admiralty, War Office and Police, and in 1919 he was knighted in recognition of these services. By all accounts he was well liked, counting many respected intellectuals among his friends, including the writer Mark Twain (whose personal archive includes their correspondence). One scholar observed that the “life and career of Sir John Young Walker MacAlister reads like a history of librarianship in Britain.”[1] But his influence is felt far beyond his own country. By the time of his death, he had transformed librarians’ views of their profession, which in turn transformed the profession – not only in the UK but in much of the Western world.

At his own request, Sir John Young Walker Macalister was laid to rest with his ancestors in Tarbert.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011

[1]Anne M. K. Collins,  review of The Incomparable Mac: A Biographical Study of Sir John Young Walker Macalister in the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 72(3) July 1984: 321.

Kintyre Macalisters support James VII

On this date in 1688, a number of what Dr Paul Hopkins calls the ‘non-Campbell’ clans of Kintyre signed an address of loyalty to King James (VII of Scotland, II of England and Ireland); included among them were Alexander MacAlister of Loup and Archibald of Tarbert.[1]

William of Orange had landed in England the day before, having been offered the throne by several prominent Englishmen by right of his wife, Mary, who was James VII’s daughter. This invitation had been written in June in response to the birth of a son to the king’s second wife – a male heir reviving fears of a Catholic succession. It seems unlikely that news of William’s arrival on the 5th would already have reached Kintyre by the 6th, although his invasion had been expected. But even if they’d known, most of the Western clans were no longer Catholic themselves – arguably, they had as much reason as the English Protestants to be concerned about a Catholic succession.

As is so often the case in Highland history, local politics appear to have been the deciding factor in Kintyre. Hopkins sees the early Jacobitism of the Kintyre lairds as arising primarily out of fear that if James were ousted, the Campbell family of Argyll would stage yet another of its semi-miraculous comebacks and have their forfeited estates and enormous power reinstated. This was not a groundless fear: Although the execution of the 9th Earl of Argyll had cost his family their lands, the earl’s son had been actively working to bring William of Orange to the throne, specifically in hopes of restoration.

It is not surprising to find Alexander of Loup signing this declaration of loyalty – he had already shown where he stood in 1685, when instead of answering Argyll’s invitation to join in the rebellion, he turned the letter over to the Privy Council. In May of 1689, he would be one of the first to join Viscount Dundee in the first Jacobite rising. He fought at the Battle of Loup Hill, at Killiecrankie, Dunkeld and Cromdale, and reputedly at the Boyne in 1690.[2]

Rather more surprising, perhaps, is the inclusion on this list of the head of the Tarbert family, which in later years opposed the Jacobites. But Archibald of Tarbert was in fact an avid Jacobite, and he took part with his chief and other clan leaders in the early states of Dundee’s rebellion. The fact that Tarbert signed this address of loyalty lends weight to Hopkins’s claim: It appears that while the Argyll family were still without power in Kintyre, the Tarbert Macalisters supported James VII; it is only after they were once again Argyll’s tenants that their loyalties changed.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011

[1] Paul Hopkins, ‘Loup Hill, 16th May 1689: The First ‘Battle’ of Dundee’s Jacobite War’, Kintyre Magazine (issue 29, spring 1991); Lamont of Knockdow, ed., Inventory of Lamont Papers, p. 332, item 1132.
This according to family tradition and just about every secondary source in existence. However, I must agree with Hopkins that it seems very unlikely. Alexander of Loup took the Oath of Allegiance (to William and Mary) in Edinburgh at the end of June, only weeks before he supposedly fought for James in Ireland.