Garthbeg Coat Of Arms

The Lost Families of Stratherrick, Strathnairn, and Dunmaglass, Inverness-shire, Scotland





  Garthbeg Farm History




By Mary Shadbolt

 Please contact Mary is you have any information regarding this family, or myself with any other history of Garthbeg!


Duncan McDONELL 87 Farmer / shepherd, and Ann GILLIES 60, found in the 1841 Census in Blascound Fort Augustus,  are probably my 3-great grand-parents, born in the mid/late 1700s, but although their names turn up in their children’s death and shipping records I have no specific BDM information for them. I’m confident that Duncan was a gaelic-speaking Catholic of Clan McDONELL of Glengarry.



 “After some months of expectation and anxiety, Dr. Boyter, the Government emigration agent for Australia, arrived at Fort William on x 8th current. The news of his arrival, like the fiery cross of old, soon spread through every glen of the district, and at an early hour on Monday, thousands of enterprising Gaels might be seen ranked around the Caledonian Hotel, anxious to quit the land of their forefathers and to go and possess the unbounded pastures of Australia. . . . While we regret that so many active men should feel it necessary to leave their own country, the Highlands will be considerably relieved of its over-plus population.” Inverness Courier, 30 May 1838[1] 

Three of Duncan and Ann’s adult children emigrated in a wave of assisted migration of Glengarry McDONELLs to NSW. They were Alexander and his wife Jessie in 1838 on the St GEORGE, followed by Roderick, a widower with 3 children John 16; Charles 14; Anne 12, and his sister May or Mary in 1839 on the ASIA.[2] 

 Alexander (1806?-76) and Jessie McDONELL (1815?-89) amassed a considerable fortune This was made from extensive grazing and pastoral pursuits at Yielema and Moira stations, just west of the present town of Strathmerton in Victoria, in association with other members of Alexander's family. They had no children and returned to Invernesshire where they bought a farm at Garthbeg. [3]  Jessie's 1889 will describes Alexander as “sometime tacksman of Garthbeg”.  

Chance and serendipity often combine in lucky coincidence in family history research, and did so when I first researched Garthbeg in 2006, then again in 2007. 


I wanted to find Garthbeg on my 2006 visit to Fort Augustus as I had an 1881 census record that described another Alexander McDONELL (2) (our great-grandmother Catherine’s brother, and Jessie and Alexander’s nephew) living at Garthbeg No 1 (12 rooms with windows) with his young family and 2 teenage nieces, “farmer of 13,000 acres of which 140 were arable, and employing 7 men and 1 girl and boy”, in 3 other houses on the farm. I knew Alexander’s father Donald McDONELL was a small landowner in Fort Augustus, so assumed because Alexander was 27 he must be farm manager of an estate. 

When I drove from Inverness to Fort Augustus, by mistake I took the back country south Loch Ness road, rather than the usual tourist route on the other side of the loch. As I drove along I realized that, but was drawn in by the scenery. “South Loch Ness follows the entire length of the wild and rugged south eastern shoreline of Loch Ness all the way to Fort Augustus in the south…. The area has been referred to as the Scottish "Lake District" so numerous are the Lochs in this part of the Highlands. An undiscovered, unspoilt land of craggy hills, lochs, tumbling waters and heather moors will delight and inspire all who value true wilderness, yet so close the Highland capital city of Inverness”.[4] see 

Later I was told Garthbeg was along the road I’d driven on earlier, so I went back looking, stopped at Whitebridge Hotel to ask directions, and struck luck, being introduced to the son of a former owner. He told me where to turn off, but I was somewhat bemused to turn into what seemed to be a private road to Corriegarth Estate,  a very large property of about 10,000 acres with a lodge, which to my antipodean eyes looked like a stately home. I didn’t think that could be where Alexander lived, so kept driving and stopped at a substantial old farmhouse, when a farm worker pulled up and assured me I wasn’t trespassing because a newly passed law gave me access! I showed him my 1881 census record, and he thought the old part of the farmhouse had probably been the Manager’s house, and yes, I could take photos. see photos.  

The assumptions about the size of the house in 1881 were wrong. In 2007 I found the 1871 Census established that Alexander (62) and Jessie (56) also lived at Garthbeg Farmhouse 1 (16 rooms with windows) with 5 servants, and Alexander is also described as Farmer of 13,000 acres of which 110 are arable. He employed another 7 workers in 3 other houses on the farm. The two Alexanders – uncle and nephew – appear to be living in the same farmhouse in consecutive censuses.



The lease for Garthbeg farm was advertised by the Lovat Estate in August 1861, and notice that the lease had been taken in October 1861.[5] Craig MacTAVISH explained the lease / tacksman / feu system in an email on 30 March 2009: 

Regarding the use of "tacksman" ..this was a position of some considerable power/authority ...a tacksman was far more than a leaseholder of land...the original owner of the lands this case Lovat ...would allow his Garthbeg lands to be sold BUT the unusual power of Scottish chiefs meant the land could be forfeited or taken back...So in effect Lovat sold Garthbeg to MacTAVISH  or McDONELL , yet they also had to pay  a lease/rental. This was Lovat’s way of retaining chiefly powers over anyone living near him. When Lovat sold Garthbeg he had documents signed called "feu" agreements . These were demands that the new Garthbeg owner would pay annual levies such as "gifts" of stock and crops, supply men and labour for Lovat’s own farms if needed and provide military support for Lovat’s army in need for defense or attack. Under these demands  Lovat would consider allowing a respected and man of proven trustworthiness to lease a larger area of several farms. Lovat would title this man a "tacksman" His position was as a "sub" to Lovat. A tacksman had the power to sublet the farms now attached to his lease. BUT he also signed a guarantee that he would himself pay the rents due if the sub tenant failed. Originally tacksman simply gathered the rents and passed them to Lovat. In recent years tacksman has being compared to a modern" tax collector" This, although a pretty accurate comparison , should be entirely separated, as the word "tacksman" was used as a title in Scotland for a man able to collect rents for the chiefly landowner  , and the landholdings were known as "tacks" thus the title of "tacksman."  Prior to this the lands were known as a "wadset." Later on tacksman were allowed to keep the sub rents as they in reality simply paid the entire rents for all farms attached to their Lovat now got all the rents from 1 person and his job was simplified .So a tacksman was not a position given lightly.

Scots land tenure under the "feudal" system was a very strange set of laws. These laws have only been amended in recent years, so some feu contracts have only been released in the last 5 years. We still had families signing pledges of loyalty up till a few years back. Originally feu contracts were simply a way for a chief to sell his lands yet still have the power to take them back via the feu contract. So a chief could never lose his power of owning land. Within the feu was a lease term which eventually became renewable every 19 years. Originally it was for the lifetime of the owner then at his death a new contract of feu was signed by his heir to reinforce the larger chief’s power and control .

At this point new contracts would be signed. It’s important to note that the lease was NEVER up for grabs every 19 years or available to anyone else. It just meant the demands were contracted again to emphasize the importance. We know leases never became 'open market" and this proven by Garthbeg and Migivoie being occupied by families of father to son for nearly 500 years.


The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) hold Ordnance Survey Name Books which give a brief description of every name included on the first edition maps for the area published in 1871-5.

The Name Book entry for Garthbeg states "A large two storey farm house with              suitable offices attached, situated at the southern extremity of Loch Garth. The property of Lord Lovat, Beaufort Castle." Sometimes, Name Book entries name the tenants but not here. Authorities for the spelling of the name are Tho. Peters Esq., factor; Mr. Tho. Fraser and Mr. Wm J McLean.

Corriegarth Lodge is described as "A large and newly erected shooting lodge, three storeys high, slated and in good repair. The property of Lord Lovat. Authorities for the spelling are Mr. Peters Esq., factor; Mr. Ch Stewart, Schoolmaster; Mr. Jas. Muir, carpenter, Newton and Mr. Wm J McLean.


The Highland Council Historic Environment Record (HER) website includes Garthbeg as a listed building:

circa 1800, symmetrical 2-storey, and attic, 3 bay house. Later long single- storey rubble wing extends across NE gable to rear, forming L-plan rear. [7] (see photo GARTHBEG Listed building)

 I’m surprised the single storey is described as “later” – I expected that to be the original cottage, with the 2 storey wing a later addition, as the farm manager thought. 

I now think Alexander and Jessie lived in this house at Garthbeg, and his nephew Alexander (2) lived with them and helped with, maybe managed, the farm. Alexander’s 1876 will leaves a major bequest of 2500 pounds to his nephew Alexander (2) “living with him at Garthbeg”, and Jessie’s 1889 will names this Alexander, now of Dunballoch Beauly, as trustee. After Alexander died in 1876, Jessie must have moved to Inverness where she died in 1889, and Alexander (2) stayed on the leased property until the lease expired in 1882 when it was readvertised. I asked the farm manager why Alexander (2) would have moved, and he said “look around you - it’s hard, windswept, hilly country.”  

Alexander (2) reappears in the 1891 and 1901 Censuses in Dunballoch Beauly, Kirkhill with a family which grows to 10 children.  He died in 1915 aged 62. 



A local historical account says an Alexander McDONELL built the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception at Whitebridge in 1859.[8]The Catholic Directory for Scotland, 1860, p.108 states that:

'He [God] stirred up a munificent benefactor in the person of Alex. MacDonald, Esq., of St Ann's Mount, Lasswade, who undertook to erect at his own cost, the Chapel and Chapel House.' [9] 

Were the two the same person? I hadn’t found Alexander and Jessie in the 1861 census in Invernesshire, although I thought they had returned to Scotland by then. Searching again, I found Alex. McDONALD 53 “retired squatter” in Lasswade near Edinburgh in 1861, with a wife Je – the rest indecipherable, 46, and 2 servants. McDONALD is often used for McDONELL at that time. The right occupation, ages, wife’s initial, no children, income level - I think it’s him.  

The church is also listed in HER[10].   A further RCAHMS email says:

Checking the first edition map again, the site is named as 'Roman Catholic Chapel'. The 'Authorities for the modes of spelling' are given as Rev. Mr. Bisset, Mr. P. McDonnell and Mr. Ch. Stewart. The description states: "This name applies to a small chapel, built in 1858 and seated to accommodate 130. The Priest's house being attached thereto. It is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception." [11] 

Scottish Catholic Archives say  there are also letters from an Alexander MacDonell from 1859 in the collection PL/3/654 (Preshome Letters); and in his 1876 will he left 100 pounds to this church, and 100 pounds to the monastery being established at Fort Augustus (now closed). It makes sense to me that that he built the chapel where he and his wife came from originally, then settled nearby when a lease became available. Or maybe he had an eye for the main chance, and built what is described as a beautiful chapel to secure the lease? See record Immaculate Conception Church, Stratherrick[12] 

I can only prove conclusively that “our” Alexander built this church by visiting Scottish Catholic Archives in Edinburgh, and going through the records.



I suspect Jessie and Alexander are the wealthy aunt and uncle who, according to Jackson family history, sponsored our great-grand mother Catherine’s journey out to Victoria in the mid 1850s, but so far have not found shipping records to prove this. The family history also says Grannie (Catherine) seemed to lose touch with her family in Inverness through not writing (and she could

write well).[13] I hope to re-establish contact. 


Our great grandmother, Catherine McDONELL married James JACKSON, a catholic Irishman from Co Antrim in Melbourne in 1857, and they emigrated to Dunedin NZ in 1863 with her two brothers Lachlan and Roderick. Their numerous descendants flourish in NZ. During my family history search a newly discovered second cousin gave me an invaluable Jackson Family History, a CHALLIS grand-daughter’s written account of known family history, passed down through the generations. I have proved / disproved / elaborated on various aspects of the Scottish origins through researching BDM, census and testament records on Scotland’s People, the official Scottish General Registry website.  

I also visited Scotland in July 2006, went to the GRO in Edinburgh, met various people in Invernesshire who pointed me in the right directions, and visited cemeteries, farms and estates. I finally met 3rd cousins who had a photo of their great-grand mother who looked just like her niece - our Nanny - the original inspiration of my search! I’ve also read a great deal of Scots and Highland history, searched emigration and shipping records, made email contact with other McDONELL researchers, and have become another of the world-wide clan of addicted family historians! Lately I made contact with MacTavish researchers on the Lost Families of Stratherrick website, and also greatly extended my web searches through the proliferation of excellent Scottish historical websites available, all of which I’ve referenced in this article. 

I would be interested in any comment or information which adds to, corrects, questions, or disproves any of my research to date. 


Wellington NZ

MAY 2009


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[1] Large Scale Emigration to Australia after 1832


[2] Peter Madden Inverness emigrant to NSW spreadsheet, 2007


[3] Reg McDONELL email 2007


[5] Inverness Advertiser

[6] RCAHMS email Eleanor Rideout 10 April 2009


[8] Third Statistical Account of Scotland The Parish of Boleskine and Abertarf: Rev.Angus Macaskill 1953 – 1964

[9] email Caroline Cradock  Scottish Catholic Archives 14 April 2009


[11] RCAHMS email Eleanor Rideout 18 April 2009


[13] JACKSON Family History undated