#52Ancestors #34 Donald Dewar, the man from Experiment

Kilmartin gravestone

Kilmartin gravestone (no relation!)

Donald was born circa 1811 in Experiment Farm, Kilmartin parish, in Argyll.  His parents were Donald Dewar and Margaret Dewar. The farm is believed to be named after some experimental farming methods they carried out there. [Allan Begg]

Janet, his future wife, was a farmer’s daughter who grew up in close-by Glassary parish.  Her parents were Peter McCallum and Janet Campbell and she was born circa 1815.

Donald and Janet married on 21 January 1837 in Kilmartin. They had their first child Margaret baptised in December 1837 then  went on to have 10 more, working hard to do the best for them in some pretty unforgiving places.

In 1841 Donald was working as a labourer like his father before him, but by 1851 he was working as a gamekeeper at Strath Mill, Glassary parish in Argyll.

By 1851 they’d had 7 children, and in the 1851 census they had five of them living with them: Peter, Duncan, Janet, Jane and Christina.  No sign of Margaret and third child Jane so I fear I’m still to discover their deaths recorded in the parish records.  Baby Christina was only a year old. Elizabeth arrived c1853, but by May 1855 when Joan arrived they had moved on.

By c1854, the family were working in a different area of Kilmichael Glassary entirely: Island Mackaskin –  in Gaelic Eilean MhicAsgain – in Loch Craignish.  I’ve looked at the island, found in the Inner Hebrides (west coast of Scotland) on Google Earth and it must have been a really isolated place in which to live and work.  In the present day it is no longer inhabited.

Baby Donald followed in November 1857 also on the island, although two days after his birth his proud dad registered his birth on the mainland.  I suspect Barbra was also born on the island; she was certainly living on it in April 1861.  By that April only Christina, Elizabeth, Joan, Donald and Barbara were still on the island with their parents.

It must have been some place to grow up!  I’ve read suggestions that some families sent their children to board on the mainland for them to go to school, while other hardy souls would row across daily. But Donald and Janet’s children were too young for school, so she’d have had them round her feet in the house or trailing after their father as he looked after the boss’ game.  Sheep?  Cows?  Deer, perhaps?

By 1871 they were back on the mainland.  They lived in a village called Dunamuck; by 1881 they were living in the gamekeeper’s cottage there – a house which had six rooms with windows which seems a huge number for that time!

52 ancestors logoDonald died in April 1889 of old age.  He was 78 and had been living at Craigloan, North Knapdale.

Two years later Janet died of heart disease, from which she had been suffering from around-about the time of Donald’s death.  She was then living at Timister Cottage, Sandbank, in Cowal.  She was 76 years old.

I would like to find out about who owned the land, his employer.  And I sort of want to visit Island Macaskin but sort of don’t – definitely one only for a fine day – as I’m a townie and would find it grim to think of all those years the family had to live out there, especially for Janet, in labour out there in November.

The photo of the gravestone is one of many stunning markers displayed in the churchyard at Kilmartin Church.  An amazing part of Scotland: Dalriada, land of the ancients.

© Text copyright Lynne Black 23 August 2014
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/donald-dewar/

15 thoughts on “#52Ancestors #34 Donald Dewar, the man from Experiment

  1. Pingback: #52Ancestors #32 Sandy McVicar, fishing off the shores of Loch Fyne | starryblackness

    1. starryblackness Post author

      So beautiful! There is a hillfort there called Dunadd which is supposed to be where the kings of Dalriada were crowned, centuries ago. The view from the top is lovely and although I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body it’s one of the most calming and inspiring places I’ve ever been. I suspect Donald may have lived very near it as gamekeeper but but haven’t proved that yet! http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/kilmartin/dunadd/index.html

  2. Annie

    Researching my partners family tree. He is a Dewar and his line is from Donald’s brother John. (Born circa 1814).

    I think young Margaret lived on with her Grannie Margaret as she’s on the census 1841 with her gran and John (our line). He married Jane Brodie. He was head gamekeeper at Brodick Castle Arran for The Duke Of Hamilton.

    I’m curious about Donald senior ( was he from Perth?). Also, Margaret snr What was her maiden name?

    Kind regards

    1. starryblackness Post author

      Hi Annie, thanks for getting in touch. I’ve just done a search on Ancestry and although I can’t see the original (and I’ve run out of Scotland’s People Credits – dang!) I’m sure it’s the right one as she was living at Experement Farm. Do you have a scan of the census entry – does it say Margaret is widowed?

      I haven’t found any brothers or sisters for gamekeeper Donald and don’t have the names of his grandparents – Donald Snr and Margaret are as far back as I’ve got so far. How interesting that both Donald and John were both gamekeepers! I visited Brodick Castle last year. Where do you live – have you been there?


  3. Annie

    Hi Lynne,

    Sorry it’s a late reply but I hadn’t realised you’d replied!

    I have a screen shot of the census with Margaret her son John and granddaughter Margaret. Yes and it looks like Margaret snr is widowed- no mention of her husband!

    I have been to Brodick Castle many years ago ( before connection). John Dewar was the head game keeper and his son ( also John) was a gamekeeper there as well. So, we will have to visit the castle with our new found knowledge!

    We live in Edinburgh.


  4. Robert MacKay

    Hi to you both ,
    I have have stumbled upon you messages by poor accident.
    I happen to be a great great grandson of the very late Donald Dewar the gamekeeper?
    Most of you say is correct!
    Margaret his first child did go to live with her granny Margaret snr at Experiment Farm Kilmartin ! She grew up and married an Archibald Campbell who both worked at Polltalock House ! Archibald was a stable boy then a coachman for the estate , and Margaret was a housemaid, when thy married they lived at Roundfield Cottage and had their family , to a mere stone throw from the big house it’s self .
    You also you mentioned Donald and Janet’s daughter Jane born 1842 ,I’m afraid she died at the age of five or six sadly !!
    But Janet must have fell pregnant and had another baby daughter in 1848 .!!
    They named her Jane also , maybe to stem the grief of their first daughter Jane they lost , hard times in those days with infants dying so young !! So she went on to marry Niven McVirar from Kames Lochgair a fisherman ?? She was about 10 or 11 yrs his younger??
    Donald’s brother John did marry Jane Brodie from Arran and moved to Coylton Ayrshire ,adddress Laiglands . occupation – gamekeeper.. They had five or so family Duncan ,James John , Louisa , and Robert ..
    Glad to help Robert

  5. pippaanderson

    Hello. My ggg uncle James Gow was born at Experiment Farm in 1804, son of the great James Gow (& Catharine Roylance), who famously drained the moss Moine Mohr at Crinan. Both James Gow senior & junior are buried in Kilmartin, the younger has the tallest obelisk in the churchyard, carved by the great John Mossman sculptor.

    Our ancestors must’ve known one another. And maybe they worked together on the farm? I’d be happy to share any information if you’re interested.

      1. pippaanderson

        Hi Lynne, thanks for replying.

        James Gow’s work draining the Moine Mohr is well documented, for its time. I’ve several publications mentioning his work there to enable cattle to graze the then boggy, mass of soggy moss. Happy to share extracts if you’re interested?

  6. Sheila Hobeck

    Hello! Margaret Dewar, wife of Donald Dewar had a sister. She is my 4x great-grandmother. Mary Dewar was born at Nether Largie in 1787 to John Dewar (Deor) and Catharine Campbell. Happy to share what records I have. Hoping to connect!

  7. Pingback: Searching for Experiment Farm: Tricks and Hidden Histories | starryblackness

  8. Pingback: Margaret Dewar, Archibald Campbell, Argyll Coachman and Family | starryblackness

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