Searching for Experiment Farm: Tricks and Hidden Histories

Seven years ago I wrote about my ancestor-in-law Donald Dewar who had been a gamekeeper in Kilmartin parish of Argyll, Scotland:  #52Ancestors #34 Donald Dewar, the man from Experiment  The post has received comments over the years, including a couple last year about the farm and draining the land.

Obviously 2020 didn’t give us the opportunity to head back to Argyll, but as I’ve had annual leave to use up we decided to book a last-minute break and finally got back there for the first time in 4 years this weekend.  I spent the day before we went adding the necessary facts to one of my essential yellow ‘The Family Record’ books from Aberdeen & North-East Scotland Family History Society (I think they’re maybe on a different edition now) which I could easily have handy in case I needed to check years and places.  I also took Allan Begg’s Deserted Settlements of Kilmartin Parish book which is a mine of otherwise-lost specialist local information.  It was a lucky choice of weekend as the weather for most of the time there was glorious, the best I’ve ever experienced there. 

After studying books and maps we decided to visit the flat area of land which appeared to be the prime suspect in terms of location and grid lines. So we took a minor detour on the road from Crinan to Kilmartin to get a look at what was currently there: a (later) farm, some very flat fields and a big sky.  It was a working farm so I didn’t get too close and intrusive.

Kilmartin Church with Donald Dewar’s gravestone in foreground

We were staying at the Kilmartin Hotel and wandered round Kilmartin Churchyard with its old and ancient stones, directly over the road, soon after we arrived.  However the sun was so bright on the Saturday evening that we needed to go back on the Sunday morning to make reading inscriptions easier.  I also took photos of a couple of other stones specifically mentioning Experiment to see if I can see the names on the census records next to the Dewars’ entries, perhaps. 

On a tourist note, we crammed in as much as we could into 48 hours, all of which I would recommend visiting if you’re in the area:

  • Kilmartin Glen Neolithic site, a valley of cairns, standing stones and stone circles,
  • Crinan where the Canal opens up to the west coast
  • Duntrune Castle Gardens and the ‘Port of Tears’[1] beach next to it, where local Ardifuar emigrants, towards the end of the 18th century, bound for the New World (because of landlord policies) would leave the parish to join the bigger ship at Crinan.
  • Tayvallich, where Donald McCalman, a different ancestor, taught in the 19th century and which is now village with a big yachting community,
  • Tayinish National Nature Reserve and
  • Keills Chapel  with its carved cross and gravestones and the jetties round the corner where the drovers landed the cattle from Jura.
Photo of Nether Largie Stones, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll
Nether Largie Stones, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll

So back to the family history…

When we got back home I remembered a web page I discovered randomly through an academic’s tweet: the News Literacy Project site: Eight tips to Google like a pro.  I followed the tips in this and was able to accurately narrow down the search results relating to Experiment.  I already knew that Donald Dewar had not only worked on Experiment Farm but had been a game keeper on the tiny Island Macaskin (Eilean MhicAsgain) in Loch Craignis. The sources turned up in the search results gave further information about the farm, about how lime kilns were found not only in Experiment but had been built on the island, and how Island Macaskin tenants had to ferry lime annually to Malcolm, their local Laird, at Duntrune [2]. Another result gave background info to the construction from c1796 of Experiment following the arrival of James Gow from Perthshire[3].

One aspect of the story of the local area I hadn’t anticipated were search engine results referring to how Neil Malcolm’s estate and works had been funded by plantations in Jamaica[4] I also discovered that an Experiment Farm Cottage exists in NSW, Australia.  It turned out to be unrelated; however a few clicks later I found reference to a Poltalach south-east of Adelaide, South Australia, in the Hundred of Malcolm.

This tied in with a reference I found in a Highland Clearances: The Ballad of Arichonan blog post[5] about clearances by Neil Malcolm 3rd in 1848 in the village of Arichonan (north of Tayvallich, just south of Crinan and Experiment).  This lead to riots, and later to trials at Inverary after months of imprisonment in Inverary Jail.  That blog refers to Malcolm’s offer of deporting people to Australia, which ties in with the South Australia reference above and the ‘Port of Tears’ deportation reference for Ardifuar next to Duntrune.  None of our Dewars of Kilmartin or McCalmans of Tayvallich are listed as being involved but I’m entirely sure that both families would have been following developments avidly.

So Arichonan is now on the list of places to visit next time we’re in Argyll.

Maybe I’m a bit creaky with my internet searching techniques, but perhaps I’m not the only one.  So I hope that the suggestions on the News Literacy Project site: Eight tips to Google like a pro leads to as many discoveries of ancestors’ context and stories for you as it has for me.

© Text and photos copyright Lynne Black 6 August 2021
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2021/08/06/searching-tricks-and-hidden-histories/


[1] Allan Begg’s Deserted Settlements of Kilmartin Parish

[2] Prehistoric Monumentality in the Kilmartin Glen, Mid Argyll by Duncan Houston Abernethy.  University of Glasgow Masters thesis.  September 2000, pp17-21

[3] Kilmartin Graveyard Dalriada Project, Desk Based Assessment, May 2009

[4] Country houses and the British Empire, 1700–1930. Stephanie Barczewski. Manchester University Press, 1 Feb 2017. P78.

[5] Highland Clearances: The Ballad of Arichonan.  ImagineAlba website, accessed 3 August 2021 https://www.imaginealba.com/single-post/the-anatomy-of-a-highland-clearance-the-ballad-of-arichonan

5 thoughts on “Searching for Experiment Farm: Tricks and Hidden Histories

  1. mallambert

    Hi Lynne,Hope all is going well for you and the family in UK Covidland.We had our second jab of the AZ vaccine yesterday. This East Coast part of OZ is in the middle of our worst numbers since the start of the Pandemic. Sydney is in second month of lockdown and the number of new infections is still increasing daily.Thanks so much for sending that fascinating article through to me about your recent Scottish wanderings and research.A wonderful read.I have Scottish ancestors on my Mum’s side. I know almost nothing about them back in the old country. There was a group of brothers who came to OZ in the mid 1800’s. Mum’s maiden name is Donnison.She must have known a bit of the family history back there. She told me they were originally part of the Clan Bruce.On her only trip to the UK quite late in life she bought me back a Bruce clan tie, which I still have.All the Best ….. Mal from OZ.Sent from my Galaxy

    Reply
  2. Patricia von Holstein-Rathlou

    Hi Lynne, Thanks for the great information about Kilmartin Glen. I have visited the cemetery a couple of times and I’m very curious about the place called Experiment. Where was it? What went on there? Who owned it? I would really appreciate it if you could send me links, titles of books, and people involved with that location. I have read a bit about the laird Neil Malcolm of Poltalach. Thanks for your help.
    Cheers
    Patricia von Holstein-Rathlou
    Resident of Arkell, Ontario, Canada

    Reply
    1. starryblackness Post author

      Thanks! I’m actually soon to post a profile of a woman who lived on the nearby Poltalloch estate with more info. If you have access to the British Newspaper Archive there are loads of news stories. Experiment was literally a place to try new farming ideas.

      Reply
  3. Patricia von Holstein-Rathlou

    Hi Lynne Thanks for your quick response. I will try to look at Briish Newspaper Archive. Have never used it yet. I am looking forward to your profile of a female that lived near Poltalloch.
    Cheers
    Patricia

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s