Margaret Dewar and Archibald Campbell, Coachman: Life in the records of the local Laird

I started the story of Margaret Dewar and Archibald Campbell, Coachman to John Malcolm of Poltalloch in my previous post. As the servant of the local Laird I was able to find out how his life was affected by the life and times of the Malcolms.

In 1893 Laird John Malcolm had died.  He left many beneficiaries on his estate and he specified that Archibald, as his coachman, should receive £30, about £2,500 in current money [the National Archives Currency Converter is excellent for checking this].  He also bequeathed employees money depending on the length of their service.  He stipulated in his will that his collection of art works be kept together in the family.  However after his death it was reported that “It is announced that the famous Art Collection which belonged to the late Mr Malcolm of Poltalloch is to be made available to the British public.  The collection, now on loan in the British Museum, and though it has been left unconditionally to the present Laird of Poltalloch, he has decided to allow it to remain under certain conditions in its temporary location and to permit students to have free access thereto.”[1]

John Malcolm was succeeded by John Wingfield Malcolm[2].  Three years later he was elevated to the peerage as 1st Baron Malcolm of Poltalloch and to celebrate Lord and Lady Malcolm held a big Gala on 14 July 1896[3] to mark their first visit to Poltalloch since his elevation.  Upon arriving in his coach – an hour’s drive from Ardrishaig – presumably with Archibald driving – he arrived at Poltalloch where 1,500 people including local dignitaries, staff and “about 70 representatives  of H Company of the 56th VBA and S Highlanders, of which regiment Lord Malcolm is colonel commanding, were also drawn up in line as a guard of honour.”  There were speeches and addresses.  “During the entire ceremony and the afternoon the weather was good, and the large crowd enjoyed themselves in the neighbourhood for several hours before leaving for home.”

A few months later Lord John W Malcolm was widowed; the first Lady [Alice] Malcolm was cremated in October 1896 in Glasgow[4].  A newspaper report of 11 December 1897 reported he had remarried, to widow Marie Lister, in New York[5]

On 6th March 1902 Lord John W Malcolm died and was succeeded by his brother Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm.  The latter was known as Laird but the Barony had become extinct[6]. His will was read[7]; his estate was worth £360,172, 6s & 10d, which in today’s money is £28,155,464.33.

Less well reported is the family’s link to slavery; in the 18th and 19th centuries “According to research by the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Malcolm family greatly increased their wealth due to their activities in slave trading and their ownership of plantations in Jamaica, redeploying their slave-derived wealth in agrarian improvement and infrastructure in Britain.[8] The records show that Neill Malcolm the 12th, owned more than 2000 enslaved people on 11 separate plantations[9]  The 12th Laird opposed Abolition and claimed thousands (millions of pounds in modern money,[10] in compensation for the loss of his slaves in 1834 from the Slave Compensation Commission.”[11] Neill Malcolm or 13th of Poltalloch was also involved with clearances on their estates.  By coincidence on holiday we visited Castle Trune (a nearby Argyll property and now home of the Malcolms) across the water from Crinan and heard that a small sea loch we walked round was known as the ‘Port of Tears’ as ships would come in for local people to embark, join a larger vessel, and leave the area for ever.[12]

Port of Tears bay, Duntrune Estate

A newspaper report in 1902 it mentions that “In 1857 he [Lord John Wingfield Malcolm] visited Australia, North and South America, and the West Indies”.[13]

On the morning of 22nd November 1904 Poltalloch House caught fire with the flames spreading rapidly “Shortly after seven o’clock… one of the domestic servants in Poltalloch House …. Noticed sparks flying about outside the building, and on going out to see where they came from, discovered smoke issuing from under the eaves at the west front corner of the main and newer portion of the building.  The alarm was immediately given, and a large number of the estate and house servants were speedily on the spot, endeavouring to get at the seat of the fire, which is believed to have originated in a flue from a fireplace in the corridor on the ground floor.  The flames first broke out in a dressing room at the corner of the main building, and notwithstanding all efforts by fire extinguishing apparatus and an abundant supply of water, brought into service, it spread very rapidly”[14]

“… an hour after the outbreak was discovered, the whole roof was involved and subsequently fell in, and the upper flat was completely gutted while the lower was greatly damaged by water and otherwise.  The fire was got under about noon.  It is meantime impossible to state the amount of loss, but it is understood that the property was insured.”[15] , “While the fire was in progress a number of willing workers removed a large quantity of the more valuable furniture etc, special attention being given to the contents of the library; but notwithstanding their exertions, the loss is very great, including a collection of rare and extinct birds, said to be among the most valuable in the country”[16].

I found out these facts about the Malcolms mainly by searching Poltalloch/Portalloch in the BNA Newspaper archives using my FindMyPast subscription, it gave me the sort of rare family information I’ve only been able to find through links with wealthy, military or worthy employers.

Margaret died on 23 February 1910 of a stroke.  She had still been living in Roundfield Cottage on the Poltalloch estate.  Archibald died ten years later, in June 1920, also at Roundfield Cottage, his home for 50 years.

Original text copyright Lynne Black, first published on the Starryblackness blog on 20 March 2022

[1] Dundee Evening Telegraph 17 July 1893, P2, col4

[2] WikiTree Clan MacCallum History

[3] Glasgow Herald 15 July 1896 P3

[4] Coventry Evening Telegraph 17 October 1896

[5] Manchester Evening News 11 December 1897

[6] Wikipedia ohn Malcolm, 1st Baron Malcolm of Poltalloch,_1st_Baron_Malcolm_of_Poltalloch

[7] Highland News 26 April 1902, P3 Col 1

[8]  “Neill Malcolm 11th of Poltalloch”. Legacies of British Slave-Ownership. UCL.

[9] “Entry for 12th Poltalloch”Legacies of British Slave-Ownership. UCL.

[10]  “Malcolm family entries”. Legacies of British Slave-Ownership. UCL.

[11] Wikipedia: Clan Malcolm

[12] Deserted Settlements of Kilmartin Parish by Allan Begg, p14

[13] Henley Advertiser, 15 March 1902, P2, Col 2 from BNA collection of FindMyPast

[14] Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette 23 November 1904, P2, Col 5

[15] Edinburgh Evening News 23 November 1904, P2, Col 7

[16] Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette 23 November 1904, P2, Col5

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