Taken from
Issue Number 62 Autumn 2007


Incoming and Outgoing: Bruces in Kintyre
by Jo Currie

In the autumn 2006 issue of The Kintyre Magazine, Mr. Ron Bruce asked for information about the Bruce family in 'the Campbeltown area'. As I have a card file, compiled over 20 years ago, of Kintyre people related to my own ancestors, the name that sprang to mind immediately when I read this appeal was Rose McCorkindale, a granddaughter (b. 1806) of my great great great grandfather Adam McCorkindale, who was born in the parish of Killean before 1760, and married Rose McNeill from the parish of Southend in 1783.

In the Old Parish Register (OPR) Rose was 'Rossie' McNeill. She reappeared in the 1841 Census aged 80, in the household of her son-in-law Archibald McPhail and daughter Janet. This age suggests she was born around or before 1760, as the 1841 Census rounded ages to the nearest factor of five. She must have died between 1841 and 1851, before Civil Registration, which was introduced in 1855.

When I was 11, and reading romantic stories by L M Montgomery, I noticed that Canadian heroines often had 'Scotch' great aunts living in Prince Edward Island, Presbyterian ladies who were conscious of their Scottish heritage. But I, too, living in Scotland, had many great aunts who were my grandmother's sisters, brought up in Kintyre and on the Isle of ColI, where my grandmother's father, Duncan McCorkindale, became the factotum of John Lorne Stewart, the Kintyre landowner who bought Coll.

My grandmother, Janet McCorkindale, born in Kintyre in 1865, talked of her ancestral home as a land flowing with milk and honey. In fact, around the year of her birth, the peninsula could barely sustain its population of around 17,000, mostly employed in agriculture and fishing. There was a family story that her father, Duncan, son of Donald McCorkindale and Janet McGill in Beachmenach, being a good scholar, wanted to go to university, and did indeed set off for Glasgow with his sack of oatmeal, in the 1850s. But his mother, Janet McGill, died, and the father soon remarried. His new wife, Mysie McMillan, from Gigha, who has the reputation in my family of being nothing less than a wicked stepmother, refused to allow any money from their tight budget to finance Duncan's studies, and although he matriculated in the Free Church College in Edinburgh, he was unable to complete his divinity course. Instead, he married Catherine Mathieson, who lived at Margmonagach, a daughter of the thrice-married Dugald McMath and his last wife, Betsy Taylor.

Duncan and Catherine lived in Campbeltown, where he was in turn a jail warder, a teacher, and a colporteur, before impressing John Lorne Stewart with his numeracy and literacy, as well as his rather high-minded religious principles, and going off to the island of CoIl, c. 1874, to look after nearly everything - the grocer's shop, the post office, the church and the tenants' rents.

But in 1867, Duncan's oldest brothers, Archibald, William and Malcolm, with their wives and children, had taken a much longer sea voyage, along with many other Kintyre people. Archy was 46, William 44 and Malcolm 36 when they went to New Zealand under the auspices of the Free Church of Scotland, and settled near Havelock.

In 1947, my grandmother still spoke of her uncles Archy, William and Malcolm as if they had left only yesterday, but they were long dead. It had been 80 years since they left Scotland, but their letters to her father telling of their early trials and tribulations in New Zealand, poorly spelt and confused as these were, had been preserved in the family, keeping the drama alive. I stayed with my grandmother when she was in her seventies, and the stories she related were all about Kintyre (the Garden of Eden), the New Zealand family, and some other people who had settled in NZ. One of those others was 'Granny Bruce', nee Rose McCorkindale, my grandmother's second cousin, who, widowed at the age of 52, and seeing all her children about to depart from Killegruar, decided to go with the young folk. She arrived in New Zealand aged 60 and died there in 1897, with the typical longevity of the McCorkindales, at the age of 91.

So, you see, the shipload of pious Free Church people from Kintyre were kith and kin. My grandmother had made jokes about the first McCorkindale being Adam, but most of those pioneers were his descendants; with Adams and Roses conspicuous among them. Adam's granddaughter, Rose McCorkindale, was born in 1806, the daughter of Malcolm McCorkindale (or McCorquodale) 1787-1865, and Kate McGeachy, 1780-c.1845. She grew up at Achadaduie. In 1828 she married Hector Bruce in Amod, Barr Glen, son of Neil Bruce and Anne Kennedy, who married in Kintyre in 1803. The Bruces seem to have come from Ayrshire in one of the Plantations of Ayrshire farmers who were brought in to teach Gaelic-speaking inhabitants of Kintyre how farming should be done. Kennedy can also be an Ayrshire name, but I do not know when the Bruces and Kennedys arrived.

In the 1841 Census, Hector Bruce was 35, Rose was 35, and their children were Mary (12), Anne (10), Niell (8), Malcolm (6), George (3), and Catherine (1). Ten years later they have a daughter Rose, aged 9, and daughters Janet (7), Catherine (5) and Annabella (1). The older children worked on the farm of Killegruar.

In 1858, Hector Bruce died of apoplexy at the age of 54. Three years later, the 1861 Census of Killegruar shows Rose Bruce, aged 55, with her son George (23), daughters Rose (18), Janet (17), Catherine (14) and Annabella (9), and a young grandson, Hector, aged 4. Also at Killegruar in 1861, Neil Bruce, the oldest son, has his own wife and family. He had married an Ayrshire girl, Martha Sheddan, born in Kilwinning, so not of the Plantation, but demonstrating that links with Ayrshire were kept alive, although she had lived on the farm called Charlotteton, in the district of Barr. Martha and Neil Bruce have three young children: May (2), Rose (1) and Hector (2 months).

The next settlement to Killegruar farm in the 1861 Census is Margmonagach. This (as I remember it from a visit in 1979) is a stretch of joined-up cottages, where there were 13 separate households in 1861. The ruins are still visible if you climb up from Muasdale. I think it would be constructed for farm workers around the early 1800s. In 1861, three of the families are Stalkers, two are McCorkindales, and the rest are McLartys, McCulkins (later Wilkinsons) then my own Taylor ancestors, getting on in years: 81-year-old John McIntaylour and his wife, 70-year-old Catherine McKinlay. There is a couple called Aird, and finally my ancestors from Largiebaan, the Mathiesons or McMaths.

The ancestral home was not exactly the land of milk and honey my grandmother had described so lyrically. The 1861 Census tells how many rooms with windows each cottage had. Two of the Stalker families had three windows, as had my ancestor Dugald McMath. Donald Stalker had 11 people in his household; our Dugald had a family of 9. Meanwhile, next door to Margmonagach, in Killegruar, the Bruce family, with Rose as its head, have a farmhouse with only two windowed rooms for eight occupants.

Angus Martin, in his Kintyre: The Hidden Past, mentions Ayrshire fishermen who settled in Tarbert in the nineteenth century, and includes the name of Bruce among families there who were noted as Gaelic-speaking in the 1881 Census - meaning that they had learned Gaelic in the two or three generations after their arrival in Argyll. It is now possible, with new computer search methods at Register House in Edinburgh, to see how many Bruces were in Argyll in the 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, and 1901 Censuses. In 1861 there were 98, predominantly in Tarbert and Lochgilphead. The other Kintyre Bruces are to be found in Killean and Kilchenzie, Saddell and Campbeltown parishes, the Campbeltown contingent being one family - wife and children of William Bruce, aged 35, a retired army captain in Kildalloig. William's wife, Charlotte O'Grady, is Irish-born, as are three of her four children. Only the new baby girl, one day old and still unnamed, has been born in Campbeltown. By the next Census, this family has left.

In 1871, there is a 31-year-old tobacconist, James Bruce, born in Neilston, Renfrewshire, at 93 Shore Street, Campbeltown, with his wife Isabella, a Campbeltown girl. There are no children, but an aunt, Janet Sawers, 68, and a widowed cousin, Bella McEachran, are dressmakers, both locally born, suggesting that the tobacconist already has family links with the town, and has not simply 'jumped' across the Firth of Clyde.

In April, 1861, Rose Bruce's daughter, also Rose Bruce, married a fisherman, Neil Thomson, whose address was Barr. In the parish of Saddell, in 1871, a Duncan Bruce, aged 30, was a fisherman, with a wife Ann and a 6-year-old schoolgirl niece, Mary Bruce. This is all I know about the Bruces in Kintyre.

To return to the ColI connection mentioned above, I had aroused my own curiosity by recalling that my great grandfather went to CoIl at the invitation of John Lorne Stewart. So I visited Register House and keyed in McCORKlNDALE and COLL to the census-search in Digros, and found that in 1871 a John McCorkindale, born in Campbeltown, was farming at Bailard, with his wife Flora, also born in Campbeltown. 1 traced them back. They were married in Breachacha Castle, ColI, in 1866. She was Flora Baxter, daughter of John Baxter, factor in ColI, and veterinary surgeon, and Orsla McFarlane. John was the son of John McCorkindale and Margaret Smith. When I traced back again, I found that a Robert Baxter had married a Flora McNeill in Campbeltown in 1810, and their first child, John Baxter, was born there in 1811. In the 1841 Census of Brickfield, Campbeltown, John Baxter, aged 25, was a veterinary surgeon, with his wife Orsla, or Ursula, aged 25, and their children Donald (5), Robert (2) and Flora ( 4 months).

Was this the first 'vet' to practice in Kintyre? Why did he go to CoIl to be Mr. Stewart's factor, and - only incidentally - the island vet? What was the family connection between John McCorkindale and Duncan McCorkindale, linking them both to Mr. Stewart's Coll? Much the same degree of affinity, I should think, that took Bruces and McCorkindales to New Zealand in the same ship.

This branch of Bruces may not be the one Ron Bruce is looking for, but Neil Bruce and his wife Anne Kennedy are the nearest I can get to his date of 1800, and Amod the closest I can get to 'the Campbeltown area'.

Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.

The Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society was founded in 1921 and exists to promote the history, archaeology and natural history of the peninsula.
It organises monthly lectures in Campbeltown - from October to April, annually - and has published its journal, 'The Kintyre Magazine', twice a year since 1977, in addition to a range of books on diverse subjects relating to Kintyre.

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