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Clan Donald Magazine No11 (1987) Online

The Tormore Connection

This article is about a family which has had a separate identity for only a little over two hundred years. In no way is its history remarkable but it is probably fairly typical of that of many Highland families of similar origin. For that reason it may be of wider interest than might at first be thought.

It starts with one of the founding fathers of the Corps of Marines - formed in 1755 but not created "Royal" until 1802. This was Donald, third son of Roderick of Camuscross in Sleat, the 5th Macdonald of Castleton, the Castletons being a cadet branch of the Macdonalds of Sleat. After some service with Loudon's Highlanders and possibly, earlier, in the Black Watch, Donald, along with some hundred other officers, was commissioned in the Marines on 2nd April, 1755 as 1st Lieutenant in the 7th Company at Portsmouth, being promoted to Captain in December of the same year. He was then about 30 years of age and continued his Marine service until June, 1772, when he went on half-pay.

In 1774 he was enrolled as a freeholder of Inverness-shire, having been assigned a life rent of Tormore and other lands in Sleat by his Chief, Sir Alexander Macdonald of Sleat. About the same time he married Elizabeth Macfarlane of Gavistock and they had three sons and four daughters. Of Donald as a person really nothing is known. Boswell in his "Tour to the Hebrides" mentions meeting him in September, 1773, and comments that "I took a liking to him from his first appearance" but what that exactly implies is of course uncertain. Boswell incidentally gets the regiment to which Donald belonged wrong and the statement in "Brave Sons of Skye" that he served in the Macdonald Highlanders is also wrong.

Donald died before April, 1789, when his eldest son, Alexander, took over the tack of Tormore. His two younger sons, Roderick and Donald, however followed in their father's footsteps by becoming soldiers, both joining the 21st Foot, later to become the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Roderick served from 1805 to 1816, when he went on half-pay and probably retired to Capstill, which adjoins Tormore. "Brave Sons", quoting his daughter Eliza, says that he served in Egypt and Spain but no record of whom he married nor any details of his son and daughter have been found. Young Donald joined the 21st Foot in 1809 and, after distinguishing himself against the French in Sicily, was killed in 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans. His daughter, Flora, married Fleet Surgeon John Moody and their son, John Macdonald Moody (1839-1921) followed his grandfather's example and joined the Royal Marines and reached the rank of Major-General, becoming Commandant General and earning a knighthood. The General's grandson is the Reverend Aubrey Moody, Vicar of Feering, Essex, who before taking Holy orders served in the Coldstream Guards and No 3 Commando.

Except for the eldest, Diana, nothing is known of Donald's daughters but their names - Anne, Jennie and Magdalene. Diana married Colonel Donald MacLeod of Colbost, who served in the Madras Army from 1767 to 1787, and they had three sons and an unmarried daughter. The two younger sons both became Major-Generals in the Madras Army, while the eldest became a distinguished member of the Indian Civil Service - Sir John Macpherson MacLeod KCSI PC. Both the younger sons are known to have had offspring but all contact with their descendants has been lost; Sir John is believed to have had no children. Colonel MacLeod had bought St. Kilda from Alexander MacLeod of Bernera in 1804 and his heir, Sir John, built there in 1861 the row of "white houses" known as "The Street"; in 1871 he sold the island to MacLeod of MacLeod.

Alexander, who succeeded his father at Tormore, married Isabella Chisholm of Salamanan, Moidart, and they had six daughters and four sons, of whom sadly one of the former and two of the latter died young. Portraits painted about 1840 show them to have been a handsome and well-suited couple. Alexander was twenty-six years older than Isabella and she outlived him by thirty years. He died aged seventy-seven in 1857 and his obituary notice in the Inverness Courier records that in him "the poor man lost a compassionate, a considerate and a helping friend, and the upper classes have lost a good and agreeable man with whom it was always a pleasure to associate". He was still remembered in Sleat in 1935 by a tale, told with amusement, of his having to sit on a creel at a wedding in Aird of Sleat.

All Alexander's surviving daughters married. The youngest two both married doctors. Penelope married Dr. Roderick MacLean, the parish doctor of South Uist, and Johanna married Dr. Edward Campbell, Medical Officer of Health for Sleat. Both had a child but no grandchildren.

Of the others Eliza, the eldest, married Charles Hutchins, an Edinburgh dental surgeon, and they had five children but of all but two of them practically nothing is known. Ella, the youngest, married Donald Archibald Martin, son of the Reverend Angus Martin, Minister of Snizort, and they emigrated to British Columbia where contact was lost. Macdonald Hutchins, the elder son, became an indigo planter in Behar, India; he married Alice Laura Lyall and their son was Lieut-Colonel Charles David Macdonald Hutchins of the Gordon Highlanders, commonly known as Tim. Tim served with his regiment in both World Wars and had the misfortune to be made a prisoner of war in 1940 with the 51st Division at St Valery. He retired from the Army in 1949 and, with his wife, Ivy (nee Barbenson) and their children, Laura and David, emigrated to Tasmania where he farmed. Laura later returned to the U.K. and runs a Welsh pony stud farm in Gloucestershire. David became an agronomist in New South Wales; he is married and has four children, all with the fore-name of Macdonald, as does David himself.

Alexander's two middle daughters married two brothers, Henry and Albert Oxley respectively, whom they had met when the brothers were on a yachting cruise round Skye and with whom they emigrated to Ontario, Canada. There are now many descendants of Henry and Barbara Diana, living mainly in Ontario and New York State, USA. Those with whom contact has been maintained are Mrs. Patricia Taylor of Willowdale, Ontario, who has visited Sleat, and Mrs. Jean Carter of Norval, Ontario, both great granddaughters of Henry and both with children and grandchildren. The only known descendants of Albert and Annabella are the family of Bruce Norton Oxley, a great grandson, who now live in California. Bruce married Carol Lou Crowl and has three children and with them and his wife has visited Tormore. At present he is director of the horse programme at the Thacher School, Ojia, having previously had a ranch at Etna, also in California, now run by his son, David. Bruce's father, Albert E.C. Oxley served in the RFC/RAFin World War 1 as did his uncle Malcolm G. Macdonald Oxley, who was killed in action in 1918.

Alexander was succeeded at Tormore by his elder surviving son, another Donald, at the age of twenty-one. In addition to Tormore he leased other farms and became a farmer of considerable repute. He also undertook factoring, notably for Lord Macdonald from 1872 to 1880 and for his cousin, Sir John MacLeod, and his trustees in Glendale from 1864 to 1882. For some twenty years he was involved in the Highland and Mexico Land Livestock Company, which was a financial failure. He relinquished his lease of Tormore about 1892 and bought the estate of Lyndale which he later sold. He died in 1912 at Sligachan Hotel. His factoring of Glendale was criticised at the Napier Commission (1883); this he refuted in his own evidence. He was also criticised in cross-examination for his dealings in meal and cattle with the people of Sleat. This drew forth a letter of protest to the Commission, signed by some seventy Sleat crofters, which said inter alia "we always considered and still know Tormore to be the people's best friend". He was long remembered in Sleat and as late as 1973 a crofter there still had a copy of his Oban Times' obituary notice.

Donald, not having married, the representation of the family passed on his death to his younger brother, Malcolm Neil, always known as Calum. Calum, like a number of other Skyemen, was an indigo planter in Behar, India, going there about 1868, and while there being a member of the Behar Light Horse, a volunteer unit in which he became a captain. He seems to have been a character, who liked the "good life", and for his somewhat extravagant style of living earned the nickname of "The Duke". He retired about 1889 and settled in the Inverness/Nairn area, where he gained some repute as a fisherman and golfer. Calum married Louisa Ethel Wright, a sister of Francis Nelson Wright of the Indian Civil Service, and they had one daughter and six sons, one of whom died in infancy.

Two of Calum's sons had successful careers in the armed forces. The second, Malcolm Henry Somerled - another Calum -joined the Royal Navy in 1895 and served until his retirement as Captain in 1935. He won the D.S.O. in H.M.S. Dublin, one of Beatty's light cruisers, at the Battle of Jutland, and in 1919 was on the staff of the Naval Section of the British Delegation to the Peace Conference, being awarded the OBE and French Legion of Honour. From 1921 until its disbandment in 1935, he was on the staff of the International Dardanelles Commission in Constantinople and from 1937 to 1939 was Administrator, British Observer Corps, Portugal, overseeing non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War. Reverting to active service again in World War II, he served in Iceland, Crete and Cyprus, (awarded the Greek War Cross), finally retiring in 1945 at the age of sixty-six. He married but had no children.

Roderick William, the third son - Rory - joined the Indian Army, 36th Sikhs, in 1901 but was seconded to the Burma Police in 1904. Reverting to the Army in 1914, he served on the North West Frontier and in Mesopotamia, where he twice had to take command of his battalion and won the D.S.O. Returning to the Burma Police in 1919, he became Inspector General in 1923, which post he retained until his retirement in 1932, when he took up apple farming in Essex. For his police service he was awarded the C.I.E. and the King's Police Medal. In World War II he was re-employed for two years as a Group Commander, Royal Army Pioneer Corps, and later commanded the 7th Essex, Home Guard Battalion. He married Hilda Fox-Jones without issue but they adopted his sister's daughter.

Eva Lillian, the sister, spent all her grown-up life in India, dying there in 1942. She married three times and by her second husband had her only child, Pamela Winifred Mary Macdonald-Boyce. Pamela married Bertrand Pleydell-Bouverie of the Radnor family and they have two sons and a daughter and four grandchildren. Pamela served in the A.T.S. in World War II and is a painter of animals; Bertrand served in the Royal Navy and is a sculptor. They met at art school and often exhibit together.

Calum's fourth son, James Alexander, sadly had a short life dying in Malaya of blackwater fever at the early age of twenty-eight. His fifth son, Lauchlan, however, had a long life, dying at the age of eighty-nine after a career of some variety. He was working in a tea garden in Bengal in 1914 when he joined the Indian Army and served in Mesopotamia. He resigned from the Army in 1921 because of his wife's health and returned to the U.K., entering commerce. In 1940 he joined the British Army, Cameron Highlanders, serving firstly in the Inverness area and later in Northern Ireland. He married firstly Lillah Banhan and after her death Edith Lemon but had no children. He lived to 1982.

Calum did not survive his brother long dying in 1913, when his eldest son, Donald Perceval, became head of the family. Donald had followed in his father's footsteps as an indigo planter in Behar, where he had been born. He, however, contracted rheumatic fever, which seriously affected his heart, so that he had to return to the U.K. and was a semi-invalid for some years. When sufficiently recovered, he became an assistant master at a private school in Surrey. With this experience behind him, and on his marriage to Alice, daughter of Judge T.W. Wheeler, K.C., he purchased a small private school, Penrhyn Lodge, Westgate-on-Sea, which, on it prospering, he moved in 1913 to larger premises at Deal, which he named Tormore School. Within three years, however, the zeppelin raids on East Kent forced the school to move twice and it did not return to Deal until 1919. Sadly the strain of the war years with its shortage of assistant staff had taken its toll of Donald's health and he died within three months of his return at the early age of forty-two. His wife, with the help of a partner, continued the school for some years before relinquishing it.

Donald and Alice had two children, a son, Donald Malcolm Thomas, and a daughter Eva Letitia Diana.

Diana, the younger, after college and university, taught in girls schools in Hertfordshire and in Switzerland, but she gave up teaching in 1940 and for three years drove an ambulance in London including the Blitz. In 1943, however, she joined the Probation Service and was posted to the Tunbridge Wells area. Later from 1948 to 1964 she was Senior Probation Officer, Medway Towns. A competent cricketer she was Chairman of the Kent Womens' Cricket Association for ten years. She was also a keen soroptimist and for two years was President of the Soroptimist's South Eastern Area. She retired in 1964 and with her mother moved to Nairn to be near her brother but sadly died there the next year, aged only fifty-five. She never married.

Donald and Alice's son - yet another Calum - after three years as a surveyor's assistant in a coal mine, took a short service commission as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. In 1934 he obtained a permanent commission, serving until he retired in 1961 as an Air Vice-Marshal, from the post of Director General of Manning, Air Ministry, having served in India, 1936-38, France, 1939-40, and Egypt, 1950-52 (CB) as well as the UK. On retirement he was for three years a Crofters Commissioner living in Nairn. From 1977 to 1981 he was National Chairman of the Royal British Legion Scotland, by which time he had moved to Seil Island, Argyll.

This Calum married Kathleen Mary de Vere, only daughter of John Theodore Hunt of Waterford, India and Oxford and they have four daughters and one son. The two youngest daughters, both unmarried, hold interesting posts in London. Frances, after jobs in the U.S.A., Australia and Switzerland is a producer of B.B.C. Radio, while Margaret is an archivist with the India Office Library, part of the London Library. Elizabeth, the eldest child teaches at Birkenhead High School for girls and lectures in local history; she is married to Peter Davey and has two boys and one girl. Susan, the second child is a doctor married to a doctor, J.B. Thompson, who is in practice in Bury St. Edmunds, while Susan is a part-time pediatrician in a local hospital; they have three boys all of whom play a musical instrument. The son, Donald, who came third, after a spell at local authority social work is the Director of the Fitzgerald Project of the Rainer Foundation in London (rehabilitation of 15 to 18 year olds). He married Kathleen Mulhare and has a daughter and a son.

And there this tale of this family ends - for the moment. It contains nothing that would hit the headlines of a national newspaper and even the present worldwide spread of the descendants of a quite ordinary couple is hardly remarkable. Many a Highland family can probably illustrate the same phenomena.

The almost complete absence of any professional careers amongst the menfolk of this family might raise comment but, when the lack of such opportunities in the Highlands are considered and the pioneering spirit of the Highland blood is taken into account, this is hardly surprising.

What can be claimed is that each generation did its duty; men and women each in their own way have taken responsibility and pulled their full weight in their respective communities.

(The foregoing article was written at the Editor's request and the author wishes to remain anonymous.)

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