The MacDonells of Aberarder By Robert MacFarlane

The chiefs of Keppoch are a thing of the past, the last recorded (legitimate) chief of Keppoch was Chichester who supposedly died at Greenock in 1848. With him the direct line of Keppoch came to an end. Evidence of Chichester is very sketchy. Josephine MacDonell (authoress of “The MacDonells of Keppoch and Gargavach”) writes of him that he had a commission in the Glengarry Fencibles, resided in Glasgow and Greenock, married beneath himself and had two sons who died unmarried in Canada. There is a Chichester MacDonell who attested into the “Grant, Strathspey or 1st Highland Fencible Regiment” on 7th March 1797 as a private. He was born in Boleskine in 1769 and was transferred to the “Glengarry Fencibles” as Sergeant on 24th December 1794. He was discharged in Ireland on 24 December 1801, the regiment was discharged on lst July 1802, in Scotland. Could this be Chichester, 21st Chief of Keppoch?

This account is concerned with “Sliochd an Tighe“, of John Dubh of Bohuntin, a natural son of Ronald Mor, VII of Keppoch. The decendants of John Dubh of Bohuntin have been described as “greater than the stars in the sky” and are to be found in all the corners of the world. In particular, I will be giving a brief historical account of the MacDonells of Aberarder along with my findings on more recent members of this family. Where necessary I will correct that most valuable source of MacDonald genealogy, “The Clan Donald” by the Reverends A. & A. MacDonald.

Aberarder is situated on the western shore of Loch Laggan, a beautiful desolate spot between Roy Bridge and Kingussie. Some of the Sliochd an Tighe had acquired rights of possession to most of the principal farms of MacIntosh’s estate of Loch Laggan by the beginning of the eighteenth century and it may be argued that this was the result of a century old policy on the part of MacIntosh which drew the Sliochd Iain Dubh to a mid-way position between himself and the much more recalcitrant Keppoch family and its dependants in Glen Spean and Glen Roy.

Donald, 1st ofAberarder, was the 2nd son of Angus of Tulloch who was a 2nd son of John Dubh of Bohuntin.

Archibald, 2nd ofAberarder was born in 1657 and in 1703 received a tack from Lachlan MacIntosh of Strone of the lands of Moy and Coillerois.

John, 3rd of Aberarder, was granted a tack of Moy and Kyllross from the Duke of Gordon in 1726. At this time, 1726, Lachlan MacIntosh of MacIntosh agreed to dispose of some of his Loch Laggan-side possessions in form of wadset to Macpherson of Cluny. John was granted a simple tack of Aberarder by Maclntosh/Cluny jointly in 1730-31. This was to cause problems a few years later after the ’45 when a decision to place Aberarder among the forfeited estates was under question.

Note:– Moy and Kyllross are both situated at the western end of Loch Laggan.Correction to “The Clan Donald” – It was Archibald 2nd and not John 3rd who died in 1716, actually 1714, and was buried at Cille Choirill. In fact this tombstone has the oldest inscription still visible today: “This stone is placed here by Ranald MacDonell, Aberarder, son to John MacDonell Tiereon my grandfather Galespick Myoill Vick Rinnil of Keappock who dyed the year 1714 aged 57 years.”

Ranald, 4th of Aberarder, who placed the above gravestone in Cille Choirill, was granted a tack in 1751 from the Duke of Gordon, along with his brother Alexander, for Moy and Kyllross. His father John was obviously dead by this time but it is not known when or where he was buried. Ranald was prominent in the ’45 and sheltered Prince Charles while on the run after Culloden. He had been a Captain in Keppoch’s regiment and had escaped from Cuiloden. As mentioned earlier, Aberarder became a hot potato after the ’45 when the estate of Cluny was placed under the forfeited estates. MacIntosh contested that Aberarder should not be included and although the case went as far as the House of Lords, he was not successful.

The Aberarder family, with their subtenants, remained at Aberarder. Mr Butter, factor to the forfeited estates, received a petition dated 20th June 1766, from Robert Macpherson (Chaplain)… : “served in America for 7 years, on reduction put on half pay. Being a half pay chaplain, he is prevented by act of parliament from holding ecclesiastical position. He therefore wants to try farming. Seen methods while travelling home and abroad which he thinks will enable him to carry on better than most. Therefore requests Aberarder and Tullochrom comprehending Strachronnacha as possessed by Ronald and Alexander MacDonell.”

Report by factor relevant to the petition:- “Factor knows of no improvement having been made and that the tenants are esteemed bad farmers and that they have been very troublesome to their neighbours in that district. He thinks the petitioner would be good.”

Mr Butter wanted the MacDonells out. There followed petitions by both Alexander and Ranald MacDonell stating “they had behaved themselves, paid rent, family had possessed farm for more than 100 years, have run the farm since their arrival at the age of manhood and are now living there with family, servants, subtenants and cottars, ammounting in all to about 80 souls.”

There were many “favours” written for Ranald and Alexander including ones from “the Laird of MacKintosh” and “the Minister of Logy.”

Mr Butter brought an action of removal before the Sheriff of Inverness in 1767 and 1768, in both cases the action was dismissed.At Martinmas 1767, a letter from the Barons of Exchequer in Scotland/Treasury chamber states “…that the Barons have the sole and absolute care and management of the forfeited estates. Therefore Randall McDonald and Alexander McDonald’s memorial objecting to their being removed from their farms, has been suspended.”

Clearly Ranald and Alexander were up against it!

The case went to the Court of Session and after appeal, ordained the removal to take place at Whitsunday 1770.

While this case was still going on, Ranald was given Torgulbin by the Duke of Gordon in 1769 with the following Comment… “Aberarder (the bankrupt) getting Torgulbin for £15 because no one else wants it and its isolated situation. He despairs (Mr Tod, the Duke’s factor) of getting rent paid by him and his brother.”

Ranald is shown in Torgulbin, Moy and Kylross up till 1785, whereon arrears for Moy in 1789 only refer to John and Alex’r MacDonell, Ranald’s sons. Ranald married Grace, daughter of Duncan Stewart of Achnacone with issue:

1. John, born c. 1748, later 5th of Aberarder.

2. Alexander, born c. 1750. He joined the army at an early age and by 1796 he had taken over as Tacksman of Moy on his own, previously held jointly with his brother John. He was described as Lieut in the rentals for 1796 and 1800 and by 1804 as Captain. He is shown in the rentals for Moy up till 1833, though by then he had moved west to live at Inverlair. In 1829, he was given a year’s rent of Inverlair to build a dwelling house there and it is assumed he died shortly after, or during, 1833. When exactly he went to live at Inverlair is not certain, he first appears on the rental in 1813. Around 1818, along with Dr Smith, a medical practitioner residing at Fort William, he was involved in opening up the old grave at Inverlair to verify the story of the Keppoch murderers having their heads removed by lain Lom, the Keppoch bard.

He was commonly referred to as “Othaichear a’ Mhagh’” -the Officer of Moy and then in later years as “Othaichear Inbhir Lair” – of Inverlair. He was married on the 22nd of April 1788 to Jane (Juliet) MacDonald from Rannoch in Perthshire with issue 8 sons and 3 daughters. All his sons went abroad except Ranald who became a Captain in the 92nd Highlanders. This same Ranald died in 1872 and is buried in Cille Choirill, his tombstone having the only Gaelic inscription among the old stones there. Another son to Alexander, Archibald, was Tacksman of Inverlair when he married in 1837 and in the 1841 census. There were no MacDonells at Inverlair by 1851 and Archibald died in Australia in 1871.

3. Archibald, also joined the army, becoming a Lieutenant in the 26th Foot He married Janet Stewart. Daughter of Robert, proprietor of Lassintullich, on the 21st February, 1802. Lassintullich is situated about 2 miles east of the eastern end of Loch Rannoch. It would appear that Archibald farmed Lassintullich although Janet’s only brother John was proprietor. Archibald and Janet had 6 sons and 3 daughters, all born at Lassintullich. Archibald was dead by 1841 and Janet was proprietor in 1861. Janet died in 1865 and according to the Register of Sasines for the same year her eldest son David inherited the lands of Tempar and Lassintullich from his mother.

David is shown at Lassintullich House in 1871 where he is described as “Landowner and farmer of 800 acres employing 4 men, 1 boy 3 women”. The rest of his family are not shown then and there is no record of David or family at Lassintullich in 1881.

4. Grace, married Donald MacDonell, Monessie, known as Donald Ban Og, with issue in Australia. Recent research has shown descendants of Grace which has implications as far as a Keppoch claim is concerned.

John, 5th of Aberarder, was born c. 1748 and is recorded in Torgulbin and Moy in 1782 and 1784 with his brother Alexander. The events at home (eviction) surrounding his teens must have had an influence on him and perhaps that is why he sometimes behaved in a tempestuous, almost arrogant manner. This can best be illustrated from notes taken down from Donald Campbell (b. 1847) about Father MacKenna, who ministered in the Braes c.l770.

“MacKenna was a hardy man (translated from the Gaelic), Ross the Minister said he used to thrash the gentry. . . James (MacKintosh) grandfather of Angus Ban MacKintosh, Bohuntin was MacKenna’s clerk. He was with him at the Marriage at Lianachan when he gave Ian Dubh Aberardair a beating saying in Gaelic “Son of the devil Aberarder, you make trouble wherever you go.”

John was always referred to as “John Dubh Aberarder” as can be seen on his correspondence, gravestone inscription and newspaper obituary. He married Catherine, a daughter of Col. Alexander MacDonell of Keppoch who died at Culloden. “The Clan Donald” and “Father Andrew MacDonell’s Chart” show two sons, John and Archibald. There is no further evidence of Archibald. In fact John Dubh’s gravestone at Cille Choirill has “this stone is placed here by their only son Captain John MacDonell, Killichonate”.

Known family:

1. John, born c.l774, later 6th of Aberarder.

2. Sarah, born c.1780, married Alexander McVean who was subtenant to his father-in-law at Torgulbin in 1808 and 1809 and then holding the tack on his own till 1814. In 1814, the Duke of Gordon’s factor wrote to Capt. John MacDonell at Fort Charlotte stating “he is to take over Torgulbin from Alex McVean who is paying the consequence of resisting the Duke”– the controversy is not recorded.

Sarah died at Drimfour in 1818 and is buried next to her father in Cille Choirill. There are no children of this marriage recorded.

3. Isabel, born c.i781, married Donald Rankin with issue 6 sons and 1 daughter. They were living at Killichonate in 1841 and Donald died there in 1842. Being a native of Glencoe, he was buried on Eilean Munda. Isabel left Killichonate for Australia with 5 sons in 1848 and she died at Tumut, New South Wales, on 24th January, 1864. Her daughter Christine married John MacGregor and their descendants are still to be found at Achnabobane, just outside Spean Bridge. All known descendants of Isabel have been recorded by Mr Michael Scott, a descendant.

On Donald Rankin’s gravestone it is recorded that Isabel was the youngest daughter of John Dubh, thus the remaining two daughters were born between 1774 and 1780.

4. Janet, married Donald Ruadh MacDonald, Torgulbin and had 7 sons. It is not known when Donald or Janet died although Janet was still alive in 1841, living with her son John.

In 1831 John Dubh petitioned the Duke of Gordon twice on Donald’s behalf:- Aug. 1813 – Memorandum of favours:- “John MacDonell has one of his daughters married to one Donald MacDonell Tenant at Gordonsburgh one of his people that has seven sons, if his Grace would give them a small Park now used by one Munro a single man and a Drunkard, it would do much good if MacDonell got the Park 1813 – Offer made by John Dubh for Killichonate mentions.” Donald came to Gordonsburgh who is married to one of his daughters and who has 7 McDonald boys, wanting a park held by Munro.” All known descendants of Janet have been recorded by Mr Roiy MacDonald (g.g.g. grandson of Janet), Mr Don Copeland and Mr Michael Scott. One son, John, is better known as ‘Long John’, who started the Ben Nevis Distillery and it was with him that Janet was living in 1841. Long John’s descendants are to be found at Blarour, Spean Bridge.

5. Grace, married John MacFarlane, Badenoch. John was moved from the farms of Kingussie and Ardbrylack in 1800 to make way for the new village of Kingussie. He then settled at Phones from which he was again moved as part of the clearances of that area by James Macpherson in 1805. John MacFarlane was an old man, reputedly aged 81 when his son Peter was born in 1806. John Dubh also petitioned the Duke on John MacFarlane’s behalf in 1811 and 1813.

Sept. 1811 – Letter to the Duke supporting an offer made by John MacFarlan for one half of the farm of Coul.

Aug. 1813 – Memorandum of favours:- “John MacDonell has a daughter married to one MacFarlan in Kingussie a very old man that cannot do much good to his family, if he got one of the Crofts in Unachan where he would be near his wifes friends they would manage the Croft for MacFarlans wife and family…”

John MacFarlane died in Kingussie village c.l8l7 and his widow and son came to live at Killichonate with her brother Capt. John MacDonell. All Grace’s descendants have been recorded by myself and the MacFarianes are still to be found at Spean Bridge. (My own place of birth.)

John Dubh moved to Killichonate around 1795 and remained there till his death in 1818. He seems to have had a “charmed” relationship with the Duke of Gordon as illustrated by certain letters and documents:- Killichonate 1805 – highest offer made by Mr Leslie £100 -John Dhu offers £64 – in corner written – “Aberarder to have it at present rent”. 6 Sept. 1813 – on outside of letter offering for his son to get Lianachan – “John Dhu Kyllichonate ‘palavering’.” Sept. 1813 – Memorandum of favours – “Mr J. MacDonell Kyllichonate – asking favours from the Duke of Gordon – for his meritorious service, – a Halter!! March 9, 1816 – to Capt. John MacDonell:- letter accepting his promise to meet his father’s rent, and will stop the proceedings of removal against him with Capt. John’s promise of punctuality.

March 19, 1816- to Capt. John MacDonell:- still on about his father not paying rent, quotes that he is subletting for wintering and making a profit, even although he has gone 2 full rents without paying – goes on to say that the resident factor will execute the Summons of Removal against him – but will be avoided if he pays arrears.

The final crunch came in April 1817 when a letter was sent to Capt. John telling him:- “the Duke approves of him taking over as Tacksman from his father.”

In one of John Dubh’s letters to the Duke of Gordon, he signs thus:-




John Dubh died on 18th March 1818, just over a month after his daughter Sarah. He is buried in Cille Choirill and the inscription on his flat, substantial stone is:- “Sacred to the memory of John MacDonell Killichonate commonly called John Dubh Aberarder who departed this life 18 March 1818 aged 70 and Catherine his spouse who departed this life 25 July 1829 aged 90 years, daughter of Colonel Alexander MacDonell, Keppoch who was killed at the battle of Culloden in 1746.”

The Inverness Journal of April 17 1818 had this to say:- “At Killichonate on the 18th ult, universally regretted in the 70th year of his age Mr John MacDonell, commonly called John Dow, Aberarder. His remains were attended to the grave by 459 brave Highiandmen, as a mark of their respect for the memory of a genuine Highlander.”

John, 6th of Aberarder was born c. 1774. One of the best ways to summarise John would be to quote from his obituary in the Inverness Courier of May 13th 1840 – “At Killiechonnet near Fort William, on the morning of the 29th ult, aged 66, Captain John Mac Donell, a Deputy Lieutenant and J.P. for Inverness-shire. After serving successively in the 2nd, or Queens, the 92nd Highlanders, and the 3rd Royal Veteran Battalion, in the West Indies, Ireland, Holland and Egypt, Captain MacDonell returned to Lochaber and settled at Killichonnet; where among the poor of a populous Highland district, his kindness, condescension and charity made him universally beloved and respected; while amongst his compeers, he was greatly esteemed as a warm-hearted, hospitable and attached friend, possessing in an extraordinary degree, all those fine principles of honour and chivalry which tend so much to adorn the chieftain and the soldier.”

If I was to judge John by his relationship with the Duke, having no controversy like his father and comments in letters about him helping people, then I would say his obituary is an accurate account of him.

The Royal Garrison Battalions were formed in 1802 and later named the Royal Veteran Battalions in 1804. John was a Captain in the 6th, which was formed to do duty in the forts and garrisons in Scotland. In 1814, the 6th was disbanded except for two companies which were incorporated with two of the 9th R.V.B. and numbered 3rd Royal Veteran Battalion. John is described as of the 6th R.V.B. and later as the 3rd R.V.B.

Captain John married Jane Antoinette Gordon (of Wardhouse) on October 10, 1803 at Sunnybank, Aberdeen. The births and deaths of their children indicate the where-abouts of John before he settled hack at Killichonate.


1. Charles Archibald, born 8 March 1806 at Fort Augustus, died 26th March 1806.

2. George, born 16 January 1807 at Fort Augustus, died the same evening.

3. George Gordon, born 23rd December 1808 at Gloucester, England, later 7th of Aberarder.

4. Charlotte Frances, born 3rd April 1810 at Fort George, died 28th August 1810 “at Mr Hay’s Lerwick, Shetland”.

5. Ronald John, born 14th May 1813 at Fort Charlotte in Shetland.

He was at Sandhurst from 7.10.1829 to 30.6.1832 after which he was appointed to the 28th Reg. of Infantry. Received a Lieutenancy on 26.6.1835, was engaged in the 1st New Zealand War and sold out in 1840 in Australia.

Ronald moved to California and then B.C. Canada in 1858. He held several posts in the Canadian Militia, “Supt. of Stores in 1874” and “District Paymaster 1879 ‘ He died at Victoria, British Columbia on August 1st 1887. His death particulars make no mention of a wife or children whereas “The Clan Donald” states he married a sister of Captain Maclean of Lakefield, with issue.

6. James Mercers, born 3 September 1815, died Edinburgh 16th December 1815.

7. Eliza Catherine, born 2nd June 1818 at Killichonate. She stayed on at Killichonate with her mother after the death of her father in 1840. Her mother died in 1849 after which it is not clear where Eliza went to live. She died at South Bridge, Aberdeen on 19th April 1875. She is buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas Aberdeen and there is a memorial stone to her in St. Andrew’s churchyard, Fort William, next to the grave of her cousin Juliet (g.daughter of Alexander of Moy.)

As was previously mentioned, Capt. John took over as “Tacksman of Kyiiichonnet” in 1817. In the same year he corresponded with the Duke of Gordon re improvements to his house at Killichonate. The present Killichonate house is an imposing, substantial building and has inscribed above the front door:- “JMcD 1836 JG” (initials of John and his wife). As John was living at Killichonate when he died in 1840, it can only be assumed that he was buried in Cille Choirill, though no memorial exists there!

Note: After the death of John’s wife Jane in 1848, the farm of Killichonate moved out of the Aberarder family. For many years (this century) the house was used as a hostel for forestry workers and more recently as tourist accommodation.

George Gordon 7th of Aberarder, spent most of his life in the Army. He entered the service in January 1826 and by April 1869 was appointed Brigadier-General of the second class and to the command of the Southern District (India). On August 12th of the same year he was promoted to the first class, and transferred to the Northern District The “Hodson Index” states that he was at King’s College, Aberdeen, Lieutenant in 1826, Captain 1841, Major 1856, Lt. Col. 1862 and Colonel 1865. He married Charlotte, third daughter of Rev. Dr Batten, of Halleybury, Herts. on 5th February, 1839 at Samulcottah, India. George was described as Lieut., qr. mast. and interpreter 27th Native Infantry.

With issue:

1. George Gordon, Born Singapore 2nd January 1845 and died at sea between Malacca and Madras 2nd July 1846.

2. Katherine Jane Gordon, according to the “Hodson Index”, she was the eldest daughter and married Robert Thorpe, 27th Madras Native Infantry. According to “The Clan Donald”, “a daughter, who married a Captain Thorpe, without issue”.

3. Christina Eliza Frances, born at Killichonate 19th October 1847. Nothing else is known about Christina.

“George was present with the force that marched from Bangalore on April 8, 1857, to quell the insurrection in Canara; was employed in the supression of the mutiny in Bengal, 1857-58-59; commanded the field detachments that proceeded from Dorundah to Chota Nagpore to subdue the insurgents; defeated the rebels in an engagement on January 22, 1858, capturing four small field pieces, totally routing the enemy, and killing their leader; served with the force under Major-General Whitiock, K.C.B., in Bundlecund, and commanded the infantry detachment that proceeded in March 1859, under Brigadier Faddy, against Runmost Singh.”

This extract of his career was taken from the obituary to him in the Inverness Courier of 2nd December 1869. George died at Madras on October 17th, 1869, and he was interred in St Mary’s cemetry Madras, with military honours. The Madras Mail had this to say:- “the deceased General will be much lamented. He was an exceedingly amiable and agreeable man, popular alike with officers and sepoys. He was full of anecdote and reminiscence of the days of his long distant youth, and was of a peculiarly happy temperament”

As a footnote to George, when his cousin Peter MacFarlane was married at Brompton, London, in 1877, his first action was to take his new wife to see a portrait of Brigadier George Gordon, which was on display nearby. Attempts to trace this portrait have so far been unsuccessful.

With George’s death in 1869, the direct line of “Aberarder” came to an end after approximately 250 years. The present Aberarder would have to be found among the descendants of Captain Alexander of Moy, brother to John Dubh, 5th of Aberarder. As genealogy becomes more and more popular, the task of discovering “Aberarder” may not be that difficult.

Whoever that man may be or wherever he may be found, he will have a fascinating history to look back on, at least I think so!!


The Clan Donald – Rev. A. & A. MacDonald.
Sliochd An Tighe – Father Andrew MacDonell. O.S.B.
Cille Choirill – Ann MacDonell & Robert MacFarlane.
Scottish Record Office – Gordon & Richmond Collection.
Forfeited Estate Papers.
An Old Highland Parish Register – Alan G. Macpherson.
The Celtic Magazine – The Depopulation of Aberarder in Badenoch by Charles Fraser-MacKintosh.
Inverness Journal & Courier – Extracts from Courier office. Inverness.
New Register House – Old Parish Registersc & Census records.
Hodson Index – National Army Museum – card index of officers who served in the Indian Army.