A He­bridean ro­mance

Mary Miers tells the story of a Vic­to­rian shoot­ing lodge owned by the same fam­ily for 147 years and we pub­lish here, for the first time, pho­to­graphs taken by Coun­try Life shortly be­fore the house and its contents were sold

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Si­mon Jauncey

Mary Miers tells the story of Torosay Cas­tle on the Isle of Mull, a ro­man­tic Vic­to­rian shoot­ing lodge

On Au­gust 24, 1912, 600 Ma­cleans gath­ered on a grassy promon­tory on the Sound of Mull to cel­e­brate the re­turn of their 14th­cen­tury clan seat into Ma­clean own­er­ship. Sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of chiefs had dreamt of re­gain­ing their an­ces­tral heart­land, but only the pre­vi­ous year had the dream been—in part, at least—re­alised when the el­derly Col Sir Fitzroy Don­ald Ma­clean, 10th Baronet and 26th Chief, bought the ruin of Duart Cas­tle with a sliver of ground (later ex­tended) from its then owner, Wal­ter Mur­ray Guthrie, a week be­fore his death.

now, as Sir Fitzroy hosted the first ever mod­ern clan gath­er­ing, he read out a let­ter from Guthrie’s widow: ‘As the day draws near for you to for­mally hoist your ban­ner on the Cas­tle of Duart, so long the prop­erty of your an­ces­tors, I feel strongly that I ought to change the name of my house and es­tate to what I be­lieve it was for­merly called, ie Torosay [af­ter the parish—torr rasach, mean­ing shrub-clad hill]. I wish to leave the name of Duart to you alone, who have cer­tainly the se­nior right to it. I shall be glad if you will an­nounce this de­sire on my part to your clans­men.’

Old Duart (Fig 5) is a leit­mo­tif in the story of Torosay Cas­tle, the Vic­to­rian man­sion built across the bay in 1856–58, which adopted the name of Duart in the 1860s, and which Mrs Guthrie now re­named. Fol­low­ing the for­fei­ture of Ma­clean lands to the Earls of Ar­gyll in the late 17th cen­tury, the old cas­tle had been rel­e­gated to a mil­i­tary gar­ri­son and later a cow­shed. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, un­der the in­flu­ence of Pic­turesque taste, it ac­quired a new role as a ro­man­tic eye catcher piv­otal to the re­land­scap­ing of the es­tate.

Re­stored by the Glas­gow ar­chi­tect Sir J. J. Bur­net in 1911–16 (ini­tially the in­ten­tion had been just to con­sol­i­date it), the cas­tle be­came again a clan ral­ly­ing point and the home of a Ma­clean chief, while con­tin­u­ing to play a vi­tal part in the ar­chi­tec­tural en­sem­ble of Torosay, whose re­la­tion­ship to its gar­dens and wider land­scape is its most mem­o­rable feature.

The story of Torosay ex­em­pli­fies that of many He­bridean and West High­land es­tates colonised by in­com­ers in the 19th cen­tury. It is bound up with the sweep­ing changes that trans­formed the pat­tern of landown­er­ship at a time of eco­nomic cri­sis, when many fam­i­lies were forced to sell their hered­i­tary lands. In Mull in the 1820s, there was a ‘dance of es­tates’ as prop­er­ties changed hands, ini­tially be­tween in­ter­con­nected lo­cal fam­i­lies.

Duart, in­clud­ing the farms of Tor­gor­maig, Ach­nacraig and Ach­nacroish, was the jewel

in the crown of the Ar­gylls’ lands on Mull, which the prof­li­gate 6th Duke be­came obliged to sell. In 1821, Charles Mac­quar­rie bought it for £35,000 with the in­ten­tion of sell­ing it on at a profit so he could buy back his an­ces­tral is­land of Ulva. This he did in 1825, when Duart passed to the first non-gaelic speaker to own land in Mull.

Col Alexan­der Camp­bell was the son of a Glas­gow sugar mer­chant de­scended from a cadet branch of the Camp­bells of Ar­gyll. Hav­ing served in wars all over the Em­pire and in­her­ited the Pos­sil es­tate in La­nark­shire, he threw him­self into the role of im­prov­ing land­lord. At Duart, he in­tro­duced new agri­cul­tural meth­ods, cre­ated the wooded land­scape set­ting of what was then the main resi- dence—pretty Ach­nacroish House—and em­ployed a gamekeeper.

Un­like many other mer­chants and spec­u­la­tors at­tracted by the rel­a­tively low cost of land—who then evicted their mul­ti­ple ten­antry and in­tro­duced prof­itable large-scale sheep farm­ers—camp­bell en­deared him­self to the lo­cal com­mu­nity. He and his wife sup­ported the kirk and, with their five daugh­ters, did much to help the is­lan­ders at a time of un­remit­ting poverty and op­pres­sion.

Hav­ing weath­ered the eco­nomic storms of the 1830s, Camp­bell died in 1846, leav­ing his prop­erty to his only son. John Camp­bell—‘the Dra­goon’—set about de­vel­op­ing the deer for­est and re­plac­ing the Ge­or­gian house on his Mull es­tate. With the Steven­sons’ pier at Craignure newly built, he was able to im­port suit­able ma­te­ri­als to build a smart new man­sion by the fash­ion­able Ed­in­burgh ar­chi­tect David Bryce. Ach­nacroish House, as it was then known, func­tioned as a sea­sonal res­i­dence and shoot­ing lodge.

Bryce, a for­mer pupil and part­ner of Wil­liam Burn, had built up a suc­cess­ful prac­tice best known for de­sign­ing or re­mod­elling coun­try houses and cas­tles in the style later dubbed the ‘Scotch Ba­ro­nial’— an in­ven­tive rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of late-me­dieval build­ings that has be­come syn­ony­mous with his name.

Few sites lend them­selves more dra­mat­i­cally to this ar­chi­tec­ture of ro­man­tic re­vival and Bryce re­sponded by rais­ing the house up over a full base­ment and ori­en­tat­ing it to

Fig 1 pre­ced­ing pages: The south front, with its ter­raced gar­dens at­trib­uted to Lorimer. Fig 2 above: The en­trance lobby, with stairs lead­ing up to the main hall on the pi­ano no­bile

Fig 3: The din­ing room, fur­nished with a set of Ed­in­burgh Re­gency chairs and a side­board orig­i­nal to the room. The paint­ings are by Sir John Les­lie: a por­trait of his daugh­ter Olive and A Ser­mon, a monk preach­ing in the Ro­man cam­pagna, ex­hib­ited at the Royal Acad­emy in 1853

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