fp-1.8 The Dunbars of Durn


Researched by Findlay Pirie

Durn House, Portsoy

>>>>>From the Scottish Guardian, 24th. September 1880;

Chapel of New Durn

The ruins of the Chapel of New Durn are still to be seen on a little haugh, by the burnside, a little below the Mill of Durn, about a mile distant from Portsoy. Little is known of the past history of the Episcopacy in this immediate neighbourhood, but it is supposed that the Chapel of New Durn was erected under the sheltering wing of the Dunbars of Durn about the time that Episcopacy was supplanted by Presbyterianism. The Chapel of New Durn was burned down on 10th. April 1746 (by the Duke of Cumberland’s troops on their way to Culloden) and the minister the Rev. Mr. Hamilton and his family had to flee for their lives; they, and the congregation paying this penalty for their devotion to the House of Stuart. The Communion Cup was rescued by a staunch adherent of the Faith, rolled up in the Altar Cloth and hidden in a stone dyke close by, until such time as the spoilers had done their fiendish work. This Cup is still used in St. John Baptist’s Church at Portsoy but the Altar Cloth has long since crumbled to dust.

>>>>>From “Jacobites of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire in the Forty-five” by A & H. Taylor: -


Sir William Dunbar the 3rd of Durn.

The third baronet of that creation, being the eldest son of Sir James Dunbar and his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir James Baird, of Auchmedden.

William Dunbar married Clementina Grant in 1737, and by her he had three sons and four daughters. Clementina died on 1st. June 1765, and a few months later in the same year he married Jane Bartlett of Banff, by whom he had no male issue.

Sir William Dunbar joined Lord Pitsligo at Aberdeen in September 1745. He declined a commission and served as a volunteer throughout the campaign. When Prince Charles’ troops plundered Cullen House on 8th. April 1746 the Duke of Cumberland in retaliation withdrew his protection of the House of Durn, which in consequence suffered considerably. Lady Dunbar, as well as her husband, was at the time with the Jacobite army. After the defeat of Culloden, Sir William Dunbar was in hiding in the neighbourhood of his estate, and was fortunate enough to escape capture, though several parties were sent to look for him. His name appears in the Bill of Attainder in May 1746, and again in the list of those excepted from pardon in the Act of Indemnity of 1747.

Unlike two of the petitioning Jacobites, who maintained that they had never committed “any hostile act against the King’s Government,” though known to have taken part in the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk, Sir William Dunbar is never heard of in action. The only evidence against him was that of informers, such as Charles Campbell, on whose list he appears. ” Sir William Dunbar of Durn. Saw him frequently at the City of Edinburgh and at Holyrood, when those places were in the possession of the Rebels, armed with a broadsword, and had a white cockade in his hat.”

Sir William Dunbar’s petition for mercy must have proved successful, for he returned to pass the remaining years of his life at Durn. The present house of Durn, near Portsoy, is not that in which Sir William lived, for the old house and gateway was demolished about 1770. Sir William died at Banff on 28th. January 1786. Durn is now part of the Seafield Estates, and Sir George Dunbar, the present representative of the family, lives elsewhere.

>>>>>Banffshire Journal, Tuesday, February 16th 1926 :-


Sir William Dunbar 3rd of Durn.

Sir William Dunbar was created a baronet on 29th January 1698 and William Dunbar the Jacobite was the third baronet of that creation. He joined Lord Pitsligo at Aberdeen in September 1745 and with him there went from Banffshire, Arthur Gordon of Carnousie, Andrew Hay of Rannes, James Gordon of Glastirem, and “Abernethy, brother of Mayen,” and they joined the Prince at Holyrood on October 9th. Sir William declined a commission and served as a Volunteer throughout the campaign. When some of Prince Charles’ troops plundered Cullen House on April 8th, 1746, the Duke of Cumberland in retaliation withdrew his protection from the house of Durn, which in turn suffered considered considerably. Lady Dunbar, as well as her husband, was at that time with the Jacobite army.

After Culloden he was in hiding in the neighbourhood of the estate for a considerable time and escaped capture. His name appears on the Bill of Attainder in May 1746, and again in the list of those specially exempted from pardon in the Act of Indemnity in 1747. At Edinburgh in October 1748 a true bill was found against him, in his absence.

On November 5th., Lord Findlater wrote to the Duke of Cumberland on his behalf……..

“He is certainly a very weak, foolish man, and I can say nothing for him but that he is quite incapable to do good or hurt to any party. Your Grace, however, will not be surprised at my being anxiously concerned for the preservation of the family when I have acquainted you that my Mother was a daughter of it. The family was always firm and zealous for the Protestant and Revolution interest, until the late Sir James Dunbar, father to this man, had the misfortune to marry a Jacobite wife, who introduced nonjuring Ministers among them. Notwithstanding my near connection, I do in the sincerest manner assure your Grace that I would not say a single word on this subject, if I were not fully convinced that the public interest cannot possibly receive any hurt from His Majesty extending his mercy to this foolish, silly man, providing it be made a condition of his pardon that his children, who are all young, shall be educated in principles of strict fidelity to His Majesty. The just respect I have for the memory of my Mother and of her ancestors would indeed make me take this act of clemency as an extraordinary favour. Would your Grace, therefore, be so good as to lay this my humble and earnest request before His Majesty.”

The Jacobite wife referred to was Margaret, daughter of Sir James Baird of Auchmeddon. This petition must have been successful, for Sir William Dunbar returned to pass the remaining years of his life at Durn. The present House of Durn, near Portsoy, is not that in which Sir William lived, for the old house and gateway were demolished about 1770.

Sir William died at Banff, on January 28th. 1786. Durn is now part of the Seafield Estates.

>>>>>From “Jacobites of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire in the Forty-five” by A & H. Taylor :-


  • Robert Henry, servant to Sir William Dunbar, Durn.
  • James Chapman, Gardener, Durn. – Transported 22nd. April 1747 from Liverpool to Virginia in “Johnson,” arrived Port Oxford, Maryland 5th. August 1747
  • Andrew Gibb, Tenant in Durn.
  • Robert Kennedy, Durn.
  • George Paterson, Householder, New Durn.



A Humorous Tale by an unknown author.

Durn House, Portsoy

After the suppression of the rebellion in 1746, and while part of the army on their return southwards were encamped in a park at Cullen, information reached the commanding officer that Dunbar of Durn, an adherent to the House of Stuart who had been out with Charles, was lurking on his estate and residing during night at his own house at Durn.

A party of dragoons were immediately despatched in quest of him. They set out before daybreak, and reached the house of Durn by the dawn of morning. After disposing of their horses, a sentinel was posted at every door and lower window of the house, and a sergeant and party sent in to search the interior.

Meanwhile the officer in command took his station in the lobby to await the event of the search, and while there, pacing backwards and forwards, his ears were greeted ever and anon by a jarring noise proceeding from the kitchen at the other end of the passage. Anxious to know what it could arise from, he went softly up to the half-closed door, and, peeping in, he was surprised to find only the cook, a brawny, burly fellow of the name of Werd, and at a corner of the blazing peat fire, enjoying its much-wanted and genial glow with enraptured felicity, sat the shivering emaciated form of what some forty or fifty years before might have been a man, gnawing at the same time with teeth and nails what remained on the shank bone of a sheep, with an appetite which seemed as if it could devour an ox. His head had half disappeared in the massive folds of a large bonnet as broad as a common grid-iron, old enough to have bobbed on the head of some huge Covenanter in the former century : his back was enveloped in an old meal-bedaubed coat, the original-of which was entirely lost-amongst the many multiplied, additions which the needle had heaped on, and its buttons, once large enough for a modern tea-pot lid had all by the ravages of time lost halfs and quarters !

Below the coat was what remained of a waistcoat, whereon the crusts of multiplying grease were glazed and petrified into a consistency which seemed to bid fair for becoming a looking-glass, with only .one large flap at the lower end, its partner having long before disappeared. His inexpressibles, which “required great caution to act their wonted purpose, had once been blue serge, but the buttons and bracings had long before disappeared. From the knees and on the legs, and ankles below hung the remnants of what were then called moggins, braced up with two dirty red garters. On his feet were the wreck of what had once been brogues, or, as they were called in the country, ” leigh sheen,” with his big toes peeping through their bows, and seeming to enjoy the warmth of the fire with smiling cordiality.

By his side on the floor lay a small filthy bag with some meal in it, attached to the remnant of what might have once been a tartan plaid partly covering a few rags and tatters of night clothing, and over all as its guardian lay a huge, knotty, long-worn pike-staff. His hands, face, and sunburnt openings on his legs seemed to say that all the lakes and rivers of the country had been dried up for the last six months.

The cook, who had been toasting on the coals a huge quarter of bread, was in the act of grinding it with his hands into a four-lugged timber bicker with milk, exclaiming as handing it to the old man, “Hae, tak that an’ be aff wi’ you. The muckle sorrow sit i’ the ugly belly i’ you, but ye haena a please.”

The officer could no longer contain his equilibrium, but shoved open the door, and, stepping in, retorted, ” What the devil’s the matter with you cook that you’re raising such a rumpus this morning ?” ” Ow, its an aul’ grey wretch o’ a creature, an’ tho’ I were gaein a’ t’s i’ the house it wadna please ‘im.” “Why, you should flog him.” ” Flog ‘im— ay ! I wish you would tak ‘im awa’ an’ mak’ a so’ger o’ ‘im. He comes frae o’er the Spey, an’ bides here a’ nicht aye when he comes athort. He winna sleep i’ the morning, but comes in amo’ my han’s afore I get the fire kin’led. Some says he wants a feather in the wing (a little crazy); but speed ‘im awite he has ill wit. He pretends to be a warlock, an’ folk gies ‘im mair for’s ill nor’s guid. They say they dinna thrive that’s nae guid till ‘im, but I’m nae very superstitious ; an’ yet, guid preserve a’, I dinna like their curses. Ye’ll be a gentleman come frae the Laird ? I’ve surely seen yon here afore wi’m. Will you come in by and warm you? The servant wilt seen be up in a jiffy, an’ the’ll tell the Lady.”

Thus ran on the cook with his beautiful soliliquy. So quick and fast flowed his eloquence that the officer had no time to answer, but stood dumbfoundered at the simplicity and originality of the fellow, and laughed heartily at his superstition and credulity, then, turning round, he gave the old fellow a sixpence, and told him to be a good boy in future and no more to disturb the cook in his vocations, and wheeled off to mark the progress of his party, thus leaving the cook with his storm of wrath somewhat subsided, and the old boy bolting his bread and milk in silence.

Meanwhile, the search went on, and every room and bedroom, presses, chimneys, cellars, garrets, below stairs and peat neuks – every hole and corner of the house was searched, but in vain, no knight nor trace of him could be found. At last, wearied out, the soldiers took off to their horses and rode off muttering disappointment and cursing their information, leaving the knight to arise from his hiding-place at leisure.

And now you will be anxious to know where he could have been hid. Well, I shall tell you in a few words from no less a personage than from Werd’s emaciated wizard. The fact was, Werd, as was usually his wont, having been early up, observed the cloud of troopers in the grey dawn of morning beginning to alight, and, judging their errand, flew in the moment to his master’s bedroom with the .alarm. The knight, in the agony of despair, sprung from the arms of his weeping wife, exclaiming, “Heavens’ I am undone.” ” No fear of that,” retorted Werd, “ leave all to me ; say not a. word, nor lose a, moment, but follow and do its I bid you,” at the same time, for better security, bundling up and taking all his master’s apparel along with him. He led the way to the kitchen, followed by the trembling knight. Werd then took the precaution to strip off his shirt, supplying its place with an old harden bedaubed one of his own. Then from the most ancient of the servants’ wardrobes and his own he arrayed him in the tattered clothes, and so completely metamorphosed him, that he asserted his own wife would not have known him. At the same time, applying his hands to the peat ashes, he browned and bedaubed his master’s face, hands, and the naked parts of his ankles, and by the time the soldiers had completed their arrangements and entered the house, Werd was ready. Nor need I tell you that Werd was amply rewarded for his trouble, and the House of Durn remained afterwards his home.

>>>>>Aberdeen Journal, Wednesday, February 9, 1820:

For Sale – Estate in Banffshire

On Friday the 17th. March next, at three o’clock afternoon, within Dempster’s Hotel, Aberdeen there will be exposed for sale by public roup :- The beautiful ESTATE of DURN, in the Parish of Fordyce, and County of Banff.

The Estate comprehends the Mansion House, gardens and offices of Durn, North and South Mains , Broomhills, Westside, Muiryhillock, Meikle and Little Auchmillie, Knockdurn, Damheads, Sourtack, Redstack, Dykeside, Longmuir, Brodiesord, Badenspink, and Mill of Durn, with the Crofts of Durn occupied by the inhabitants of Portsoy – containing in whole, 1491 Scotch Acres – exclusive of the share of 285 Acres of adjoining Common.

The lands are situated in the immediate vicinity of the town of Portsoy; and extend along both sides of the turnpike road, from Portsoy to Keith, for three miles.

The House and offices are modern, in good repair, and suitable for the accommodation of a respectable family. The greater part of the land is of excellent soil – and from its vicinity to Portsoy, is capable of great improvement.

The Barony of Durn holds of the Crown, and affords nearly two Freehold Qualifications; the remainder of the property is held of a Subject Superior, for payment of a trifling Feu-duty. The lands of Durn have an unlimited servitude for Moss, on a neighbouring estate. The present rent is £1150.19s 10d sterling, 89 Bolls, 1 Firlot of meal – 6 Bolls of Bear, 1 Swine and 6 Hens – but on the expiry of the present leases (a great part of which takes place at Whitsunday next) a very considerable rise may be depended on. The term of payment for the price will be made convenient for a purchaser – and great part of it may remain in his hands for several years. The purchaser may have immediate access to the Mansion House, offices, gardens, and Mains Farm.

For particulars enquire at John Morison, W.S.; P. Cameron, Writer, in Banff; or Alex. Crombie, Advocate in Aberdeen – who will show the Plan, Rental and Titles.

>>>>>From “Bonnie Portsoy” by James Slater:-


Overlooking Portsoy is the Hill of Durn, so it is inevitable that the name should appear in and around the town. About 1½ miles south of Portsoy is the Mill of Durn, no longer in operation. The last miller to work the mill was Mr. James Davidson. Another occupant is there now with other interests.

A road leading inland from the town is Durn Road; this takes us past some old substantial properties, and on to the modern Kirkwood area bungalows. Continuing on this road we reach Mains of Durn, farmed by Mr. & Mrs A. Stuart.

Durn House built in 1770, stands near there, a solitary mansion partly hidden by the trees around it. Across the road are the farm buildings and the Doo-cote, still a nesting place for the “doos.”

Durn House has been the home of some eminent personalities. James Ferguson 1710-1776 a noted astronomer lived there. Among the owners and tenants were Gordon of Letterfourie and Nicholas Dunbar of Durn; he was the Sheriff that sentenced the freebooter, James McPherson. There was also Francis G. Souter 1842-1849; Robert Wilson, 1850-1865; and George Stevenson1865-1884. The house was taken over by the Earls of Seafield in 1884.

Note :- The following Death Notice appeared in the “Times” newspaper in June 2000 intimating the death of Sir Drummond Dunbar, of Durn, M.C. on 12th. June. Whitaker’s Almanack of 1999 gives his full name as Sir Drummond Cospatrick Ninian Dunbar, Bt. M.C. and shows that the Baronetcy was created in Scotland in 1698:-

>>>>> From the Times Newspaper, June, 2000:-

DEATH NOTICE – DUNBAR of Durn – Sir Drummond Bt., M.C. On 12th. June, peacefully at home, devoted and much loved husband of Sheila and beloved and loving father of Robert and grandfather of Alexander and Rosanna. Enquiries to Pitcher & le Quesne Ltd., Funeral Directors. Tel :- 01534 733330

>>>>>From the Times Newspaper, Wednesday, 29th May 2002: -

DEATH NOTICE – Dunbar of Durn – Sheila. Peacefully in Jersey on 25th May 2002. Dearly loved wife of the late Sir Drummond and loving mother of Robert and grandmother of Alexander and Rosanna. Enquiries to Pitcher & Le Quesne Ltd., Funeral Directors. Tel:- 01534 733330

From the book “In Leisure Hours” (Printed Privately in 1946) by Dr. John Cumming, M.D. F.R.C.S.E.E. F.R.C.S.P.


James Ferguson

On the 25th day of April in the year 1710, James Ferguson was born in a small cottage at the Core of Mayen, in the parish of Rothiemay. He became a man of science, perhaps the most distinguished of his age. He was the second son of a considerable family. His father was a small crofter, but evidently, for the period in which he lived, of considerable resource and education. While teaching his elder son to read from a primer, once well known in Scotland, and the shorter catechism, James was an intent listener, and when left by himself proceeded to con over the lesson of the day. When difficulties presented he betook himself to a neighbour, an elderly lady, who, “helped the lame dog over the stile.” One day the father came upon James reading by himself. He was so pleased that immediately he began to teach him writing. and this, with three months, at the Grammar School of Keith, was all the schooling he had.

At an early age Ferguson showed signs of remarkable inherent ability. It became manifest by odd accident. When eight years of age his father’s cottage became insecure and the roof began to sag. His father proceeded to rectify the fault, using a lever of the first order. James was a witness to the whole proceeding and was struck with wonderment not unmixed with alarm at the exhibition of such strength. He pondered the matter and two years later wrote a treatise upon levers, which he called Bars, levers he had never heard of. He showed his paper to a gentleman, who told him that all this was well known, showing him pictures in a book of the different kinds of levers. With this he was much pleased and delighted, for he discovered that the calculations he had made almost coincided with those given in the book.

When he was about ten years of age his father engaged him to a farmer to herd sheep and while tending his flock he amused himself by making models of such machines as he had seen, mills, spinning wheels, &c. Here he continued for some four years. He then changed to another farmer, the memory of whom he never ceased to recall for the great kindness he showed him, and the encouragement he bestowed upon him during all the time he remained serving him. The farmer observed that at night when work was over James betook himself to the fields with a blanket. At first the farmer laughed at the boy, but when explanation was given him of the purpose in hand he gave him every encouragement.


The stars had already begun to fascinate the boy. and the purpose of his night vigils was to observe and study those heavenly bodies. He developed a technique of his own, employing a piece of string upon which he threaded a series of beads, and, reclining on his back, covered more or less with the blanket he held the string at arm’s length, shifting a bead until it obscured a star, repeating the process with another, and so on. By candlelight he noted the distances, transferred the figures to paper and made his calculations. Thus he continued until his employer understood the position and observed with what earnestness he prosecuted his quest.

He then, during the day. would join him, relieve him of his work, apply himself to the task in hand, so that the boy might do his calculations in daylight. It is said that Heaven helps those that help themselves. In this case that indeed was amply proven. One day he was sent on a message to the parish minister of Keith. Arriving at the manse, he found the good man examining a series of maps. These the minister explained to him, told him that the world was round, and at the request of the lad lent him maps, and supplied the material necessary for making copies of them. He accomplished the task, made a sphere of wood. pasted the map thereon, and again betook himself to the manse. On this occasion he met, and was introduced to a Mr Grant. of Achoynany, the result being that he was invited to stay with this gentleman, so that his butler, a very learned man, could help him.

Ultimately, he took up residence there, and found the butler all or even more than he was led to expect. Ferguson thus describes Mr Cantly: “He was a complete master of arithmetic, geometry and algebra, a good mathematician, a master of music on every known instrument except the harp, understood Latin, French and Greek, let blood extremely well, and could even prescribe as a physician upon any urgent occasion. He was what is generally called ‘self-taught,’ but I think he might with much greater propriety be termed God Almighty’s Scholar. He taught me decimal arithmetic and algebra. I had already learned vulgar arithmetic. ”

When Ferguson was about twenty two, he made a clock; the wheels were of wood and the bell upon which the hammer struck the hours was the neck of a broken bottle. The clock went tolerably well. Watches also did not escape his attention. He apparently had little or no opportunity of examining one, and could not conceive how a spring might be fixed in so small a compass capable of operating the mechanism. A lucky chance gave him an opportunity to both see and examine the works of a watch. One day a gentleman on horseback was passing his father’s house. An enquiry of him for the time of day elicited not only the suitable answer but at the same time an adequate description of the works, which Ferguson was allowed to examine. At first he did not grasp the whole meaning but having received a little further instruction said he understood.


He then proceeded to make a watch which, when finished, was about the size of a teacup. It did not go, but he discovered the reason. The whalebone spring had not sufficient power to overcome the resistance of the wooden wheels. He had heard that Sir James Dunbar, of Durn House, was much interested in all mechanical appliances – this was not the Durn House of today, it was removed in 1770. Some years later he set out to visit this gentleman, taking with him maps, his globe, and the clock. He was graciously received, invited to remain, did so, and was resident there for several months. Sir James asked him to clean his clock, and althongh he had never done this work he accomplished it successfully. This led to similar requests from many others, so that he was able to help his father financially. The pillars at the gate of the house were surmounted by round balls: on one he painted a terrestrial globe, and on the other a celestial globe. The latter he copied from one which belonged to a neighbouring gentleman.

Lady Dipple, sister of Sir James Dunbar, visited Durn House while Ferguson was still a resident there. She was quick to appreciate his genius and asked him to draw patterns on aprons and gowns for needlework. This he accomplished, partly from samples given him and others according to his own fancy. This work having been done to the entire satisfaction of the lady, others commissioned him to do the same for them, thus helping him financially.

At this juncture he was still uncertain what his life work was to be. He had copied several paintings in the house, and had painted a portrait of Lady Dipple and of her son in law, and Mr Baird, of Auchmedden. On the invitation of Lady Dipple he accompanied her to Edinburgh, remaining with her there for two years. Here he continued to paint, receiving quite a number of sitters through the influence of this, his generous friend. But the fascination of the stars still held him, and he returned to his first love with renewed zest.

In 1743 he set out for London, and quite early thereafter he exhibited one of his many inventions. His days were full of work, including lecturing, &c., his inventive mind was never at rest, he soared from height to height, was created a Fellow of the Royal Society, a distinction coveted by many, and perhaps the greatest honour that can be bestowed upon a man of science. He died in 1776.

(Book1.8/The Dunbars of Durn)


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