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The name Matheson comes from the Gaelic MacMathan, "son of the bear", not to be confused with the English Mathewson which is simply "son of Mathew". The MacMathans were settled in Lochalsh in Wester Ross from an early period. Kenneth MacMathan, traditionally Constable of Eilean Donan Castle, is recorded in both the Chamberlain Rolls and the Norse account of the expedition of King Haakon IV against Scotland in 1263, which culminated in his defeat at Largs.
The Mathesons fought for Donald of the Isles at Harlaw in 1411. Alasdair McMhurchaidh, Clan Chief and leader of 2,000 men, was arrested by James I at Inverness in 1427, along with other Highland chiefs. Alasdair and four sons died in the battle of Cnoc na Catach in 1438. Although the record is silent on the immediately subsequent years, a probable son, Iain Dubh Matheson the Elder, eventually succeeded to the Chiefship. Iain was followed by his son, Iain Dubh Matheson the Younger, and one of his younger sons, Donald, may have been the forbear of the Mathesons of Shinness.
Iain Dubh the Younger, Constable of Eilean Donan Castle, was killed in 1539 defending the fortress against the Macdonalds, who were allied with his cousin, Murdoch Buidhe, a rival claimant for the chiefship. After the death of another brother of Iain, Dugald Ruadh, Murdoch Buidhe's claim to the chiefship was unchallenged.
Murdoch Buidhe's son, Roderick of Fernaig, succeeded him as chief. Roderick was followed successively by three Johns, son, grandson and great grandson. The great grandson, John (Iain Mor) Matheson, bought land on the Black Isle (East Suddy in 1688; Bennetsfield in 1697) and with his family left Lochalsh. The Chiefship of the Mathesons remained with this family, the Mathesons of Bennetsfield, until 1975 when the then Chief, Colonel Bertram Matheson of Matheson, M.C. died without issue. Meanwhile, Iain Mor's nephew, Farquhar, took over Attadale and his successors continued to hold land in Lochalsh until Attadale was sold in 1825 by John Matheson IVth of Attadale.
John's eldest son Alexander Matheson (b. 1805) (later of Ardross and Lochalsh), a 6 x great grandson of Roderick of Fernaig and grandfather of the present Chief, went to China to join his maternal uncle James, a Sutherland Matheson, a founder partner in Jardine Matheson & Co. Alexander returned to Scotland in 1840 and started to buy land in Ross-shire. In 1851 he recovered the Lochalsh estate. He was created Baronet of Lochalsh in 1882. His grandson, Major Sir Torquhil Matheson of Matheson, 6th Baronet, succeeded Colonel Bertram Matheson of Matheson, M.C., as Chief of the Mathesons, by tanistry, in 1975 and on his death in 1993 was succeeded by his younger brother, Major Sir Fergus Matheson of Matheson, 7th Baronet. Fergus died in 2017 and was succeeded by his son, Alexander, the current chief who is the 8th Baronet of Lochalsh and 28th Chief of the Clan.
From the Sutherland Mathesons descend Sir James Matheson, 1st and last Baronet of the Lews, of the Shinness branch. He joined Dr. William Jardine in founding the mercantile house of Jardine Matheson & Co. trading in India and China. On returning to Scotland he bought the Island of Lewis in 1844 and was created Baronet of the Lews in 1851 for his exertions and generosity in alleviating the sufferings of the inhabitants of the island during a period of famine.
Today, descendants of Lochalsh and Sutherland (Shinness) Mathesons are to be found in many overseas countries, particularly in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and the U.S.A.
Every Matheson has a unique part to play in the lives of their own family and that of the Clan. In addition, members of the Matheson family have made their mark in all walks of life
throughout history and across the world. These are just a few of them in order of their date of birth.
Sir James Matheson (1796-1878), 1st and last Baronet of the Lews, was from the Shinness branch of the Sutherland Mathesons. He and Dr William Jardine founded Jardine Matheson & Co, a highly successful mercantile company which traded in India and China. When he returned to Scotland, he bought the island of Lewis in 1844, and was created Baronet of the Lews in 1851 for his exertions and generosity in alleviating the sufferings of the inhabitants of the island during a period of famine. [Wikipedia]
Sir Alexander Matheson, 1st Baronet of Lochalsh (1805-1886), six times great grandson of Dugald an Oir, joined his maternal (Sutherland Matheson) uncle's firm, Jardine Matheson & Co, in China. When Alexander returned to Scotland in 1840 he started to buy land in Ross-shire, and in 1851 he recovered the Lochalsh estate. He was created Baronet of Lochalsh in 1882. His 5th son, Torquhil George, became a General in the British Army. [Wikipedia]
Robert Matheson (1808-1878) was an influential Edinburgh-based architect and Clerk of Works for Scotland. He designed many prominent buildings throughout Scotland, a number of which still survive today, including the Palm House in Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens, and the General Post Office in Edinburgh. His indirect claim to literary fame is that, by giving Charles Altamont Doyle a job as a favour to his friends the Doyle family who were then living in London, he was responsible for Charles coming to Edinburgh and meeting his wife-to-be, Mary Foley, and thus the subsequent birth in 1859 of their son Arthur: later Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. [Wikipedia]
Sir Louis Matheson, KBE, CMG (1912-2002), was born in Huddersfield, UK, and became the foundation Vice Chancellor of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. [Wikipedia]
The Very Rev. Dr. James Matheson (1912-2007) Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1975, had a distinguished career that bridged ecclesiastical divides. From a beginning as a Free Church minister, he moved to the Church of Scotland, serving initially in Dunedin, New Zealand, before returning to his native country as minister of Blackhall St Columba's Parish Church in Edinburgh. His growing interest in Christian Stewardship, led to his appointment as the first full-time secretary of the Church of Scotland's stewardship and budget committee, for which he was awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity by the University of Edinburgh. [Wikipedia]
Major-General John Matheson (1912-2003), was a distinguished man of medicine and a renowned surgeon who saw active service in the Second World War in the Royal Army Medical Corps and eventually became Dean of Postgraduate Medicine at Edinburgh University. He specialised in tropical diseases but had a reputation as an expert on such subjects as gunshot wounds and gas gangrene.
John Ross Matheson OC CD QC FRHSC, (1917-2013), was a Canadian lawyer, judge and member of parliament who helped develop Canada's maple leaf flag, adopted in 1965, and the Order of Canada, established in Canada's centennial year, 1967, by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. For many years, he was active in the Clan's Canada branch, attending highland games and other events across North America and the UK. [Wikipedia]
Diana Matheson (1984- ) is a professional soccer player who was part of the Canadian women's soccer team which qualified for the Olympics for the first time in Canadian soccer history. She earned bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games and represented Canada in 2015 at the World Cup on home soil. [Wikipedia]
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Mathesons of Lochalsh came under the influence and power of the Mackenzies and the MacDonells of Glengarry. This was also a time of turbulence and migration
for these Mathesons of the West, many of them moving from Lochalsh to Skye, Lewis and many mainland parts. In his Genealogical History of the House of Sutherland, written in 1631, Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun paints a
sharply contrasting picture of the relative position of the Mackenzies and the Mathesons within the Earldom of Sutherland:
"Ther is a race of people in Southerland, of equal, yea rather of greater force than the `Seill Thomas [Mackenzies in `Southerland, apparently of Ardmeanagh] called Seill Wogan [Siol Mhathan], seed of MacMathan or Mathesons".
Their standing during these years, allowed the Mathesons to retain their lands of Shinness, which they had held from the time of Iomhair Matheson of Shinness in the 15th century, if not earlier. With the continued backing of the Earls of Sutherland, the Clan was able to achieve continuity of occupation of Shinness for at least four hundred years. The Shinness territory formed the eastern part of a large tract of land known as the Breachat, which extended from the Ross-shire borders in the south west of Sutherland to the upper reaches of Ben Armine in the North East. Gordonstoun describes the area graphically in his history of 1631:
"Ther is a part of Southerland called Breachat: that is the hight of Cattey, or Southerland full of cornes, fresh water fishes, grasse, cattell, woods, deir, and wildfouall, verie pleasant, and exceeding profitable for feiding of bestiall; it is tuentie mylls in lenth, and is divyded into two pairts by the River Shin, which proceeds from Loch Shin, and running from the north to the south, entereth into the river of Port-ne-Couture; that part of Breachat which lyes east and northeast from Logh Shin joynes with the Diri-More at Phuarran-poole-dai. The western pairt of Breachat is called the Barony of Gruids, wherin is contained the forrest of Diri-Meanigh, with Corri-kean-losh, Steill-Chorri, Garwelayd,and Craigskaulay; the deir of the forrest, and also of all the rest of the forrests and schases in Southerland are fatter and bigger than other deir in Scotland".
The Clan following may also have extended into the Barony of Gruids, on the Western bank of Loch Shin and of its southern tributary, the Shin. By the late 18th century, the Chiefs of the Siol of Mathan held the lands as a wadset, or redeemable estate, within the earldom. The estate was lost when the Countess of Sutherland, pursuing a consolidation policy, redeemed the wadset in 1809. However, the line of the Chiefs of Sutherland retained an estate at Achany, on the West bank of the Shin, for some years thereafter.
In the 15th Century, the Mathesons constituted a major clan and all branches derived from Lochalsh. The Chief could raise 2,000 fighting men. As befitted his rank, he was attended by a bodyguard of twelve
and his Gillie Mor, or Champion. Many Clans and Chiefs refused to accept the overlordship of the Kings of Scots. Most prominent of the opponents was the semi-royal Lord of the Isles, to whom the Matheson Chief adhered. When the
Scottish King James I, long a prisoner in England, assumed his throne, he determined to smash the recalcitrant nobles and Chiefs, and called together a Parliament at Inverness. Among those who attended was the Matheson Chief, Alastair
Mac Mhurchaidh, who was arrested and conveyed to Edinburgh. Later, a feud with the Mackays led to his death at the Battle of Cnoc nan Catach in 1438.
Alastair's grandson, John Dubh the Younger became the Chamberlain of Eilean Donan Castle, and was killed in 1539 while defending the castle against an onslaught by Macdonald of Sleat. After these setbacks, the Clan gradually declined, eroded by the constant incursions of its turbulent neighbours. Dugald Roy, John Dubh's brother, had a claim to the Chiefship. This was successfully contested by their cousin's grandson, Murdoch Buidhe. Murdoch Buidhe had three sons, Roderick of Fernaig, ancestor of the Bennetsfield Mathesons, Dugald an Oir of Balmacara and Iain Og. Roderick's great grandson, John (Ian Mor), bought land on the Black Isle, first at East Suddy in 1688, and then at Bennetsfield in 1697, and left Lochalsh with his family.
The Chiefship remained with the Mathesons of Bennetsfield until 1975, when the then Chief, Colonel Bertram Matheson of Matheson MC, died childless. Dugald's son (also Ian Og) had extensive lands in Lochalsh. He left these to Alexander, the eldest of his three sons, who purchased more land in Lochalsh. Ian Og also had a fourth son, who was killed at the battle of Glenshiel in 1719. Individual Mathesons took part in the Stuart risings of 1715 and 1745 but the Clan did not formally support either side because by then it had become too scattered and had no effective Chief. Alexander's third son, Farquhar, succeeded to most of his father's property. The house and lands at Fernaig were bequeathed to him by his cousin of Bennetsfield, who had been Chief of the Clan in 1687. Farquhar was succeeded by John 1st of Attadale, who purchased the Attadale estate for his son Donald, who built the mansion at Attadale in 1755 as well as being factor for the Seaforth estates of Kintail, Lochalsh and Lochcarron.
Donald left no children, while John's second son, Kenneth, was killed at the capture of Quebec. As a result, the estates passed to the 3rd son, Alexander. His son, John IVth of Attadale, sold the property in 1825. Following the death of Colonel Bertram Matheson, the Chiefship returned to Lochalsh. It passed by tanistry to Major Sir Torquhil Alexander Matheson of Matheson, 6th Baronet of Lochalsh, descended from Dugald an Oir through his great grandfather, John Matheson IVth of Attadale. Torquhil was succeeded in 1993 by his younger brother, Major Sir Fergus John Matheson of Matheson, 7th Baronet. Fergus died in 2017 and was succeeded by his son, Alexander Fergus, who is the 8th Baronet of Lochalsh and 28th Chief of the Clan.
Set out below is a table detailing the chronology of the chiefs, from Mathghamhain in 1225 to the present day chief, Sir Alexander Matheson. The timescale spans an incredible 792 years of history.
|VII||Murdoch||Flourished circa 1400||-|
|VIII||Alasdair||Died 1438||Killed - Battle of Cnoc Nan Catach|
|IX||Iain Dubh the elder||Died 1490s||-|
|X||Alasdair MacRuaidhri||Died 1506||-|
|XI||Iain Dubh the younger||Died 1539||Chamberlain - Eilean Donan Castle|
|XII||Dugald Roy||Flourished 1540s||-|
|XIII||Murdoch Buidhe||Flourished 1530-70s||-|
|XIV||Roderick (1st of Fernaig)||Died before 1600||-|
|XV||Iain (2nd of Fernaig)||Flourished 1600s||AKA Iain McRuari Mhic Mhathoin|
|XVI||Iain Og||Flourished 1660s||-|
|XVII||Iain Mor||Died 1715||-|
|XVIII||Alexander (1st of Bennetsfield||Held post as chief 1715||-|
|XIX||John (2nd of Bennetsfield)||1754 - 1768||Present at Battle of Culloden - 1746|
|XX||Colin (3rd of Bennetsfield)||1763 - 1825||-|
|XXI||John (4th of Bennetsfield)||1825 - 1843||-|
|XXII||James Brook Young (5th of Bennetsfield)||1843 - 1886||-|
|XXIII||Eric Grant (6th of Bennetsfield)||1886 - 1899||-|
|XXIV||Heylin Fraser (7th of Bennetsfield||1899 - 1945||-|
|XXV||Bertram Heylin (9th of Bennetsfield)||1945 - 1975||-|
|XXVI||Torquhil Alexander||1975 - 1993||-|
|XXVII||Fergus John||1993 - 2017||-|
|XXVIII||Alexander Fergus||2017 - Present day||-|
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Glaic Chailen "Colin's Valley" According to an old tradition, Mary, daughter of Kenneth Grumach, married a man called Colin Fitzgerald. They promised to name their first born son
Kenneth, but called him Colin instead, and named their second son Kenneth. This caused considerable offence, and certain Mathesons lured young Colin to this valley, and murdered him close by, at Torr-an-tadraidh (the mound of
the murdering place). The perpetrators of the crime fled to Sutherland and became the progenitors of the original line of the Chiefs of Matheson of Shinness.
Achadh-dà-thearnaidh (The Field of the Two Declivities) The Clan Gathering Place is generally accepted as the open space of field at the head of Loch Achaid-na-h-inich, which is overlooked by the Fort.
Fort Now surrounded by fir trees, the site has a magnificent commanding position. It is easy to make out the outlines of the walls and one or two chambers.
Crannog in Loch Achaid-na-h-Inich The heap of stones in the loch are all that remains of an island castle which at one time was owned by Mathesons. In the time of Dugald Roy, it was possessed by MacDonald of Glengarry, who shared the Lochalsh grazings and rents with Dugald Roy. Dugald an Oir's descendants lived at Attadale on the Lochalsh peninsula until 1825, when the house was sold by John Matheson 4th of Attadale. The house is now owned by the Macpherson family.
Lochalsh Parish Church, Kirkton There has been a church in this vicinity since the Celtic era, when Comgan, an exiled Prince of Leinster, established a cell or small monastery in 720AD. The current Presbyterian church, right on the coast, dates back to 1807. Many Mathesons are buried in the cemetery which surrounds it.
Eilean Donan Castle Although now the home of the Clan MacRae, one legend has it that Eilean Donan was founded by a Matheson. The story goes that Alexander II (1214-1250) commissioned the son of an early Matheson chief to build the castle, in order to protect his subjects against Norwegian invaders. It is certainly true that Eilean Donan has been associated with the Mathesons for many centuries. In 1539, the then constable of Eilean Donan, Iain (John) Dubh Matheson of Fernaig, was killed defending the castle against Donald Gorm MacDonald of Sleat, who was attempting unsuccessfully to re-establish the MacDonalds as Lords of the Isles. Eilean Donan Castle was bombarded and destroyed in 1719 by the English fleet at the time of the Battle of Glenshiel. When Sir Alexander Matheson bought the land in 1851 the ruin must have been included. It was later sold by his eldest son Sir Kenneth, 2nd Baronet, to Major John Macrae-Gilstrap, who restored the castle to its present state.
For more information about the castle, the official Eilean Donan Castle website, is well worth visiting. You will find a link to the site on our Information page.
As yet, the Canadian branch of the Society does not yet host a website. Should this change, we will include a direct link to it, as and when it becomes available. In the interim, please contact one of the officers above, for further assistance.
We've amassed a number of photos over the years of locations and buildings with a Matheson connection, our Chiefs and Clan emblems, and from events, most recently from the Edinburgh Tattoo of 2017. Aside from the examples included in the gallery above this link (click on the images) and elsewhere on this website, you'll find a wealth of further images on the UK branch website: Click here for a direct link.
Our Facebook page is also being developed as a source of interesting and useful material and as such is a good place to view photos, submitted by both the Society and members alike. If you've any photos of your own, that you feel are notable and worthy of inclusion, then do please post them up. We would love to see them.