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Ferguson


The name Ferguson is an Anglicization of the Gaelic "Macfhearghus", son of Fergus a personal name of old Celtic origin. Although often considered as one clan, there are at least four main families of this name spread throughout the country in Argyllshire, Ayrshire, Fife, Perthshire and Aberdeenshire. Of the Highland Fergusons, those from Argyll, held the estate of Glenshellich and were hereditary sheriffs of Strachur, following the Campbells. In the roll of 1587, they are named as among the septs of Mar and Athole, where their proper seat as a clan originally lay, having chiefs and captains of their own.  The family sold the lands in 1801 to meet debts and the direct line is now extinct. In Perthshire, there were Fergusons in Atholl and Balquhidder who in keeping with many of their neighbouring clans (e.g. MacGregors) were of constant trouble to the King's authority. However many Perthshire Fergusons were strong supporters of the Stuart cause and fought under Montrose, Bonnie Dundee and with the Atholl Brigade at Culloden. On the other hand, many of those from Argyll, Aberdeenshire and the Lowlands supported the Hanoverian cause often fighting opposite their namesakes. Although the Fergussons of Kilkerran were technically Lowland and unrelated to the Highland Fergusons, the head of the family began to be regarded as senior from the 18th century onwards. Today Fergusson of Kilkerran is regarded as chief of the whole name. One of the most distinguished soldiers of this century was Sir Bernard Ferguson, 1st Lord Ballantrae and Governor-General of New Zealand from 1962 to 1967.

Another Account of the Clan

BADGE: Ros-greine (helium thymum mari-folium) Little sunflower.

Fergus ABOUT the year 1900 the present writer, in his quiet dwelling in the neighbourhood of Loch Lomond, was surprised one evening by a visit from a handsome young Highlander in a grey kilt, who stated that he had walked all the way from Keppoch in Lochaber in the hope of finding employment. At a venture the writer suggested that his vjsitor might be of the well-known race of the MacDonalds of Keppoch; but the suggestion was met instantly with the somewhat disconcerting reply: "MacDonald! The MacDonalds have only been in Keppoch for four hundred years; my people have been there for many many hundred years before that." On being asked who his people might be, the young adventurer replied that his name was MacFhearguis. At the request to write down the name, he had some difficulty in doing it, but he had no difficulty whatever in describing a long line of ancestry which stretched back through Fergus, son of Erc, and a long line of Irish kings, to no less a person than Scota, the daughter of Pharoah himself. The young man explained that a large part of the district now held by Cameron of Lochiel had originally belonged to his race, and that the original Cameron, who was not a Gael but a Briton from Dunbartonshire, who had got his name, "Cam-shron" or "crooked nose," from damage to that feature accruing from his warlike disposition, had originally acquired a footing in the country by fighting the battles, and marrying a daughter, of the MacFhearguis chief. The immediate ancestor of the young man from Keppoch, it appeared, had fought at Culloden, and, being exiled to America, there married an Indian princess. The son of the pair had returned to this country and had become the ancestor of the midnight rambler.

At present (1923) there is living in New York a claimant to the Chiefship of the clan, who signs himself "Clann Fhearguis of Strachur," who has been the hero of many strange adventures, and avers that his ancestors possessed lands on Loch Fyneside.

Whatever the authority for the various parts of the statement as given by the astonishing young Highlander above mentioned, it is certain, so far as Gaelic tradition can go, that the first important settlement on these shores from the north of Ireland was made in the year 503 by three brothers, Lorn, Fergus, and Angus, sons of Erc, of the Royal Scottish race; so Clan Fergusson can claim a sufficiently high antiquity for its name, though it may be difficult to prove direct descent from these early Scoto-Irish chiefs.

This traditional origin of the clan name was turned to amusing and useful account on one historic occasion. In 1583, after the escape of King James VI. from the Earl of Gowrie and other lords of the English faction who had made him prisoner at the Raid of Ruthven, he summoned a number of hostile ministers of the Kirk to appear before him at Dunfermline. Their reception was anything but friendly, and the situation was only saved by the quaint humour of one of them, Mr. David Ferguson. The King, he averred, ought to listen to him if no other, for he had relinquished the crown in his favour. Was not he, Ferguson, the descendant of Fergus, the first Scottish king, and had he not cheerfully resigned the title to his Grace, as he was an honest man, and had possession. By this, and more to like effect, mixed with some subtle flatteries of the King’s literary performances, he turned James’s wrath aside and secured a peaceful dismissal.

In the sixth century a holder of the name played a part which has had far-reaching effect upon the later Christian history of Scotland. In the early Life of St. Mungo or Kentigern, it is related how in the year 543 that Saint, himself a member of the royal British race, having left the household of his early protector, St. Serf, at Culross, came, at Carnock near Stirling, to the door of a certain holy man, Fregus or Fergus, then on the point of death. This holy man directed Kentigern to place his body after death upon a car, to harness to it two unbroken bullocks, and to take it for burial whither the bullocks might lead. With his sacred charge Kentigern made his way to a place then known as Cathures, now Glasgow, and at a little burying-ground on the banks of the Molendinar, which had been consecrated by St. Ninian 150 years before, he buried the body. The spot is now covered by Blackadder’s Aisle, on the south side of Glasgow Cathedral, which is otherwise known, from the fact just narrated, as Fergus’ Aisle. Within a few yards of it Kentigern raised his early chapel and cell, and from that spot spread the Christian gospel through the whole province of the Strathclyde Britons, before he died in 603.

Meantime there had been at least one other King of Scots of the name of Fergus, which, as a matter of fact, is said to be derived from the Gaelic Fear, a man, Gais, a spear, and to be cognate to the English name Shakespeare; so the Clan Fergus might claim descent from several royal forebears, as well as from Fergus, Lord of Galloway, in 1165, whose wife was a daughter of Henry I. of England. The first solid mention of the name in more modern history, however, is in the charter by which King Robert the Bruce conferred certain lands in Ayrshire on " Fergusio filio Fergusii," who was ancestor of the family of Kilkerran, of which Lieut.General Sir Charles Fergusson is the head at the present hour. Families of the name, it is true, were to be found in other parts of the country, and Thomas, Earl of Mar, granted a charter of the lands of Auchenerne in Crotharty to Eoghan or Ewen Fergusson, who appears in the confirmation granted by David II. at Kildrummie Castle in 1364 as " Egoni Filio Fergussii." There have been Fergusons for six centuries in Balquhidder, represented now by those of Immerveulin and of Ardandamh, the latter in Laggan on Loch Lubnaig in Strathyre. Fergussons were also to be found in Mar and Athol, where, in the clan map included in Brown’s History of the Highlands, the neighbourhood of Dunfallandie is given as the country of Baron Fergusson. Dunfallandie is still in possession of this ancient family, who have owned it since the time of King John Baliol.

It is difficult to say who claimed the chiefship in those early centuries, although in the roll drawn up in 1587 the Fergussons appear among the "clanis that hes capitanes, cheiffis, and chiftanes quhome on they depend." The most notable family of the name, however, since the days of Bruce has undoubtedly been that of Kilkerran. Another noted family has been that of Fergusson of Craigdarroch in Glencairn parish, one of whom remains famous as the victor in the tremendous drinking bout celebrated in Robert Burns’ poem, "The Whistle." This family definitely claims descent from Fergus, the powerful Lord of Galloway of the twelfth century, already mentioned.

From the Fergus Fergusson of Robert the Bruce’s time, the lands of Kilkerran descended to Sir John Fergusson, Knight, of the days of Charles I., when the family suffered considerable reverses of fortune, and had their lands alienated. Presently, however, John Fergusson, son of Simon Fergusson of Auchinwin, the youngest son of Sir John, acquired great reputation and fortune as an advocate, advanced the funds for clearing the family estate, and in 1703 was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia. Sir James, the eldest son of the first baronet, was also a noted lawyer, who became a judge of the Court of Session and Court of Justiciary in 1749, under the title of Lord Kilkerran. He married the only child of Lord Maitland, son of the fifth Earl of Lauderdale, and grandson of the twelfth Earl of Glencairn, and of his nine sons and five daughters, the fourth son George also became a Lord of Session as Lord Hermand. The eldest son, Sir Adam Fergusson, who was an LL.D., represented Ayrshire in Parliament for eighteen years and the city of Edinburgh for four.

Sir Adam’s nephew and successor, Sir James Fergusson, married the second daughter of the famous Sir David Dairymple, Bart., Lord Hailes, who himself had married a daughter of Sir James Fergusson, Bart., Lord Kilkerran, and his eldest son and successor, Sir Charles, married the second daughter of the Right Hon. David Boyle, Lord Justice General of Scotland, and aunt of the seventh Earl of Glasgow. The son of this pair was the late Right Hon. Sir James Fergusson, Bart., P.C., K.C.M.G., of Kilkerran, who, among his many distinguished offices was Governor of Bombay, Governor of South Australia, and of New Zealand, as well as M.P. for Ayrshire and Under-Secretary of State for India and for the Home Department. To the end of his life he took an active part in public affairs, and was chairman of a commission for the furtherance of cotton-growing in the British colonies when he was killed in the great earthquake at Jamaica in 1907. His wife was a daughter of the Marquess of Dalhousie, and his son, Lieut.-General Sir Charles Fergusson, Bart., of Kilkerran, the present head of the family, is a very distinguished soldier.

Sir Charles joined the Grenadier Guards in 1883, became Adjutant in 1890, and, at the outbreak of the Sudan War in 1896, transferred to the Egyptian army, and served with the 10th Sudanese Battalion throughout the campaign of 1896-7-8. During this campaign he was severely wounded at Rosaires, was five times mentioned in despatches, had the brevets of Major, Lieut.-Colonel, and Colonel, and received the D.S.O. and the medal with eight clasps. He commanded the 6th Sudanese Battalion in 1899, and the garrison and district of Omdurman in 1900, and closed his record in Egypt as Adjutant-General from 1901 to 1903. Afterwards he commanded the 3rd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards from 1904 till 1907, was Brigadier-General on the General Staff of the Irish Command from 1907 till 1908, and Inspector of Infantry from 1909 till 1913. He is a Justice of the Peace, a Deputy Lieutenant of Ayrshire, and a Commander of the Bath. In 1901 he married Lady Alice Mary Boyle, second daughter of the Earl of Glasgow, by whom he has three Sons and one daughter. At the outbreak of the great European War Sir Charles was appointed to the command of the Second Division of the British Expeditionary Force in France, receiving the rank of Lieut.-General, and he was throughout actively and gallantly engaged in the arduous work of the campaign at the Front.

Among other celebrated people of the name of Fergusson a few out of a long list may be noted here. One of the most famous was David Ferguson, the Reformer, already referred to, who died in 1598, who was first a glover, then a minister at Dunfermline, who preached before the Regent against the taking away of church property, was Moderator of the General Assembly twice, and one of a deputation which administered one of the numerous admonishments to King James VI. He cornpiled a collection of Scottish proverbs, and wrote a curious critical analysis of the Song of Solomon. There was Robert Ferguson, "the Plotter," who died in 1714. He took an ardent part in the controversy about the legitimacy of the Duke of Monmouth, was one of the chief contrivers of the Rye House Plot, was chaplain to Monmouth’s army, and accompanied William of Orange in his landing in 1688. He afterwards became a Jacobite, and was committed to Newgate, but never brought to trial. More famous still was Robert Fergusson, the Scottish poet and exemplar of Burns, who died in 1774, and for whom Burns erected a tombstone in Canongate Churchyard. There was also Adam Fergusson, the Professor of Philosophy at Edinburgh, in whose house, the Sciennes at Edinburgh, Sir Walter Scott as a boy had his memorable meeting with Robert Burns. At the death of Robert Burns’ friend, the Earl of Glencairn, in 1796, Professor Ferguson made a claim to the earldom before the House of Lords as lineal descendant of and heir general to Alexander, created Earl of Glencairn in 1488, and to Alexander, Earl of Glencairn, who died in 1670, through the latter’s eldest daughter, Sir Adam’s great-grandmother, Lady Margaret Cunningham, wife of John, Earl of Lauderdale, and mother of fames, Lord Maitland, above referred to. But the Lords decided "although Sir Adam Ferguson has shown himself to be heir general to Alexander, Earl of Glencairn, who died in 1670, he hath not made out a right of such heir to the dignity of the Earl of Glencairn."

Last who may be noted was Sir Adam Ferguson, son of the above and long a familiar friend of Sir Walter Scott, who as a Captain of the 101st Regiment read the Sixth Canto of The Lady of the Lake to his company in the lines of Torres Veciras, afterwards became keeper of the Regalia of Scotland, and was knighted in 1822. Regarding him Lockhart in his Life of Scott recounts an amusing incident in which the poet Crabbe was concerned. He quotes the Life of Crabbe, in which that poet describes how on this occasion he met "Lord Errol, and the MacLeod, and the Fraser, and the Gordon, and the Ferguson," and conversed at dinner with Lady Glengarry. In a note regarding the allusion to Fergusson, Lockhart says:

"Sir Walter’s friend, the Captain of Huntly Burn, did not, as far as I remember, sport the Highland dress on this occasion, but no doubt his singing of certain Jacobite songs, etc., contributed to make Crabbe set him down for a chief of a clan. Sir Adam, however, is a Highlander."

Septs of Clan Fergus: Fergus, Ferries, MacAdie, MacFergus, MacKerras, MacKersey.


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