top of page


BY PETER MCNABB MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA I have always been intrigued by my great-great grandfather Mungo Macnab (McNab). The name Mungo itself conjures up images of a prehistoric and formidable warrior. What was this Mungo Man really like? How does he fit into the wider story of Clan Macnab?

Over 50 years ago, a family elder told me that Mungo had two wives and at least 14 children. As the story went, he lived on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyllshire in Scotland, worked as a tenant on a farm called Kilail, and was buried in Kilfinan Cemetery on the south-west coast of the Peninsula. All of this was enough to stimulate my interest and curiosity. In my spare time over many years, I have searched Scottish records, reference books and essays, and in 2014 with my wife Gayle made a pilgrimage to Scotland to understand more. My account now is much fuller and different from the sketchy outline I was given all those years ago.

Map of the Cowel Peninsular

Although taking place over 160 years ago, Mungo’s life has some elements of a modern family story – the love of the place in which he was born; the moves to several different houses over the 77 years of his life; the break-up of his first marriage, his wife leaving with the children; a second marriage taking place almost immediately; the passing on of specialist skills to his children; a sense of authoritarian control over his family; a scandalous relationship involving his young 21 year old son resulting in the birth of an “illegitimate” daughter; and the departure of all the surviving children to a faraway place in Canada to experience a new life immediately after his death.

Mungo Macnab was born in 1770 at Lephinkill farm in the Glendaruel valley of Kilmodan Parish, part of the Cowal Peninsula in Argyllshire as the youngest child of Donald Macnab and Christina Sinclair. The couple had at least four previous children at the farm – Donald born in 1761, Katherine in 1762, John in 1765, and Elizabeth (Lizzy) in 1766.

Mungo was baptised on 5th March 1770 at Kildaloain in the valley. From at least 1761 until 1793, his parents and over time his four siblings lived as tenants at Lephinkill where his father Donald was the head tenant known as the tacksman.

Glendaruel is a beautifully green glaciated valley in a remote and secret part of Argyll, extending some 60-70 miles south-west of the Clan Macnab stronghold at Killin in Perthshire. The area was full of Campbells and Lamonts at the time. How did Mungo’s family and one other Macnab family end up living here?

Family stories suggest that my ancestors were part of the Barachastalain Branch of the Macnabs, one of the two Argyll branches of the Clan. This branch claims to be descendants of Duncan, second son of Finlay who according to some accounts succeeded the first Macnab Chief, Gilbert of Bovain in the late 14th century.

Duncan chose to become a maker of swords, armour and jewellery and went to Italy to perfect his skills. When he returned to Scotland, he became a very accomplished craftsman for his fellow clansmen as well as the Campbells and even some Kings of Scotland. In 1440, he was commissioned to make the ironwork and supervise the building of the stronghold for the Campbells of Breadalbane at Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe in Argyll while Sir Duncan Campbell was in Spain fighting the Moors. To undertake this, Duncan built a house and forge at Barr a Chaistealain above the current village of Dalmaly, about 30 miles west of Killin and 50 miles north-west of my ancestors’ farms in Glendaruel.

For over 300 years, Duncan’s descendants developed their skills, handing the craft on from generation to generation. My great-great-great grandfather Donald made a ring or had one made in 1776 to signify the family’s allegiance to the British king. That ring has been passed down to family members for almost 250 years, and is now held by Charles (Chuck) MacNab in the St Louis area of the United States.

For my direct Macnab ancestors, the swords and armour probably became less significant as their involvement in fighting tapered off. Family members became more involved in farming towards the end of the 17th century. It is most likely that Mungo’s great-great grandparents lived and worked at that time in the small but significant settlement of Couston fronting Loch Striven at one of the southern tips of the Cowal Peninsula.

Donald, John and Duncan McNab were familiar names in my part of the family in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Donald was Mungo’s father and John was Mungo’s brother. Duncan was the eldest son from Mungo’s second marriage. A Donald, John and Duncan as well as a Finlay McNab were all together on the same property at Couston in 1693. They were included in the records there for the Hearth Tax, a tax of 14 shillings on every hearth in Scotland levied between 1690 and 1695 on both landowners and tenants to raise money for the army to quell any uprising against the British crown. The only other McNabs on the Cowal Peninsula on the 1693 Hearth Tax list were a John McNab at Glenselick between the head of Loch Eck and Strathur, and a Duncan McNab in Sligoch past Ormidale towards Tighnabruaich.

All of the McNabs at Couston except John also were included under Baron Cornelius McPhatrick’s lands on the 1692 List of Fencible Men, demonstrating again their allegiance to the British crown.

Couston, therefore, was a key focal point for the small number of McNabs that lived on the Cowal Peninsula in the late 17th century. It is not known when or how they came there. Couston was such an isolated location well removed from other areas where McNabs congregated that there is a suggestion that the McNabs there may have been in hiding. It appears that they did not want to be involved with other McNabs connected with the Jacobite uprising.

It is very likely that the McNabs at Couston were directly related to my family at Glendaruel in the 18th century, given the proximity of the two communities and the fact that the McNabs did not stay long at Couston after 1693. They were prompted to leave the area soon after Cornelius McPhadrick sold his lands to John Lamont of Kilfinan at the end of the century. The McNabs and Lamonts did not get along.

It would have been easy for the McNabs to take the direct route north for the 12 miles from Couston to Glendaruel in Kilmodan Parish. Family members likely became tenants on one or more farms there with Mungo’s father Donald, my great-great-great grandfather, and his wife Christina Sinclair ending up at Lephinkill sometime in the mid 1700s. By that time, there was only one other McNab family in the parish – John Macnab who had married Ann Clerk in about 1760 and had at least seven children there between 1762 and 1777.

Lephinkill is a lovely farm of 361 acres of meadow and hill, situated about a half a mile south of the Clachan (village) of Glendaruel and the distinctive Kilmodan Church originally built in 1783. Its name in Gaelic - lethpheighinn cille - meaning ‘halfpenny land of the church’ indicates that it once belonged to the church, probably generating income for the church and its minister.  From our visit in September 2014 and discussions with the owners Peter and Joy Kennedy, we could picture my great-great-great grandparents and their children along with several others in the small rustic farmhouse next to the barns, stable and sheds.

Mungo grew up in this environment. He worked hard on the farm. But he was not removed from one of the local scandals that came before the Kilmodan Kirk Session. In 1789, his master Alexander Macallan, the Baron MacChanich, was found to have “travelled over the country with a hussy called Ann Nicglasan.” According to the records, “he slept with her in Greenock and Glasgow under the cloak of being married to her”. The session was scandalised when he told it he had “lain with twenty girls”. They said he behaved with utmost impudence and contempt to the Session.” In an effort to clear his master’s name, Mungo Macnab came forward, stating that he “lay in the middle of both (Alexander and Ann) in the same bed one night in the Clachan and nothing had happened”.

In January 1793, Mungo - almost at the age of 23 - married Ann Campbell at Kilmodan Church. This was considered a prominent union for young Mungo. Ann was most likely related to the Campbells of Glendaruel who were the lairds of Lephinkill and other nearby farms.

Ann Campbell’s family background is not clear. From the record of their marriage, it does not appear that she was born in Kilmodan Parish. The most likely possibilities are that Ann was born between 1766 and 1770 in parishes in Argyll to the north of Kilmodan. There was an Ann baptised on 2 July 1766 in Glenorchy & Inishail Parish to a Colin Campbell and a McIntyre woman. Another Ann was baptised on 5 April 1770 in Kilninver & Kilmelfort Parish to John Campbell and an unknown woman. A more distant possibility is the Ann who was the daughter of Colin Campbell and baptised on 9 March 1777 in Balephtrish Parish on the Isle of Tiree to the west of the Isle of Mull and the nearby mainland part of Argyll. Ann’s birth continues to remain a mystery.

Mungo and Ann had five children at Lephinkill between 1796 and 1804 – Catherine,

John, Christina, Donald, and Colin. Mungo took on the role of tacksman from his

father and his position at Lephinkill was recognised when he became a member of the Glendaruel Friendly Society on 11 December 1811.

However, family stories suggest that tensions at that time erupted between Mungo and Ann. A major dispute over the couple’s religious beliefs caused the separation. Mungo was a strong adherent of the established Presbyterian Church of Scotland whereas Ann wanted to be more of a nonconformist.

This difference in views was not uncommon in Glendaruel and other parts of Scotland at that time. The Established Church of Scotland was becoming more gentrified. Many ministers rising through the ranks had less in common with their congregation. People saw the Church becoming the State Church closer to the law of the land than to the people. Often, the Church was referred to dismissively as the “polite church”.

As result, from about 1760 onwards, there were a series of secessions from the Established Church. In 1761, the Relief Church was formed. There also were Glassites, Congregationalists, Cameronians, Baptists, Auld Licht Burghers, and New Licht Burgers. Some were more popular than others and some had little more than a regional influence. However, together, they all made for fragmentation of the Church of Scotland. Glendaruel was affected by these disruptions and Ann, with her strong will, became more attached to a nonconformist arrangement.

By about 1806, it was clear that Mungo and Ann could not reconcile their differences. Mungo was adamant that the family remain part of the Established Church. Given his authoritarian nature and his position in the community particularly as the tacksman or head tenant at Lephinkill farm, it was evident to Ann that the only way for her to resolve this situation was to leave Mungo, the farm and the local community where she had been living since her marriage 13 years previously. It was an extremely bold and terrifying move. Ann knew that her husband could use the Scottish legal provisions at that time to apply immediately for a divorce on the basis of her desertion. That did not happen. Nor was there any discussion of the issue at the Kilmodan Kirk Session, as there is no record of this in their proceedings from 1804 to 1812. Perhaps Mungo or leaders in the Established Church had an influence on ensuring that nothing was raised or recorded.

Ann took the children away to a totally different environment where she could connect with a nonconformist church and live as far away as possible from Mungo. It was a traumatic experience for both Ann and her four young children, all under the age of 10. Although the full details are not known, Ann no doubt found some help from her Campbell family and may have gone back to live with them, or may have connected with other McNab families or communities away from Glendaruel. There is suggestion that she may have moved to Greenock or Glasgow as some of her children were there a few years later.

The separation from Ann no doubt had a major effect on Mungo. His connection with the Campbells of Glendaruel was broken and he could no longer work at Lephinkill. Although there may have been relief for him that the religious issue had been settled, the departure of Ann and their children probably aroused in him feelings of anger, humiliation and guilt within this closely knit community.

It appears likely that Ann died in 1810 or 1811. Mungo quickly found a new partner in Janet McNeil who was almost 20 years younger. At age 41 and with Janet at 22, they married on 10 January 1812 at Kilmodan in the same church where he married his first wife Ann. As he had to remove himself from Lephinkill, Mungo and his new wife became tenants of Evanachan farm in Stralachan Parish, about a mile north of Otter Ferry and eight miles to the west and over the hills on a narrow twisting road from Glendaruel.

Evanachan is a large cattle and sheep farm of about 1,295 acres with frontage of about two miles along Loch Fyne. The stone farmhouse and farm buildings occupy a beautiful position high up on a hill, commanding breathtaking sea views. It continues to operate as a working farm. The Barge family whom we met on our journey have been owners since the 1940’s and they have expanded their operation to include aquaculture through Otter Ferry Seafish Ltd, farming trout, salmon and halibut.

Mungo and Janet stayed at Evanachan for about five years. Four children were born on the farm – three daughters Anne, Elizabeth (Betsy) and Isabel in 1812, 1813 and 1817 respectively and their eldest son Duncan in 1815.

In about 1818, the family moved back to Glendaruel. They located some three to four miles north of the Clachan (village), settling first at Duiletter farm and then in about 1822, moving north to Conchra.

Duiletter was a good cattle pasture and hill farm of over 1,100 acres. It now contains a number of small houses used by timber workers on the adjacent forest lands. Conchra was a small settlement of farmhouses and buildings about a mile north of Duiletter. There is an attractive stone house remaining, immediately adjacent to the main road between Glendaruel and Strachur.

Eight children were born at these two farms between 1819 and 1830. Two sons John and Archibald (my great grandfather) were born at Duiletter in 1819 and 1821 respectively. The remaining six children – Mungo, Janet, Jane (Jean), Patrick, Mary and Peter were born at Conchra between 1823 and 1830.

It seems to me that Mungo and Janet had an authoritarian approach to their large family. They directed their sons to become skilled in specialist areas so they could continue working in the district rather than be encouraged to move elsewhere to the Glasgow area or overseas to Canada where many Cowal families including the children and grandchildren of the John and Ann Macnab family emigrated in the 1820s and 1830s. Mungo’s eldest son Duncan together with his brothers John and Mungo and later Peter were taught Mungo’s considerable skills with cattle, while Archibald became a stonemason.

Mungo and Janet also seemed to hold a tight rein over their daughters encouraging them to be good servants in their homes and for neighbouring families, but not to get married.

By 1833, the family, in need of larger accommodation, had moved again from Glendaruel over the mountains to the large Baronlongart estate in Kilfinan Parish. In the rather unexpected but very useful census undertaken by the Reverend Joseph Stark as part of his pastoral duties and recorded in the Kilfinan Register of Births and Marriages, 35 people were living at Baronlongart at this time. The Macnab family consisted of parents Mungo and Janet together with eight children – Ann, Duncan, John, Archy, Mungo, Janet, Jean and Patrick. Daughters Elizabeth and Isabel were shown on the census document in brackets, suggesting that, although they were part of the family, they were working somewhere else when the minister visited. There was no reference to Mary or Peter, suggesting that one or both of them had died.

Mungo and his family stayed at Baronlongart for a few years until they moved north within the same parish along the coast road to their last home at Kilail, a farm on the road immediately north of Otter Ferry. Here again they became part of a community of 35 living on the farm and Mungo was designated as tacksman.

Kilail continues to be a beautiful farm of over 500 acres of rolling countryside. Now occupied by a professional couple, it has stunning views of Loch Fyne.

Things began to change by the early 1840’s. At the time of the official 1841 Census, only four children were living at Kilail with Mungo and Janet – the eldest son Duncan (25) and his brother Mungo (18) with whom he was very close, the second oldest daughter Betsy (27) to help with her mother who was getting on in age (now 50), and the youngest child Peter (now 11). Archibald was away probably in Glasgow working as a stonemason and his older brother John, seemingly the black sheep of the family had moved to a farm somewhere else. Three of the eldest daughters Annie (28), Isabel (23) and Janet (15) were no doubt working at nearby farms as female servants. But none of them was married. And most probably, the remaining three children – Jean, Mary and Patrick – had died sometime between 1833 and 1841, as there is no mention of them again in our family story.

Although there were several local moves over the 30 years from 1812 to 1841, it seems clear that Mungo and Janet were determined to stay in this south-west part of the Cowal Peninsula. They were not affected as many others were by the Highland Clearances. Mungo obviously was highly regarded for his agricultural skills, particularly in raising and managing cattle, even when he was over 70 at Kilail. The family was not persuaded by other local families or hard selling agents to emigrate to Australia or Canada, particularly to the newly established Cowal community in south-western Ontario where several of his neighbours had settled as early as the 1820s. By the 1841 Census, Mungo’s family was the only Macnab family living in KIlfinan Parish or the neighbouring Kilmodan Parish at Glendaruel. Family and clan ties seemed to be less important than the ties to the local community.

Mungo clearly loved this isolated part of the Cowal Peninsula and wanted to remain there until he died. Even as economic conditions deteriorated and it was more difficult for at least four of his sons to earn a decent living with him at Kilail, he was determined that no one was to leave the area. He wanted to have his family with him or close by.

Mungo’s wife Janet died on 22 August 1844 at age 55. Janet had been a strong support for Mungo. She had borne him 12 children in the 32 years they were married. She provided stability for the children, and watched closely over her daughters ensuring that none was married even though Annie, Betsy and Isabel were all over 25 when she died, well beyond the normal age of female wedlock.

Things started to change very shortly after Janet’s death. Five months later on

21 January 1845, daughter Betsy married John McFarlane a fisherman from Aughgoyle, a property further south on the Cowal Peninsula. Betsy had stayed at home for many years looking after her parents and particularly in the last years of her mother’s life. Now she was free to marry. Her younger sister Janet at 21 married John McFarlane’s younger brother Andrew two years later on 23 January 1847. The tight grip over the children appeared to be loosening.

Scandal also rocked Mungo’s life shortly after Janet passed away. His fourth eldest son Mungo, perhaps unable to cope with his mother’s death, had a relationship at age 21 with Christina McPherson, leading to the birth on 7 August 1845 of what the Kilfinan Kirk Session in its records called an “illegitimate” daughter Mary. It is significant that the baby was born at Mungo’s home at Kilail. Mungo senior and junior steadfastly bore the shame of the birth, particularly as the Church refused to christen the child immediately after its birth, as was the normal custom. It took until 11 October 1847, two years later, before the baby was baptised.

Sadly, Mary’s baptism occurred only a few weeks before her grandfather and my great-great grandfather died on 5 November 1847 at the age of 77.

Mungo was buried as his wife Janet had been – not at the Kilfinan churchyard close to his home at Kilail (where my family elders told me he was buried) - but just outside the Kilmodan Church over the mountains where he and his two wives had been married and next to Lephinkill farm where he was born and brought up by his parents and where he had worked for several years. Mungo clearly had a strong attachment to Glendaruel.

The last three years of Mungo’s life brought mixed blessings. He experienced the marriage of two daughters to the McFarlane boys and the developing closeness between the two families. Daughter Betsy gave birth to a son Alexander McFarlane on 4 May 1846 and a daughter Janet on 23 August 1847 who was baptised on 11 October 1847 - the same day as her disgraced cousin Mary. However, there was sadness as well. His first grandson Alexander did not live for very long. And then there was the ongoing hardship of missing his wife Janet and enduring the ongoing scandal of granddaughter Mary’s birth.

The death of Mungo had an immediate impact on his children. Freed from their father’s controlling influence, convinced of the new opportunities overseas and experiencing the severe impact of the potato famine of the mid 1840s, the nine surviving children decided to leave Scotland almost immediately and emigrate to the Cowal community in south-western Ontario. For family and probably financial reasons, the children travelled in two different ships from Glasgow to New York in the summers of 1848 and 1849 before going inland to Canada.

The two oldest children Anne and Duncan (both over 32), younger brother Mungo with two-year-old daughter Mary, and sister Janet with husband Andrew McFarlane travelled on the Ship Brooksby. Interestingly, 17-year-old Mungo McDonald, a grandson from Mungo’s first marriage, accompanied them on the voyage. They arrived in New York on 27 July 1848, less than nine months after Mungo’s death.

The second ship, Hyndeford, arrived in New York about a year later on 11 August 1849. It contained a much larger group of the McNabs and McFarlanes. The were five McNab children on board – Isabel, John, Archibald, Peter and sister Betsy with her husband John McFarlane and their two children Janet (2) and Isabella (less than a year old). John’s parents Duncan and Janet McFarlane and brother George came on the voyage as well.

Mungo McNab left an enduring legacy for our family. He clearly was recognised over many years as a highly skilled man on the various farms where he was tacksman. He was fiercely independent, determined to stay on the Cowal Peninsula that he loved deeply when all other McNab relatives left for other places. In that sense, he was a loner. His connection with that isolated community at the south-west corner of the Scottish Highlands was much stronger than his ties to family relatives and other members of Clan Macnab.

Mungo also was a man of principle and conviction. He held firm to his faith in the Church of Scotland even though it meant a separation from his first wife Ann Campbell. Her departure with their five children no doubt caused a stir in Glendaruel. But Mungo survived the break-up and his removal from Lephinkill farm where he and his father had been tacksman. His determination to stay on and work in the Cowal area together with his second marriage and the subsequent birth and rearing of so many children showed a feisty spirit that was an essential part of his character.

In all of its richness, diversity and struggle, Mungo’s story adds an important dimension to the narrative of Clan Macnab.

219 views0 comments


bottom of page