Long John Macdonald, of Torgulbin?

John MacDonald was better known as ‘Long John’ who started the Ben Nevis Distillery, famous for their Long John Whiskey. According to his account below of the beginnings of the distillery he may have been born at Tolgulbin in 1798:

22nd October 1825
If any man can be said to have a proud and heroic lineage, then surely that man is myself. I was born into an ancient Highland family, a branch of the Macdonalds, or Macdonnels of Keppoch, in the year 1798. We are a noble race of men who can trace our ancestry back to John Macdonald the 14th century Lord of the Isles, whose wife, the Princess Margaret, was the great great grand-daughter of King Robert the Bruce, who defeated the English at Bannockburn in 1314.

26th November 1825
The fortunes of my family ebbed and flowed over many centuries, reaching their lowest point after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion when two thousand of our men marched with Bonnie Price Charlie. The Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the last battle fought on British soil, was hard on my family. At the Council of War before the battle, the chief of the Keppoch Macdonalds, Alexander, strongly advised Price Charlie against the choice of Culloden for the forthcoming fight against the army of the English Government. He was over-ruled but nevertheless fought bravely during the battle, dying with his brother Donald and many other fighting men as they led a charge. Fifty-three years after this tragedy I was born, one of seven sons, into a farming family at Torgulbin, by the side of the River Gulbin, in my beloved Lochaber.

Long John was the son of Donald (Ruadh) MacDonald Torgulbin and Janet Macdonell, the daughter of John Dubh MacDonell, 5th of Aberarder, and Catherine or Katherine Macdonell, of Keppoch (daughter of daughter of Alexander, 17th Chief of Keppoch, killed at Culloden).

See Rev. Angus & Archibald MacDonald’s The Clan Donald: Volume 3 book, and Clan Macfarlane Association Genealogy info.

I’m a bit confused because I’ve seen several sources showing that my great great great grandfather Angus MacDonell, of Inch/Keppoch, was born at Torgulbin in 1801 (see my Torgulbin: Kepppoch Macdonald home? post). But judging by the notes I’ve found from an appendix on the McPhee in Lochaber it would appears is if the Aberarder Macdonalds were there at the same time. For example, Long John Macdonald was born in 1798, and I’m assuming this was at Tolgulbin, which is only 3 years before my great great great granfather Angus MacDonell was born there. I guess co-habitation was possible because Angus’s grandfather Angus Ban Macdonell, of Inch, was the half brother of Katherine Macdonell, of Keppoch. She was Long John’s grandmother who married John Dubh MacDonell, 5th of Aberarder. Anyway, here’s my attempt at trying to solve who lived at Torgulbin and when:

1769 – Ranald Macdonell, 4th of Aberarder, given Torgulbin by the Duke of Gordon: The McPhee in Lochaber appendix mentions that Ranald Macdonell, 4th of Aberarder, was granted a tack in 1751 from the Duke of Gordon, along with his brother Alexander, for Moy and Kyllross. Ranald was prominent in the ‘45 and sheltered Prince Charles while on the run after Culloden. He had been a Captain in Keppoch’s regiment and had escaped from Culloden. He was given Torgulbin by the Duke of Gordon in 1769 with the following Comment:

Aberarder (the bankrupt) getting Torgulbin for £15 because no one else wants it and its isolated situation. He despairs (Mr Tod, the Duke’s factor) of getting rent paid by him and his brother.

1782-84 – John, 5th of Aberarder and  his brother Alexander recorded in Torgulbin and Moy: John, 5th of Aberarder, the John Dubh above who married Katherine Macdonell, of Keppoch) was born c. 1748 and is recorded in Torgulbin and Moy in 1782 and 1784 with his brother Alexander.

1785 – Ranald, 4th of Aberarder is shown in Torgulbin, Moy and Kylross:
John is only show up until 1785, whereon arrears for Moy in 1789 only refer to Ranald’s sons John and Alex’r MacDonell.

1798 – Long John Macdonald born (possibly at Torgulbin)

1801 – Angus Macdonnel, of Inch/Keppoch born at Torgulbin As mentioned above, various records show that my great great great grandfather Angus MacDonell, of Inch/Keppoch, was born at Torgulbin in 1801. There’s also mention of his grandfather Angus Ban Macdonell, of Inch, living latterly here as well.

1808-1814 – Alexander McVean subtenant to his father-in-law at Torgulbin, and then holding the tack on his own: The Macphee appendix show that Sarah was the daughter John Dubh and Katherine Macdonell. She married Alexander McVean who was subtenant to his father-in-law at Torgulbin in 1808 and 1809 and then holding the tack on his own till 1814. In 1814, the Duke of Gordon’s factor wrote to Capt. John MacDonell at Fort Charlotte stating “he is to take over Torgulbin from Alex McVean who is paying the consequence of resisting the Duke”- the controversy is not recorded.

1834 – Donald Macdonell of Inch/Keppoch dies at Torgulbin:Page 94 of The Jacobite Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage, and Grants of Honour, … by Melville Henry Massue Ruvigny Et Raineval shows my great great great great Donald Macdonell, of Inch/Keppoch as having died at Torgulbin in 1834. This information would have definitely come from his granddaughter Josephine M. Macdonell, who is acknowledge by the author. She wrote a number of books about Scottish History and her ancestors, as well as helping on many of the books written about them at the time. It’s hard to see why she would have made this up given the comments above by the Duke of Gordon about Torgulbin’s isolation and it not being wanted by anyone else.

Other references for Macdonald/Macdonell/Macdonnells at Torgulbin: The Clan Donald: Volume 3 book by Rev. Angus & Archibald MacDonald’s also mentions that Angus Ban Macdonell, 9th of Bonhuntin, “lived latterly at Torgulbin”. he married Janet Mackintosh, and his son Angus is recorded as having the farm at Inch. Sadly, there are no dates given although his uncle Alexander is recorded has having emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1816 (also see Clan Macfarlane Association site more genealogical info).

Can’t say I’m any the wiser from this chronology, but it does seem that ownership of the different farms at Moy, Torgulbin and Inch was fluid depending on who married whom, and whether they’d paid their rent to the Duke of Gordon. At same time, there seems to be a lot of intermarrying among the Keppoch cadet families in this region, probably pre and as well as post Culloden.


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