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THE SINCLAIRS OF DUNBEATH AND LATHERON

Dunbeath Castle (17th century) and the estate of Dunbeath are in the parish of Latheron.
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In 2002 the estate of Latheron was owned by Hamish Gunn

I. ABOUT 1624 Dunbeath was purchased by Sir John Sinclair of Geanies, second son of George Sinclair of Mey, from Lord Forbes, to whom it had been disponed by George Sinclair, the last of the first family of the Sinclairs of Dunbeath. Sir John Sinclair had made a fortune as a merchant, and he had acquired possessions in Ross-shire, as well as Dunbeath, Stemster, and Brabster-myre in Caithness.

In 1631 he was created a knight baronet, [This Sir John was only a knight. As to the Mey baronetcy, see p. 63, note] by patent to him and the "heirs-male of his body", according to Douglas, but by Wood's Peerage the title was to his "heirs-male whatsoever". It has been supposed that this is the original baronetcy still in the Mey family, and which was taken up by his nephew, Sir James Sinclair of Mey, the son of his immediate elder brother, William. If this has not been the case, and that the baronetcy was limited to heirs-male of his body, it is extinct.

Sir John was twice married. His second wife, as appears from an inscription in the family burying-place at Latheron, was Christian, daughter of Magnus Mowat of Buchollie.

The inscription referred to is much obliterated, but the following seems to be a probable rendering of the original Latin: - "John Sinclair of Dunbeath, crowned knight, erected this monument to his dearly beloved ones - namely, to his wife, Christian Muat, daughter of Magnus, Lord of Bollquholly, who died prematurely, in the bloom of life, and to his daughters, etc.

THEIR EPITAPH.
"This monument covers ladies turned into ashes, whose names were Gemma and Christian; the one was cut off in early life, the other in old age. Their mother was the second wife of the Knight of Dunbeath. There might have been a more abundant list of the innumerable praises of both had this small monument admitted. Learn hence, O Mortal, that the divinities who spin the fatal threads of life, spare neither young nor old".

He had no sons, and of his three daughters, the second and third were of his second marriage, but of which marriage the other was is uncertain.

[He afterwards married Catherine, daughter of Hugh, seventh Lord Lovat. Christian Mowat was mother of Margaret. - Family of Kilravock (Spalding Club), p. 339.]

The daughters were: -

  1. Margaret, who married Hugh Rose of Kilravock
  2. Gemma, who died young
  3. Christian, who died unmarried
On his daughter, Margaret, Sir John settled 50,000 merks and lands in Ross-shire; the remainder of his property he distributed among the sons of his brother, Alexander Sinclair of Latheron.

Alexander Sinclair was wadsetter of Latheron, of which he got a charter in 1635, but his descendants acquired the reversion, and held the lands in fee, and he seems also to have had some rights over Stemster. He married, in 1632, Jean, daughter of John Cunningham of Brownhill. In 1647 he was dead. He left four sons and three daughters: -

  1. William of Dunbeath and Geanies
  2. John of Brabster-myre, ancestor of the family of Sinclair Sutherland of Brabster
  3. Alexander of Stemster, who married Anna, daughter of Sir James Sinclair of Murkle, and died without issue
  4. George of Barrock, ancestor of the Sinclairs of Barrock
  1. Elizabeth, who married, in 1657, Walter Bruce of Ham, and was afterwards "Lady Olrig", as wife of George Sinclair of Olrig
  2. Jean, who married, in 1651, Magnus Mowat of Buchollie (Contract of Marriage)
  3. Margaret, who married Sir William Dunbar of Hempriggs
II. WILLIAM SINCLAIR OF DUNBEATH, LATHERON, AND GEANIES, sometimes erroneously styled "Sir William", was a gentleman of considerable estate and position, and, in addition to his landed property, held large apprisings affecting the earldom, although before his death he appears to have had considerable debts. In 1661 he was one of the County Commissioners in the Scottish Parliament, He married, in 1656, his cousin, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Sinclair of Mey, who survived him, and died in 1722. He died in 1690, and had five sons and six daughters: -
  1. Alexander, younger of Dunbeath, a Commissioner of Supply in 1685. He died without issue
  2. John, heir to his father
  3. William of Stemster, to which he succeeded on the death of his uncle, Alexander. He married Helen Munro, and died without issue in 1699
  4. James, afterwards Sir James
  5. David, who died without issue
  1. Anne, eldest daughter
  2. Elizabeth, who married, in 1698, James Sutherland of Langwell, and died without issue
  3. Janet, who married Andrew Bruce of Muness, Shetland, and died without issue
  4. Jean, who married, in 1682, Sir George Sinclair of Clyth
  5. Margaret
  6. Katharine, "Lady Bowermadden", who married Sir Patrick Dunbar
The daughters are mentioned in the above order of seniority in a "Memorial" in 1754 regarding their provisions.

III. JOHN SINCLAIR, as the eldest surviving son, took up, on the death of his brother, Alexander, the succession to the estates of Dunbeath, Latheron, and Geanies, the last named of which he sold, in 1703, to Aeneas Macleod of Cadboll.

He is said to have been a weak man, and to have made a marriage so displeasing to his father that "he conceived a mortal hatred to him". Certain it is that in addition to his wife's liferent of Dunbeath, and his own debts, his father burdened him with large provisions to his other children, besides reserving the apprisings against the earldom, amounting to 14,000 merks.

John Sinclair married Isabella, daughter of McKenzie of Ardloch, and had two sons and a daughter: -

  1. James, his successor in Latheron
  2. William, Colonel in the Bavarian service, who left no issue. He is named in a disposition and settlement by his brother in 1746
  1. Barbara, who died unmarried
[There must have been a married daughter, Mrs. Tyrie: for David Tyrie, cabinetmaker, Edinburgh, was, on Nov. 22, 1790, served heir of line and provision special of his great-great-grand-father, Alexander Sinclair of Latheron, in the Kirktown of Latheron; on Sept. 27, 1790, heir-general of his uncle, James Sinclair of Latheron, and on Dec. 6, 1792, heir-general of his cousin, James Sinclair of Latheron.]

IV. JAMES SINCLAIR OF LATHERON, and heir-apparent of Dunbeath, never got possession of the latter estate, through the machinations of his uncle, James. In 1728 he married Frances, daughter of John Sinclair of Rattar, by whom he had an only child, James.

In 1751 and 1753, with consent of his son, he sold his claim to Dunbeath to his brother-in-law, William Sinclair of Freswick. He supported the Rebellion in 1745, and although considered "a weak and timid man", he collected one hundred men, and attended a muster at Spittal Hill. He also fought a duel with William Sinclair of Bridgend, son of George Sinclair of Barrock. He died in 1775.

V. JAMES SINCLAIR, THE LAST OF LATHERON, died unmarried in 1788.

Robert Manson Sinclair of Bridgend, as trustee for James Sinclair of Latheron, raised a reduction of the sale of Dunbeath to William of Freswick against his son, John, on various grounds, but after considerable litigation the process ended unsuccessfully.

VI. Reverting to the succession to the estate of Dunbeath, it appears that on the death of William Sinclair, his fourth son, James, got from his mother a renunciation of her liferent of Dunbeath, at that time worth 200 per annum, and then he ejected her from possession, a step which led to a complaint at her instance to the Privy Council. Next he bought up the family provisions and the debts due by his brother; and finally, in 1720, he adjudged Dunbeath for 48,000 Scots, and was infeft in 1722. In the same year his mother's liferent ceased by her death, and he entered on possession of Dunbeath. In 1704 he was created a baronet, [By patent, dated Oct. 12, 1704, to him "ejusque haeredes masculos in perpetuum" - Register of the Great Seal] and he died in the Abbey in 1742.

Sir James Sinclair appears to have been a man of a violent and somewhat unscrupulous character. In 1734, as Baron of Dunbeath, he held a Criminal Court and adjudged one William Sinclair to death for the crime of theft. But the proceedings were quashed, and Sinclair having raised an action against Sir James, obtained large damages. In 1739 one George Sutherland raised an action for wrongous imprisonment against Sir James, in which the latter was subjected to a fine and damages, and declared incapable of public trust in time coming.

Sir James was twice married - first, to Isabel, daughter of Sir Archibald Muir of Thornton, Provost of Edinburgh, by whom he had four sons and a daughter: -

  1. William, afterwards Sir William
  2. Alexander, to whom his brother, Benjamin, was served heir
  3. Benjamin, afterwards Sir Benjamin
  4. Archibald, who died in Jamaica, unmarried
  1. Margaret, who married William Sinclair of Achingale and Newton
Sir James married, secondly, and shortly before his death, Isabel, daughter of John Lumsden, shipmaster in Aberdeen, by whom he had a daughter: -
  1. Jean, who married Robert Campbell, linen draper, Abbeyhill, Edinburgh.

[As "wife of Lieutenant Robert Campbell, Regt.", she was served heir to her mother, Dame Isabel Lumsden, wife of Sir James Sinclair, in Keiss and other lands, on Dec. 19, 1777. See p. 91.]

In 1721 Murdoch Campbell in Brubster married Janet, a daughter of Sir James, and probably a natural child, as no mention of her is found in the family pedigree.

VII. SIR WILLIAM SINCLAIR OF DUNBEATH AND KEISS succeeded his father, Sir James. Keiss was acquired by the family through a transaction with Lord Breadalbane, embracing the discharge of the apprisings against the earldom. As heir-apparent to Dunbeath, Sir William sold his interest therein, in 1752, to William Sinclair of Freswick, and, in 1753-54, he made up a title. Having fallen into pecuniary difficulties, he sold Keiss to "Ulbster" for 7000 sterling.

He married Charlotte, second daughter of Dame Elizabeth and Sir James Dunbar of Hempriggs, and had two sons and a daughter: -

  1. Captain Alexander Sinclair
  2. Kennedy Muir Sinclair, of whom there are no particulars, but it is presumed he died without issue
VIII. CAPTAIN ALEXANDER SINCLAIR married Elizabeth, daughter of Eric Sutherland, eldest son of Kenneth, third Lord Duffus, and died before his father, leaving an only son, Alexander.

IX. SIR ALEXANDER SINCLAIR went to the West Indies, and perished at sea on his passage from Jamaica to Halifax in 1786. He is not known to have left any issue.

X. SIR BENJAMIN SINCLAIR OF STEMSTER, third son of Sir James, took up the title on the death of his grandnephew, Sir Alexander. He was served heir to his brother, Alexander, and in 1740 he had received a disposition to Stemster from his father, but he was all his life in straitened circumstances. He married Jean, youngest daughter of John Sinclair of Assery, and had a son and two daughters: -

  1. John
  1. Isabella, eldest daughter, who died unmarried. From the reduced circumstances of her father she was quite unprovided for, and was dependent on her aunts, "Mrs. Ayton of Kippo and Mrs. Captain Campbell of St. James' Square". Who Mrs. Ayton was does not appear, but. her aunt, Jean, - having married a Mr. Campbell, she is probably the Mrs. Captain Campbell mentioned.
  2. Helen, who married Dr. Watson, head of the Medical Board at Madras, and had a son
XI. SIR JOHN SINCLAIR, only son of Sir Benjamin, took up the style of "Sinclair of Dunbeath", as heir to the baronetcy created in 1704 in the person of his grandfather, Sir James, then in possession of that estate. After serving as lieutenant in the Sutherland Fencibles, he went to India, where he attained the rank of Major-General, and returning to England he died there in 1842. He married Miss Notley at Madras in 1803. She died in 1806. By her he had a son and a daughter: -
  1. John Notley, who died young
  2. Jane, who married, in 1822, Patrick Wallace, of the Honourable East India Company's Naval Service, and has issue
Sir John married, secondly, Sarah Charlotte Carter, who died, in 1867, without issue, at the age of 85.

Sir John was the last heir-male of Sir James Sinclair in the direct line, and by the death of James Sinclair of Latheron in 1788, the baronetcy opened up to the descendants of George Sinclair, first of Barrock (Sir James Sinclair's uncle), in the person of John Sinclair, fifth of Barrock, who was accordingly served heir in 1842. The heir-male of John Sinclair, first of Brabster, an elder brother of George Sinclair of Barrock, would have been prior in succession, but the Brabster male line had failed on the death of the two sons of George, third of Brabster. In the event of the failure of heirs-male of Sinclair of Durran, the family of Barrock appears to be next in succession to the earldom of Caithness.

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