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Penny McWatters was the speaker at the February meeting of The Arran Historical Society held in Brodick Hall where she gave a talk on the Hamilton family from the year 1750 to around 1850.
Some of what she found was most entertaining – stranger than fiction. She illustrated her talk with portraits of the family members, as well as letters written by them and their officials from the Hamilton family archives.
Her final source was the archives of the Irish family of Baron Rossmore, called Westenra of Dutch origin.
Start with impoverished Irish beauties whose widow mother (Mrs Gunning) inveigled a government pension from the Governor of Dublin Castle. This enabled her to progress to London with her two daughters.
The younger one’s beauty and ‘morals’ were commented on by the Royal family, Walpole the Prime minister and other aristocrats. Many pursued them. The younger sister was guided into a rich but unconventional marriage to the 6th Duke of
Hamilton in London before she would travel with him to Scotland – no banns were read.
Finish with the actress mistress of the 8th duke who gave birth to a daughter. He was divorced with no children. He gave her his name and a dowry consisting of the west coast of Arran, as well as the contents of his homes, including Brodick Castle.
She married Lord Rossmore and after she died the Hamilton family bought back the land she had been given.
In between was a portrait by Gavin Hamilton (a relation) of a young 8th duke on the grand tour with his tutor and the tutor’s son. The tutor’s son joined the army and is remembered as Sir John Moore of Corunna.
Boswell and Johnstone on their Highland tour were invited to Inveraray Castle. The Duke of Argyle’s wife was a Hamilton who slighted Boswell (a lawyer) as he had represented the Douglas family in ‘the great Douglas cause’.
This dispute started when the Duke Archibald Douglas died childless resulting in his estates falling to his nearest heirs the Hamilton. Suddenly his sister Lady Jane Douglas residing in France claimed the estate for her son.
The dispute centred on the birth of her twins when she was aged 50. She had married a swashbuckling spendthrift Colonel Stewart (a Jacobite) late in life. It was rumoured that the twins had been bought in Paris. The ensuing dispute went on for many years and was never really concluded.
The meeting ended with a vote of thanks to Penny for an excellent talk.
The next meeting will be at 2pm on Monday March 19 in Brodick Hall when Sue Mills of the National Trust will be back to speak further on the treasures in Brodick Castle. She will elaborate on some well-known and less well-known treasures in the castle and their relationship to the family and the castle.