History, Tartans and Emblems

Scottish Emigration in the 18th & 19th Centuries

Conditions in Scotland.

From the 1760s the introduction of large scale sheep farming and the change of communal clan lands to one of ownership by clan chiefs displaced the clansfolk and began movement of entire communities. Crofters went to the coasts to become fishermen or to industrial towns for work or joined the armed forces. Subsistence agriculture was swamped by land clearances for sheep grazing. Highland families were dependent on herring fishing, kelp collecting and their staple crops of potatoes, but when in 1836 and again in 1846 the potato blight struck, the kelp industry collapsed and the herring fishing declined most Highlanders were faced with starvation and poverty. Emigration seemed the only answer to survival.

Labour Shortages in Australia.

In the early 19th century New South Wales and Tasmania were promoted as colonies for free settlers, for whom land would be provided at nominal rates. This attracted mainly middle class Scots, officials and army officers, many of the Lowlanders from the Lothians and Fife, those who had some capital to spend. By the 1830s and 1840s the colonial government in Australia offered assisted passages to would be emigrants because of a shortage workers, of especially: domestic servants, mechanics or artisans and agricultural labourers. The first two jobs didn’t attract Scots but the third did and many agricultural labourers and shepherds migrated to Australia, thus changing the character of Scottish emigration after 1830. Now the poorer Scots migrated and they came from all over Scotland, to embark from Glasgow, Greenock and Liverpool.

The assisted passages were organized through the colonial government, through charitable societies, through relatives, merchants and by private schemes. The latter was particularly important in the early Bounty Schemes of 1837 to 1842. Between the 1820s and 1850s competition between the colonies and New Zealand was vigorous to attract a labour force which was necessary for expansion. Many were assisted by the Highland and Island Emigration society 1852 to 1858. This scheme encouraged families to emigrate together, especially from the Isle of Skye and its surrounds ie. Lockalsh and Matheson territory. So many Mathesons immigrated at this time especially to Victoria. During the 1850s 80% of Scottish Immigrants went to Victoria, and of those 80%, 50% were from the highlands. The bias for Victoria at this time partly reflected the Gold Rush, but most Scots came in family groups and filled agricultural and trade positions vacated by those who had gone to the gold rushes. Also Highlanders were attracted to Victoria because it already had a significant Scottish population which had come from Tasmania in the 1830s and 1840s. The expansion of settlement in Tasmania had reached from Hobart to Launceston so by the mid 1830s settlements in Portland and the Port Philip District had begun. These earlier immigrants from Tasmania were mostly free settlers looking for more agricultural or grazing land than the small island could supply. Once these earlier settlers were established the need for agricultural labourers increased. In the period 1860 to 1914 Scottish emigrants continued to arrive in all the colonies and again the Highlanders were mainly in family groups and were agricultural labourers and shepherds.

Stories of Mathesons' emigrating to Australia

James & Isabella Matheson - from Lois Langford

The ancestors of Lois Langford also came out at this time. James and Isabella Matheson, born in Elgin and Edinburgh, married in Edinburgh, sailed from Liverpool on the ‘White Star’ on 20th April 1855 and arrived in Melbourne on 17th July 1855. James had been employed as a waiter and house steward. They were only 28 and 26 years old when they went to Tasmania where James had been sponsored by the Bishop of Tasmania, and where he worked as a Footman at Government House for 3 years. In 1858 they moved to Castlemaine in Victoria. They raised seven children in Victoria.

Alexander & Margaret Matheson – from Margaret Fleming

The great, great grandparents of Margaret Fleming and Glennyce Heimak, (the latter both former committee members of Clan Matheson Australia), were perfect candidates for emigration in the 1850s.   Alexander (1809-1910) and Margaret (1811-1886) Matheson and their four children from Lochalsh, Ross Shire, Scotland, sailed from Liverpool on the ‘Blanche’ on 4 August 1852 and arrived in Geelong on 20 November 1852. On the shipping list Alexander’s ‘calling’ was a shepherd.  He had been a crofter, farmer, shepherd and fisherman in Scotland. They were Presbyterian, both could read and write, and were engaged to a Patrick Hart of Indented Head for 12 months for 60 pound a year with rations.  They moved around, buying and farming land in turn at Gheringhap, Evansford and Donald. They were to raise six children in Victoria, all of whom married and produced many grandchildren and great grandchildren. Margaret died at Donald, Victoria at the age of 75, but Alexander lived until he was 100 years old, still speaking Scottish Gaelic.

History of Clan Matheson

The name Matheson comes from the Gaelic MacMathan, "son of the bear" not to be confused with the English Mathewson which is simply "son of Mathew". The MacMathans were settled in Lochalsh in Wester Ross from an early period. Kenneth  MacMathan, traditionally Constable of Eilean Donan Castle, is recorded in both the Chamberlain Rolls and the Norse account of the expedition of King Haakon IV against Scotland in 1263 which culminated in his defeat at Largs. 

The Mathesons fought for Donald of the Isles at Harlaw in 1411. Alasdair McMhurchaidh, Clan Chief and leader of 2,000 men, was arrested by James 1 at Inverness in 1427, along with other Highland chiefs.  Alasdair and four sons died in the battle of Cnoc na Catach in 1438. Although the record is silent on the  immediately subsequent years a probable son, Iain Dubh Matheson the Elder eventually succeeded to the Chiefship.  Iain was followed by his son, Iain Dubh Matheson the Younger, and  one of his younger sons, Donald, may have been the forbear of the Mathesons of Shinness. Iain Dubh the Younger, Constable of Eilean Donan Castle, was killed in 1539 defending the fortress against the Macdonalds, who were allied with his cousin, Murdoch Buidhe, a rival claimant for the chiefship.  After the death of another brother of Iain, Dugald Ruadh, Murdoch Buidhe’s claim to the chiefship was unchallenged. Murdoch Buidhe’s son, Roderick of Fernaig, succeeded him as chief.  Roderick was followed successively by three Johns, son, grandson and great grandson.  The great grandson, John (Iain Mor) Matheson, bought land on the Black Isle (East Suddy in 1688; Bennetsfield in 1697) and with his family left Lochalsh. The Chiefship of the Mathesons remained with this family, the Mathesons of Bennetsfield, until 1975 when the then Chief, Colonel Bertram Matheson of Matheson, M.C. died without issue. Meanwhile, Iain Mor’s nephew, Farquhar, took over Attadale and his successors continued to hold land in Lochalsh until Attadale was sold in 1825 by John Matheson  IVth of Attadale.  

John's eldest son Alexander Matheson (b. 1805) (later of Ardross and Lochalsh), a 6 x great grandson of Roderick of Fernaig and grandfather of the present Chief, went to China to join his maternal uncle James, a Sutherland Matheson, a founder partner in Jardine Matheson & Co.    Alexander returned to Scotland in 1840 and started to buy land in Ross-shire.   In 1851 recovered the Lochalsh estate. He was created Baronet of Lochalsh in 1882. His grandson, Major Sir Torquhil Matheson of Matheson, 6th Baronet, succeeded   Colonel Bertram Matheson of Matheson, M.C., as Chief of the Mathesons, by tanistry,in 1975 and on his death in 1993 was succeeded by his younger brother, Major Sir Fergus Matheson of Matheson, 7th Baronet, the present Chief. 

From the Sutherland Mathesons descend Sir James Matheson, 1st and last Baronet of the Lews, of the Shiness branch.  He joined Dr.William Jardine in founding the mercantile house of Jardine Matheson & Co. trading in India and China. On returning to Scotland he bought the Island of Lewis in 1844 and was created Baronet of the Lews in 1851 for his exertions and generosity in alleviating the sufferings of the inhabitants of the island during a period of famine. Today, descendants of Lochalsh and Sutherland (Shiness) Mathesons are to be found in many overseas countries, particularly in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and U.S.A.

History Of The Chiefs of Clan Matheson

Set out below is a table outlining the history of the chiefs, from Mathghamhain in 1225 to the present day chief Sir Fergus Matheson, spanning 786 years.

I Mathghamhain Flourished 1225
II Kenneth Died 1304
III Murdoch Flourished 1300s
IV Duncan Flourished 1300s
V Murdoch Flourished 1300s
VI Duncan Flourished 1300s
VII Murdoch Flourished circa 1400
VIII Alasdair Died 1438 Killed - Battle of Cnoc Nan Catach
IX Iain Dubh the elder Died 1490s
X Alasdair MacRuaidhri Died 1506
XI Iain Dubh the younger Died 1539 Chamberlain - Eilean Donan Castle
XII Dugald Roy Flourished 1540s
XIII Murdoch Buidhe Flourished 1530-70s
XIV Roderick (1st of Fernaig) Died before 1600XV Iain (2nd of Fernaig ) Flourished 1600s 
XVI Iain Og Flourished 1660

XVII Iain Mor Died 1715  
XVIII Alexander (1st of Bennetsfield) Held post as chief 1715  
XIX John (2nd of Bennetsfield) 1754 - 1768 (Present at the Battle of Culloden - 1746)
XX Colin (3rd of Bennetsfield) 1763 - 1825  
XXI John (4th of Bennetsfield) 1825 - 1843  
XXII James Brook Young (5th of Bennetsfield) 1843 - 1886  
XXIII Eric Grant (6th of Bennetsfield) 1886 - 1899  
XXIV Heylin Fraser (7th of Bennetsfield)  1899 - 1945  
XXV Bertram Heylin (9th of Bennetsfield) 1945 - 1975  

XXVI Torquhil Alexander 1975 - 1993  
XXVII Fergus John  1993 - 2017
XXVIII Alexander Fergus 2017 - Present

Scottish sites of Matheson history


Glaic Chailen “Colin’s Valley”            
According to an old tradition, Mary, daughter of Kenneth Grumach, married a man called Colin Fitzgerald. They promised to name their first born son Kenneth, but called him Colin instead, and named their second son Kenneth. This caused considerable offence, and certain Mathesons lured young Colin to this valley, and murdered him close by, at Torr-an-tadraidh(the mound of the murdering place). The perpetrators of the crime fled to Sutherland and became the progenitors of the original line of the Chiefs of Matheson of Shiness.

Achadh-dà-thearnaidh (The Field of the Two Declivities) 
The Clan Gathering Place is generally accepted as the open space of field at the head of Loch Achaid-na-h-inich, which is overlooked by the Fort. 

Fort Now
Surrounded by fir trees, the site has a magnificent commanding position. It is easy to make out the outlines of the walls and one or two chambers.

Crannog in Loch Achaid-na-h-Inich 
The foundation stones in the loch are all that remains of an island castle which at one time was owned by Mathesons. In the time of Dugald Roy, it was possessed by MacDonald of Glengarry, who shared the Lochalsh grazings and rents with Dugald Roy. Attadale Dugald an Oir’s descendants lived at Attadale on the Lochalsh peninsula until 1825, when the house was sold by John Matheson of Attadale. 

Lochalsh Parish Church, Kirkton  There has been a church in this vicinity since the Celtic era 720AD. The current Presbyterian church, right on the coast, dates back to 1807. Many Mathesons are buried in the cemetery which surrounds it.     

Eilean Donan Castle 

Although now the home of the Clan MacRae, Eilean Donan was founded by a Matheson. Alexander II (1214-1250) commissioned the son of an early Matheson chief to build the castle in order to protect his subjects against Norwegian invaders. Eilean Donan has been associated with the Mathesons for many centuries. In 1539, the then constable of Eilean Donan, Iain (John) Dubh Matheson of Fernaic, was killed defending the castle against Donald Gorm MacDonald of Sleat, who was attempting unsuccessfully to re-establish the MacDonalds as Lords of the Isles.   

The Tartans and Emblems of Clan Matheson 

A tartan is defined not simply by colour, but by the pattern of threads in warp and weft (the sett). The Scottish Tartans Society recognises six Matheson “setts” dating from 1805 to 1977. Of these, the Clan Chief recognises the red dress tartan and the dark green and blue hunting tartan.

            Dress Tartan                                   Hunting Tartan

 The Chief's Crest   

The crest is a hand, holding a scimitar, emerging from a five-pointed crown; the correct heraldic description of this is “issuant from an eastern crown or, a dexter hand holding a scimitar, in fess all proper”.

The Chief's Crest is the exclusive personal property of the Chief and can solely be used by him.

The Clan Crest     

This crest may be worn by the Chief's clansmen or clanswomen, and differs from the Chief's Crest as it is surrounded by a strap and buckle carrying the Chief’s motto or slogan “Fac et Spera” (Do and Hope).

The Chief's Coat Of Arms   

The coat of arms is a red and black shield with a gold lion, supported by two brown bears each with a gold crown around its neck, topped by a helmet on which sits the crest as described earlier. Beneath the shield is the Chief’s other motto or slogan “O’Chian” (of Old).

The Chief’s Coat Of Arms is the exclusive personal property of the Chief, and can solely be used by him