This essay is taken from the Transactions and journal of the proceedings of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 1892-3

Surnames of Kirkcudbrightshire. By Mr James Shaw, Tynron.

A glance at the names in the Valuation Roll of Kirkcudbrightshire reveals a very different state of matters from that which is patent in conning the Valuation Roll of Dumfriesshire. While in Dumfriesshire one is struck with the agglomeration of certain surnames in certain localities, as of the Scotts in Eskdale, the Jardines, .Johnstones, Carruthers, and Bells in Annandale ; in Kirkcudbrightshire, although certain surnames are found more frequently than others, they are not found huddled together so much into distinct localities, but are, as it were, peppered all over the surface, the most characteristic names falling here and there without much inclination to gather together or drift into given localities. This has made my examination of Kirkcudbrightshire surnames less interesting than a similar analysis of Dumfriesshire surnames which I attempted last year.

The early history of Kirkcudbrightshire points to a most unsettled state of matters. There was a continual flux and reflux of population in the county. It was an area in which men of different races and callings met and fought. Sometimes one race or clan was successful, sometimes another. Their wars were carried on in barbarous fashion, the victor frequently aiming at nothing else than the extirpation of the vanquished. During the 5th century British tribes held the country. The Anglo-Saxons next overran it, intermarrying with the natives. Colonists from the Irish coasts made frequent descents, and ultimately overawed the inhabitants. Large swarms from the Irish hive in the 9th and 10th centuries, and settlements of their kindred Scots from Cantyre, who arrived in curraghs by sea, strengthened the Celtic invasion. The Scandinavians confined themselves to settlements on the coast. From the Gaelic settlers is said to have come the name of Galloway. The Normans obtained a certain ascendancy in Galloway, but were never popular. After the Galloway contingent returned from England, having there witnessed William the Lion taken captive, the clan-chieftains of them threw themselves upon the Galloway Normans, demolished their castles, slew their possessors, or forced them to fly. Burton thinks this story likely to be true from the paucity of Norman names in Galloway.

Alexander Comyn laid the foundation of his family's extensive possessions in Kirkcudbrightshire. The success of Bruce soon afterwards was unfavourable to the Comyns. Galloway was conferred upon Edward Bruce by his brother King Robert. Edward Baliol, assisted by Edward III., obtained a strong footing in Galloway, and resided at Buittle. Sir William Douglas in 1353 over-ran Baliol's territories, and compelled M'Dowal, the hereditary enemy of the Bruces, to change side in politics.

Archibald Douglas, the Grim, the illegitimate son of the famous Sir James Douglas, who fell fighting on the battlefield of Otterburn, obtained in 1388 the superiority of all Galloway. On an islet of the Dee, which several members of our Society have visited, and upon the site of an ancient fortlet, the residence of a former lord of Galloway, he constructed the substantial Castle of Thrieve, the ruins of which are still a figure in the landscape. From this feudal castle, as from a centre, the Douglases for nearly three-quarters of a century ruled Kirkcudbrightshire with a rod of iron. As an instance of their feudal tyranny, I may be permitted to quote from Burton. Herries of Terregles having offered resistance to Douglas was slain. Next, Douglas called a great muster of his own proper vassals, and of those neighbouring landholders whom he counted as under his banner. One of these, named M'Lellan, and called the tutor of Bunby (so says Burton, although with us it is written Bombie), as being tutor or guardian to the young laird of that name, refused to attend the meeting. He was seized, and taken to Thrieve Castle. His friends had good grounds to fear for his life. His uncle, Sir Patrick Grey, captain of the King's Guard, busied himself for the captive's safety, and appeared, provided with warrants, at the gates of Thrieve Castle. Sir Patrick got a courteous reception. The guest must accept of hospitality first, business afterwards. It is believed the poor tutor, who had been torn from his stronghold of Raeberry, was alive in Thrieve when Sir Patrick arrived, and that Douglas, suspecting the object of his visit, whispered to an attendant to have him despatched. When the hospitalities were ended Douglas read the warrant. To its full extent he was not in a condition to comply with it. Sir Patrick, however, should have his nephew, though unfortunately he was somewhat changed in condition since his arrival in Douglas Castle — in fact, he was headless!

In the long struggle between the Stewart Kings and the Douglases the latter began to go to the wall, and in 1454 or 1455 the Galloway possessions of the house of Douglas went to the Crown. A small force sufficed to take the Castle of Thrieve. There is a tradition that Mons Meg, the huge cannon now on view at Edinburgh Castle, shot into it two bullets of granite from Bennan Hill, and that the second bullet penetrating through the wall shot off the hand of Margaret Douglas, the fair maid of Galloway, then engaged at dinner. In the present century, when the Castle was being cleared of rubbish and repaired for the reception of French prisoners, the workmen found a massive gold ring with the inscription "Margt. de Douglas," showing that it belonged to that lady. It is supposed to have been on the hand shot off.


A Douglas, descended from a younger branch of this great family, was represented until lately by the Earl of Selkirk, at whose seat, St. Mary's Isle, parish of Kirkcudbright, his sister, married to Hon. Charles Hope, still resides, in possession of the family estates.

The name of Douglas has been perpetuated by an enterprising merchant whose lineage is unknown, so that we have Castle-Douglas, the original name being Causeyend. The change was made in 1789. The same merchant changed Newton-Stewart into Newton-Douglas, but that name reverted. John, his son, married Mary, daughter of Sir John Heron of Penninghame. His grandson, James, obtained Orchardton, Rerwick, 1788. Sarah Douglas, a descendant, died 1874, aged 88, and her nephew, Robinson, succeeded. Hence the name, W. Douglas-Robinson-Douglas, present proprietor.

There are four small proprietors, Douglas, in Dalry, one tenant in Urr, and another in Dalry. The surname Douglas occurs very sparsely through the rest of the County.

M’Dowalls (McDowall)

The Scoto-Irish family of the M'Dowalls were the original Lords of Galloway. In the reign of David I. the lordship was held by Fergus, a promoter of religion, to whom the Monastries of Tongland, Whithorn, and Soulseat, the Priory of St. Mary's Isle, and the Abbey of Dundrennan owe their origin. His son, Uchtred, founded the beautiful Abbey of Lincluden. Uchtred's son, Roland, succeeded him; and Roland's eldest son, Alan, was the last and best of the Galloway lords. By his marriage with Margaret, daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon, and niece of William the Lion, his position in Scotland was second only to that of the king. He was made Chancellor of Scotland by Alexander II. Alan's second wife bore him the famous Devorgilla, whose name is still kept in grateful memory by association with the bridge she built and the Abbey she founded.

There are two M'Dowalls proprietors in Rerwick. Girstinwood in Rerwick was bought by M'Dowall from Cairns of Dundrennan.

John M'Dowall of Slagnaw, Kelton, acquired possession 1781. He is a descendant of the Wigtownshire M'Dowalls, and the true representative of the old historical M'Doualls or M'Dowalls already referred to as being lords of Galloway. M'Dowall is not now a common name in the Stewartry. There used to be M'Doualls possessors of eighteen different estates, as well as M'Dougall of Corruchtrie and Dildawn, and M'Dougall of Borgue. M'Dougal and M'Douall are supposed to be the same.

M'Lellans (McLellan/McClellan)

When the aforesaid Patrick M'Lellan was tutor of Bombie, parish of Kirkcudbright, there were then in Galloway twelve or fourteen knights of the name of M'Lellan. It was this family which has given us the name Balmaclelland, or village of the the M'Clellands, to the parish of that name. Time has swept them out of the parish to which they were once so closely allied.

The name M'Lellan does not appear in Galloway in the time of William Wallace. Subsequently it appears, and the rise of the family was rapid. The charter for Balmaclellan was granted 1466. The Bombie property was then in possession of the family. Thomas M'Lellan was killed by the Gordons of Lochinvar at the door of St. Giles' Church, Edinburgh, 1526. The knights of that name are mentioned about this time as possessors of land in Kelton, Rerwick, Balmaclellan, Kirkmabreck, Troqueer, Kirkgunzeon, Borgue, Minnigaff, Colvend. All their properties have changed hands.

The name is found in the following parishes : — Balmaghie, Kirkcudbright, Kelton, Crossmichael, Kirkgunzeon, Kirkbean, Minnigaflf, Lochrutton. Deanston, Lochrutton, was purchased by A. Clelland, 1872.

Macghies (McGhie)

The original name of the parish of Balmaghie was Balmakethe. The subsequent name is believed to have been given or taken from the Macges, who obtained lands there in the 14th century. In 1606 Alexander M'Ghie of Balmaghie obtained a charter of the lands of the parish. Time has been kinder to the M'Ghies and M'Kies than to the M'Lellans. From twenty to thirty lairdships have belonged to persons of these names. They are truly representative Kirkcudbrightshire surnames.

Five M'Ghies, three M'Kies are tenants in Dalry. The names occur in Balmaclellan, M'Kie six. These names also occur in Minnigaff, Kirkmabreck, Balmaghie, Rerwick, Buittle, Kelton, Crossmichael, Parton, Urr, and Colvend. Auchencairn, once in possession of a family of the name of Cairn, from which it derives its name, was purchased less than twenty years ago by Ivie Mackie, whose progenitors belonged to Girvan.


According to some authorities this was originally a Scoto-Irish family, according to others a Norman. Ewan de Maccuville was at the siege of Alnwick Castle. Eugene de Maccuswell married, not many years after, the daughter of Roland, the Lord of Galloway. No other name in Galloway, except the Gordons, is in connection with a like number of separate estates in the historian's chronicle ; and the larger proportion of the large landlords of this name trace their pedigree back to Roland and his Maxwell spouse.

John Clark Maxwell, the celebrated Professor of Physics, Cambridge, fell heir to his estate of Glenlair, in Parton, through Agnes Maxwell of Middlebie marrying John Clark at the end of last century. In 1702 Captain William Maxwell and Nicolas Stewart, his spouse, had sasine in liferent, and Mr Maxwell, their eldest son, in fee, of the lands and barony of Cairdines or Cardoness, parish of Anwoth, which estate is retained by a descendant. There is another proprietory name in Anwoth a Maxwell.

In Buittle, Wellwood Herries Maxwell of Munches and Terraughtie is the successor of Robert Maxwell, to whom Queen Margaret, daughter of Henry VI. of England, gave a grant of aforesaid lands, reft from the Douglases 1455. This Maxwell was tutor to her son. This family has lands in the parishes of Urr, Troqueer, and Buittle.

Herbert Constable Maxwell Stuart of Terregles is descended from Agnes, daughter of Lord Herries, who married John Maxwell, and, in right of his wife, became fourth Lord Herries, circa 1566.

The Maxwells of Glenlee acquired that property about forty years ago. It was bought by Dr Johnstone, whose son assumed the name of Maxwell. So we may call Glenlee a ghost-Maxwell.

The name of Robert Maxwell Witham of Kirkconnell, Troqueer, carries us a long way back. Janet de Kirkconnell married, circa 1430, Aymer de Maxwell. Dorothy Maxwell, the sole surviving daughter of the house, married, 1844, her cousin, R. S. J. Witham. Hence the double name. 560 years is a long term for unbroken succession.

The late Captain A. P. Constable Maxwell of Kirkland is descended from the old Maxwell stock. A son of the Earl of Nithsdale, who escaped from the Tower, married his cousin-german, C. Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Traquair, and Winifred, her daughter, married W. Constable, baronet, Durham which accounts for the double name. The estates of Captain C. Maxwell are at present administered by Trustees,

Maxwell of Breoch, or Bracoch, is grandson of Francis Maxwell, whose tall form and enthusiastic speech I remember as an attraction to the meetings of this Society. He died 1867. The Maxwells are the first owners known to history as proprietors of Bracoch, and that as early as 1592. These lands have therefore been 400 years in the family.

Away from these proprietory names the surname Maxwell is sparsely scattered throughout the County.


In Minnigaff and Twynholm we find many Stewarts. There is one in Anwoth, one in Rerwick, two in Crossmichael, two in Urr, two in Colvend.

Sir Alan Plantagenet Stewart, Earl of Galloway, is descended from Sir William Stewart of Dalswinton and Garlies. A descendant of this was educated along with James VI., under George Buchanan, and raised to the Peerage as Lord Blantyre. Lord Galloway has large possessions in Minnigaff.

Sir Mark John Stewart, Baronet, of Southwick, Colvend. In 1628 there is Lindsay of Auchenskeoch. 1668, William Lindsay, Southwick. The Lindsays, after 150 years possession, sold out, and the lands were more than once bought and sold. At last, Mr Sprot, a merchant, got the lands, and his daughter, Janet, married Mark Hathorn. The surname Stewart was assumed. Lady Hathorn was mother of the present M.P. for the Stewartry. Lindsay, it may be remarked, is a surname not very rare in Kirkcudbrightshire.

Horatio Murray Stewart of Cally and Broughton is grandson of the Hon. Sir William Stewart, second son of John, seventh Earl of Galloway. It was Murray of Broughton who obtained Cally through marriage in the seventeenth century. Alexander Murray married Lady Stewart, daughter of the fifth Earl of Galloway, 1750. This family is notable for close inter-marriages. Cousin takes to cousin and Murray takes to Stewart.

Although Stewart bulks considerably as a proprietory name it is by no means a common Kirkcudbrightshire surname. It would be hard to pick out more than half-a-dozen Stewarts in the united towns of Maxwelltown and Dalbeattie. In the tenant list for Castle-Douglas my eye caught only two.


In the number of families of this name enjoying separate estates in the Stewartry we have here a rival to the Maxwells. In M'Kerlie's "History of the Lands and Owners of Galloway" I pick out 163 estates, all in the Stewartry, as at one time or another belonging to the Gordons. The Maxwells I compute at 160 landowners, scattered, of course, over hundreds of years.

The Gordons are of Norman origin. As far as the Stewartry is concerned, the Gordons appear to have begun life at Kenmure, although Lochinvar, in Dalry, sometimes claims precedence. The Lady Louisa Maitland Gordon of Kenmure Castle still enjoys part of the estates of this great historical name, which has been associated with Kenmure estates for nearly 500 years. Garcrogo, in Balmaclellan, passed away from the Gordons, but its present landlord, who got it early in this century, through marriage, is a Highland Gordon. Threave and adjacent farms were recently purchased by a Gordon, from Montrose.

Sir William Gordon of Earlston and Carletoun, Borgue, is descended from John Gordon of Airds, Kells, who acquired lands in Borgue, 1670. These have thus been in possession for upwards of 300 years.

Gordon as a surname is pretty well represented in the Stewartry. There are five proprietors of that name in Borgue alone, and two tenants. The name occurs in Kirkcudbright parish frequently; also in Buittle. It is common in Kelton. It occurs in Crossmichael and Urr.


William de Heriz is mentioned from 1175 to 1199. He swore fealty to Edward I. We have seen that the Maxwells of Terregles are descended from a daughter of Lord Herries. Robert Herries, who died at Blackpark, Colvend, and proprietor of Barnbarroch, 1872-3, the last of this great family in the male line, who so long held state in Terregles, and mixed with stirring events. The name Herries is poorly represented in the Stewartry.


I find a curious nest of Shaws, chiefly tenant farmers, in Balmaclellan, where there are no fewer than eight in the Valuation Roll.

Bardennoch, Carsphairn, has belonged to Shaws for more than a hundred years. For a hundred years Shaws were in Castle-Maddie, Carsphairn. They once possessed Nether Grimmett, Carsphairn. Shaw or Schaw is a surname of long-standing in Ayrshire. William Shaw, prior to 1309, had a charter for lands in Carrick. The name occurs in Balmaclellan, Kells, Kirkpatrick-Durham, Kelton, Borgue, Twynholm.


This name is far from rare in the Stewartry. The principal landowner of Kirkmabreck is Major Ramsay W. Rainsford Hannay of Kirkdale, a descendant of the Wigtownshire Hannays. They have possessed lands in the Stewartry since 1532. W. H. Rainsford married Jean Hannay, and succeeded to the estates 1850. His style after that event was Rainsford-Hannay.

In the district of the Glenkens the names of M'Millan, M'Turk, and Kennedy frequently occur.

But it is impossible in one paper to do justice to the whole subject. Taking a general survey, Stewart is strong in the west, Maxwell in the east, M'Lellan, Macghie, and M'Kie pretty much in the centre. In short, there remains, after all changes and disasters, a considerable representation in the Stewartry of some of the old names mixed up with the history of Scotland.

There are in Kirkcudbrightshire a number of surnames, rather uncouth and uncommon, bearing traces of Irish or Highland origin — M'Anally, M'Quarrie, M'Keand, M'Vinnie, M'Quhir, M'Guffie, M'Caffie, M'Minn, Malcolmson, M'Craken, M'Cammon, M'Jerrow, M'Gunnion, Milroy, &c.

The following surnames have a queer sound: — Warnock, Papple, Riddick, Quig, Hornel, Blythman, Nish, Clenochan, Hollins, Maltman, Clingan, Handley, Cannon, Twyname (Twynholm). The word Twynholm is well represented in surnames. The surname Galloway also recurs. Watret, Gehan, Houliston, Carnochan, and Noe sound odd.

My chief authority for much of the information supplied is due to that excellent work, "The History of the Lands and their Owners in Galloway," by P. H. M'Kerlie (5 vols.). Edinburgh : W. Paterson. 1877.

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