Papers of the Russell family, of Aden, Aberdeenshire

Scope and Content

This collection contains the personal, family and estate papers of the first six Lairds of Aden, with the exception of the third, Alexander Russell, who died two years after succeeding to the lands and title. The collection has been arranged by Laird, and by subject matter therein. For each, this generally includes legal papers, financial records, estate papers, household accounts and related material, personal papers (including family correspondence, accounts, etc.), and details of military and diplomatic commissions. It will be of specific interest to those engaged in the history of the Russell family and the running of their estate from the mid-eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, the papers of the 5th Laird being of particular interest for the light which they shed on estate improvements made in the period 1875 - 1887; but will also be relevant for those studying the military and diplomatic careers of the individuals concerned.

Administrative / Biographical History

The name 'Russel' or 'Russell', was formerly written 'Rozel', the family accompanying Edward III to the siege of Berwick and to the Battle of Hallydon in 1333. They possessed estates in Roxburghshire and Galloway, and in 1600, Alexander Russel purchased considerable property in and around Elgin, later becoming Provost. The second of his three sons, Patrick Russel, inherited in 1645 and bought the lands of Catholm and part of Montcoffer in 1680. It was Patrick's grandson, Alexander Russel of Montcoffer, who acquired Aden Estate in 1758 from William Ferguson of Kinmundy. Crown confirmation was given in a charter of 1766.

His son, Alexander Russel(l) married Margaret Cumine of Kininmonth, bringing Kininmonth into the family holdings. His tenure as second Laird saw the creation of the rare semicircular farm steadings in c.1800.

The third Laird, Alexander Russell, died unmarried only two years into his ownership, and the estate passed to his brother James Russell. He married Caroline Lambton in 1832, and, during the early years of their marriage, rebuilt the mansion house at Aden, the commission being given to the influential Scottish architect John Smith. Caroline also re-designed the grounds, planting many specimen trees and creating landscaped gardens and hothouses. They also purchased Buchaness Lodge from the 7th Earl of Aberdeen in the early 1870's, using it as a second home for other members of the family. Their eldest son, Alexander Cumine Russell, was the intended heir. His death while rescuing a drowning man from H.M.S. Birkenhead in 1852 meant the estate passed to his brother, J.G.F. Russell. The succession was not, however, settled easily, as James Russell was in poor health in the last years of his life, and much litigation ensued until the problem was resolved.

The fifth Laird, James George Ferguson Russell, was a soldier and diplomat, his career spanning twenty-two years from 1856 to 1878. During this time he served in legations and embassies in Scandinavia, Europe and Asia Minor, mainly in German cities such as Berlin and Munich. He took a strong interest in Aden; the papers show his determination to improve the estate and its holdings. He was also determined to uphold his rights regarding legal matters, with involvement in the 'Balus water case' and other legal disputes, illustrated in the papers by the large amount of correspondence between J.G.F. Russell and his solicitor, John Milne of Milne&Walker, Aberdeen.

J.G.F. Russell died without issue at the age of 51, and Aden - after much legal deliberation due to financial difficulties - passed to his brother Francis Shirley Russell, the sixth Laird, a career soldier. The papers give little information about his time at Aden, and concern mainly his inheritance of the estate. He attained the rank of Major General, then became Conservative MP for Cheltenham from 1895 to 1900. He was the author of two publications, Russian Wars in Turkey(1877) and Memoir of the Earl of Peterborough and Marlborough (1887).

After disinheriting his eldest son Alexander Duncan Cumine Russell, he was succeeded in 1912 by his second son, Drostan Russell, who died of blackwater fever in 1915 while serving in Africa with the Rhodesian Rifles. The estate passed to Drostan's brother, Sidney Cumine Russell, the eighth and final Laird, who sold the estate in 1937 owing to financial pressures.

See Bernard Burke, Burke's Landed Gentry: History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Harrison, 1894); and John A. Henderson, Aberdeenshire Epitaphs and Inscriptions with Historical, Biographical, Genealogical and Antiquarian Notes (Aberdeen, 1907)


See Scope and Content

Conditions Governing Access

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

Deposited in the University of Aberdeen in 1970, as part of the Davidson and Garden archive, MS 2769.


The present listing is summary in form, although greater detail has been given in section 4 relating to J.G.F. Russell, on account both of its historical interest and of the miscellaneous nature of many of the individual documents. The division of the papers into sections relating to individual Lairds means that material on some general topics, like estate management and finances, is scattered through the collection.

The first Laird, Alexander Russel, is referred to as Alexander Russel of Montcoffer. The second Laird is referred to as Alexander Russel(l), as it was during his ownership that the change in surname from 'Russel' to 'Russell' took place. James George Ferguson Russell is referred to as J.G.F. Russell, although in personal letters from his mother, Caroline Lambton Russell, he is referred to as Jamie, while his brother, Francis Shirley Russell, is known as Frank.

Other Finding Aids

Descriptive list available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives, University of Aberdeen (e-mail:

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures


No accruals expected

Related Material

Papers relating to Aden estate, Aberdeenshire, 1917-1919 (GB 231 MS 3223)


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

This material is original