Papers of the Sinclair Wemyss family of Southdun, Caithness

Scope and Content

This collection contains the personal and estate papers of the family of William Sinclair Wemyss of Southdun (d 1831), with the bulk of the material dating from the 1880 - 1920 period, and concerning the estate management and family finances of Annie Sinclair Wemyss and her daughters, Helen and Marion. It comprises eighteenth century inventories of Sinclair-Wemyss papers with twentieth century copies of titles; 4 bundles relating to the affairs of William Sinclair-Wemyss and his management of the estate, 1820 - 1834; 2 bundles relating to David Sinclair-Wemyss, 1854 - 1881, including contract with the Lands Improvement Company, giving details of tenants, 1869; 1 bundle relating to George Sinclair-Wemyss, mostly re. settlement of his estate, 1878 - 1882; large volume of papers re. estate management, including list of farms under lease, 1875 - 1909; estate rentals, 1862 - 1920; registered claims by tenants on Southdun under the terms of the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1886, with related papers; large series of files on individual farms and properties on the estate, 1835 - 1914, including Aucorn, Bower Croft, Bowertower and Lower Bowertower, Bowertower Mains, Halcro, Hestigrew, Kirk, Mains of Kirk and West Kirk, Sackville House (leases of house and shootings), Seater, Smerral, Stanstill, Thrura, and Lower Thrura; maps and plans, 1836 - 1906, including estate plans of 1836 showing names of tenants, drainage plans, 1880s, and Ordnance Survey maps, 1874, 1878 and 1906; large series of correspondence files concerning the estate and other local matters, 1871 - 1916, including the establishment of a church for the United Free Church congregation, 1900 and 1905; provision of accommodation for Territorial Forces Association drill hall in Bower, 1911 - 1913; correspondence with the Scottish Drainage Improvement Company, 1879 - 1910; contracts re. road building, 1871 and 1882; and specifications for work on house at Bowertower and byre at Hestigrew, 1885; financial accounts and subsidiary papers, 1883 - 1920; papers re. Annie Sinclair-Wemyss' and her daughters' financial affairs, and to the establishment and management of the Southdun Trust, 1904 - 1923; miscellaneous family papers, including correspondence concerning family financial affairs, 1780 - 1962; commonplace book of Marjorie (Marion) Sinclair-Wemyss, c 1920, album of photographs and cartoons drawn by Marjorie, c 1898; scrap book with photographs and pictures, c 1890 - 1939; 1 box of photographs, unsorted and undated; genealogical papers for Sinclair-Wemyss family, early 20th c and Dunbar family tree, c 1800.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Sinclair family held Southdun, near Wick, Caithness, from the sixteenth century, though the present collection begins with papers of William Sinclair-Wemyss (d 1831), whose father Colonel Wemyss had married Henrietta Sinclair of Southdun, c 1785. William, who inherited the estate in the early nineteenth century, married Henrietta, daughter of Sir Benjamin Dunbar of Hempriggs, Lord Duffus. When he died in 1831, the estate fell to his eldest son, David Sinclair-Wemyss (c 1813 - 1877). His second son, Benjamin (d 1878), and daughters Janet (or Jessie) and Henrietta each married locally, with issue.

David Sinclair-Wemyss (c 1813 - 1877) married Elizabeth, daughter of George Sackville Sutherland of Aberarder, Invernesshire. His eldest son, William, R.N. had died whilst young, and Southdun passed to his second son, George Sackville Sinclair-Wemyss (d 1882) in Dec 1877. There were five other children from his marriage, Robert Dunbar Sinclair (1859 - 1923), Ewan Sutherland (1864 - 1928), Henrietta Elizabeth (b 1856), Mary (b 1869) and Janet (b 1866), with both Robert and Ewan being represented in the present collection.

George Sackville Sinclair-Wemyss (d 1882), J.P. and D.L. for the county of Caithness, had joined the Navy at a very young age and served for nearly four years on the Australia Station. In 1879 he resigned his commission on account of ill-health, and returned to Scotland with his wife, Helen (or Ellen) Annie Jones (known as Annie), eldest daughter of R.M. Jones of Glenview, New South Wales, whom he had married in Sydney in 1878. They had two daughters, Helen Louisa Elizabeth Dunbar (b 1879) (known as Ellie, and Dods by her sister) and Marion Australie (1880 - 1982) (known as Marjory and Thomas by her sister). On returning from Australia the family lived at Hempriggs House, near Wick, whilst an architect from Edinburgh, Mr Hypolite Blanc, was commissioned to design and build a mansion house for Southdun estate. Although George died in 1882, the project continued under the guidance of his widow, Annie, and Sackville House, named in his honour, was completed in 1885. Annie became responsible for the administration of Southdun until her eldest daughter, Helen reached her majority, but ill-health on Helen's part seems to have prompted her continued involvement after this time; and soon her younger daughter, Marion became the predominant figure in the running of the estate. The estate which their father had inherited in 1877 was already in a very run down state, and by this time had been neglected for many years. In 1880 a land agent's report had recommended the expenditure of £11,000 in repairs and reconstruction, together with the reorganisation of farm marches, assimilation of some smaller crofts, and redesigning the field drainage system throughout. The estate which they now inherited was still beset by many of these problems, and from the beginning of the twentieth century began to buckle further under the burdens of a series of financial crises. The property was put into trust, and subsequently sold, c 1926 - 1927. The family moved to Inverness, and Marion, the last surviving member died there in 1982 (aged 102).

Sackville House was destroyed in a fire some years prior to 1985, but has been partially restored.

For an account of the Sinclairs of Southdun see J. Henderson, Caithness Family History (Edinburgh: 1884), pp 120 - 124. A detailed account of the Sinclair Wemyss family and the papers deposited in this collection, which was prepared by Peter MacDonell prior to deposit is available in the office Special Libraries and Archives.


Arranged by record type and chronologically therein

Conditions Governing Access

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

Acquisition Information

Deposited in the University in Oct 1985, by Peter MacDonell. Additional deposits in 1986 and 1995.

Other Finding Aids

Descriptive list available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives (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

Custodial History

Marion Sinclair Wemyss left her house and its contents to the Episcopal Cathedral of Inverness at the time of her death in 1982. The papers deposited here are part of the contents of 9 large trunks which were left in the church's possession after the house had been sold. They lay in a byre on the Black Isle for a number of years prior to deposit, during which time books and other ephemeral items were extracted and sold locally for charitable purposes.


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