Campbeltown, pp.165-168.



FAIR scene for childhood’s opening bloom,
For sportive youth to stray in,
For manhood to enjoy his strength,
And age to wear away in.


THE situation of Campbeltown is very beautiful, and is besides well adapted for the purposes of commerce. It stands at the head of an extensive bay, or rather arm of the sea, between two and three miles in length, which runs up from the frith of Clyde, into the peninsula of Kintyre near its southern extremity. This loch, as it is usually called, which is finely sheltered on all sides by the hills rising from its shores, and at its entrance by the island Da-var, forms an admirable natural harbour, in which ships of any size may anchor with safety. Its depth varies from five to thirteen fathoms.

If we believe in the colonization of Kintyre from Ireland, under Reuda, or Carbre Ruadh, Son of Conar II. King of Ireland; so early as the third century, Campbeltown though under another name, was the seat of government of the Kings of the Dalruadhini. This part of Kintyre receiving the name of Dalruaidh, or Ruadh’s portion, after King Ruadh, – the people that of Dalruadhini. This portion of early Scottish history, is to say the least very doubtful; but certainly the colonization under Fergus the son of Erc, in the sixth century, is more entitled to credit, when Campbeltown became the seat of Government of the early Scottish Kings, until their amalgamation with the Picts, about the middle of the ninth century. In these early times, then, it would appear that a town or a village existed here. In the article Campbeltown in the statistical account of Scotland, Dr. Smith is full on these Celtic Antiquities, which the reader who may feel an interest in the investigation of any thing so obscure may consult. It is worthy of notice, however, that the name of the Dalruadhini, is yet preserved in that of one of the suburbs of Campbeltown, which is still called Dal-a-rhuain.

Subsequently to these times, we find Kintyre in the possession of the McDonalds, descended from the great Somerled, Lord of Kintyre and the Isles, who was killed in the neighbourhood of Renfrew. They had a castle here, on the site of which, one of the Parish Churches of Campbeltown, has been erected. The McDonalds continued to be proprietors of this part of the country, until the year 1617, when, on the suppression of a rebellion of this restless people, and the forfeiture of Sir James McDonald the proprietor, the Lordship of Kintyre was granted to the family of Argyll, by James VI. The ancient inhabitants were the McDonalds, McEachrans, McKays and McMaths; but James VI. who made various endeavours during his reign, to improve the condition of the Highlands, erected Campbeltown into a burgh of Barony, by the sixth act of his fifteenth parliament, and encouraged the settling of people from the lowland districts. Notwithstanding this however we find it, at the beginning of the next century, nothing more than an obscure fishing village. In the year 1700, it was erected into a royal burgh, by charter from William III; and the set of the burgh was approved by the Convention of Royal Burghs in July 1718.

It is to the fishing, however, that Campbeltown principally owes its rise; which may be said to have taken place entirely within the last sixty years. In 1744, it possessed only two or three small vessels; but in 1772, there were 78 sail, of from 20 to 80 tons burden, belonging to the port; all built for, and employed in the herring fishing, and employing about 800 men. Since the bounty was discontinued, this branch of trade has decreased, and Campbeltown has lost the benefit it received, from being the rendezvous for all the busses employed in the fishing. But awakened industry has not been thereby laid asleep; for the capital and energies of the inhabitants have since been directed into other channels.

The fishing and curing of herring, is still continued; and it has been computed that 6,000 barrels are exported annually, chiefly to Ireland. The malting of grain for which Campbeltown has been long famous, is carried on to a considerable extent. There are at present about 40 malt barns in the town and suburbs. Since the alteration of the excise laws, the distillation of whisky has become a considerable branch of business here. In 1817, the first distillery under the new laws was erected, by Messrs. John Beith & Co., as an experiment and was found to succeed. It remained for some time, the only work of the kind; but at present there are twelve distilleries at work, which furnish certainly the finest spirits produced in Scotland. Besides these which form the chief branches of business at Campbeltown, there is a tanwork for the manufacture of leather, a ropework in which cables and cordage are made, a bleachfield in the neighbourhood, and a woolen manufactory. A considerable number of the inhabitants are also employed in weaving cotton goods for Glasgow maufacturers.

Campbeltown has a neat and thriving look, and appears to great advantage when approached by sea. With its suburbs of Lochend, Dal-a-rhuain and Dalintobber, it encircles the head of the loch in the form of a crescent, for an extent of more than two miles. The burgh itself is situated on a small plain between the hills and the shore on the left side of the loch. It contains several streets, the principal one of which, called Main Street, is spacious and contains many well built houses, and handsome shops. Several of the houses fronting the water are also well built, and some of them are neat self-contained lodgings. There are two parish churches, in one of which English is preached, in the other Gaelic. The former contains from 1000 to 1200 persons, the latter 1860; there is also a Relief meeting house which contains from 1200 to 1500; an Independent meeting house, and a small Catholic chapel. The town is well supplied with  the means of education. At the grammar school, English reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Latin and Greek are taught. The same branches are also taught in a private school. There is a boarding school for young ladies, in which the usual branches of female education, French, Drawing, Music &c. are taught. There are six other schools for the ordinary branches of education, English, Writing and Arithmetic. Besides these, there are four charity schools: one supported by the General Assembly, two by the Society for the propagation of Christian knowledge, and one by subscription for poor female children.

The municipal government of the town is vested in a Provost, two Baillies, a Dean of Guild, Treasurer, Town Clerk, and twelve Councillors. From the Duke of Argyll being proprietor of the ground within the burgh, the set is rather different from what royal burghs usually have. By the charter he has the right of presenting a list of three of the inhabitants, burgesses, from whom the Provost is chosen, and of six from whom the two Baillies are selected. There is a water Baillie who judges in maritime matters; and a resident Sheriff Substitute who holds regular courts for the district of Kintyre. The town house is a respectable looking building with a spire, and contains, besides the council chambers, a hall in which the sheriff courts are held. In 1821, the population of the burgh was 6445; it has since considerably increased, and is now supposed to contain about 8000, which with the population of the country part of the parish will make that of the whole above 10,000.

With the extension and improvement of Campbeltown, the agriculture and general appearance of the surrounding country has also been greatly improved. In particular potatoes are cultivated to a great extent, and upon an average about 30,000 bolls of that useful root, the boll weighing 800 lbs., have been shipped yearly at Campbeltown for the last five years. The black cattle of the district are much superior in size to those of most Highland districts, and great attention is here paid to the improvement of the breed. The only mineral which has been wrought here is coal; and it has been done to a considerable extent. The works are situated about three miles west of the town, but a canal has been cut, so that the carriage is not expensive. The coal is rather of inferior quality, and on this account the distillers import that used by them from Ayrshire. The dip of the coal, which forms a basin of some extent, is in a westerly direction, and it may be interesting to mention that the coal found around Ballycastle in the north of Ireland, is of the same quality, and has the same direction and inclination. A new shaft has been recently sunk for the purpose of endeavouring to procure a coal of better quality, in which they have been in part successful. A great variety of porphyry is to be met with in the neighbourhood, one in particular of a beautiful green colour. Fuller’s earth is also found which might be useful in commerce. There are several chalybeate springs, which give indications of iron, but they have not been analyzed.

The introduction of steam navigation has been of immense advantage to Campbeltown. Besides the steam vessels which visit it regularly, those plying between Glasgow and the north of Ireland generally touch as they pass; so that not only the intercourse with the ports of the Clyde has been rendered regular and certain, but even that with Ireland. In consequence of this, of the cheapness of provisions, and the beauty of the surrounding country, Campbeltown has now become, notwithstanding its great distance from Glasgow, a place of pretty general resort for sea bathing during the summer months; and certainly there are few places on the Clyde which can be said to deserve a preference over it.

The only antiquarian object within the town is a Cross, which stands near the town house in the centre of Main Street, and which is well worthy of notice. It is a handsomely shaped cross of a dark blue stone, to be met with, it is said, in the island of Gigha, which lies between Kintyre and Isla. It is covered  with beautifully sculptured foliage, and bears the following inscription:- “Hæc est crux Domini Yvari M. K. Eachyrna, quondam Rectoris de Kyregan, et Domini Andre nati ejus Rectoris de Kil-Coman, qui hanc crucem fieri faciebat.”1 There is no date upon it, but it has been considered to be a work of the 12th or 13th century. Gordon thinks it is a Danish obelisk, for which opinion there is not the slightest authority; and the tradition of the town is that it was brought from Iona, which is also improbable. The fact appears to be that the cross has not been removed very far from where it was originally placed. Kyregan, of which Mr. Ivar McEachran was Rector, obviously means Kilkerran, which was the former name of the parish of Campbeltown. It received this name from a St. Ciaran who, in the fifth century, took up his abode in a cave near the town, and converted the inhabitants to christianity. The loch was also formerly called loch Kilkerran; and the village, Cean-loch-kille-Chirran, or the head of the loch of Kilkerran. Kilcoman, of which Mr. Andrew the son appears to have been Rector, was probably that of Kilcoivan, an ancient parish now joined to the parish of Campbeltown.


1  This is the cross of Mr. Ivar McEachran some time Rector of Kyregan, and Mr. Andrew his son, rector of Kil-coman, who caused this cross to be erected.

4 thoughts on “Campbeltown, pp.165-168.

  1. Hi! I’m S. Campbell and was researching Scottish towns and came across Campbeltown! I can trace my genealogy back to the Campbells from Scotland and my grandfather showed me that John Campbell (My great-great-great-great…etc. uncle) came from Scotland to have a better life with his family. He moved to Texas in the 1860s and started a town called Campbellton. I suspect (if I looked far back enough) I could trace my ancestry back to Archibald Campbell.

  2. jenni, THANKS VERY MUCH. I really appreciate your info on historic Campbeltown. My ancestors were baptised and married in 1787 in Campbelltown – Alexander Gilchrist was born at nearby Ballimenach in 1763 and his wife Euffen mcBriddan/mcBride at nearby Smerby in 1765. it is likely their parents worked for the Duke of argyll who owned farms, a mill etc . They had my ancestor Flora baptised in Campbelltown in 1789 then moved to Paisley in the early 1790s. Alex was most probaby a cotton hand loom weaver (not confirmed as not alive by 1841 cencus). Flora’s daughter (Catharine Williamson bapt 1831) & son (john) migrated to Victoria, Australia in 1852 & they had good lives!

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