John MacPhail

1809 - 1842

John was the eldest of three known children born to Archibald MacPhail and Anne MacPherson on the Isle of Mull.

On 10th August 1835 aged 26, he married 21 year old Isabella Stewart, the daughter of Dugald Stewart (farmer) and Effy Fletcher. At that time he was recorded as living at Ardnadrochit, approximately 3 miles south of Craignure and a short distance from Lochdon.

Two of their four children appear to have been born at Ardnadrochit in the Torosay Parish (Hugh in 1836 and Mary in 1838), while Ann (1840) and Archibald (1842) were born at Glenbyre in the Kinlochspelvie Parish.

At a time when people didn't travel very far, we now know John had lived as a child at Rohill and Kilberg and, as an adult, at Ardnadrochit and Glenbyre. The move to Glenbyre would have been made in approximately 1839 (sometime after Mary's birth in 1838 and prior to Ann's birth in 1840).

Like his father, he was a farmer (and possibly also a cattle drover), a tacksman leasing a large tract of land at Glenbyre from Murdoch Maclaine ('Young Murdoch'), 20th of Lochbuy.

P.A. MacNab refers to the land at Lochbuie, Glenbyre and Croggan in his book, "Mull & Iona":

"Within the area of Kinlochspelvie and Lochbuie there were 10,000 acres including some of the finest grazings and arable lands in Mull…"

John and Isabella lived at Glenbyre House, a two-storied stone walled house situated on the shingle and pebble shores of Loch Buie's western bank. Now sadly derelict, this house still stands today although appears to have had additions made over the years. The original house was possibly what was known as a 'butt and ben' (a house having two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs). A stone walled sheep pen stands on the property and the house is sheltered at the rear by rolling hills which would have made excellent grazing for the sheep and highland cattle John would have farmed. Today the hills are bare however the remoteness and beauty of the location makes the area popular for walking or tramping, with the Loch being popular for fishing.

The 1841 census shows the family at Glenbyre House as - Isabella, Anne (neé MacPherson - John's mother who was now a widow), the three children, Hugh (4), Mary (2) & Anne (18 months) as well as Angus Fletcher, Duncan Paterson, Anne MacPhail and Marion Fletcher. Although still alive in 1841, John wasn't recorded at Glenbyre House on census night.

John died at Glenbyre on 5 November 1842 aged 33, just five years after his father's death and shortly after his youngest son, Archibald's, birth.

Isabella remained at Glenbyre House as she appears as head of the household in the 1851 census (and described as a farmer), together with her mother-in-law Anne, children Hugh (14), Mary (12), Ann/"Nancy" (10), Archibald (8), Malcolm Currie and Anne McEachern.

She died on 17 July 1856 aged 42.

Both John and Isabella had short lives, indicative of the challenging times in which they lived where hard work and a strong spirit would constantly be tested by famine, disease, crop/stock losses and uncompromising landlords.

A marble plaque in memory of John and Isabella can be found alongside that of his father and mother, Archibald MacPhail and Anne MacPherson, on the south wall of the chapel ruins in the Pennygowan Cemetery.

(Compiled by Moira MacPhail - September 2005)