Bios News Article

Kenmure House - Stirlings of Keir

The property of Sir William Stirling Maxwell, Bart., is situated in the Barony parish and county of Lanark, and is about four miles from Glasgow.

The present house was built by Charles Stirling, who was the fourth son of William Stirling of Keir and Cadder, and who was born in 1771.

Charles Stirling, like his father and grandfather, was a West India merchant, and a partner in the great house of Somervell, Gordon & Co., of Glasgow, in the management of which he took an active part. In 1806 he purchased the lands of Kenmure, and built thereon, from the plans of the well known David Hamilton, what now forms the greater part of the present mansion. He resided there till 1816, when he sold the estate for 40,000 to his elder brother Archibald, afterwards of Keir. He obtained a life rent of Cadder, and resided there till his death in 1830.

Archibald Stirling, who purchased Kenmure from his brother Charles, was also a West India merchant in Glasgow. He was born in 1769, and on the death of his brother James, in 1831, succeeded to the estates of Keir and Cadder. He married in 1815 Elizabeth, second daughter of Sir John Maxwell of Pollok, Bart., and resided at Kenmure till her death in 1822. By her he had two daughters, who died unmarried, and one son, William. In 1831, he succeeded his brother James in the family estates, and resided at Keir till his death in 1847. The estates then passed to his son, the present proprietor.

Sir William Stirling Maxwell of Keir and Pollok, Bart., was born at Kenmure in 1818; on the death of the late Sir John Maxwell of Pollok, Bart., he succeeded through his mother to his estate and title.

After Archibald Stirling succeeded to Keir, he never lived at Kenmure, and the late William Stirling, of Stirling Gordon & Co., (to which style the firm had been changed from Somervell Gordon & Co.), obtained it for a residence.

William Stirling (1) was the second son of John Stirling of Kippendavie, which family is an early branch of Keir. He was a man universally respected and beloved, and his memory will long be cherished by those who knew him. He died in 1862, and Kenmure is no longer occupied by members of the Stirling family. (2)


Kenmure is now vested in the Trustees of the late Sir William Stirling Maxwell.

The account given above of the connection of the Stirlings with the West Indies is not quite correct, and it may be worth while to trace how two Perthshire county families came to be mixed up with business in Glasgow.

William Stirling of Keir and Cadder, Charles Stirling's grandfather, devoted his energies to less profitable work than sugar. He was an incurable Jacobite. He was tried for high treason in 1708, and escaped with difficulty. He was out in the '15, attainted, and forfeited. He was again in trouble in 1727. Finally, in the '45, with his son Hugh and his kinsman Craigbarnet, he was imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle, and only released in 1747 to die. He had other troubles besides these personal sufferings. His wife, Marione Stewart, daughter of Alexander Lord Blantyre, proved a terribly fertile vine, and before his twenty-sixth wedding day, twenty-two olive branches, fifteen sons and seven daughters, were set round the poor broken man's scanty table. It is true the forfeited lands were bought in by friends and reconveyed to John, the eldest of the fifteen sons. But the rental was then only 795, and the fourteen younger brothers had to shift for themselves. They did their best. All those we can trace set to pushing their way abroad. Several of them went to Jamaica, (3) and there they were joined by their far-off cousins, (4) Patrick and John Stirling of Kippendavie. Both sets of Stirlings throve, and they formed a West Indian connection which to this day is to some extent kept up.

The acquisitions of the young Keirs centred in their brother Archibald, who had meantime won a fair fortune for himself in Calcutta, (5) and who in 1757 succeeded to Keir. In 1783, under Archibald's settlements, his brother William, the twelfth, and the next surviving of the fifteen brothers, (6) succeeded to Keir, and William's second son John, to the valuable Jamaica estates of Frontier and Hampden. John Stirling and his next younger brother Archibald went to Jamaica in 1789. John died there, at Hampden, in 1793. Archibald, afterwards of Keir, succeeded him, and for nearly twenty years he resided in Jamaica in the active management of the estates. He never was, properly speaking, a merchant. But Charles Stirling, his next younger brother, had one-thirteenth share in the great Glasgow house of Somervell Gordon & Co., agents for the Stirling and many other West Indian estates, and was an active man of business. He was the last merchant of his family, and the West Indian connection of the Keirs, which brought such wealth to them, has now wholly ceased. (7)

Now for the Kippendavie connection, which still exists. When Patrick and John Stirling of Kippendavie joined their Keir cousins in Jamaica, Patrick, a lad of nineteen, was actual owner of the family property. But Kippendavie probably yielded even a slenderer income than Keir cum Cadder, and the profits of sugar might well tempt the laird with the hope of coming home some day to raise the family to wealth and consideration. This hope was realised, but not by Patrick. He had a Crown Grant of lands, which he developed into the fine sugar estate of Content; he lived on in Jamaica in management of the property; and there he was cut off in 1775. He lies in a mausoleum beside his residence at Content. His younger brother John succeeded to both Kippendavie and Content. He brought home a large fortune, was senior partner in the Glasgow firm (now become Stirling Gordon & Co.), bought from the Pearsons the fine estate of Kippenross, and lived there in good style. His grandson, John Stirling, the able Chairman of the North British Railway (who is connected with the West Indies through both his mother and his wife), succeeded to Kippendavie and Kippenross. His sons, William and Charles (of Gargunnock), both men well known and well-respected here, succeeded to Content and to shares in Stirling Gordon & Co.

This famous old firm was founded about the middle of last century by James Somervell of Hamilton Farm and Provost Arthur Connell, under the title of Somervell Connell & Co. In 1780 it became Somervell Gordon & Co., and in 1795 Stirling Gordon & Co. The partners then were John Stirling of Kippendavie, John Gordon (Aikenhead), and his brother Alexander ("picture Gordon"), Charles Stirling (Cadder), James Fyffe, Neil Malcolm of Poltalloch, David Russell, and James Murdoch Wallace, son of John Wallace of Kelly. Later partners were William and Charles Stirling (Kippendavie), William Leckie Ewing of Arngomery, Graham Russell (David Russell's grandson), and William Stirling, jun. (William Stirling's son). Latterly, Graham Russell (now Graham Somervell of Hamilton Farm and Sorn Castle, Ayrshire), and William Stirling, jun. (now William Stirling of Tarduf) were left alone. (8) Then William Stirling was sole partner. And in 1864 Stirling Gordon & Co. ceased to exist. Mr. William Stirling's eldest son John, and his son John Henry Stirling, have, however, taken up some part of the old business under the firm of Stirling & Co. And Content, a good estate to this day, is the property of William Stirling of Tarduf, and the title deeds, beginning with the Crown Grant, have no name in them but Stirling.

(1) Mr. Stirling used to relate an interesting incident in connection with their house, Somervell Gordon & Co. Many years ago there were in the counting-house in Miller Street, at one and the same time, three young men, sons of gentlemen, sent there to acquire some knowledge of commercial pursuits. They all used to sit at the same desk; but after a time they all abandoned mercantile life and went into the army - first one, then another, and at last the third. They saw nothing of each other until very many years afterwards, when they all met at the siege of Seringapatam - and they met then as officers high in rank, all engaged in the reduction of that city, - they were General Sir Thomas Munro, James Dunlop, and William Wallace.

(2) By his first wife, Elizabeth Barret Barret (cousin of Mrs. Elizabeth Barret Browning), he had three sons: John Stirling merchant in Glasgow; Henry Stirling, died young; and William Stirling, jun., merchant in Glasgow; and three daughters: Mary (Mrs. Graham Stirling of Strowan); Elizabeth (died unmarried); and Henrietta Jane (Mrs. Graham Somervell of Sorn). By his second wife, Olivia Salmond, he had three sons, who all died young, and five daughters: Olivia Catherine (died 1851); Anna Christian (married to Colonel William Stirling, R.H.A., son of Charles Stirling of Muiravonside); Amy Caroline; Margaret Sandilands (married to James Stewart of Garvocks, M.P. for Greenock); and Williamina Mary.

(3) The young Keirs may have fixed on Jamaica from their having a cousin already settled there in trade - one of the Stirlings of Garden, brother to "the Venetian" and himself known in the family as "the Merchant." Another cousin, one of the Ardoch Stirlings, also settled in Jamaica. Both these "cousins" were "Charles," not a common name in Scotland, but as regular in the Stirling family as Archibald in the Campbells or Sholto in the Douglasses. Keir and Kippendavie and Garden and Ardoch and Glorat and the Drumpellier and the Glasgow Stirlings all have it.

(4) As the Kippendavies branched off from the Keirs in the sixteenth century, the "cousinship" was remote enough. But folks counted kith then in a way unknown nowadays. In the Keir entail of 1771 Patrick Stirling, then of Kippendavie, and his brother are named among the heirs, and a close connection was kept up between the two families.

(5) The Keir book makes out Archibald to have been a Jamaica merchant. But the letters it gives show that it was in the East Indies that he pushed his fortunes.

(6) It is curious that the only male descendants of the fifteen sons of Jacobite James should have been the late Sir William Stirling Maxwell and his two cousins, William Stuart Stirling, now Stirling-Crawford of Milton (who has no children), and James Stirling Stirling, now Stirling-Stuart of Castlemilk.

(7) The late Archibald Stirling of Keir sold Frontier to Mr. Leckie Ewing for about 8000, and his son sold Hampden, the last of their West Indian properties, for 2000. Frontier turned out a very bad bargain, and is now the property of a negro, who has turned it mostly into a cocoa nut plantation. Hampden is still a sugar estate, and has so far done well.

(8) It is curious that of the last two partners of Stirling Gordon & Co., Graham Somervell is heir to James Somervell, and William Stirling is married to the great-granddaughter of Arthur Connell, the first two partners of the original firm of Somervell Connell & Co.

Source: "The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry" published in 1870 by James MacLehose & Sons