History of a Forfarshire Family.


This little history has no literary pretension. It is, mainly, a plain statement of facts compiled from authentic public records, and it has been got up, chiefly for the information of Mr A. Reginald Cairncross of Sydney, N.S.W., a grandson of the late Colonel Alexander, K.H.., of Dundee. For a number of the extracts given the writer is indebted to the late Major-General John Cairncross, who kindly allowed him to copy the results of researches made for him by Mr Macleod, searcher of records in Edinburgh. The rest is the outcome of years of personal effort encouraged and advised by the late Mr Alex. Hutcheson, F.S.A. Scot.
A.F. Cairncross, Broughty Ferry, Forfarshire, 25th July, 1920.

The Birth of the Cairncross Family.

It is highly probable, if not a certainty that the first individual who adopted Cairncross as a surname was descended from the lay abbots of the Celtic Church in Brechin and Glenesk, in Forfarshire, then called Angus.
It would take too long, just now, to try to explain how lay abbots came into existence; but briefly, they were, in the above places, powerful landowners, in possession of abbatical lands, who were of the family who had given these lands to the monasteries at the time of their creation.
The Celtic Church of Scotland, founded and organised by the great St. Columba, was a monastic Church. The monasteries were thrown into confusion in A.D. 717, when Nectan, king of the southern Picts, ordered that within his jurisdiction all should conform to Rome as regards the time for keeping Easter. The monks saw no reason to depart from Columba's teaching, resisted the change and were expelled from Nectan's kingdom. Due in part to dissension within the monasteries, plus the raiding of invading Scandinavians, the confusion of those turbulent times meant that when the Abbot died or was killed, no-one was appointed in his place. Thus the landowner who was in possession of the lands belonging to the abbey came to be designated "the abbot", though a layman.
The first known lay abbot of Brechin was Leod, who witnessed a number of charters of David I. (1124-1153), and who appeared to form part of this king's court.

The Beginning of Family Names in Scotland.

In Scotland at the present time each individual has a baptismal or Christian name, which is his or her own personal name, and not hereditary; but he or she has also a family name, which is hereditary - sons and daughters inheriting their father's family name. It was not always so. About eight hundred years ago, a man had no name other than his Christian name. If a man called "John", for example, had a son "Donald", and it was necessary to distinguish his son from others of the same name, say in a written document, then he was called "Donald the son of John". Then if Donald had a son, called Duncan, he would be known as "Duncan the son of Donald". In Gaelic this becomes "Duncan Mac Donald Mac Ian (John)". In other words, when ones Christian name was not enough to distinguish one from others, then ones pedigree was given. This method was also adopted by the English, Welsh, Irish and other nations. Family names were first introduced by the Romans, and then by the French, and were introduced into England by the warriors from Normandy who invaded that country with William the Conqueror in A.D. 1066, and who called themselves by the names of places and lands in Normandy.

The Advent of the First Cairncross.

The land of Cairncross in Glenesk, Forfarshire, was gifted to Michael, by his father Morgund, at the time when landowners in those parts began to be called by the names of their estates, it is more than likely that Michael was surnamed "de Cairncross", but there is no record that such was the case. Sometime between 1310 and 1325, a Duncan de Cairncross was one of the witnesses to a charter to the gifting of some land. Then on 25th May, 1369 at Kirkwall, on the Orkney Islands, Duncan of Karincors was one of the witnesses to an agreement to end the quarrels between the Norwegan governor of Orkney and Shetland, and Bishop William. The surname is spelled in very many different ways in old books and manuscripts, the modern form being Cairncross. Indeed, it was spelt Cairncors not so many years ago, "cors" being a now obsolete Scottish word for "cross".


Cairncross is made up of two words - Cairn or Carn, and Cross or Cors. Cairn has two meanings : 1st, a hill or mountain ; 2nd, an artificial heap of stones, made either as a boundary mark or to commemorate some event or some person. Cross has also two meanings : 1st, the emblem of our Christian faith ; 2nd, the road crossing a hill. Within the district of Cairncross in Glenesk there are, or were, several cairns of stones, and on a large stone a cross is roughly hewn. One of the roads, in olden times, across the Mounth was from Cairncross to Birss. The cairn, the cross and the roads crossing the hills may all have helped to give the district its name. It is commonly believed that St. Drostan, a follower of St. Columba, had a monastery here, and that several places here, such as Droustie's Well, still commemorate him, and that the lay abbot was John Abbe, the son of Malise.
There is one other place in Scotland called "Cairncross", near St. Abbs Head in Berwickshire. There are said to have been twelve crosses marking the boundary of the sanctuary at the Abbey of Coldingham there. One of these crosses was called Cairncross, and the name still remains in the name of a farm near where the cross originally stood. This place seems not to have given a family name to any one, for the Border family of the same name originated in Forfarshire.

The Cairncrosses of that Ilk

The first proprietor of the land of Cairncross, as a separate estate, was Michael the son of Morgund, the son of John the abbot of Brechin, the son of Malise, the heir of Dovenald, the heir of Leod, one of the lay lords who formed part of the court of David I., king of Scots. There is a reference to a charter by Morgund the son of Albe, to his son Michael, which puts the date at about 1245. It is not known who succeeded Michael but the next record is Duncan, and all that is known about him is that he witnessed the charter of a neighbouring landowner. It is worthy of note that there are only three ancient round towers, built by the Celtic church, in Scotland - one at Abernethy in Perthshire, one at Brechin in Forfarshire and one in Orkney.
Naturally, he lay abbots of Brechin would have resided in or near that town. So the Cairncrosses may have had their home in Brechin or Forfar, and from 1459 to 1521 there is proof that they were owners of property in Dundee and living there. How long they remained the owners of land in Glenesk is not known, but it is on record that Morgand's gift of the land of Cairncross to his son Michael was confirmed by James I. in 1428. This date is further confirmed, since, in 1715 David Lindsay of Edzell sold the same land along with his other lands in Glenesk, to James, earl of Panmure.

Lands at Ceres.

Ceres is the name of a small town in Fifeshire, 2.1/2 miles to the south-east of Cuper - the county town. Not long after the death of Carncors at Gasklune, in the so-called "raid of Angus", Robert III grants a charter to Robert Cairncross of the lands of Ceres, which were John Menzies' about the year 1400. In 1438, there is a charter by John de Carncors of Balmachenare and Alexander de Carncors, his son and heir, to a James Kynmont, of three parts of the land of Seres, Craighall, Calange and Wester Pitscottie, in exchange for the lands of Balcormo, which lies between Ceres and Largo. From this charter, which was confirmed by Robert, duke of Albany, the governor in 1440, it is clear that the Cairncrosses were owners of Balmashanner and these lands at Ceres at one and the same time. Robert II granted a charter to John, the son of William and his spouse Cristiana, proving ownership of Balmashanner and Turbeg as early as 28th October, 1371. Up to this date "de Carncors" was merely a surname belonging to the owner of the place or land, but subsequently became a hereditary family name, descending from father to sons and daughters.
As far as dates are concerned, in 1371, John, the son of William, could have been about 30 years old when he had a son, Robert, who may have married about the year 1391 the heiress of lands at Ceres. In 1395, Robert could have had a son, John, who in 1417 could have a son, Alexander. Thus in 1438 John de Carncors of Balmashanner would be 43 years of age, his son Alexander 21, and his father Robert, if alive, 72.
A glance at a large scale map of Ceres district will show that Robert de Carncors must have had rather extensive properties there. Those Fife lands must have proved troublesome to manage, and they must have been delivered up in order to strengthen the position of the family at Balmashanner.
Balmashanner is pronounced Boamie-shanner locally, and is situated on the high land just outside the town of Forfar. It belonged to the king at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

The following is a list of the Balmashanner Cairncrosses with what is known about each : -

John the son of William, and his wife Cristiana get a charter of the lands of Balmashanner and Turbeg from Robert II on 28th October.

c. 1400.
Robert Cairncors gets a charter of lands at Ceres from Robert III.

Robert de Cairncors delivers up to the governor of Scotland certain lands at Ceres belonging to him.

On 10th March, 1438, John de Carncors of Balmachenare is witness to a charter.
On 20th November, 1438, he and his son Alexander gave a charter of certain lands.
He was one of the jurors on an inquest on 21st July, 1450, and was on another inquest on 1st February, 1453.

On 8th July, 1470, John Carncors (probably the son of the above Alexander) was a witness to a "bailie of Aberdeen", and on 24th October, 1494, he gives a charter of lands to his son and heir, James, and Egidia, his spouse. John Carncors, burgess of Dundee, is one of the witnesses.

On 24th August, 1528, James Carncors grants a charter to David Carncors, his son and heir, of the lands of Balmaschennor and Turfbeg. Confirmed by James the Fifth, 8th September, 1528.

On 1st July, 1538, David Carncors of Balmaschynnare is on assise at Forfar for apprising the lands of Ochterhouse, and 1st May, 1561, he is on the apprising of the lands of Teling.

Mr William Carnecors of Balmashennair.
The title "Mr" was in those days, as a rule, given to those only who had taken a degree at a university. All others, even landed gentry, were addressed by their Christian and family names without any prefix. Mr William was, therefore, an up-to-date educated country gentleman. But he may not have been as wise and as successful in the management of his property, for he seems to have failed to hand over the family inheritance in as good a condition as he found it. His wife was Christina Moncur, and they had at least three sons.
In 1575-76, in the Privy Council of Scotland, William has to promise to appear before the Justice or his deputy to answer a charge of oppression, said to have been committed by him upon William Carden, in Forfar.
In 1595, a complaint is made against William, by William Betoun, for an "action of spuilyie", both men appearing before the Lords personally.
Late in the year of 1595, other charges are brought against William, where he fails to make an appearance in court, and the Lords find him guilty of the violent taking of some letters.
In Dundee, on 11th March, 1597, William is charged with many others, under pain of treason to appear and answer for their "proude and wilful remaining at the horne unrelaxt, to the misregaird of his Hienes and his authoritie". The word "horne" above, originates from the manner in which a person is denounced an outlaw. His Majesty gives full power and commission to the sheriff of Forfar to apprehend the said persons and present them before the king and his council. Eventually, William made his peace with king and council, for there is a long entry in the register of the privy council, which makes this evident. However, this seems to have caused Mr William some financial difficulties.

Nicoll Carnecroce of Balmishannour, son and heir of Mr William. Nicoll had a daughter, Lucressa Cairncross, who married James Hamilton, and in accordance with her marriage contract was granted life rent in half of the lands of Kirkstone on 29th November, 1640.

David Cairncors is a witness to sasine (possession) of John Brown of Fordell on 18th May, 1640.
Then he is a witness to a sasine of James Hamilton on 22nd August, 1642; and he is attorney for Lucressa Cairncross the said James Hamilton's wife.
On 1st July, 1645, Davis disposes of an annual rent of 160 merks in favour of John Wilson.
On 26th May, 1649, he gives the town and lands of Wester Turfbegg (Westergarthe) in life rent to his wife, Elizabeth Blair.
On 20th Feb., 1653, he gives an annual rent of 900 out of the lands of Balmashanner and Tyrbeg in favour of Elizabeth Cairncross, his only lawful daughter.

Patrick Cairncross of Balmashanner, heir male of David Cairncross, his brother, is on 28th August retoured in the town and lands of Balmashanner. Sasine on 4th Nov., 1657.
Patrick married Susanna Blair, but whether they left any children is unknown.
He had evidently accepted a captaincy in the ill-disciplined army of about 15,000 men, commanded by the Duke of Hamilton, that invaded England without the approval of the Church of Scotland, to try to rescue and restore Charles the First, who was a prisoner in the Isle of Wight. Hamilton, who lacked both force of character and milityary skill, bungled the venture, and was defeated by Cromwell. Only Patrick and a resolute few broke through the enemy and forced their way back to their own country. About 1661, the privy council of Scotland appointed a special commission, consisting Cairncross of Balmashanner and other notable men, with full powers to meet when and where they should find it expediant, and to hold courts for the trial of persons accused of witchcraft.
Although the fortunes of the family at this time, 1661, were certainly on the downgrade, the fact that the place of honour on this witchcraft commission was given to Patrick Cairncross, indicates the importance of the family in the country at this period.
Sixteen years later, Patrick appears to have sold his estate on a valuation, although he may have remained in possession for some time afterwards.

This then is the end of the Cairncrosses of Balmashanner after a proprietorship of more than three hundred years.

Dundee Branch.

Dundee is only fourteen miles distant from Balmashanner. It is not surprising, therefore, that younger sons should migrate there.

In the register of the great seal on 1st February, 1453, John Carnecors is named as owner of lands in Dundee.

After 1454, but before 1486, Thomas of Carnkors paid for the privilege of being buried along with his wife in the kirk of St. Mary's in Dundee by presenting two silver candlesticks to the high alter. No doubt this is the Thomas Carncors, burgess of Dundee, who in 1459 is mentioned as a witness.

On 24th October, 1491, John Carncors, burgess of Dundee, is witness to a charter by John Carncors of Balmashanner.

On 30th July, 1517, John Carncors is one of the witnesses to a charter at Dundee. In 1521 one of the master bakers in Dundee was a John Cairncross.

Monifieth Parish Branch.

This family tree has been added to the Cairncross Family Website, click here to see it.

Monifieth is about the same distance from the headquarters of the family as Dundee is, and only six miles from that town. The Parish Registers - including births, marriages and deaths - date from the Reformation, but there are blanks, and one book has been lost. Beyond Christian and surnames little or no information to help identification is given, and registration of domestic occurrences was not compulsory before 1854. Almost the only Christian names used for males were John, Alexander, William, David, George, and sometimes James, without any middle names whatever. For these reasons tracing ones descent is difficult. The name Cairncross, or any form of that name, does not appear in Monifieth records till 1604 - "1604, January 28th, John Cairncross, a son baptized callit William."

The Monifieth and other Cairncrosses in Forfarshire outside but probably descended from the Balmashanner family would require a separate paper, this being rather long already, so we shall give the family and descendants of one couple only - John Cairncors and his wife Agnes Anderson. He was a merchant in Monifieth, and for many years treasurer of Monifieth kirk. He and Agnes were married on 24th June, 1742, and the children of this union were :- Agnes (1743), David (1744), John (1745), Alexander (1747) and William (1750).

Agnes married James Ferrier, merchant and magistrate in Arbroath, and had children Alexander, Agnes and Elizabeth. Alexander Ferrier (1776-1852) settled in Monifieth as a small farmer, and was an elder in the Kirk for 25 years. Agnes Ferrier died in youth. Elizabeth Ferrier, (1780-1851) kept house for her brother, who remained a batchelor.

David Cairncors, born 1744, died a baby. There is a stone to his memory in Monifieth kirkyard.

John Cairncors, born 1745, migrated to Dundee and was there a free apprentice to a John Thoms, ultimately becoming a Dundee Merchant himself, and on 27th Sept 1785, was made a burgess and paid 40. On 5th December, 1777, he married Elizabeth Brown at Edinburgh, and they had 5 children. These are John, born 1781, Alexander, born 1783, William, born 1785, Elizabeth, born 1787 and James, born 1782.

John - born 1781 - was an accountant at the Dundee bank and treasurer to the harbour. He married Catherine Kidd about 1802, and they had eleven children; Elizabeth (1803), Thomas (1805), Alexander (1806), William (1807), George (1809), Patrick (Peter) (1810), John (1812), David (1814), Henry (1816), Catherine (1818), unknown (1820).

Alexander - born 1783 - had a long and distinguished military career starting 25th June, 1803, rising to the rank of captain, he fought with his regiment in 17 battles in the Peninsular war. He was wounded in the head, then severely wounded losing the use of his right arm. He recovered enough to continue his career eventually rising to Major by about 1826. By 1837, he was made a K. H. (Knight of the Order of the Ghelphs). He went abroad again in 1841, losing his health, and sold out after a service of 39 years. He died at sea on his passage home on 10th May, 1843. Lieutenant-Colonel Alex. Cairncross, K. H., left two sons, John, a Major-General of the Royal Marines, deceased, and William who died a few years ago in Australia. William married and had 2 daughters and a son, Laura, Florence and Alexander Reginald, respectively. Alexander married and had four children, Alexander John (1903), Minnie Glendenning (1905), Dorothy Jean (1908) and Ronald William (1910), all in Sydney, N. S. W.

William (1785), commenced life as a naval cadet, then became an accountant in Belfast, where he married a widow, Mrs McCracken, and died there, leaving no issue.

Elizabeth (1803), married Mr McCracken, son of the above, and left two sons and four maiden daughters. John, who went to Canada and left sons and daughters there. Frank left a widow in Belfast, plus a son Harry McCracken and a daughter Bessie who married Mr Bleakley. The daughters; Rosa, Maria, Georgina and Kate.

Thomas (1805), became a sucessful banker in Bristol, and left five daughters and a son; Catherine Kidd, Annie, Lizzie, Augusta, Francis and Henry, who resides with his wife in Bristol.

Alexander (1806), was a shipmaster, then commanded a clipper. As a young man he had a son, Robert, born about 1827, eventually marrying Magdelene Moncur about 1845, and had children; Catherine Kidd (1846), Thomas (1848), Alexander (1850), Francis (1852) and Arthur Fawthrop (1854). Arthur married Hannah Nicklin 26th Oct 1891, and had children; Catherine Kidd (1893-1894), Louise (1894), Alexander (1895), John Colmslie (1900). Mrs Hannah Nicklin died at Saharanpur, India, on 1st May 1907.

George (1809) and John (1812) were for some time wood merchants in Newburgh, Fife. George left a son, John, and a daughter Mary in Perth - both dead. John, a batchelor, died in Broughty Ferry in 1877.

Patrick (Peter) (1810), was a merchant in Dundee and London, but was unfortunate in business.

Henry (1816), was a successful business man and ship owner in Dundee, and lived to enjoy many years of retirement. Left two sons, Frank and Andrew - both dead.

Alexander (1747), it is not known what became of him or where he went to, but it is likely he was alive and well in the year 1783, when his nephew was named after him.

There is also difficulty about William Cairncross (1750), because there were two William Cairncrosses having children in Arsludie, Monifieth, at the same time. One married Christian Milne in March 1772, and the other married Isobel Cramond in July 1781. William and Isobel call their first children (twins) John and Alexander, and their third child Agnes. This is the very thing that William the son of John Cairncross and Agnes Anderson would do - name the first son John after the child's father's father, and the second son after the child's senior uncle (father's brother), and the first daughter after the child's grandmother. The only flaw is that the eldest daughter was by custom called after the child's mother's mother, if granny was alive. But the first two sons is strong evidence that this William was the son of John Cairncross and Agnes Anderson. Also, Christian Milne's William does not call his first son John, but William.

There was even a third William Cairncross in Arsludie, who married Susan Reylie, from the parish of Murroes. They had five children in Arsludie between 1787 and 1797 - David, William, Janet, Ann, and John. They took a small farm, "The Camp" at Camphill, Broughty Ferry, and kept a dairy there. Another child, George was born there in 1809, first a Lifeguardsman, then a stationmaster in West Ferry. He died I middle age, leaving his family in strained circumstances. Two children were born there to George and his wife, a boy, nicknamed "Pop", who went to sea, and was never heard of again, and Margaret, who grew into a big powerful woman, well known in Broughty Ferry. Margaret left a son, George, who became employed at the gasworks at Hawick.

There is now another Cairncross family in Broughty Ferry, and this is their little history, as far as it is known.

David Cairncross in Lochee, first a coachman and latterly an exciseman, had a son John, a weaver, who went to France and was manager of a factory in Anjiers. In later years he became frail, left France and opened a grocers shop in King Street, Broughty Ferry. He married Janet Easson in Lochee on 16th September 1842, and they had children - David, William and Jessie. David died in Anjiers, leaving two children, John (deceased) and Maggie who lived in Dundee. William was alive in Anjiers in 1904. He married Elizabeth Miller, and they had 6 daughters and one son. Jesse died, aged 14, in France. John married a second time, Elizabeth Will, on 10th August, 1855, in St Clement's, Dundee. Children - George, died 3rd September, 1891, at Rio of yellow fever, aged 37. James, mechanical engineer in Dundee, residing in Church St, Broughty Ferry: married Janet Watt Taylor at Logiealmond on 14th July, 1884; children - John Macrae Todd, now in Government service and married. Nelly and Lizzie, dressmakers, and James, a printer, now in Canada and married.

Before closing, we must not forget John Cairncross, sometime merchant in Brechin, formerly of the Royal Artillery, born 15th May, 1783, died in Brechin 14th June, 1853. He served in the Peninsular Campaign and was principal clerk in the Artillery Office at Headquarters until the Duke of Wellington's army finally quitted France. He was present at the battles of Corruna, Oporto, Talavera, Fuestos d'Onoro, Badajoz, Salamanca, Cuidad Rodrigo, Vitoria, San Sebastian, Pyranees, Orthez, Toulouse, for which he received the war medal with clasps. He was the son of Robert Cairncross, blacksmith, and Janet Gowans in Mainsbank, Kinnell Parish, and the grandson of Robert Cairncross, blacksmith at Barry Muir, and Margaret Smith there. Robert, in Mainsbank, was born at Barry, the parish adjoining Monifieth, on 17th August, 1746.

There used to be a James Cairncross, a sailmaker in Dundee. His son Robert, now deceased, acquired the business of the late Mr Falconer at the foot of Castle Street, and his business is now carried on by Robert's daughter, rope merchant. Another son, Peter, died a few years ago leaving a widow and family in Dundee. A third son, James, shipwright, has a confectioner's shop in Clepington Road, also married with a family. (ref: family tree on web-site "3 brothers - Robert, James and John.")

There was a Mr Cairncross, a tailor and clothier in Perth, Scotland. His son George was for many years a successful jeweller and watchmaker in St John's Street there. The business is now carried on by the grandson, James, who is understood to be the Major J. C. Cairncross, who is on the Territorial Committee, or Commission for Perth. This family came from the Lothians, and may be the descendants of James Cairncross, tailor, of Crosscauseway, near Edinburgh, whose last will and testament is dated 17th September, 1794. (ref: family tree on web-site "Family of Alexander Caincross (1777-1864")

Probably the ablest of all the Cairncrosses, ancient or modern, is Robert, who was a cadet of the Balmashanner family, priest of the diocese of Glasgow, provost of Corstorphine, chaplain to King James the Fifth, abbot of Holyrood, filling at various times high offices of State, and died 30th November, 1545. His brother, Nicoll at one time sat in Parliament as Deputy of the Constable of Scotland, and officiated as president (provost) of Edinburgh. It need not be doubted that it was through Robert's influence that his brother William obtained a grant of Colmslie and other lands in Melrose parish from the monks of Melrose. In short, the young men who left the headquarters of the family, and went south, first to Edinburgh and then to Melrose, made far more stir in the world than did the chiefs of their name at Balmashanner, and require a history of their own.

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