Seagate castle, Irvine
Maryborough salt pan houses
weavers' cottages in Crosshill


Culzean coach house
Return to Home page Go to About page Go to list of Articles Go to Bibliography Go to Links page Go to illustrated catalogue of Ayrshire milestones Go to Research Postings Search this site

Copyright notice:  Links to this site are welcomed.  However none of the material on the site may be duplicated in any form.  The copyright of the articles is the property of the authors.  Copyright of the web pages is the property of David McClure.

James McAdam and the Loss of Waterhead
by David Courtney McClure

Note: This article was updated on 5th November 2012 with information concerning a protrait of James McAdam. See endnote 17.

On the death of his eldest Ward the Laird of Waterhead, John McAdam threw off the mask and it appeared he was the real purchaser of all the Barony and a deal of the rich estate. He had made people under his power buy the lands, which he as Trustee could not legally do and then made believe to buy all of them.1

This charge, that John McAdam of Craigengillan had ignobly engineered the sale of the barony of Waterhead by James McAdam, in order that he could in time acquire it himself, is the grievance that lies at the heart of Georgina Keith McAdam' s family memoir, written 89 years after the event. According to her 'History of the Waterhead McAdams and the McAdams of Craigengillan' (1854), the shame was that 'All the gentility, the interest and everything that pertained to birth and breeding remained with the impoverished part of the Family - and immense wealth and coarse vice on the side of the newly risen people.' 2

Georgina Keith McAdam (1789-1869) was the third daughter and sixth child of John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836).3 At the time of her birth the family lived at the estate of Sauchrie, in the Carrick Hills of the parish of Maybole, in the vicinity of Ayr. Her father was an active Ayrshire landowner, occupying himself in public affairs and with his business interests, both as associate of Keith Stewart of Glasserton and as manager, and later proprietor, of the tar kilns at Muirkirk. The tar kiln adventure proved to be costly, leading, after a protracted rear-guard action, to the sale of Sauchrie and the removal of the family to England when Georgina was ten.

Georgina never married. She was handicapped from the age of seven, 'when she had fallen asleep, after playing in a hayfield, on damp ground, the result of which was a rheumatic fever and deafness, which trial she bore with great skill and patience, never appearing as tho' she were deaf and shewing interest in all that was going on.' This account is from 'Aunt George' , an affectionate memoir by Elizabeth Steuart, whose grandmother Gloriana (Grizzelle) was sister of John Loudon McAdam.4 Georgina, she recorded, accompanied her father on his many trips around the country, even in temporary residences away from home … where the uncertain temper of the beautiful wife made absences very agreeable.' So Georgina, spending so much time at her father's side, became the repository of the family story, and of the allegedly unworthy part played in it by John McAdam of Craigengillan. But family stories are apt to be shaped and polished over the years, subject to embellishment and lapses of memory. Do contemporary records support or refute the version recorded by Aunt George?

Georgina McAdam's great-grandfather, James McAdam of Waterhead, married late in life, in 1715, and by 1720 had three children, James, John, and Janet.5 In 1720 he set down in a legal document his wishes for the disposition of his lands upon his death, and upon the deaths of his heirs and successors.6 The principal parts of his estate comprised Waterhead in Kirkcudbrightshire, and houses in the town of Dalmellington:

All and Haill my four merk half merk Land of Waterhead comprehending the Lands of upper Knockingurroch, with the two Bows Wintertoun muir of Waterhead and the two Brownhills the one merk Land of Craignure and half merk Land of Gallowayside alias Galloway rig with the several houses Biggings yards Orchards, Fishings, parts, pendicles and pertinents of the said Lands, all lying within the parish of Carsefairn and Stewartry of Kirkcudbright with the Tiends parsonage and vicarage of the said Lands And Sick Like All and Haill my Tenement of Land and houses high and laigh, back and fore with the office houses and others thereto belonging, with the yard parts, pendicles and pertinents of the same lying within the Town of Dalmellington and bounded in manner mentioned in my rights and Infeftments thereof, and lying within Kingskyle and Sheriffdom of Air.7

His son James was to be first in line of succession, followed by the heirs' procreate of his body' , 'whilks failing' his son John and his heirs likewise; then any other son he might yet produce, and the heirs of that son; next his daughter Janet and her heirs; then any other daughter, and her heirs. His children were only infants in 1720, and the survival of any one to maturity and procreation not assured, so it was prudent to name further heirs in the will to prevent any dispute following his death. Georgina McAdam stressed the distance of the relationship of the Waterhead McAdams to the Craigengillans, saying that the latter 'lived in a very small hovel of a house until the days of my Great Grandfather - being always proud of claiming descent from the Barons of Waterhead as a younger branch.' Whether this was an accurate depiction of the relationship, or a distancing introduced in the light of later history, it was to the sons of the deceased Quintin McAdam of Craigengillan that James McAdam turned, and not any closer kin. Next in line, following any as yet unborn daughter he might have and her heirs, was John McAdam, eldest son of Quintin McAdam, and his heirs, then his brothers in turn and their heirs: John, James, William, Alexander, David, and the youngest, Quintin.8 At the last, all other heirs failing, the estate would fall to 'Robert McAdam in Nether Smeiton (possibly his brother) and his Heirs and Assignies whatsomever' . In the event of the estate falling to a female heir there was a special provision to perpetuate the name of McAdam:

that the oldest of all Heirs female or daughters succeeding to the saids Lands and Estate by the provisions and destinations above written shall always succeed without division and the Husband to whom she shall be married the time of her Succession shall either be of the name of McAdam or assume the same in all time thereafter and bear the arms of McAdam of Waterhead of Geuch, and that the Husband to whom the said oldest daughter succeeding shall be married after her said Succession shall be of the very name of McAdam and bear the arms of McAdam of Waterhead of Geuch otherways that the said daughter and her said husband contravening and not observing the foresaid Provision and the descendants of her Body shall throw [through?] their said contravention ipso facto loss and amitt the benefits of the said Succession provided as above without and necessity of declarator to follow thereupon and that the said Lands and Estate shall immediately thereafter fall and devolve to the next Heir succeeding.9

Waterhead's second son, John, did not survive him, but he had two others, Gilbert and William. Gilbert inherited his mother's Reid property, ' saddled with a sum of money to William.' 10

In the story according to Georgina, James McAdam was much taken with the young Craigengillan; he had him at Waterhead assisting in the management of the property, and introduced him to good company. James McAdam the elder died during or before 1729, when it is recorded that his son James was confirmed as his heir.11 He left the young John McAdam sole factor to his estate and guardian or tutor to his sons, thus 'by giving him considerable command of money, laid the foundation of his large fortune.' He brought his wards up well and did not cheat them in any way. But he used 'their spare money to establish and monopolise the cattle trade from the south of Scotland to England.' In the memoir Craigengillan is portrayed as a shrewd but hard man of business, who lent money and 'was never known to spare a debtor. from the widow with her cot and kail yard to his own nephew the Laird of Camlarg.'

According to Georgina's account, when he was seventeen James McAdam (1716/1717-1770), Craigengillan's eldest ward and laird of Waterhead, married eighteen-year-old Susannah Cochrane, granddaughter of Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree.12 While acknowledging that this was a very good match, 'there was fortune as well as birth' , Georgina described it as the 'first cloven-footed trick [Craigengillan] played my Grandfather' . Marriage made him of age for selling land,' and Waterhead began to go.' However the marriage actually took place about ten years later, in 1745.13 Whether or not there was some advantage to Craigengillan in the match, James McAdam, then in his late twenties, was responsible for his own actions.

In 1748 James sold the house and estate of Glaisnock in the parish of Cumnock to John Stevenson, doctor of medicine in Edinburgh, for £1,666 13s. 4d.14 In the account for payment of the sum, there is a deduction of £21 0s. 0d. (20 guineas) 'for the Doctor' s attendance on Mr McAdams family' . Glaisnock was not part of his father's entailed estate, and might have been deduced to have been all or part of the fortune brought by his wife. However John Loudon McAdam wrote in 1832: 'The house you enquire for was Glaisnoch near Cumnock; it was my father' s property, but my Grandfather Cochrane hired it and lived in it when my mother Susannah was born.' 15 Susannah McAdam sold the furniture of the house of Glaisnock to Stevenson for £48 6s. 6d., the final payment for which was made in March 1750. Stevenson received a payment of £44 8s. 10d. for the rent of the 'house of Glaisnock and Lands possest by James McAdam' for the year to Martinmas (11th November) 1749. Glaisnock thus appears to have been their home, which they continued to occupy for a year after the sale. It was a substantial house. In 1753, the earliest year for which window tax records are available, it had 27 windows. In the same year William Wallace's Cairnhill in the parish of Craigie had 28 windows, and Sir John Cunningham's Caprington in Riccarton parish had 32.16 The account for the furniture lists 'the parlour' with a big mahogany table and a dozen chairs; 'the little Room' , which apart from a bureau and six painted linen chairs had a bed 'with its appurtenances' ; 'the Family Bed Chamber' , with 'beds' and six leather-bottomed chairs; 'the Blue room' , with 'The Bed courtains & hangings' ; a 'Closet' , with another bed and cover; a kitchen, a nursery, 'Closs beds' for servants in the garret, and outbuildings which included mangers and stalls. Only rooms with furniture sold to Stevenson appear in the account, so the list may be incomplete. According to the 'stated account' of the sale of Glaisnock, there was a balance of £25 5s. 0d. which Stevenson was to retain until all accounts between the parties were settled by a 'Decreet of Arbitrall to be pronounced by John Macadam of Craigengillan concerning their mutual Claims against one another.' One can only speculate about the part that Craigengillan played in the sale of this property and in the investment of the sum it raised.

James McAdam of Waterhead (1716/1717-1770) - for source and colour image see note 17

With the income from Waterhead alone at £400 a year, property in Dalmellington besides, and the capital from the sale of Glaisnock, James and Susannah were in possession of a small fortune. Waterhead consisted principally of high moorland, lying to the north-east of the road between Dalmellington and Carsphairn. Today much of the land is employed in forestry, with wind farms appearing on the hilltops. In the eighteenth century it was open moorland.

Excepting the plain on which the church is situated, and a few more very small spots on the banks of the rivers, the country is all hilly. The high hills are all green - the lower ones generally covered with heath, and interspersed with large flats of moss.18

Sheep and black cattle were the mainstay of farming here. In similar parishes of Ayrshire in 1793, Fullarton found substantial numbers of sheep in particular: Straiton 2,000 cows and 20,000 sheep; Dalmellington 800 cows and 8,000 sheep; New Cumnock 1,000 cows and 20,000 sheep; Muirkirk 14,000 sheep.19 There was no doubt about the importance of sheep in Carsefairn:

Though agriculture is yet in a rude state, this is by no means the case with respect to the management of sheep and black cattle. In this, perhaps, the farmers in this parish are inferior to none in any part of Galloway. Few of them have less than 2000 sheep; and they are attentive to every method of improving them, and guarding them against the various accidents to which they are liable.20

Ochiltree House, from an old postcard

(reproduced with the permission of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland)

Susannah bore at least ten children: James in 1746, followed by eight daughters, and John Loudon, the youngest. Having left Glaisnock, they were living in Ochiltree House (above) in 1753 and in another house nearby until 1755, when they took a house in Ayr.21 John Loudon McAdam was born there in 1756. In 1758 they moved into Lagwyne (below), the new house James had built on his Waterhead estate, and maintained both it and the house in Ayr until 1760. For the following two years they were solely at Lagwyne. Over the same period Lagwyne was reduced in scale: a house initially of 13 windows, by 1760 it possessed no more than 8. This may have indicated that their circumstances were straitened to some degree. Then in December 1762 came the fire which destroyed Lagwyne, fortunately without loss of life. One contemporary account of this event records that it was 'a prodigious loss to the worthy gentleman, particularly as his bills and rights of his estate are all destroyed.' 22 The documents may have included bonds or other financial instruments without which the money they represented was irrecoverable. There is a possibility too that, notwithstanding the evidence of retrenchment in his accommodation, James McAdam was careless with money. A niece of his wife's wrote shortly after his death that 'He was generally thought an Extravagant Man.' 23 Whatever the cause, by 1763 their circumstances necessitated the sale of Waterhead.

The ruins of Lagwine, March 2006.  photo David Courtney McClure

Both John Dalrymple of Stair and Sir Adam Fergusson of Kilkerran were interested in the estate, and John McAdam of Craigengillan, who was party to the negotiations, favoured the former. John Hamilton of Bargeny24 had spoken to James McAdam and wrote to Dalrymple in May 1763:

In Concequence of my Letter I send you the answer from Waterhead. I was at Air lately and made Enquiry and I am told tis a very fine Estate and the sheep the Largest in That Country. Craigangilland was lately here he seems to wish you to have it preferable to Sir Adam Fergusson who is in Inclination for it. to enquire after it get intelligence of its value & Extent and the best way is to Strike it off at a Blow. Waterhead is one that will do best when the fit is on him. Sir Adam not a very bold Rival. I don' t know but it may be worth about £11000. however you know best what to Choose if you incline I should do anything further. I' ll either send or ship down to Craigangilland get Waterhead there and try their Lowest Demands. 25

At the end of June Hamilton wrote again to Dalrymple.26 McAdam had been at Bargeny, where after 'much conversation he offerd his Estate at Eleven Thousand' , he to remain as tenant himself at £400 a year. Hamilton had said that the highest price he could advise Dalrymple to pay was £10,500, and he thought that McAdam might settle at £10,800. Hamilton's enquiries had satisfied him that it was well worth the rent of £400. In the previous letter he had commented that 'Waterhead is one that will do best when the fit is on him' This time he wrote that ' he is keen at present to sell & he is not always of one mind.' James McAdam appears as a man under stress: the loss of Lagwyne, his poor health (as it appeared from other letters, below), his many daughters requiring 'fortunes' , and his debts (revealed in a later letter) all contributed to his predicament.

Two weeks later John McAdam of Craigengillan wrote to Dalrymple. His brothers Quintin and James both assured him that the estate could easily be let to separate tenants at £400 yearly. Waterhead was still intent on renting the estate himself after its sale, but with his poor health, this represented a risk. Hamilton of Bargeny had told him that he might die, and Craigengillan did not rate his prospects: 'indeed [I] do not think his life a good one' . However, Craigengillan concluded, if he finds the Gout getting much more the better of his constitution' Waterhead would sell his flocks and sublet the farms. In a postscript, John McAdam expressed his pleasure at the prospect of his new neighbour: 'I will be happy to have you in my Neighbourhood we will march several miles.'

The next letter was to John Dalrymple from James McAdam himself, writing from Craigengillan's house at Barbeth (also Berbeth; a house whose 33 windows in 1763 and 40 in 1764 indicated something much more substantial than Waterhead' s Lagwyne).27 Since this is the only letter of his that the author has found, it is included here in full.

To John Dalrymple Esq of Stair at Culhorn by Stranraer [from] James McAdam, Barbeth, 14/9/1763.


Your letters to Craigingillan of 7 Augt and 4 Curt he has Shewin me. As to the first, When I went to Edin[bu]r[gh] which was 11 Augt I caused an Inventory of the writis of the Lands I have sold you be made out. That with the writis themselves was put into Mr Cha Brouns hands That he might Shew them to Lord Auchinleck who was there in Town. Mr Broun seemd them to think the progress he sais with the addition of Two dispositions that were burnt, would make out a proper progress. These two dispositions are by this time supplyd, as I have letters from the Gentleman telling me they are willing to sign them as soon as they were sent to them.

Its probable Lord Auchenleck & Mr David Dalrymple may not meet early enough in Nov[embe]r to Look over the progress before the 22d & if Mr Broun thinks there is any think Doubtfull about it that these Gentlemen cannot have time to over take, I shall willingly pay the half of a consultation to Pitfour for [ru-wing?] the progress. As I am purswaded Mr Broun will never advise laying out money when it may be avoided. Your second letter is as to the Jointures. I cannot yet say any thing positive as to them nor do I think it will be necessary for you to call up your money for discharging them at this time. I shall let you know at least three months before any demand is made upon you for that purpose & I am Respectfully Sir your most obd & most humble Srt.

[signed] James McAdam

Waterhead was responding to letters that Dalrymple had written not to himself, but to Craigengillan. The sale to Dalrymple was agreed at least in principal by this time, and some of the burnt papers essential to the process were being replaced. In July 1765 John Hamilton of Bargeny wrote to Dalrymple.28 He included a copy of 'Mr McAdam' s signed proposals to make out the Disposition by.' McAdam had agreed to 'wait on' Dalrymple at Culhorn immediately 'to Sign & Deliver' . Hamilton had been informed privately by Craigengillan that James McAdam was ' under several Hornings & Captions' (he was being pursued by creditors), and thought that had it not been for that he would have stuck at £11,000. So Waterhead was sold for a sum close to but less than £11,000.

No further correspondence relating to the sale of Waterhead to John Dalrymple of Stair has been found. In December 1769 however, by which time Dalrymple had succeeded as 5th earl of Stair, Craigengillan was writing to him again. 'I have the honour of your Lordship's of the 8th acceptance of Provost Ferguson share of our bank which is a twelfth part of the whole' . The earl of Stair was about become a partner in the banking company John Macadam & Co, which had been founded in 1763.29 Craigengillan also included a bill for the supply of stots (bullocks) from Kintyre and Arran.

James McAdam and his family moved to Whitefoord Castle in the parish of Straiton, where he spent the few remaining years of his life.30 During this period he lost his eldest son, James, who died c.1767.31 According to his younger brother John Loudon, James was a lieutenant in the 25th regiment at Gibraltar. He proposed a match to his captains daughter, but his disapproving father summoned him home. 'My brother never did any good after he left the Army and died in London when I was very young about the year 1763 or 64' .32 John Loudon' s daughter understood that he 'spent a great deal of money' .33 Cochrane's account of the year is probably more reliable than McAdam's. In this period too his eldest daughter, Margaret, married William Logan of Camlarg, in the parish of Dalmellington, a nephew of John McAdam of Craigengillan. Unlike James McAdam but like his uncle, Logan was an active commissioner of supply and roads trustee. James McAdam died on 20th August 1770.34 'I was also at my Uncle McAdam's sometime, who then resided at Whitefoord … [He] was very ill of the Gout, which ended in a Dropsy and at last cut him off about three months ago.' 35 The surviving son, John Loudon, was sent to his uncle William in New York, and the family left Whitefoord: 'Mr McAdam dead and his family removed' .36 Whitefoord Castle remained uninhabited until 1775, when it was occupied by a Miss McAdam (presumably the eldest then unmarried, accompanied by some or all of her single sisters). They were in a much reduced portion however, with only 9 windows.37 The widow, Susannah McAdam, 'Mrs McAdam of Waterhead' , was in 1771 occupying a house of 8 windows in Ayr.38

If there was a conspiracy between John Dalrymple (later 5th earl of Stair) and John McAdam of Craigengillan to allow Craigengillan to become the ultimate purchaser of Waterhead while appearing to act honourably as trustee to James McAdam, they were in no indecent haste to complete the business after McAdam's death. In 1775 a boundary dispute arose concerning the earl's lands of Lagwine (Waterhead) and Craigengillan's lands of Holm and Greenhead. Depositions of witnesses were taken at Carsphairn on 1st June 1775, following which Craigengillan's brother Quintin wrote to the earl from Ayr on 9th June confirming that the boundary was agreed.39 If it was the intention of the parties that Craigengillan would acquire Waterhead from the earl, would he not have chosen to adjust the boundaries when both properties belonged to him?

The first mention of the transfer of the ownership of Waterhead is found in a letter from Craigengillan to the earl written from Berbeth on 23rd August 1777. 'If your Lordship is of the mind in selling the lands of Waterhead have given my Brother Quintin McAdam powers to buy it, not for the bargain I expect, but affection of the old Land.' 40 This theme, that his desire to acquire Waterhead was on account of a family attachment to the land rather than commercial considerations recurs in the correspondence. McAdam' s letters are unusual: in a conversational style he discusses his motives and intentions, and comments upon other matters such as the failure of the Douglas and Heron bank and the proper management of sheep on moorland such as his and the Waterhead lands in Carsphairn. He was unable to go to Culhorn himself, 'being lowered with a sort of gravell is only an unease when I travel much.' 41 He was able to assure Stair of his financial worth: 'I have ten thousand pound of Heritable Bonds which I do not incline to dispose on, unles the Douglas Co. force the sale of some lands near this, in that case I can get more money for them when I please. I have as much of personal security & mark of it in hands of such as would distress them if caled up immediately.' He proposed to pay in three instalments, one third at Martinmas 1777, the other two thirds at the same quarter day in 1778 and 1779. Although it would make him 'easie' to pay it all sooner, he wanted to have money ready in case sales took place, occasioned by the bank failure.

Douglas, Heron and Company (the 'Ayr Bank'), a joint stock bank formed in November 1769, with numerous subscribers or shareholders, and with a paid-up capital of £96,000, closed its doors on 25 June 1772.42 The subscribers' liability amounted to more than £2,000 for each £500 share they held, and many lost their estates in the years following the collapse. According to Ward, 'among Ayrshire lairds totally or partially ruined were Patrick Douglas of Cumnock, Hugh Logan of Logan, Robert Kennedy of Pinmore, Archibald Craufurd of Ardmillan, Sir John Whitefoord of Ballochmyle and Blairquhan, John Christian of Kinning Park, George McCrae of Pitcon, and David McLure of Shawood.' 43, 44 According to a 1770 list of the 'Proprietors of Stock' in the company, William Logan of Camlarg was one of its directors, and he too, a nephew of Craigengillan and son-in-law of Waterhead, faced ruin.45 He had borrowed money from Craigengillan to improve his small estate, A letter to the latter from David Limond in 1773 reveals his unsentimental attitude to his nephew. Limond wrote, ' spoke to Mr Fergusson about your multure Process against Camlarg, which he promisses to push on. I wish he may be as good as his Word, & shall not fail to dunn him as much as in my power.' 46 Although these were Limond's words, he was confident of the temper of the man to whom he addressed them. Logan lost his estate, 'ruined by his merciless uncle' . Georgina McAdam, whose comment this was, described the situation thus:

While John McAdam was making money on all hands came the disastrous failure of the Ayr Bank - it was entirely set going by the landed proprietors of the Counties round - and the effect was far worse than the present state of Ireland with the encumbered estates. Estates changed hands for nothing! They were engulfed and wherever our Ralph Nickleby held the smallest mortgage he squeezed the last drop of blood out of the victim, between himself and the bankruptcy, Barbeth - where his granddaughter Mrs McAdam Cathcart now lives - became his, Camlarg and many large estates. Uncle Gilbert's estate went at last with this shock and meantime Mammon was silently acquiring Waterhead.47

Craigengillan was not one of the original subscribers to the Ayr Bank, which purchased John Macadam & Co. in 1771. He showed no personal concern about the collapse in this correspondence, so it is probable that he did not become a shareholder as a consequence of the sale of his banking venture. But his brothers 'David McAdam in Bennan' and 'Quintin McAdam in Barbeth' were both original subscribers.48 The failure ' gives me much grief for the sake of two Brothers a nephew and many more of my acquaintances not well abell to bear it.' 49

On account of his health, Craigengillan was unable to travel to Culhorn himself. 'I do very well at home' , he wrote in September 1777, ' Ryding & jolting in a chaise as many of our roads is bad is not agreeable.' 50 'Brother Quintin' had returned having offered £12,000 for Waterhead on his behalf. John McAdam proposed to pay this in one instalment of £5,000 and two of £3,500, though if the earl insisted he could pay it sooner. He wishes 'to have the power of a little money' in case any other lands became available. And he would not give more for Waterhead:

these lands lying so high are very precarious in storm far from any relife when snow is ly long had I not some low grounds nearer them than any els would not give so much that with the affection I have for these lands being so long in the property of my friends I owne induces me.51

Although there might be a glut of land on the market on account of the disposals by lairds bankrupted or financially distressed by the bank failure, the earl was holding out for much more than the £10,800 or so he had paid for Waterhead. It does not suggest that his original acquisition was a matter of convenience to oblige John McAdam. And Craigengillan was prepared to pay the earl's price, 'with the affection I have for these lands' , despite his desire to have money available to snap up some bargains.

Quintin returned from another visit to Culhorn with the news that the earl was determined to have £12,500 or to keep Waterhead in his own hands. Craigengillan thought that this was a price that no 'mortal' other than himself would give for moorland that would not benefit from any kind of improvement. The return from substantial tenants would not warrant such a price. Nonetheless he would pay it:

for the sake of antiquity I have had a desire for those lands ever since sold therefor will come over the point of intrest to some inclination and give your Lordship' s price of Twelve thousand five hundred. I had the offer of them for £10000 when your [Lordship bought] them had not money, indeed worth no more, or yet, should be.52

He had further proposals on payment. He would prefer entry and hence payment of the first instalment to be at Whitsunday 1778, but would accept Martinmas 1777 if the earl insisted upon it.53 He proposed to pay £2,500 at entry and £4,000 a year later, paying interest at 5 percent. He hoped to defer the balance of £6,500 for several years at 4½ percent because he had 'distant views of some lands in the Neighbourhood' . He could borrow the whole sum elsewhere but would rather 'be owing to your Lordship as most of the welthy.'

He finally accepted entry at Martinmas with £12,500 payable then: £2,500 cash, £4,000 by a bond payable on 22 November 1778, and a bond for £6,000 payable on 22 November 1779.54 After some remarks on the cattle trade and on losses incurred by Lord Galloway 'by Logans drove being overdriven afterwards frighted & greatly abused severalls dead' , he thanked the earl for his concern:

Im greatly oblidged for your care for my health we have plenty of the Virginia Strawberry and will aply to your Lordship for setts of these at Castle Kennedy. I am just now using Casteel Soap and lime water since have not the smalest distres while I stay at home at moderat exercise only when am jolted in a chaise on bad roads or on a horse.

His plan for Waterhead was to let it to good tenants:

I have always been sensible of your Lordship' s good will and am shure you are in earnest as to my succeeding at the bargain my scheme shall be to have knowing tenants which is more & better than high rent, if bad tenants that do not exactly understand the manadgement of sheep it would soon be ruined there is not a shilling made by them all since Waterhead set it owing to want of skill & hog sence. If I had said so much before the saill your Lordship would have suspected me.

So Waterhead came into the possession of John McAdam of Craigengillan. The central charge made by Georgina Keith McAdam, that the first purchase was a sham, and that he was able to reveal himself as the real purchaser after the death of James McAdam, seems to be unfounded. First, he had to pay a substantial margin over the original price to induce the earl of Stair to part with the estate. Secondly, the transaction did not take place until seven years after the death. Craigengillan did however have a hand in the disposals of Glaisnock and Waterhead, and in the case of the latter he leaked information about James' financial condition which may have been to his disadvantage in negotiating the price. It is also true that his wealth was increasing considerably at a time when many faced ruin. By his own account he passed up the opportunity of buying Waterhead directly from James McAdam for £10,000 in 1770 because he had not the money, rather than for any feeling of decency, while in 1777 he was able to boast of the money at his command and of his hopes for acquiring other land where the bank collapse forced disposal. Over this period too he engaged in rebuilding Berbeth, known later as Craigengillan, albeit 'in an unadventurous Georgian manner.' 55 The number of windows dropped from 40 to 9 in 1770-1772, rose to 19 in 1773-4 and then 51 in 1776, which was the number still in 1798, when, taking the number of windows as an index of size, it was the 17th largest house in Ayrshire.56

Georgina's description of his character was probably justified. His expressions of grief for the misfortunes of others were no more than that. The banking crisis created an opportunity which he wished to exploit. He was not generous to his nephew, whose estate he gained. But where one might say that he was hard-hearted - 'never known to spare a debtor' - another would say that he was simply a good man of business, and because of that he prospered.

The hurt was long nursed by the descendants of James McAdam. He may have sold Waterhead but to his son and heir John Loudon McAdam, if we hear him speaking through the memoir of his daughter and companion Georgina, it was a loss that was felt all the more keenly because the ultimate beneficiary was an inferior McAdam.

David Courtney McClure

1Georgina Keith McAdam[GKMcA], 'The History of the Waterhead McAdams and the McAdams of Craigengillan' (unpublished manuscript, 1854). There is a transcription in the McAdam box in the Cathcartston Centre in Dalmellington, though by whom it was made is not recorded.

2In her account, in the 1790s the gentility and good breeding lay with John Loudon McAdam, and the great wealth and coarse vice with Quintin McAdam of Craigengillan.

3Note that he is properly John Loudon McAdam, and not 'John Loudoun Macadam' , as he appears in a recently-published four-page pamphlet, The river ayr way: Muirkirk Village audio tour guide (East Ayrshire Council, [2006]).

4Elizabeth Steuart, 'Aunt George' (unpublished manuscript, undated); in the McAdam box, Cathcartston Centre, Dalmellington.

5The year of his marriage is given by Burke' s The Landed Gentry vol. II (6th ed, 1879), 1010-1011. The old parish records for Sorn record the marriage of James McAdam to Margaret Reid on 15th September 1715.

6National Archives of Scotland [NAS], Craigengillan Muniments, GD231/3/3, Writs of Lands of Waterhead with superiority of Craignaw etc. 1744-1764 [bundle of 6 documents including] 'Regr. Disposition of the Lands of Waterhead & others By James McAdam of Waterhead To His Children and others within mentd. Dated 28th December 1720 And Reg. 26th January 1764.'

7The same disposition also dealt with a smaller portion of his property, his 'two merk Land of Over and Nether Smietons and ane merk Land of Strahannay with the haill parts pendicles and pertinents thereof also lying within the said parish of Carsefairn and Stewartry of Kirkcudbright with the Tiends parsonage and vicarage' . The entail in this instance omitted the Craigengillan brothers, so that Robert McAdam followed James McAdam's children.

8 Footnote deleted.

9' Waterhead of Geuch' : modern maps show Waterhead lying on the Water of Deugh.

10GKMcA, 'History' .

11From a list of 'McAdam wills and sasine records' compiled by Hugh Adamson and others at the Carsphairn Heritage Centre and found at on 16th August 2006.

12According to GKMcA her grandfather died at the age of 48. This would put his year of birth at 1721/1722. However, both he and his younger siblings John and Janet had been born by 1720, the year of their father James McAdam's disposition, so that the three were born between 1715 (the date of the marriage) and 1720. Thus 1716/1717 is a reasonable estimate of the date of birth of the younger James McAdam. If GMcA was correct in asserting that James married at the age of 17, then the marriage took place in 1733/1734.

13'McAdam wills and sasine records' has this entry: ' 1745, James McAdam of Waterhead married Susan Cochrane, son James born 1746, registered in Straiton.

14NAS, GD253/140/9, Messrs D. & L.H. Campbell W.S., John Stevenson and James McAdam, 1749-1759 (6 documents).

15The letter written by John Loudon McAdam to his daughter Nancy Sanders is quoted at length by Roy Devereux [Mrs Pember, a great great granddaughter of J.L. McAdam] in John Loudon McAdam: Chapters in the History of Highways (London, 1936), 26-27.

16NAS, Window Tax records [WTR], E326/1/11, May 1753-May 1759.

17From Devereux, John Loudon McAdam. No source was given for the portrait. However the following information was received from David Bragdon on 10th October 2012: 'The portrait was painted in 1764 by Sir George Chalmers. It sold this evening at auction in the United States for $200.' Subsequently, on 20th October 2012, Michael P Marsille added this: 'Coincidentally I recently purchased the very portrait of Mr McAdam which you have reproduced from Devereux's book. It was painted by Sir George Chalmers in 1764 and has the McAdam coat of arms in the upper right (though the varnish is quite dark).' The image below of the portrait is taken from the suctioneer's website.

18From the account for 'Carsefairn' by Rev. Samuel Smith, The Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799), Vol. VII, 513.

19William Fullarton, A General View of the Agriculture of the County of Ayr (1793), reprinted with commentary in Ayrshire in the Age of Improvement, ed. David [Courtney] McClure (Ayr, 2002).

20Smith, 'Carsefairn' , 516.

21David [Courtney] McClure, ' James McAdam: Waterhead to Whitefoord' , Ayrshire Notes 31 (Ayr, 2006), 4-10.

22Letter dated 27th December 1762 to James Boswell from his tutor William McQuhae, cited in Frederick A. Pottle, ed., Boswell's London Journal, 1762-1763 (Yale, 1950), editor's note to entry for 14-15th September 1762.

23Miss A. Cochrane, Castle Carron, to her brother [name unknown], 1st December 1770, Shaw Kennedy MSS., cited by Robert Harry Spiro Jr., 'John Loudon McAdam: Colossus of Roads' (unpublished PhD thesis, Edinburgh U., 1950). McAdam actually had 7 unmarried sisters at the time. The letter is also cited by Devereux, John Loudon McAdam, 26.

24The modern spelling is 'Bargany.'

25NAS, GD135/2755/27, 'To the Honble John Dalrymple of Stair Esq at Culhorn [from] John Hamilton Bargeny 23d May 1763.'

26NAS, GD135/2755/28, John Hamilton, Bargeny 28th June 1763 [to John Dalrymple].

27NAS, WTR, E326/1/12, May 1759-May 1764 (May-November 1763 wanting).

28NAS, GD135/2755/29, John Hamilton, Bargeny, 14th July 1765 to John Dalrymple of Stair.

29S.G. Checkland, Scottish Banking: A History, 1695-1973 (Glasgow, 1975), 116, 127.

30McClure, 'James McAdam'.

31A. Cochrane, letter, 1st December 1770. 'His eldest son James died about three years ago at London' .

32John Loudon McAdam, letter, 1832. A. Cochrane's estimate for the year of death of c.1767 is perhaps the more reliable being contemporary.

33GKMcA, ' History' .

34Scots Magazine, XXXII (1770), 458.

35A. Cochrane, letter, 1st December 1770.

36NAS, WTR, E326/1/13, May 1764-April 1773.

37NAS, WTR, E326/1/14, April 1773-April 1782.

38NAS, WTR, E326/1/134, March 1748-April 1797 (with exceptions).

39NAS, GD135/1655/1, Extract of the depositions of witnesses taken at Carsphairn June 1st 1775. GD135/1655/2, letter to the earl of Stair at Culhorn from Quintin McAdam, Ayr June 9th 1775.

40NAS, GD135/247/2, John McAdam of Craigengillan, Berbeth 23rd August 1777, to the earl of Stair at Culhorn.

41Gravel: generally, pain or difficulty in passing urine.

42Frank Brady, 'So Fast to Ruin: The personal element in the collapse of Douglas, Heron and Company' in Ayrshire Collections, vol. 11 (AANHS, 1976), also published separately as a pamphlet.

43J.T. Ward, 'Ayrshire Landed Estates in the Nineteenth Century' in Ayrshire Collections, vol. 8 (AANHS, 1969).

44John Lapraik's poem on the crash appeared in The Contemporaries of Burns by James Paterson (Edinburgh, 1840) and was reprinted in Ayrshire Notes 27 (Ayr, 2004), 20-21.

45List of the Proprietors of Stock in the Banking Society under the Firm of Messrs. Douglas, Heron, and Co. (Edinburgh, 1770). The copy in the Alexander Wood Memorial Library (North Ayrshire Libraries) includes hand-written additions. James McAdam of Waterhead is included in this list with the word 'dead' against his name. His £500 subscription would have been due to be repaid after his death, and his heirs would not have been liable for the losses following the banks collapse.

46NAS, GD231/5/1, David Limond, Ayr, 28th January 1773 to John McAdam Esquire of Craigengillan.

47GKMcA, 'History' . Ralph Nickleby, the uncle of Charles Dickens' eponymous hero Nicholas Nickleby, was a mean-spirited, cruel moneylender. 'Uncle Gilbert' was Gilbert McAdam of Merkland, brother of James McAdam. 'Gilbert lost the last penny in the Ayr Bank - and died of chagrin!'

48List of the Proprietors of Stock.

49NAS, GD135/2547/8, John McAdam of Craigengillan, Berbeth, 31st October 1777, to the earl of Stair at Culhorn.

50NAS, GD135/2547/3. John McAdam of Craigengillan, Berbeth, 11th September 1777, to the earl of Stair at Culhorn.

51Nearby low lands were required for accommodating the sheep when the weather was particularly bad.

52NAS, GD135/2547/5, John McAdam of Craigengillan, Berbeth, 26th September 1777, to the earl of Stair at Culhorn.

53Here and in other letters he had Martinmas as 22nd November rather than 11th, adding back the 11 days (3rd-13th) dropped in September 1752 in consequence of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. The old style Julian day of 11th November would have fallen on the new style Gregorian 22nd November.

54NAS, GD135/2547/6-7, John McAdam of Craigengillan, Berbeth, 9th and 21st October 1777, to the earl of Stair at Culhorn.

55Rob Close, Ayrshire and Arran: an illustrated architectural guide (RIAS, 1992), 162.

56NAS, WTR as above and E326/1/16, April 1789-April 1798 (with exceptions).

back to top
Return to Home page Go to About page Go to list of Articles Go to Bibliography Go to Links page Go to illustrated catalogue of Ayrshire milestones Go to Research Postings Search this site