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A Clan MacTavish Official Website
The Myth of a Disponed
MacTavish Chiefship is put to rest.
Clan MacTavish
The following is a transcription of a letter is found in the National Library and Archives of Canada among the Hargrave/MacTavish papers. This letter is of SIGNIFICANT importance, considering what has been claimed by a few "wishful thinking" persons regarding where the chiefship of MacTavish properly resides, and one of many reasons why Lord Lyon, Sir Malcolm Innes of Edingigh, recognized and matriculated Dugald MacTavish as Chief of the Clan MacTavish in 1997.

The date of the letter is 1845, and fully 48 years after Dunardry was sold to Simon McTavish of Garthbeg. The letter indicates that Sheriff Dugald MacTavish knew himself to be both Chief of the Clan, as he distinguishes his son with the right to wear the distinctions of the Chief of our Clan, and that he is the Lineal Heir to the Thane of Knapdale, Sween the Red.

Some notes of interest are appended following the letter.


Letter addressed on cover To: Jo (John) McTavish
Butler Torrisdale Castle †

Letter from (Sheriff) Dugald MacTavish to John McTavish – Dated Kilchrist 18 Feb. 1845

My eldest son who after an absence of twelve years in America has spent his winter with me at Kilchrist returns next month to his post in Hudson Bay and he wishes to take with him a Highland dress. † †
His height is rather above six feet one inch – he measures round his naked chest three feet seven inches and round the waist two feet ten inches.
He has written to Mrs. Worseley, Gayfield Square, Leith Walk to procure and send him materials for his dress and as I think you must have had some experience in such matters it has occurred to me to request you to give Mrs. Worseley the aid of your suggestions in regard to the articles required-
As my eldest son is entitled to wear the distinctions of the Chief of our Clan being the twenty second in lineal descent from Taus Coor through twenty one generations from father to son without an instance of collateral or female succession - -
I am told the clothiers sell a Tartan they call MacTavish but from what I hear it little resembles the set [sic sett] which my grandmother (who was the eldest daughter of the chief of MacLachlan) considered the Dunardry Tartan & which she said should have as much white as there was yellow in the MacLachlan tartan. If you find however that in point of fact our clan have recognized the tartan sold under their name it will be as well to send my son as much of it as will make his dress – along with the plaid broach and belt buckle – such as will not look gaudy beside his old iron hilted family Ferrara.
I wish his dress to be really handsome without tinsel or glitter & will be obligated to you to point out to Mrs. Worseley the quality & quantity of material to be sent.
The tailor & shoemaker who (I)brought here from Skipness(?) will make up his dress. I will take care they meet attention especially as to the bonnet for notwithstanding the humble fortunes of my family I wish my son to remember that on my death he becomes the undoubted lineal representative of the Thane of Knapdale-
Trusting I shall soon hear from you I remain your friend.

D. M.
Kilchrist 18 Feb. 1845
Notes: The Eldest son spoken of is William MacTavish who became the Hudson Bay Co. Governor of Assiniboia and Rupert’s Land, at the Red River Settlement, Fort Garry, (Manitoba) Canada. He became Chief of the Clan, and lienal heir to the Thane of Knapdale in 1855, when his father Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, died at Kilchrist Castle, Stewarton, Campbeltown, Argyll. Sheriff Dugald's estate papers record him as MacTavish of Dunardry.
(See the Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry's Testament and WIll - Click the thumbnail images at the bottom of page.)

† The peculiar thing about the addressing of the letter is that Torrisdale Castle is in Kintyre, not Edinburgh. The letter was passed to the MacAlisters at Torrisdale, then on to John McTavish in Edinburgh, as seen in reply dated 8th March 1845.

† † Highland dress: Refers to a complete Highland Kit, consisting of kilt, jacket, waistcoat (vest), etc…

The “Dunardry Tartan” referred to in the letter as having, as much white as the MacLachlan Tartan has yellow, is presently unknown. Sheriff Dugald MacTavish knows he is Chief of the Clan and Lineal Heir to the Thane of Knapdale, Suibhne Ruadh (Sween the Red), builder of Castle Sween on Loch Sween, and Skipness Castle.

Ferrara Sword: Typically the Basket Hilted swords associated with the Scots. Andrea Ferrara was a celebrated Spanish swordsmith, of Italian descent, who killed his apprentice when he caught him spying on his secret smithing techniques. He signed the fuller of his swords with his name. He fled to Scotland, after killing his apprentice, where he joined the court of James V and made swords for Royalty, Nobles and Knights.

The issue of "Who is the Rightful Chief of Clan MacTavish" is settled! Lord Lyon, Sir Malcolm Innes of Edingigh placed a 10 year limit (for aught yet seen) on challenging the Chiefship. There are two forms of challenge, 10 and 20 years. Because of the sufficient and overwhelming documentaion supplied to Lyon Court, by the late Dugald MacTavish, the time frame was set to 10 years. The challenge period expired 23 July 2007. Steven MacTavish of Dunadry is the Chief of Clan MacTavish. No challenge can be forthcoming, nor would such a challenge be heard by Lyon Court.

For confirmation of the expired challenge period, write:
The Court of the Lord Lyon
H.M. New Register House

The Saga of Dunardry

In September 1796, attorney for Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry, James Ferrier, Edinburgh, wrote to Simon McTavish in Montreal, telling him of the death of Lachlan and the state of the family. Simon responded in the letter hereinafter.

Letter by Simon McTavish to James Ferrier.

Montreal. Jan’y 11th, 1797.

A few days ago I received your favor of the 20th Sept. last giving the unwelcome account of the death of my poor Friend Dunardry, and the embarrass’d situation of his affairs & Family; which I regret very much. He was not deceived in reckoning on my friendly disposition towards him, and it was my intention to have assisted him in paying up what he owed Mr. Malcolm on his little Family property, as soon as I could with conveniency spare the money. I find from your statement that but little has yet been paid on the account. I think you apprehend the Family may be injured in getting rid of the purchase to Mr. Malcolm—to prevent which, if it will suit that Gentleman to wait for his money ‘till May, 1798, I will pay him at that time, in London, with a years interest that will then fall due, and take the purchase on my own account; & perhaps at a future day one of the sons of my deceased Friend may be in a situation to redeem it; if this proposal proves satisfactory, or in case that Mr. Malcolm is pressing for his money—if any of the Friends of the Family can make it convenient to advance the purchase money till May ’98—I will reimburse them at that period, & authorize you to make the necessary arrangements—if you will undertake the management of the business; I therefore request to hear from you on this subject by the first opportunity, and as letters in time of War are liable to miscarry it may be necessary to write in duplicate. As your forms in Scotland are different to what they are in England—be so good as to send me a Copy of such power of attorney as may be necessary for me to send you, if my proposal is accepted of.—
You’ll please to acquaint the Widow that I will most cheerfully take charge of the second boy, whenever his is qualified to come into a Computing House, &wish a proper attention may be paid to his Education—until he is 16--& if the expense will be inconvenient for the Family I will pay it.

I remain very respectfully
Your Obedt. Humble Servt.
(Signed) Simon McTavish

Jas. Ferrier, Esqr., Writer to
The Signet, Edinburgh

As it appears in the above letter (1), Simon McTavish had a soft spot for his kinsman and “Friend Dunardry”, Chief Lachlan MacTavish, and family. Simon also states the exact reason why he is offering to pay the purchase fee to Neil Malcolm of Potalloch (Mr. Malcolm). He feels in loosing The Dunardry Estate ("the purchase") the Dunardry family (Lachlan and His family) has suffered injury, and he is taking on the purchase himself in order to retain it--with the sole intent of returning it to the sons of Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry. It is of interest that Simon does not sign himself “of Garthbeg” for he had been granted cadet Arms by Lord Lyon in 1793. Plainly, Simon recognized Lachlan MacTavish as “Dunardry”.

Simon purchased Dunardry but he never occupied it, and this was likely due to his considerable business interests in Canada. He took John George MacTavish, second son of Lachlan MacTavish, into the North West Company, where he eventually became a high-ranking factor in that Company. Later John George changed the spelling of his last name to match that of his benefactor, Simon McTavish. John George later worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company where he was also considered one of its top traders.

In 1798, Simon paid a portion of the funds for Dunardry to Malcolm of Poltalloch for the Dunardry Estate. He later admitted to a friend that it (Dunardry) was a “hobby-horse”, noting that for him the purchase of such land was an layout of money that was disadvantageous (2). It seems that Simon was not too serious about the land of Dunardry, even though he had the purchase and later passed it to his heirs.

Both of Simon McTavish’s sons, William, and Simon, Jr. died young. However, years after William McTavish passed, Simon, Jr. asked Sheriff Dugald MacTavish, now living at Kilchrist House in Stewarton, Campbeltown, Kintyre, to assist him in clearing up his brother’s affairs in a letter written from Ramsgate, on 22 Jan. 1823, 3 years after Dugald obtained the land back from Simon Jr., but the affairs of William were still not settled. See the Letter from Ramsgate below. (3)

What happened was Dunardry returned to Dugald MacTavish by disposition, since neither Simon McTavish (Sr.) nor his heirs, had completed payment on the fees of Dunardry and it was under debt, and the estate (duthus) returned to the original owners, with a purchase price. William McTavish’s (Simon’s son) debst, goods and the property of Dunardry, were sold at Roup (auction) under the jurisdiction of the Court in 1820 (4), and the property again passed Sheriff Dugald who sold it to Malcolm of Poltallach, by Charter Sale of Sheriff Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry on 3 Nov 1820. On 3 May 1823, the legal disposition of the Lands of Dunardry was settled, naming Malcolm of Poltallach the owner, and Dugald MacTavish the seller (5). Sheriff Dugald could not have authorized the sale if he had no legal right to do so, nor could he have sold it without being the heritor of the lands.

1-The Beaver Magazine, a Hudson’s Bay Company publication, December 1941 Edition, Article by W.S. Wallace, “New Light on Simon McTavish”, p 49.

2-The North West Company, Marjorie Wilkins Campbell, Toronto, MacMillan, 1957, pp 116, 117.

3-National Library and Archive of Canada, Hargrave/MacTavish Papers, Letter Ramsgate (England), 22nd Jan 1823, Simon McTavish Jr. to (Sheriff) Dugald MacTavish, Esq.

4-Argyll & Bute Archives, Lochgilphead, Scotland: GD43/Parcel 23/10 Copy of the Minutes and Articles of Roup (Auction) for Dunardry in the action of Sale and Ranking against the Creditors of the said William McTavish 17 May 1820.Argyll & Bute Archives, Lochgilphead, Scotland

5-Argyll & Bute Archives, Lochgilphead, Scotland: GD43/Parcel 23/13 Charter of Sale of Dunardry by the said Dugald MacTavish in favor of the said Neill Malcolm, senior, and Neill Malcolm, Junior 3 Nov 1820.

Letter by Dugald McTavish, 29 April 1818, to David Caldwell - Edinburgh

Ugadale was yesterday favored with your letter of the 25th and its enclosure, when I desired himself to write to you on the subject of his money matters. I was aware of the necessity for your having his signature to show to the (Barrister). He is obliged by your attention to this matter.

I use the freedom to prefix a copy of three letters in which you will perceive I have personally a very deep interest in the hope that will take the trouble to call in my behalf on Major Plenderleath to ascertain what are the intentions of my young namesake in the subject. Neither of these parties have as yet returned any answer to my letters and as I understand that Mr. Malcolm Poltalloch has made an offer for the lands, I shall feel very unhappy until I learn how it has been treated.

It is not to be supposed that a party in my situation can divest himself of partiality in his views of a transaction of this kind. But after making every allowance for this feeling I can not for my soul conceive any good or honorable pretext that Mr. William McTavish can urge for putting me in a worse situation as to these lands than now [,] that from which his father voluntarily stepped forward and relieved me.

He should ask no more from me that repayment of the sum his father advanced with interest and any expense of management that may have been disbursed. He giving credit for the (Whitsunady tenants) with rents which latter from the date of the transaction have considerably exceeded 5 percent on the sum advanced.

Should the young man and his friend view the matter in a different light however here cannot possibly exist any apology for his selling to Mr. Malcolm and any other person without first putting it in my power to purchase an equal terms to secure my having an opportunity at some future time of redeeming his property. My curators price considerable under what could have been procured for at the time. This sacrifice was in fact considered no sacrifice such was the confidence of my friends in the generous motives and which they imputed Mc MacTavish voluntary interposition in behalf of my fathers family. As matters are now liked to turn out however I fear I shall have reason throughout life to curse the house in which my friends allowed themselves to be duped by professions of friendship which though certainly sincere on the part of Mr. McTavish have only had the effect of placing me at the mercy of a son who can not possess a spark of honorable feeling could not have hesitated for a moment as to the line of conduct he should pursue if there were a spark of honorable feeling in his disposition.

The state of this young mans health is said to be very bad. I therefore entreat you will not lose a moment in seeing Mr. Plenderleath and if your find (which I have little doubt your shall) that there is a chance of my getting this property at the sum Mr. McTavish favor me for it, I beg you will learn from Mr. Plenderleath at what price I may have it and if you can close a bargain by with Mr. William McTavish at any sum below six thousand guineas you may do so without waiting further authority from me. One half of the price payable at Martin Mass 1818 the other at Whits 1819. In case you get this transaction so closed tell Major Plenderleath that I entreat he will not let any human being know that the lands are sold for some months as I have very particular reasons for wishing to keep the transaction private.

Whatever may be the result of the negotiations I bet you will observe similar secrecy? The sum offered by Mr. Malcolm is £6000. If it can be kept from him that I am in the field he probably will raise it higher. Should he discern that I am looking after the purchase there will be the devil to pay as he can afford to give will give any price rather than lose it. You will therefore take care to commit yourself to paper with Major Plenderleath until you find that and Mr. William McTavish on the subject until your find that your doing so is to be conclusive as otherwise the document would be instantly shewn to Malcolm as a lever to raise his offer. I have lost all faith in the honor of these parties. It would scarcely surprise me that they should deny having received the letters of which I enclose a copy as it might perhaps suit their views to destroy the letter from the late Mr. McTavish (1) which they cannot peruse without feeling how inconsistent it is with their present conduct.

I shall expect to hear from your if at all possible by return of post. You will of course conceal your knowledge of Malcolm’s offer when feeling your way as to the price expected take care not to let it be supposed you have my intention of giving beyond £6000 until you ascertain that a little more is known unto the balance will settle the matter. In short you must let it be understood that nothing but any attachment to this spot would induce me to offer a sixpence above £6000 and that in asking more they will take a very cruel advantage of my feelings towards it, and of the circumstances in which they stand in consequence of the mistaken reliance on my curators on the assurance of a power of redemption held out to them by the late Mr. McTavish. I need scarcely add that it will be necessary to use fair words throughout the transaction.

Yours always most truly

(signed) D.M. Edinburgh

29 April 1818

Above letter retrieved from The Fonds of M. A. MacLeod, University of Manitoba, from the collection of copies used to write of The Letters of Letitia Hargarve.

1- The copy of the Letter from the late (Simon) McTavish in regard to his obligations/intentions toward Dunardry, also referred to in the Letter of 27/30 April 1818 by Major Wm. Plenderleath.

This letter indicates that Sheriff Dugald was intending to buy back Dunardry, perhaps with the intent of selling it to Malcolm of Poltalloch, and that sale, in fact, was finalized in 1823 per records at Argyll & Bute in Lochgilphead, and the Canadian National Library and Archives.

Ugadale is” MacNiel of Ugadale.

-Martinmass is the old Hollantide Eve, the 11th of November.
-Whits is Whit Sunday or Pentecost.


Letter by Major Wm. Plenderleath to Dugald MacTavish – Edinburgh

Addressed to Dugald MacTavish, WS, “Edinburgh” (WS – Writer to the Signet.)

A notation on it in the hand of Dugald MacTavish reads:
“27/30 April 1818, Major Plenderleath about Dunardry”
Postmarked as April 27 & Dugald MacTavish evidently retrieved it on April 30.

27 April 1818

My Dear Sir:

I have to apologize for not sooner having answered your letter to our friend William McTavish who is at the moment extremely ill in my house and cannot be spoken to about business.

(// Very difficult to read – ink faded, it may read: “I have the copy(ies) of the letters regarding intentions toward Dunardary, written’’) of his late father and if ever I have an opportunity of laying them before him and aiding your views I shall be happy to do so, but I repeat that he is at this time very ill and I fear there is little hope of his recovery.

Mrs. Plenderleath desires me to offer her kind regards to Mrs. McTavish and yourself and to say she was much disappointed not seeing you at Hastings on a visit as your proposed.

And I am, My Dear Sir

Most sincerely yours,

(signed) William Plenderleath.


Above Letter from the National Library and Archives of Canada, Hargrave/MacTavish Papers.

Note that William McTavish noted above, who was indeed very ill, is Simon’s eldest son who died soon after this letter, on 4 May 1818, he was buried at Cheswich on 9 May 1818.

The Letter(s) of obligation/intention by Simon McTavish (Sr.) were mentioned in an above Letter to David Caldwell by Sheriff Dugald MacTavish.


Letter from Simon McTavish, Jr. to Sheriff Dugald MacTavish.

Ramsgate 22nd Jany 1823

As you are no stranger to the proceedings of the Creditors of my late Brother, against the Estate of Dunardry- I shall not trouble you with a long detail of all that has taken place, in the sale of that property, and distribution of the Proceeds - Mr. John Russell at his own suggestion soon after the death of my Brother, proposed that the usual process should be adopted, to have himself appointed my Factor Bonus in which capacity he has acted since the 4th of May 1818 - and to this moment - a final settlement of these affairs has not been effected - owing to some question which has arisen with the Crenan [Crinan] Canal Compy respecting a small portion of the Estate, which was by an Agreement of Parties surveyed, so far back as August last, but to this time no report fo the Survey has been got fro the Surbeyor, a document which was are informed, will decide the legality of the claim set up by the Crenan Canal Compy – why so much delay is occasioned, in getting the report, we cannot imagine- The Major & myself have written repeatedly to Mr. Russel – whose constant reply is - that Mr. Hope - has not received the report of the Survey - by which it would appear, that this point is entirely at the discretion of the Canal Compy- with this view, I hope you will excuse, my requesting the assistance of our friendly advice – when I was in London, some months ago, I consulted a Mr. Grant, as to what should be done- whose advice was, that I should go down to Edinburg[h], for the purpose of seeing that proper diligence had been used- and I regret much, that I did not follow his advice, which if it accords with your Idea, I shall certainly do so in. the course of the ensuing Spring- My Mother &. the Majr [Major] desire to be' kindly remembered to all with you, and to enquire what is become of John George, from whom they have not heard, since he paid them a visit in Berkshire- I shall feel greatly obliged by your sentiments, upon what I have here written, and

I am
My dear sir
Very truly Yours
(Signed) Simon McTavish

Dougald McTavish Esqr

Bracketed text added for clarity.

Ramsgate, County Kent, England, where the Pleaderleaths, and children of Simon MacTavish (Sr.) lived.

Crenan: should read Crinan, as in Crinan Canal Company.

The Major (Majr) is William Plenderleath, second husband to Marie Marguerite Chaboillez McTavish, who was wife to Simon McTavish (Sr.)
Simon who died, Montreal, Canada, 1804.

Simon McTavish, Jr. died at age 25 on 9 Oct 1828 at Ramsgate, England.

Heiritorship of Dunardry appears to have remained with the Family of Lachlan/Dugald MacTavish.







By Patrick L. Thompson

Seannachie to the 27th Chief of Clan MacTavish



Patrick L. Thompson and the Chief of Clan MacTavish

1st February 2006


As Seannachie for Clan MacTavish, commissioned by the Much Honored Steven MacTavish of Dunardry, 27th Chief of the Clan MacTavish, it is my responsibility to research anything pertaining to the Clan MacTavish, and to make the truth known, not only to the Chief and members of Clan MacTavish, but to all who might show an interest in Clan MacTavish. I take this responsibility seriously. So I decided to put to rest, once and for all time, that the Chiefship of MacTavish was disponed to Simon McTavish of Garthbeg.  There is no disgrace attached to Simon McTavish, who legally purchased a portion of the Dunardry Lands, and who appears to be an honorable man in his personal dealings with the Dunardry family. There is certainly an air of irresponsibility attached to those who would have the general public believe that such took place, and not produce the evidence for it. When writing history, the author needs to always cling to the FACTS that are evident, those things substanciated within legally recorded, public records, where they exist. One cannot or should not speculate about  anything. One must therefore interpret, or provide exactly  what appears in, and is known from records. The historian’s responsibility lies in giving proper and accurate historical facts. If an assumption is made it must be clearly stated as, an assumption.  We do therefore, wholly, and accurately portray any reference to the transfer of the Lands of Dunardry to the best of our ability. No document(s) have yet surfaced that show the Chiefship was disponed, or abdicated.  


Is it possible for the Chiefship of a Highland clan, and a territorial title to be “disponed”?  Mr. E. F. Bradford assumed such a conclusion in his book, MacTavish of Dunardry. He states that the sons of Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry disponed the Chiefship of Clan MacTavish to a younger branch of the family, that being in the person of Simon McTavish of Garthbeg. Simon had purchased a portion of the Lands of Dunardry, in 1797 from Major-General John Campbell of Babreck, and with that purchase of land, the Dunardry title and Chiefship of the Clan MacTavish went to Simon McTavish along with the land.  Such a conclusion seems to be far fetched, that the Chiefship as well as the title “of Dunardry” would go to the buyer of piece of land. It is noted in Simon McTavish’s will that he styled himself as both “Garthbeg and Dunardry”, which would seem, at first, to substantiate this claim of a disponed chiefship. Alistair Campbell of Airds, Unicorn Pursuivant, repeats this premise in his Campbell history. But is such factual or merely the unresearched conclusion of both Mr. Bradford and Campbell of Airds?


Once such a myth has been started it MUST be laid to rest, particularly if it contradicts the facts as are known. So let us look further into this hypothesis of a disponed MacTavish Chiefship, so we understand precisely what was disponed, and so that we can forever put this myth where it belongs, in the graveyard of wishful thinking. What started the idea that the MacTavish Chiefs gave away their birthright was the writing of Mr. Bradford, in MacTavish of Dunardry. Alistair Campbell of Airds further exacerbated the myth in its repetition.


Bradford wrote,

“The last of the family to hold his ancestral lands was Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry who sold the entire property on 31st December 1795, the purchaser being Colonel John Campbell of Babreack. (67) (Bradford, MacTavish of Dunardry, 7, quoting NDC.) MacTavish found a job as Assistant Surveyor General of Window and House Duty in the Tax Office in Edinburgh, a somewhat humdrum appointment but a welcome aid to keeping the wolf from the door. He died in 1796, his efforts to buy back at least part of his ancestral estates having come to nothing although they nearly succeeded since Babreack had put the lands on the market again in 1792 and MacTavish had made an agreement with Malcolm of Poltalloch to come in with him at least as far as the property of Dunardry was concerned. Sadly, had he survived, things might have turned out differently since help was at hand in the person of Simon McTavish, an eminently rich Canadian who had been one of the founders in 1783 of the North West Company, the principal rival of the Hudson's Bay Company until they eventually merged in 1821. He paid off Malcolm of Poltalloch for the money promised and in 1799 became the owner of Dunardry. He sent Dugald, Lachlan of Dunardry's elder son, for training as a lawyer while gaining entry for John the younger son into the Hudson's Bay Company where he prospered. Dugald also did well, becoming Sheriff of Campbeltown where he built Kilchrist House (a handsome villa recently dignified by the present owner with the more grandiloquent title of ‘Kilchrist Castle’) where he lived with his wife. They had nine children who scattered round the world. William, the eldest son became Governor of Red River where he was Hudson's Bay Company Factor.  (Bradford, MacTavish of Dunardry, passim.)


Bradford additionally makes mention of (supposed) letters showing the transfer of the Chiefship, but these items are not reproduced in the book, nor have they been discovered in the MacTavish of Dunardry Papers (now housed at the Lochgilphead Library, Argyllshire) that Bradford had in his possession when writing the book. We must assume that Mr. Bradford believed such documents existed, even if he had not actually seen them. If he had seen such, and he writes nothing to express he did, then his interpretation of the documents lead him to believe as he stated. What other reason could there be for mentioning such in his book?

(Note: Mr. Bradford had purchased the MacTavish Papers and donated all of them to the Argyll and Bute Council, for inclusion in the Lochgilphead Library Collection. See MacTavish of Dunardry, a book by E.F. Bradford)


Alistair Campbell of Airds in, A History of Clan Campbell, part of which appears on the Clan Campbell North America website, restates Bradford:

“When Simon MacTavish became Laird of Dunardry, Lachlan's two sons disponed to him their claim to the Chiefship of the MacTavishes and Simon who descended from a younger son of MacTavish of Garthbeg, a cadet branch of the main stem, became MacTavish of Dunardry. He died in 1804 and the designation of MacTavish of Dunardry was inherited by his elder son William. William died in 1818 without any children when his younger brother Simon succeeded. He appears to have been totally disinterested in the position and offered it back to Sheriff Dugald who also declined”.


Considering the above sting of letters on the sale of Dunardry, it appears that Sheriff Dugald MacTavish was actively persuing William McTavish in order to straighten out a situation which left the lineal heritor (Dugald MacTavish) in some degree of consternation over the lands, and not as Mr. Campbell has concluded. It appears quite clear that the chiefship did not go hand-in-hand with the sale of Dunardry, nor was it disponed or abdicated. It is noted that there was an initial agreement with Simon McTavish of Garthbeg regarding the sale of the lands, and Dugald addresses the current situation that Simon's son, William (and later Simon, Jr.) have put him into, when he says, "This sacrifice was in fact considered no sacrifice such was the confidence of my friends in the generous motives and which they imputed Mr. MacTavish voluntary interposition in behalf of my fathers family. As matters are now liked to turn out however I fear I shall have reason throughout life to curse the house in which my friends allowed themselves to be duped by professions of friendship which though certainly sincere on the part of Mr. McTavish have only had the effect of placing me at the mercy of a son who can not possess a spark of honorable feeling could not have hesitated for a moment as to the line of conduct he should pursue if there were a spark of honorable feeling in his disposition."


We will show further that Sheriff Dugald MacTavish retained the territorial title "Dunardry", and that such a title is tied inseperably to being noted as Noblese of Scotland, as recorded in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland hence that he, Dugald MacTavish, Writer to the Signet (or the MacTavish family of Dunardry) retained the Chiefship.


Such a myth, as we have described, takes root by repetition and we wonder at how such a conclusion was accepted by the learned Alistair Campbell of Airds, Unicorn Persuivant at the Court of the Lord Lyon, and the former archivist and Chief Executive of Clan Campbell, under the late Ian Campbell, 12th Duke of Argyll.  It appears that Airds has simply taken E.F. Bradford’s wording, with an emphasis on disponing, without actually checking for any legality or documentary proof of same.  Such proof in favor of a disponing for the Chiefship of Clan MacTavish is not known to exist, or at least it has not surfaced to substanciate the claim.


We must recognize first that the Chief of a Clan or Name has rights to the undifferenced arms, and that those undifferenced arms show the ‘person in fact’ who is the chief of the clan. A person not holding the undifferenced arms of the Chief is NOT the Chief, and a person cannot legally assume those arms, or title, without first being recognized as Chief by the Lord Lyon (1, 6).


A Chief held a ‘weight of jurisdiction’ such as did barons, since the term Baron was first applied to chiefs.  But Chiefs who were not considered Barons (nobles who held chartered lands from the Crown erected into a Barony) still held territorial jurisdiction among their own kindred, and not necessarily over a designated piece of Crown Property (2)  Having been granted a coat of arms, places that person in the noblesse of Scotland, in fact conferring a sense of nobility, and thus having been granted that coat of arms, one assumes it as property, but Arms and Title may be held independent of any land holdings.(3) Likewise most chiefs hold, in addition to their family surname, a Territorial name or designation.  This too falls under the jurisdiction of Lord Lyon, and such a name becomes part of the chief’s or laird’s legal surname. The territorial name is thusly ‘owned’ by the person, and subsequent heir, to whom it rightly belongs.(4)


What we know to be fact:

  1. Chiefs or Lairds (may) use territorial designations and that this designation legally becomes part of their proper, legal name,
  2. That it is most appropriate to use such designations in formal documents,
  3. That Chiefs are entitled to undifferenced arms,
  4. The Lord Lyon is the determinate judge who rules on Chief of Clans and designations.
  5. 1-4 above are based in the Laws of Scotland.


It should be noted that when a territorial designation becomes legally part of a person’s name, no other person can legally use that name as it is styled, as it is regulated under the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon. The legal document that confers territorial designation is the same document that confers nobility, the right to arms, and chiefship. That document is called Letters Patent. A matriculation of Arms is then recorded in the Public Register of all Arms and Bearing in Scotland, which is declared by statute to be "the unrepealable law of all arms and bearings in Scotland", (see Parliament Act of 1672 cap. 47).


When Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry was matriculated his letters patent, and parchment of date 17 April 1793 given, in part, says, “…Declare that the Ensigns Armorial Pertaining and belonging to Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry …, and, We do hereby Ratify, Confirm and Assign to the said Lachlan MacTavish Esquire, and the Heirs-male of his body…”, meaning that Lachlan is legally given the territorial designation, “Dunardry”, and that his arms and title are his, and his begotten heirs after him. (Re: Matriculation of Lachlan MacTavish, 17 April 1797).  Hence Lachlan’s eldest male son inherits his title(s) and arms.  Lachlan’s eldest son was Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, later Writer to the Signet (WS), a lawyer or magistrate of the Crown, and Sheriff-Substitute of Campbeltown, Argyllshire.


Chiefship of a Clan cannot be disponed. In Scots law, dispone means to formalize the transfer of deed or land title in a land transaction, as in an infeftement subject to a precept of clare constat (see legal definitions below). 


The Free Dictionary: Dis`pone´ v. t. 1. (Her.) To dispose.  2. To dispose of.  3. (Scots Law) To make over, or convey, legally. He has disponed . . . the whole estate. - Sir W. Scott.


Chambers Dictionary: DISPONE (archaic) to set in order; dispose; (Scots law) to make over to another; to convey legally, INFEFTMENT a Scots law term, used to denote the symbolical giving possession of land, which was the completion of the title. [Emphasis supplied]


INFEFT, To seize or give formal possession; infeftment, the action or the deed drawn to record it.

Scotland - a glossary of archaic terms


Sasine or Seisin:

Seisin (from Middle English  saysen, seysen, in the legal sense of to put in possession of, or to take possession of, hence, to grasp, to seize; the Old French seisir, saisir, is from Low Lat. sacire, generally referred to the same source as Goth. satjan, 0. Eng. settan, to put in place, set) is the possession of such an estate  in land as was anciently thought worthy to be held by a free man  (Williams, On Seisin, p. 2).

In Scot Law the corresponding term is sasine. Like seisin in England, sasine has become of little legal importance owing to modern legislation. By an act of 1845 actual sasine on the lands was made unnecessary. By an act of 1858 the instrument of sasine was superseded by the recording of the conveyance with a warrant of registration thereon.


Precept of Clare Constat:  a written instrument by which legal ownership of land is transferred. Legally, it is a deed executed by a subject-superior for the purpose of completing the title as his vassal's heir to the lands held by the deceased vassal, under the grantor of the precept. [Underline Emphasis supplied]


Further reference from the Scottish Archive Network:


clare constat
name of a precept (an order), in which a superior acknowledges that it 'clearly appears' that someone is heir to landed property held of the superior, and which orders the giving of sasine
simply a written order, usually by a court, to a representative to do something
the person who had made an original grant of land in return for the payment of an annual sum or feu, or for the performance of certain services, or both; the person receiving the grant who was thereby bound to make the payment or do the service which went with the lands, was the superior's vassal
either the symbolic act of giving legal possession of a piece of heritable property, or the instrument by which such an act was proved to have happened. The origin of the term is the same as that for the word 'seize' - meaning to take possession of (in Scottish documents it is generally rendered 'seis'). Hence, for example in an abridgement of sasine, someone who became the owner of a property (by succession, gift, purchase or whatever) is recorded as being 'seised' of that property.


As such, none of the above definitions determine the transfer of Chiefship or the Right to Arms, which is by bloodline alone. Each term denotes part of a process to legally transfer the right to a given piece of real property (i.e. land) and nothing else, whatsoever.


An example of a disponed property is here given from a case heard in the Parliament of the United Kingdom [Judgments - Sharp and Others v. Woolwich Building Society, House of Lords]: 


 "In the law of Scotland no right of property vests in a purchaser until there has been delivered to him the relevant disposition.”  And, “These dicta further demonstrate the difference between the position of a seller who has done no more than agree to convey heritage to another and that of one who has accepted the price and delivered a completed disposition, having thereby done all that is required of him to enable the disponee to perfect his title (as in land title). Craigie in his Scottish Law of Conveyancing: Heritable Rights 3rd ed., p. 434 draws the distinction between one having a personal title or right to lands by virtue of delivery to him of a disposition thereof by an infeft proprietor and one having a right (jus crediti) to demand the conveyance of land in his favour. Gloag and Irvine's Rights in Security similarly draws a distinction between one having a mere jus crediti and one who, albeit not yet infeft, has a complete personal title to lands (pp. 29 and 33)”. (Underlined Emphasis  Supplied)  [Note: Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992 s 28(1); Value Added Tax Act 1994 s 31 and sched 9, group 1 item 1. And see also Lord Coulsfield (1995 SC 455 at 497A-B): "There is … no reason why a personal right to lands, or indeed a jus crediti in respect of lands, should not be treated as property for taxation purposes…" ]


The proper and correct term for stepping aside from chiefship, in favor of the next heir, is abdication, such as a monarch would do when renouncing the throne (or Crown) to the next royal heir (6a) (7). Such is called the line of succession. Disponing is the act of legally disposing of property, followed by the infeftment, the transfer of the title or deed for said property recorded in sasine and often set forth in Precept of Clare Constat (5). Thusly, the legal mechanisms and documents  of transferring land are not the instruments of transferring the dignity or position of Chiefship.  Such are seperate issues determined in distinct and seperate documents. Thusly, it appears that the transfr of land cannot detrmine the transfer of the Chefly dignity to another person. Chiefship is a social position and title of dignity that is not distinguished by, or having possesion of,  land.  It is obvious, therefore, that the Dunardry MacTavishes legitimately retained the Territorial Title “Dunardry” and the Chiefship.


The sequence of Sales of Dunardry Lands

Lachlan MacTavish finally had to sell the Lands of Dunardry at public auction due to financial difficulties; the sale went to Major-General John Campbell of Babreck on the 2nd of January, 1786. Then Major-General Campbell sold the lands to Neill Malcolm of Poltalloch, and Sasine recorded was 10 Aug. 1792. The General then sold the land in April 1797, to Simon Mactavish of Garthbeg and Montreal, - on disposition of Duncan (sic Dugald) MacTavish, W.S., for his father Lachlan MacTavish on Nov. 18, 1798, for which Lachlan had paid £400 (re: letter dated 24th Aug., 1796 by Neil Malcolm of Poltallach to his solicators) to Poltallach. This disposition of funds from Lachland MacTavish of Dunardry to Nilel Malcolm of Poltallach, was an arrangement for the right of repurchase of Dunardry, and that such right was held by Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry, or his heirs. Simon paid a fee ( £400 ) to Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry to release the disposition (of repurchase), thus the agreement (arranged with Poltallach) to repurchase the lands was the only thing disponed. Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, WS. Thus Dugald gave up all claims to the Lands of Dunardry. It is obvious that nothing else was disponed to Simon McTavish, not the territorial title Dunardry, and certainly not the Chiefship of Clan MacTavish, as such is a function controlled within the jurisdiction of the Court of the Lord Lyon.



Do we know with certainty that the Chiefship was retained within the Family of Lachlan MacTavish?  Yes! Dugald MacTavish, WS and Sheriff-Substitute was Lachlan MacTavish’s eldest son, and heir.  His (Dugald’s) Will, Inventory and disposition, are recorded within the Argyll Commissary Court record books, 7 February 1856, Court Register, pages 358-361. In this document, Dugald is defined as Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry Esquire, Writer to the Signet sometime Sheriff-Substitute for Campbeltown”, who died at Kilchrist, 20th July 1855. This document was executed at Inverary, same date as given above, by Writer to the Signet David Colville, and witnessed by William Sharp, Esq., J.P. for Renfrew.(9)  Once again it becomes ‘crystal clear’ that the designation or territorial title of “Dunardry” was retained by the Chiefly family and not disponed to Simon McTavish of Garthbeg. Dugald MacTavish died on 20th of July 1855, with the title  “Dunardry” still intact as part of his legal name, this being fifty eight years after Simon McTavish of Garthbeg purchased part of Dunardry lands from Malcolm of Potallach. It is again obvious, since the title appears in Dugald MacTavish’s will of 1856 (a legal and formal document – see footnote 4 to reference the use of such names) that he (Dugald) was still legally known to be ‘MacTavish of Dunardry’. (Underline Emphasis supplied.)


(See the Inventory Estate record of Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, WS, from Argyllshire Commissary Court, actual images from the Commissary Court  - supplied in below thumbnails).


What we know so far……….Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry’s heir, is Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, WS. Lachlan sold Dunardry lands at auction, but retained the right of re-purchase. The Dunardry land transferred from Poltallach to Babreck, and part of the land from Babreck to Simon McTavish.  Trust disposition of the right of repurchase (the arrangement Lachlan had made with Neill Malcolm of Poltallach, noted above) was disponed by Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry at that time. Simon held the land free of this disposition from Dugald MacTavish. This would be the same arrangment that Lachlan MacTavish had made with Malcolm of Poltallach with rights to re-purchase. (8) (Potallach Writs)  Simom McTavish of Garthbeg, willed his son Willaim the property at Dunardry, William McTavish of Garthbeg died in 1818 (with no heirs): from A History of Clan Campbell.


Simon MacTavish of Garthbeg, while owing lands of Dunardry, never matriculated for the undifferenced arms of MacTavish, which, even if he had wanted the chiefship, was not obtainable as he held a cadet matriculation, issued under Letters Patent, as McTavish of Garthbeg, not MacTavish of Dunardry.  Further since there appears no abdication (and no nomination of Simon McTavish as Chief to Lord Lyon: see footnote 7.), and since there is no recordation of this at the Court of the Lord Lyon, Simon could not have obtained the Chiefship. Simon was not the next heir ‘in line of succession’ to the Chiefship, and such a claim to the Chiefship would, therefore, be unlawful (6b). The heir, Lachlan’s eldest son, was Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, Writer to the Signet. Therefore, Simon could never have assumed the chiefship, or even be presumed to have been Chief, without first having approached the Court of Lord Lyon to formalize such a transfer of leadership within the clan. Further, Simon did not matriculate for the Undifferenced Arms of MacTavish, which would have shown he was, without question, Chief.  It appears this could not have been doe as no new matriculation for Simon appears at Lyon Court. The Chiefship therefore must have still belonged to Dugald MacTavish, WS. 


Lord Lyon Sir Malcolm Innes of Edingight, as a Judge of the Realm of Scotland, was knowledgable of the difference between disponing land, as opposed to abdication of a chiefship, and all that was implied. With some certainly we can conclude (an assumption) that Sir Malcolm had referenced the writing of his father, Lord Lyon Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, and certain other legal writs, on just such as this, as he matriculated Chief Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, the heir, in 1997, ending two hundred years of a dormant chiefship.  Had proof of a disponed Chiefship been produced, by anyone, and presented to Lord Lyon, things might have been different.  As such, Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, and his heirs, are declared the Chiefly line of Clan MacTavish.





 1. Lord Lyon Sir Thomas Innes of Learney's Scots Heraldry (2d edition, p. 11), one finds the following statement: "Disputes over Chiefship of a "noble and armigerous family" and "Chiefship of Name and Arms" were in 1937 expressly adjudged competent before Lyon and accordingly remitted to Lyon [1941 Session Cases, pp. 616, 635, 654].  Moreover, Sir George Mackenzie has laid down that the Chief of a Family and Head of a Clan are synonymous [Works ii, 618], and the evidence in the Maclean of Ardgour proof, 1938, corroborated this [Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands, 4th ed., App. xxxix]. Both Lords Shaw and Dunedin identify chiefship of a clan with right to the undifferenced arms [Ibid., p. 190; 1922 Session Cases (H.L.), p. 42, 47].  Lyon Court is accordingly the judicature which can, and does, adjudicate upon Chiefship of Clans [...]" (Underline Emphasis supplied.)



2. Thomas Innes of Learney,  "The Robes of the Feudal Baronage of Scotland,"  (27th Oct 1945) Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol.  79, pp. 111 at 118, as follows:  "...   Craig’s deduction, that the early Scottish barons were chiefs of clans, one observes at once that the  ‘Wand’ of the Officers of a Barony was the  ‘white wand’ associated with Chiefship, and indeed with the sceptre of an Ard-Righ   [Carnwath, p.  Lxxxvi; Bute, Scottish Coronations, p.  16; Tartans of the Clans and Families, p.  30, n.  2], and we thus realise at once the significance of the observations that  ‘the feudal baron was a chef de famille’   -- and that  ‘He reigned  -- that is the word used in documents of the period’."   (Underlined Emphasis supplied.)


3. Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, The Clans, Septs, and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands  (8th edition, 1970), pp.  104-105, as follows:  "The ‘family’ or ‘clan’ is, however always based on a fief, because to be an  ‘honourable community’ which has been ‘received into the noblesse; of the realm, it   must, in the person of its ‘representer,’ have been granted or conferred, a  ‘family seal of arms,’ and a coat of arms is feudalised property  [Maclean of Ardgour v.  Maclean, 1941, following Macdonnell v.  Macdonald, 1826, Shaw  & Dunlop, 371], and the family is an  'incorporation,'  [Sir H.  Maine, Ancient Law, pp.  205, 211; cf. Old Regime in France, p.  5] and all the scientific modern evidence concurs that ‘clan and family mean exactly the same thing’   (Appendix XXX, Dr. Lachlan Maclean Watt).   This may explain also why a clan chief, as chief of a  ‘baronial family’ may be  ‘baron’ without holding land in liberam baroniam  [cf. Court book of the Barony of Carnwath, p.  Lix], by e.g. succeeding to a baronial coat of arms, or amongst several such in familia, to that which carries with it the  ‘representation’ of the clan/family as a noble incorporation."   (Emphasis supplied.)

4. In Debrett's 'Correct Form' (2002 Ed., p. 96) we find: 'According to Scottish law there are some special titles, which are recognised by the Crown. These fall into two divisions: those of the peerage of Scotland, with the title of Master, and recognised chiefly styles and territorial designations of chieftains and lairds, which are strictly speaking part of their surnames. These are under the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon King of Arms and by statute form part of their surnames and should always be used.  (Emphasis supplied.)


5. SASINE, act giving legal possession of property of land or house; the deed recording the act.

Scotland - a glossary of archaic terms


         6. Clan MacAulay, Ad hoc Derbhfine, Friday 3rd

         August 2001, at Tulloch Castle, Dingwall. The

         Address to the Derbhfine by Alasdair Roy MacAulay: 

a. It is important today that we consider these facts carefully. We must, with a clear conscience be able to state that, to the utmost of our knowledge, the now dormant line of Ardencaple is utterly lost, that it is indeed extinct. I think we can in all fairness do this. Then we may proceed to nominate from amongst ourselves that person whom we hold most suitable to be presented as our candidate, to Lyon. I have put forward arguments which I believe clearly prove that on the death of the last Chief all those who were in a position to take on the responsibility were fully aware and fully informed, and chose not to do so and that this is and was an abdication, not only of responsibility, but an abdication with definite legal consequences in relation to the Chiefship of our Clan. To quote Sir George MacKenzie, “Chief succeeds Chief in his hereditary honours as they would succeed to a crown” (154)

b. And, “quoting from “Clans, Septs and Regiments” again. (158) “Chiefship of an honourable community is….a title and dignity….held of the Crown, and anyone who “challenges forth any name of tytle or honour or dignitie” (Nisbet) must justify the same by the Law of Arms ……and Lyon, in 1672 held that an “assumption of chiefship without his permission was unlawful”. Further “no-one is entitled to attack a Right of Arms he does not himself claim” (580)….  ” (Underlined and RED Emphasis supplied)



           7.  Letter of 17th May 1951, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord

           Lyon King of Arms, to John W. Mactavish, Queen Mary

           Veterans' Hospital , 4565 Queen Mary Road, Montreal, Que.,

           Canada: “Mrs. MacLeod has sent me copies of your letters of

           8th May, purposing to abdicate in a general way and without

           nominating any successor to the Chieftainship of Clan

           MacTavish, which, upon the evidence submitted, appears to

           have devolved upon you. On reading the letters, it appears to

           me manifest that you and the family advising you have taken

           this course upon a misapprehension of what is involved and of   

           the mutual and moral obligations involved. For one thing, apart

           from proceedings upon insufficient advise, your abdication 

          is technically inept, as you only purpose resign a "chieftainship",

           whereas the position you have inherited is that of a Chief

           as distinct from a chieftain, so the letter of abdication is

            really inoperative.”


        8. THE GENEALOGIST NEW SERIES. A Quarterly Magazine of Genealogical, Antiquarian, Topographical, and Heraldic Research.

Edited by H. W. Forsyth Harwood, Barrister-at-Law

Volume XXXVIII - London:  G. Bell & Sons, Ltd.,

York House, Portugal Street, Kingsway, W.C.2

Exeter:  William Pollard & Co., Ltd., 1922

Potallach Writs

Pages 138-142

--12 Oct. 1782.  Trust Disposition by Lachlan MacTavish of Tonardarie in favour of James Ferrier, W.S., as Trustee for behoof of said Lachlan and his creditors.  Registered in the Books of Council and Session, 10 Dec. 1782.

--31 Dec. 1785.  Argyll’s confirmation of above Trust.

--31 Dec. 1785 (same date as above).  Sale of the property by James Ferrior, W.S., to Major-General John Campbell of Babreck.  Registered in the Books of Council and Session, 2 Jan. 1786.

--The General sold the lands to Niall Malcolm of

Poltalloch, who had sasine on 10 Aug. 1792.

--Argyll’s confirmation of the sale (through his Commissioner, James Ferrier) was issued on 21 June 1804, and sasine followed on 4 Sept.

--Malcolm of Poltallach sold a portion of Dunardry

lands to Simon McTavish of Garthbeg and

Montreal in April 1797, - "supposed" payment afforded to Dugald MacTavish, W.S., the fee Lachlan MacTavish would have agreed to pay to Poltallach for right of re-purchase on Nov. 18, 1798".

(Note: Lachlan MacTavish was attempting to repurchase Dunardry lands when he died.)


9. Will, Inventory and Disposition of Estate for Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, Writer to the Signet, Sheriff-Substitute, Argyllshire Commissary Court, 7 February 1856, Court Register, pages 358-361.


10. Stair's Institutions of the Law of Scotland, III, v, 35 - "Yea, any degree being presumed to be the nearest degree, unless a nearer degree be instructed". Sir Crispin also relied on the presumption that those who do not appear to dispute a claim do not exist appear (Macnab of Macnab) 1957 SLT (Lyon Ct) 2, per Lord Lyon Innes of Learney at 4). In  Macnab the presumption was expressed in a brocard "non apparentibus non existentibus praesumuntur", attributed, without further specification, to "the late Sheriff Macphail" (see also Sir Crispin's article on "Heraldry" in the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia: The Laws of Scotland, Vol 11, paragraph 1623; c.f. the brocard de non apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est ratio, Trayner's Latin Maxims, 148.  Presumptions are acceptable in this context because a wrongfully excluded senior stirps can reduce the matriculation within the prescriptive period.


The Matriculation of Chief of the Clan MacTavish, 1997, was under the prescriptive period of challenge set at 10 years by Lyon, Innes of Edingigh. The prescriptive period expired 23 July 2007.



Note: To date, no documentation has surfaced, whatsoever, to indicate that the son's of Lachlan MacTavish disponed or abdicated the Chiefship of Clan MacTavish.



The Offical Clan MacTavish website is found at:

Click the below thumbnail images for
The Will/Estate Inventory record of
Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, Writer to the Signet,
from the Argyllshire Commissary Court records.
-Referenced above-
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Will/Estate of Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, WS-1

Will/Estate of Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, WS-2