CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Ref NoMS 3203
TitleSinclair Wemyss family of Southdun, Caithness: papers
Datec. 1780 - c. 1962
Extent16 boxes, 4 rolled items and 1 outsize item: 6.30 linear metres
Creator NameSinclair-Wemyss family of Southdun, Caithness (fl c. 1785 - c. 1982)
Administrative HistoryThe Sinclair family held Southdun, near Wick, Caithness, from the sixteenth century, though the present collection begins with papers of William Sinclair-Wemyss (d. 1831), whose father Colonel Wemyss had married Henrietta Sinclair of Southdun, c. 1785. William, who inherited the estate in the early nineteenth century, married Henrietta, daughter of Sir Benjamin Dunbar of Hempriggs, Lord Duffus. When he died in 1831, the estate fell to his eldest son, David Sinclair-Wemyss (c. 1813-1877). His second son, Benjamin (d. 1878), and daughters Janet (or Jessie) and Henrietta each married locally, with issue.

David Sinclair-Wemyss (c. 1813-1877) married Elizabeth, daughter of George Sackville Sutherland of Aberarder, Invernesshire. His eldest son, William, R.N. had died whilst young, and Southdun passed to his second son, George Sackville Sinclair-Wemyss (d. 1882) in December 1877. There were five other children from his marriage, Robert Dunbar Sinclair (1859-1923), Ewan Sutherland (1864-1928), Henrietta Elizabeth (b. 1856), Mary (b. 1869) and Janet (b. 1866), with both Robert and Ewan being represented in the present collection.

George Sackville Sinclair-Wemyss (d. 1882), Justice of the Peace and D.L. for the county of Caithness, had joined the Navy at a very young age and served for nearly four years on the Australia Station. In 1879 he resigned his commission on account of ill-health, and returned to Scotland with his wife, Helen (or Ellen) Annie Jones (known as Annie), eldest daughter of R. M. Jones of Glenview, New South Wales, whom he had married in Sydney in 1878. They had two daughters, Helen Louisa Elizabeth Dunbar (b. 1879) (known as Ellie, and " Dods " by her sister) and Marion Australie (1880-1982) (known as Marjory and " Thomas " by her sister). On returning from Australia the family lived at Hempriggs House, near Wick, whilst an architect from Edinburgh, Mr. Hypolite Blanc, was commissioned to design and build a mansion house for Southdun estate. Although George died in 1882, the project continued under the guidance of his widow, Annie, and Sackville House, named in his honour, was completed in 1885. Annie became responsible for the administration of Southdun until her eldest daughter, Helen, reached her majority, but ill-health on Helen's part seems to have prompted her continued involvement after this time and soon her younger daughter, Marion, became the predominant figure in the running of the estate. The estate which their father had inherited in 1877 was already in a very run down state, and by this time had been neglected for many years. In 1880 a land agent's report had recommended the expenditure of £11,000 in repairs and reconstruction, together with the reorganisation of farm marches, assimilation of some smaller crofts, and redesigning the field drainage system throughout. The estate which they now inherited was still beset by many of these problems, and from the beginning of the twentieth century began to buckle further under the burdens of a series of financial crises. The property was put into trust, and subsequently sold, c. 1926-1927. The family moved to Inverness, and Marion, the last surviving member, died there in 1982 (aged 102).

Sackville House was destroyed in a fire in 1930, but has been partially restored.

For an account of the Sinclairs of Southdun see J. Henderson, 'Caithness Family History' (Edinburgh: 1884), pp. 120-124. A detailed account of the Sinclair Wemyss family and the papers deposited in this collection, which was prepared by Peter MacDonell prior to deposit, is available in the office of Special Collections.
Custodial HistoryMarion Sinclair Wemyss left her house and its contents to the Episcopal Cathedral of Inverness at the time of her death in 1982. The papers deposited here are part of the contents of nine large trunks which were left in the church's possession after the house had been sold. They lay in a byre on the Black Isle for a number of years prior to deposit, during which time books and other ephemeral items were extracted and sold locally for charitable purposes.
SourceDeposited in the University in October 1985 by Peter MacDonell. Additional deposits in 1986 and 1995.
DescriptionThis collection contains the personal and estate papers of the family of William Sinclair Wemyss of Southdun (d. 1831), with the bulk of the material dating from the 1880-1920 period and concerning the estate management and family finances of Annie Sinclair Wemyss and her daughters, Helen and Marion. It comprises:

Eighteenth century inventories of Sinclair-Wemyss papers with twentieth century copies of titles;
4 bundles relating to the affairs of William Sinclair-Wemyss and his management of the estate, 1820 - 1834;
2 bundles relating to David Sinclair-Wemyss, 1854 - 1881, including contract with the Lands Improvement Company, giving details of tenants, 1869;
1 bundle relating to George Sinclair-Wemyss, mostly regarding settlement of his estate, 1878 - 1882;
Large volume of papers relating to estate management, including list of farms under lease, 1875 - 1909;
Estate rentals, 1862 - 1920;
Registered claims by tenants on Southdun under the terms of the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1886, with related papers;
Large series of files on individual farms and properties on the estate, 1835 - 1914, including Aucorn, Bower Croft, Bowertower and Lower Bowertower, Bowertower Mains, Halcro, Hestigrew, Kirk, Mains of Kirk and West Kirk, Sackville House (leases of house and shootings), Seater, Smerral, Stanstill, Thrura, and Lower Thrura;
Maps and plans, 1836 - 1906, including estate plans of 1836 showing names of tenants, drainage plans, 1880s, and Ordnance Survey maps, 1874, 1878 and 1906;
Large series of correspondence files concerning the estate and other local matters, 1871 - 1916, including the establishment of a church for the United Free Church congregation, 1900 and 1905;
Provision of accommodation for Territorial Forces Association drill hall in Bower, 1911 - 1913;
Correspondence with the Scottish Drainage Improvement Company, 1879 - 1910;
Contracts regarding road building, 1871 and 1882;
Specifications for work on house at Bowertower and byre at Hestigrew, 1885;
Financial accounts and subsidiary papers, 1883 - 1920;
Papers relating to Annie Sinclair-Wemyss' and her daughters' financial affairs, and to the establishment and management of the Southdun Trust, 1904 - 1923;
Miscellaneous family papers, including correspondence concerning family financial affairs, 1780 - 1962;
Commonplace book of " Marjorie " (Marion) Sinclair-Wemyss, c. 1920, album of photographs and cartoons drawn by Marjorie, c. 1898;
Scrap book with photographs and pictures, c. 1890 - 1939;
1 box of photographs, unsorted and undated;
Genealogical papers for Sinclair-Wemyss family, early 20th century and Dunbar family tree, c. 1800.

[Researchers are advised that papers about particular subjects and farms may be found in the general correspondence as well as in the specific subject groups.]
AccrualsNone expected.
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsThe records are available subject to the signed acceptance of the Department's access conditions.
Physical DescriptionNo physical conditions affecting use of collection.
Related MaterialJ. Henderson, 'Caithness family history' (Edinburgh, 1884).
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