Coll MacDonald

The MacDonalds of Dalness have been portrayed as incompetent and inattentive landlords. In reality, an estate like Dalness (see picture below) was never one on which a landlord could attend to estate business, supported by the rents it brought in. Successive representatives of the family were obliged to seek their fortunes abroad, unable to attend to inheritance, let alone improvement. That Coll was able to become its eighth laird, and to receive the education required to attain a profession to support it and pass it on to his son, is testimony not to family quarrels and incompetence in the preceding century, but to considerable solidarity and determination.

1756- 1 January 1837
Dalness, Argyllshire
James MacDonald, a younger son of Alexander, 2nd of Dalness. The MacDonalds of Dalness were a cadet line of the MacDonalds of Glencoe, descended from John Dubh, a son of John Og, 8th Chief of Glencoe. Alexander of Dalness (Coll's grandfather) narrowly escaped the massacre of Glencoe in 1692. His son, Alexander, 3rd of Dalness (Coll's uncle), got into debt and, unable to maintain the estate, retired to Fort William in 1722, letting Dalness to his brother James, who undertook the education of Alexander's children. When Alexander died in 1726, and James was also unable to pay the debt of wadset on the estate, a long lawsuit ensued to avoid his and the children's eviction (in The Clan Donald account, James is a 'villanous' younger brother attempting to steal the inheritance from Alexander's children who had gone to sea; Charles Millar argues that there is no doubt he had the interests of the whole family in mind). The lawsuit was eventually settled in 1764 by the fourth of the children, John, who had gone to Jamaica as a merchant when very young. When he died Coll, James' son, inherited. It appears that James, having raised Alexander's sons, must have married very late himself (perhaps he married twice, having no children by the first union?), so Coll was much younger than his cousins (4,5).
42 Castle Street (numbered 26 North Castle Street until 1811). In 1818 they moved to 18 Great King Street.
Dalness. From his uncle he also inherited Gartencaber or Clemsfield in Buchanan and he seems to have bought some additional land.
Writer to the Signet, 1788. Apprentice to William MacDonald. He dealt with legal business in a wide range of places across the Highland Line: sales and leases of property in Ballahulish, Knoidart, Fort William, Campbelltown, Glengarry, Glenfinnan, Inverness, Glencoe, Callendar, Perth, Balquidder. In 1798 he was agent for the defence of Alexander MacDonald of Glengarry, cleared of a charge of duelling and in 1799 he was the agent collecting subscriptions for the Freeburn Inn between Aviemore and Inverness. (3)
Assessed taxes 1811
His house in Castle Street had 22 windows and a rental value of £72. He had one male house servant and four staff or clerks in his office. He had one horse, one dog, and paid armorial bearings and hair powder duty.
Chapel connection
1809 (baptism)
Married on
22 October 1796
Elizabeth MacBean
Isabell, Lilias, Henry, James, Charles, Susan, Duncan (1809), Elizabeth (1811, m.Charles Neaves), Marjory Cameron (1816), Margaret (m. Mr Downing)
Related to
Duncan MacDonald, brother

Dalness House, dwarfed by
the southerly top of
Buachaille Etive Mor


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory
  3. Caledonian Mercury 12 May 1898, 9 August 1798, 27 July 1799, 2 May 1801, 10 August 1805, 21 August 1806, 13 November 1806, 13 November 1806, 10 September 1807, 15 October 1807, 22 March 1810, 4 November 1810, 10 January 1811, 9 February 1811.
  4. A. and A. MacDonald, The Clan Donald, vol.3 (Northern Counties Publishing Company, Inverness, 1904) p.219
  5. Charles M H Millar 'The Macdonalds of Dalness' in Clan Donald Magazine No 9 (1981) reproduced on 'Dalness' in Ardchattan Forum (online accessed August 2011)

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