If you’re a Brandane (a native or inhabitant of Bute as defined by Wiktionary), you might be wondering if such a thing exists: another Brandane you’ve never heard about. It is Bute after all and everyone knows everyone — or at least likes to think so. There’s only 122km² and a population of approximately 7,000, amongst which someone of great notoriety could dwell unnoticed. In fact, it hardly seems likely. That’s because the people on our list today were not famous for singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the Palace Bar on a Friday night or a viral video on TikTok. In fact, they’d probably be perplexed that either exist. The Brandanes on this list are known mainly to scholars and historians for their innovation, intelligence and contribution to the arts and sciences throughout the 19th and 20th century. For this reason, I want to bring that notoriety and knowledge forth into 2022 so that these great Brandanes become part of, not only scholarly, but local knowledge. Today I bring you the Top 5 famous Brandanes You’ve Never Heard About:
1. Montague Stanley (Actor and Artist) 1809-1844
Though born in Dundee in 1809, Montague Stanley would later take residence in Bute at a quaint house in Ascog which was known as Ascog Towers (no longer there) with his family. This was under the recommendation of his doctor who suggested Stanley resided in milder and healthier conditions after coming down with a serious condition in his lungs. This was speculated to be tuberculosis. Stanley was an avid traveller and worked as both an actor and artist throughout his life in various places, though mainly in Edinburgh where he met his wife Mary Susan Eyre. It was here that he became a well known landscape artist and by 1838, he decided to leave the stage as an actor for good to focus on his paintings.
Bute appealed to Stanley’s artistry and the move appeared to be incredibly beneficial to his creativity. He was remote enough to care for his sick lungs but close enough that he could visit Edinburgh on occasion, continuing to teach and sell his art work. This positive change did not last for long as his health rapidly deteriorated and Stanley was restricted to Bute and Bute only.
Stanley was also a Sunday school teacher and regular attendee of a new church that had been erected at Ascog in 1843, however, in the next year his condition worsened and he no longer could attend church. Death became almost inevitable to Stanley at this point. Shortly before his passing, he told Rev. James Monteith that his desire was to be buried within the grounds of Ascog Church. This wish was followed through after his passing on May 4th 1844.
The grave took a week to excavate, with ‘cartloads’ of soil being brought to fill it in according to Bute Connections. It’s also interesting to note that just 10 years later, there was a prohibition of burials drawn up within the grounds of Ascog Church, so as it stands, Montague Stanley’s grave is the only one there.
Tragically, Stanley’s remaining unsold artwork was destroyed in a fire enroute to auction.
2. William Low (Civil Engineer) 1814 – 1886
Born in Rothesay in 1814 to a seaman and a tanner’s daughter, William Low’s family soon made their move to Glasgow a year after his birth. This is where he began his career as a civil engineer in 1830. Low worked as an apprentice to Peter MacQuisten in Glasgow before securing his first job as a surveyor for the Duke of Argyll. He then moved to Bristol in the 1830s to work on a rail route between London and Bristol and was also working for Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who was considered one of the most ‘ingenious’ and ‘prolific’ figures in engineering history) on the Great Western Railway.
Low made a return to Glasgow in 1836 and for 3 years worked in various different partnerships. By now, he was a well experienced engineer and in 1843, he had published proposals for advancements to the Caledonia Railway line situated between Glasgow and Carlisle. It was then that he had really established the accolade as a tunnel and bridge specialist, working on huge projects all over the United Kingdom.
In 1846, Low moved to Wrexham and decided to build a home here. It was in this home that he drew up the ideas for a tunnel under the English Channel. It is important to note that the idea for a Channel Tunnel was not original or unordinary at this time, however, Low was the first to propose a double tunnel with cross ventilation branches. In April 1867, his plans were published and presented to Napoleon III and Queen Victoria’s Government. They were approved.
As companies were formed in 1868, Low apparently spent £5,000 of his own money buying land at Dover and near Calais. The channelling had begun. However, it wasn’t before long that the plans were halted due to the effects of the Franco-Prussian War, where the British Government withdrew support. Work was eventually restarted but arguments ensued between Low and another engineer which forced him to abandon his plans.
Low’s plans were revived once again in 1881 continuing through to 1884, but confidences were lost along the way and the plan, finally, was altogether abandoned after a turbulent history. At this point, Low was 70 years old and had lost a huge amount of money on the project but reports claim that this did not prevent him from being a very charitable man and great contributor to many charitable causes.
Low died in London in 1886 having never seen his plans come to fruition. In 1961 discussions surrounding bridges, immersed tubes and tunnels were revived and by the 80s, it was decided that a triple tunnel would be built and was achieved in 1991. The Channel Tunnel as we know it today was opened in 1994 by Queen Elizabeth II.
3. The Marshall Family (Physician, Nurse, Biologist & Archaeologist) 1860 – 1992
The Marshall’s are one of the most historically remarkable families associated with Bute and for this reason, there’s a real injustice of placing each of their stories under just one heading. They really are a family of many talents and each deserves, at very least, their very own subsection within number 3.
Let’s begin with John Nairn Marshall (Physician) 1860 – 1945.
Born in Pollokshields in 1860, John was said to have had a great fascination with natural history from a very early age. It was this interest that remained as the catalyst for his future career in medicine. After graduating from the University of Glasgow in 1885, John took his practice to Galston, Ayrshire and thereafter, moved to Rothesay in 1892. He resided first in Battery Place before moving to ‘Stewarthall’.
He was an immensely well-known and respected G.P and surgeon on Bute who was described as a ‘striking figure, tall, placid, well-read and much travelled, who inspired complete confidence when treating his patients’.
John’s skills were not just limited to medicine either as he had profound knowledge of Bute’s flora and geology, as well as adding archaeology to the list after publishing a paper in 1914 on the excavations at Dunagoil. It was hugely through these efforts and passions that the present Buteshire Natural History Society was created in 1905 and John continued to be a huge supporter of the society throughout his life, even serving as its President from 1905 to 1920.
In 1934, John retired from medicine though kept his keen interest in Bute’s natural history flourishing. After a long and successful career, he passed away on the 15th March 1945 in ‘Stewarthall’.
Dr. Marshall and his wife Jean Colville Binnie had four daughters which, unfortunately, only three survived into adulthood after the tragic loss of their youngest — Alison Binnie Marshall. Margaret, Sheina and Dorothy were all encouraged from young ages to pursue an interest in natural history and science. All three daughters went on to become successful in their chosen fields.
Margaret Marshall (Nurse) 1895 – 1995
The eldest of the Marshall daughters, Margaret, was born at 5 Battery Place. Her nursing career was kickstarted when she served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment or VAD at Mount Stuart Naval Hospital during World War I. She was then accepted as a staff nurse in 1917 at the Royal Naval Hospital at Grantown and when World War I came to an end, she returned to Bute as a relief nurse based at the local hospital.
Margaret left Bute for Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary and trained as a qualified nurse under the Lady Superintendent Miss Gill whom was a pupil of Florence Nightingale. She then progressed onto her midwifery training in Dundee, returning to Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary as a ward sister and then later becoming Night Superintendent. She was then appointed as Matron at Beechwood Hospital, Edinburgh and became involved with the early work of treating cancer with radium therapy.
As World War II escalated, Margaret became acting Principal Matron of the Emergency Hospital Service and later as Chief Nursing Officer superintending the conversion of buildings into hospitals. Some of these included Gleneagles, Turnberry and between 80 and 90 private homes. In November 1944, Margaret was then appointed as Lady Superintendent of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary which seen her with 700 nurses under her supervision and control. These consisted of staff that were both undergoing training and fully qualified.
Margaret eventually retired in 1955, continuing to live in Edinburgh for a while before resettling in Bearsden. Some of Margaret’s great achievements included an OBE in 1947 and a Doctor of Laws from St Andrews University in 1975. She was just short of her 100th birthday on the 25th January 1995 when she passed away at Mount Carmel retirement home in Rothesay.
Sheina McAlister Marshall (Biologist) 1896 – 1977
Born in 1896, Sheina began her early education at home, then at Rothesay Academy before finally finishing at St Margaret’s School, Polmont. Sheina had said that her interest in biology had began when she was reading through many of Charles Darwin’s books when she was ill with rheumatic fever.
In 1914, she attended Glasgow University but took a year out to work with an uncle in a factory in Balloch which extracted radium that was used in clock faces and instrument dials. In 1916, Sheina returned to university to study Zoology, Botany and Physiology, graduating with a BSc with Distinction in November 1919.
In 1922, Sheina began investigating micro-plankton under the job title of Naturalist at the Marine Laboratory in Millport. From here, she pursued an interest in ecological biology, studying the food chains of marine species. Sheina took part on several significant scientific expeditions, including one to the Australian Great Barrier Reef in 1928. In 1934, she was awarded a DSc and in 1949, Sheina Marshall became one of the first women elected as Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh having been awarded the Society’s Neill Prize for the period 1969 – 1971. This was because of her publications and contributions to natural history.
After being appointed deputy director of the Millport Marine Station in 1964, Sheina was also awarded an OBE and just before her passing, she learned that she had been given an Honorary Degree from the University of Uppsala.
Sheina lived out the rest of her life on Millport, working and writing scientific papers until her death in 1977.
Dorothy Nairn Marshall (Archaeologist) 1900 – 1992
Similar to her sister Sheina, Dorothy was educated firstly by a governess at home before attending Rothesay Academy and then finishing her Scottish education at a boarding school in Edinburgh. In her early 20s, Dorothy left for Paris to study art.
During the First World War, Dorothy served as what is known as a ‘lumberjill’, cutting timber at Colintraive and was involved in many voluntary activities such as Guiding and the Red Cross. It was after her father’s death that Dorothy pursued her passion for archaeology by leaving for London to study with Sir Mortimer Wheeler, a profound and famous archaeologist. She took part in a large amount of excavations both nationally and abroad. This included excavations in Cyprus, Mersini, Jericho, Petra and Jerusalem. Dorothy was deeply involved in the Buteshire Natural History Society, acting as organising secretary and as President as well as running a Junior Naturalist section.
Dorothy Marshall was awarded an MBE in 1981 and elected an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London — an incredibly rare honour. She even continued to take part in archaeological digs right up until her 90s, before passing away on the 3rd of September 1992.
Today, you can visit the commemorative bench at what is considered one of Dorothy Marshall’s favourite view points near Brigidale, facing South-West.
The Marshall family’s graves are also in Rothesay’s High Kirkyard.
4. Allan Wilkie (Actor) 1878 – 1970
Allan Wilkie’s father James was an engineer that lived in Victoria Street, Rothesay until he moved to Liverpool. He became a Marine Superintendent with the Elder Dempster Line and established a trust fund of £20,000 to build the group of Wilkie Houses at Townhead in 1929, for widows and spinsters of Rothesay to live rent-free.
James Wilkie’s son Allan was born at Toxteth Park, Lancashire in 1878 and was educated at Liverpool High School. He saw his first play at the age of 16 which was called A Bunch of Violets and seized every opportunity to visit theatres thereafter. According to records, Allan used the excuse of going to a chess club so that he could go see various plays without the watchful eye of his strict father, who restricted Allan’s play viewings to once a month.
Allan Wilkie moved to London and secured the part of a ‘walking gentleman’ and understudy in A Lady of Quality at the Comedy Theatre in Cambridge in 1899. Over the next few years, he played Shakespeare, melodrama and farce around Britain with different touring companies. It wasn’t until 1905 that Wilkie became head of his own touring company and acquired the title of ‘actor-manager’. In 1909, he married one of the stunning leading ladies in his touring company Frediswyde Hunter-Watts and over the next 6 years, they successfully performed in London Theatres.
It was in 1911 when Wilkie took the first Shakespearian repertory company abroad to India and over the next few years, they also performed in Ceylon, China, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Malaya. Wilkie was in South Africa when the First World War began so decided to move to Australia with his wife in 1915, as she had family connections there. It was here that they started their own Shakespearean Company there which was rumoured to have huge success.
Wilkie was then awarded a CBE for services to the theatre in 1925 before returning to London, where he would retire. After his retirement, he spent several years in the USA and Canada, though in his last few years resided at Montford House in Rothesay. He began to take a great deal of interest in the Wilkie Houses that his father had invested in. He died on Bute on the 6th of January 1970.
5. William Macewen (Surgeon) 1848 – 1924
At ‘Woodend’, Rothesay, on the 22nd June 1848, William Macewen was born. This was at the first house past Skeoch Wood toward Ardbeg. It’s important to note that the house now on that site replaced the Macewen home in the 1860s. William was the youngest of 12 children and moved to Glasgow with his family when his father retired in 1860.
William Macewen is another on this list who attended Glasgow University. He studied medicine there from 1865, graduating in 1869 before completing his surgical training in 1872. After this, he became a surgeon at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow and then eventually moved to the Royal Infirmary where he stayed until 1892. Macewen became Regius Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University, while also operating at the Western Infirmary and at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
Macewen is a personal favourite on this list as I’ve mentioned him in my previous article ‘5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mount Stuart’. It was here at Mount Stuart that he was a sure aid for servicemen in the First World War. Macewen had an outstanding career, making major advances in the field of surgery and being widely regarded as the ‘father of neurosurgery’. He was the pioneer of brain surgery, being able to successfully locate tumours through the analysis of symptoms and subsequently removing them by surgery. Something that was rare in his time.
Macewen was also fascinated by joint and bone surgery, going on to invent a technique for straightening the bones of rickets sufferers. This was a condition caused by poor nutrition and was hugely common amongst children of the poor at this time, so this advancement was a significant one.
Though the use of antiseptic was pioneered by Joseph Lister, Macewen took this a step further. He insisted on the complete avoidance of infection by the washing and wearing of clean gowns by surgeons, thorough cleaning of theatres and the sterilisation of equipment. He also advocated for the use of anaesthetics which, at this time, was still considered a novelty. Macewen’s reputation was international and in 1902, he was knighted.
Macewen passed at his house ‘Garrochty’ on the western side of Bute in 1924.
A huge and special thank you to the Bute Natural History Society and the authors of ‘Bute Connections’ which include Jean McMillan, Margaret Lamb and Allan Martin. This is where I gathered most of my sources and my research and without it, this article would not have been possible. These are just a select few of the wonderful significant connections that Bute has and I would highly recommend discovering more.
Recommended Further Readings:
‘Bute Connections’ by Jean McMillan, Margaret Lamb and Allan Martin is available on Amazon.