The Frasers of Balloan

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I have been wondering for the best part of a year where John and Anne MacTavish, and then Isabella and her sisters, employers came from. I knew from various papers in the Forfeited Estates that they were William Fraser of Balloan and his mother Anne, but not much more than that. I also knew that the ‘of’ signified someone who owned titled land.

I am using subheadings for today’s somewhat long post:

1. William Fraser of Balloan and his immediate family;

2. Balloan, the place;

3. Ruthven; and

4. Servants, masters and clothing.


I found the answer last week at the National Library of Scotland in a footnote in a book called Some Fraser Pedigrees (written by Duncan Warrand and published in 1934). The footnote (the 35th) was an explanation in a chapter entitled Culduthel (starts on page 102). Culduthel was a name I recognised immediately as I know it is an area of modern day Inverness.

The chapter starts by discussing James Fraser of Ruthven in the parish of Dores who died before 1606. That’s the Ruthven where Isabella was born. I was delighted. At the bottom of page 104, William Fraser of Belloan is mentioned for the first time. He was the fifth child of Malcolm Fraser of Culduthel and the younger brother of this chap …

Figure 1: Unknown (1720) Major James Fraser of Castle Leathers, Accessed from here on 10 February 2019

Note Fraser of Castle Leathers (or Heathers) was a Hanoverian, not a Jacobite. A topic for another post, I think.

Here’s the text of the 35th footnote:

Major Fraser’s Manuscript” II., 129.  William Fraser of Balloan acquired the wester part of Balloan in 1721 (PRS, Inv., 29 May 1721).  In 1731 he obtained a decreet of adjudication against Simon, Lord Lovat, with reference to a large sum of money (R. of D., Durie, CCCLXXIV, 16 June 1731). He and his wife, Anne Fraser, were living in 1755, but he was dead before 24 May 1756 (PRS Inv, X, 284). They had issue two sons and two daughters. Of the daughters, Christian was living in 1725 (B.P.); and Mary appears in 1769 as wife of John Fraser, younger of Garthmore, and executor dative to her brother, William (Com. Inv. Test. Vol VI).  Of the sons, the elder, said William, was served heir to his father in 1758, and he and his mother, Anne Fraser, gave a discharge in 1763, relative to a wadset over Ruthven, Dunchea etc (PRS Inv XI 207).  He died 4 June 1769,in the parish of Dores without issue (Com Inv Test, vol VI). ** His wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Fraser of Fairfield (idem), who was living in 1801 (PRS Inv, 24 Nov 1801). His brother, Donald Fraser, succeeded to Balloan, and was served heir, 30 August 1769.  As brother-german to the late William Fraser of Balloan, he had precept of clare constat from William Fraser of Balnain for the lands of Dunchea and others (PRS Inv XII, 402).  He died in or before 1801, when his son Simon Fraser of Demerara was his heir (Idem, 3 Nov 1801).  

( **: not true, Fraser of Balloan junior had an illegitimate daughter called Isobel, who was ‘begotten in fornication’ according to the record of her birth )

This explains an awful lot about the Frasers of Balloan, their wealth and their connection with the Old Fox. In the introduction to James Fraser of Castle Leather’s Major Fraser’s Manuscript (the same James Fraser in the portrait above), he and his brothers (including Fraser of Balloan) are discussed thus; “there is no question as to these gentlemen being ‘well connected’ and holding a good position in the North country” (Fergusson, A. eds 1889: 24).

This book states that the Frasers of Culduthel were directly descended from the first Lord Lovat, and therefore that means Fraser of Balloan was directly descended from the Lovats and belonged to one of the Fraser cadet branches.

William Fraser of Balloan (senior) – who was John MacTavish and Anne MacKenzie’s employer at Ruthven (as evidenced on the record of their wedding)- was the first person called to testify on behalf of Simon Lord Lovat at his trial in London in 1747, but he refused to attend (MacKay, D. eds 1911:77) . I don’t know if I’m jumping to conclusions, but I do wonder whether this was due to Balloan not wanting to be seen supporting a major Jacobite or for other reasons.

Balloan junior seems to have been quite an interesting character. He got a girl from Achnabat pregnant while still a teenager and didn’t make an honest woman of her, married the daughter of another wealthy Fraser (Fairfield), fought with other influential Frasers – including his nephew, Erchite- over money and then published the legal proceedings as books (which can still be consulted today), didn’t have any children with his wife and died of a fever at the age of 30 in 1769. And when he died, he left over £1000 (which is the equivalent of about £2 million today).

I found out quite a while ago that Balloan senior has got a special type of wadset on Ruthven from Simon Lord Lovat in 1735 (which meant that it was the only estate not forfeited to the Crown after the 45 due to the type of document) for £500 (about £1 million today) but am still curious to find out what Ruthven was like in 1735. Today Ruthven is a sheep farm, but once it was a much larger estate with a much larger house than the current six bedroom Victorian farmhouse.

BALLOAN (the place)

Now on to Balloan the place. Thanks to Pastmaps, I have discovered that it was very close to Culduthel and Castle Heathers…

Figure 2: Screenshot of the First OS map

Figure 3: 1950s

Figure 4: Current map

The Canmore page for Balloan reveals a very large estate house which it states was built in the 1780s – 1790s (and therefore I presume was built by Duncan Fraser).

Figure 5: Front of the extensive estate house

Figure 6: Balloan was still a working estate in the 1970s

Figure 7: Side view of the main house reveals it was large

These black and white photos were all taken in the 1975. Balloan was clearly once a very impressive estate house.

This photo of a sundial with some kind of additional sculpture on top in the garden was taken in 1975-6. It must have been absolutely beautiful there…

Figure 8: an old sundial with an interesting piece sat on top

Figure 9: Modern map showing current buildings and locations of Canmore historical records

Final map from Pastmaps which shows the one (and a few two bed) houses which are there today and the street view from Google which shows that the original Balloan house and farm buildings have been split into several houses and renamed Culduthel Court or have been entirely rebuilt on the foundations (I get the impression it might be a complex for older residents).

Figure 11: Internal courtyard of Culduthel Court


I have already written a blog post about Ruthven and the township (which contained about twenty buildings), but didn’t really go into much detail about what the main house would have been like. From aerial photography, it is possible to see that what was probably the foundations of the original house was significantly larger, and more akin to a manor house. Unfortunately there is no evidence of what the original house looked like, but given the fact there had been notable Frasers living there since the fifteenth century, there must have been an impressive house.

In this aerial photo you can see the current six bedroom farmhouse. You can also see the foundations of a much larger building behind it.

(I will be adding to this part of the post at a later date after I’ve spent more time in archives).


I have stated elsewhere on the blog that Isabella’s parents were both servants of Balloan at the time of their marriage and that Isabella also probably became one of his servants as soon as she was old enough.

What I haven’t really emphasised before is just how wealthy and well connected the Balloans were, and then by implication how Isabella would not have grown up in the poverty seen elsewhere in Inverness-shire during the latter half of the eighteenth century.

It has been written before by someone else that the dress could have been made from an old plaid (I have already proved that the fabric was made some time after 1775) and that the asymmetric pattern was not common for dress fabrics. The same author hypothesised that this was due to poverty.

I hope I have shown in this post today that the Frasers of Belloan weren’t just any employer and that they clearly looked after their staff (Isabella’s parents spent their entire working lives working for Balloan, and Malcolm & Isabella brought their children up on estates belonging to Balloan and their family).

John Ramsay of Ochertyre wrote extensively about every aspect of life in Scotland in the eighteenth century, with his work being published under the title Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century. The first and second volumes are available to read on the fantastic

The second volume, which was published in 1888 and edited by Alexander Allardyce, contains a wealth of information about the textile production and clothing of Highlanders during the eighteenth century. In the book, we learn that:

the clothes of the family, and even the servants, male and female, were for the most part spun and dyed at home […] Among no set of people was female vanity ever confined within narrower limits; even marriage apparel being mostly manufactured within the family, and their ordinary wear only being a few degrees coarser and plainer. The dresses of the women, young and old, were made by country tailors, who never thought of changing or inflaming the fashions” (Ramsay 1888: 201-2).

The above quote certainly ties in with what the family has been told by their ancestors about the fabric used in Isabella’s dress; that it was made from yarn spun by her at Ruthven.

It could also explain the reason behind the mixture of styles seen in the dress; it has elements common in the 1740s & 1750s along with elements common in the 1770s & 1780s, and there is absolutely no evidence of any alteration ever having taken place.

The book also contains a wealth of information on how homespun fabric was made locally, with the yarn being spun and sometimes dyed before it reached the weaver.

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