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Issue 60 - Do Not Forget

Scotland Magazine Issue 60
December 2011


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Do Not Forget

We look at the history of Scotland's great surnames.

As one of the largest, most powerful and successful of the Highland clans, the Campbells’ lands were in Argyll and the chief of the clan became the Earl and later Duke of Argyll. Between 1200 and 1500 the Campbells emerged as one of the most powerful families in Scotland, but where does the name originate?

A Strathclyde-Briton family from the Scottish/English Borderlands was the first to use the surname, which derives from the Gaelic words ‘cam’ and ‘beul’, meaning ‘crooked’ and ‘mouth’, hence meaning a ‘person with a crooked mouth or smile’. Such nicknames were a common source for surnames; in general, they came from the physical characteristics, behaviour, mannerisms and other attributes of the bearer. The Campbell name comes from the region known as the Borderlands.

In Britain, few locations have produced as many notable families as this notorious Border region of England and Scotland. The first record of the name Campbell was found in Argyllshire where they held a family seat from early times.

Different spellings of the name have been discovered in the course of research including Cambell, Cambel, Camble, Cammell, and Caimbeul (Gaelic), and these spellings could change frequently, even between father and son. It is believed that the family name Campbell descended originally from the Strathclyde Britons.

This ancient founding race of the north were a mixture of Gaelic/Celts whose original territories ranged from Lancashire in the south, northward to the south bank of the River Clyde in Scotland.

Tracing its ancient development, researchers suggest a joint progenitor of both the Campbells and the MacArthurs (the ancient senior sept of the Campbells). The Clan Campbell was known as the Siol Diarmaid an Tuirc or, alternatively, the Clan Duibhne, and in a Crown charter Duncan MacDuibhne was ancestor of the Lords of Lochow in 1368. After the Battle of Harlaw in 1411 in which the MacDonalds were badly defeated by the King, the Campbells, took and provided the Campbells 21st Regiment, later known as the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

In 1603, the unified English and Scottish crowns under James 1st dispersed the ‘unruly border clans’, which had served loyally in the defence of each side. The border clans were then banished to England, northern Scotland and to Ireland. Some were outlawed directly to Ireland or the Colonies and the New World.

Many border clans settled in Northern Ireland, transferred between 1650 and 1700 with grants of land, provided they undertook to remain Protestant. Many became proudly Irish. In Ireland the family settled in counties Tyrone and Donegal.

But life in Ireland was little more rewarding and many sought a better life. They looked to the New World and sailed aboard the ‘White Sails’, an armada of sailing ships such as the Hector, the Rambler, and the Dove, which struggled across the stormy Atlantic.

Later, many of these American settlers would form wagon trains westward, moving to the prairies or the west coast. During the American War of Independence those who remained loyal to the Crown moved north into Canada and became known as the United Empire Loyalists. At least seven of the name Campbell arrived in Australia as convicts in the late 1700s.

Bearers of the name Campbell of note include: Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), American (Irish-born) religious leader, founder of the Disciples of Christ; Avril Phaedra (Kim) Campbell (b.1947), Canadian Progressive Conservative politician, first female prime minister of Canada in 1993; and Sir Colin Campbell (1792-1863), British Marshal. Robert Burns was proud of his Campbell clan membership but he detested the snobbery within its ranks. After a visit to Inverary (home of the Dukes of Argyll) he wrote, “There’s nothing here but Highland pride, and Highland cauld and hunger. If providence has sent me here, twas surely in his anger.” The Campbell motto is “Ne obliviscaris” (“Do not forget).

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