The following was provided by Mark Anderson of Cape Town, South Africa. If you would like to contact Mark about any of the information contained in this material, you may send email to him at

Author's Foreword

     In April 2000 I spent a most interesting and pleasant Saturday with the Sinclair Clan Historian, Niven Sinclair, at his beautiful home, Ambleside, Haslemere, Surrey. I was fortunate to be able to read Niven's copy of the very rare work "The Saint Clairs of the Isles, and see the video on Prince Henry's re-enacted journey to America. The Sinclair Clan Centre at Noss Head Lighthouse is named after Niven. As of this writing in July 2000, 200 Sinclairs are presently at the Sinclair Millenium Gathering in Scotland and England with the current Clan Chief, Earl Malcom of Caithness. During this time, there was also a celebration of the Queen Mother's (nee Bowes-Lyon) 100th Birthday. This is the largest grouping of Sinclairs since the 1700's. The Pipes and Drum Band of the Cape Town Highlanders, of which the Queen Mother is Colonel-in-Chief, attended her birthday in London, and also continued to the "big blaaw" in Edinburgh. The Band also piped in Sinclair Country, Ulbster,Caithness.


     On August 4, 2000, there was a celebration of the Queen Mother's 100th at the Cape Town Highlanders Mess at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. It is understood that the Queen Mother will cede her Castle in Caithness (Mey) back to the Sinclair Clan, original owners of this Tower. Further, Girnigoe Castle near Wick was also ceded back by the Dunbars (qv) to the Sinclairs in the late 1960's.


     Niven Sinclair has spent a large part of his post WWII life establishing a magnificent Cashew Plantation in Tanzania which employed 500 persons, until he was evicted at independence, with  ,100 as compensation.  He was also a member of the Bayeye, the secret snake society of the Basakuma tribe who lived near Lake Victoria. It was from them he  learned how to handle snakes with relative impunity and he had a snake named after him,  the bitus gabonica sinclairi (A Gaboon Viper), which samples were sent to the UK by the famous Big Game Hunter and  herptologist,  Constantine Ionides. These snakes were killed by inserting snuff into their mouths, and holding their mouths closed. Niven also undertook foot safaris, one of them being practically the length of the Nile, from the source of this river.


     Niven pointed out the characteristics of the Sinclair Clan  include a love for trees, knowledge, a certain independence and a worldliness that transcends nation and religion.

Mark Anderson
Cape Town, South Africa

     The Sinclair family is descended from the Saint-Clairs of Normandy, a Viking family who arrived in Normandy in about 800AD. The name St Clair is taken from the place St Clair-sur-Epte between Paris and Rouen, where the Norse Rollo the Ganger signed the treaty in 911 with the French king Charles the Simple. A large group of St Clairs arrived in England with William the Conqueror and his Norman invaders in 1066, but the first St Clair in Scotland was William "The Seemly" St Clair who accompanied the Saxon Princess Margaret from France. Margaret brought a piece of the Holy Cross (the Holyrood) with her. She was married to Malcolm III (Canmore) in 1068, and William St Clair was given the lands of Rosslyn Midlothian in life rent, and afterwards the lands were given in "free heritage" to his son, which branch became the Rosslyn Barons, who built Rosslyn Chapel.


     Now the immediate predecessor of Malcom III was Macbeth who had seized the throne from Duncan, which he turned to so good account both for himself and for his subjects, but this act of violent seizure in it's turn, continued to dog his steps. It needed no "weird sister," like those who are said to have greeted Macbeth on the moor of Forres, to foretell in what way he should descend from the Lia-Fail, to which he had raised himself by the dagger. Meanwhile no one was in a position to oppose him. The sons of Duncan, being Malcolm and Donald, were probably of tender years when their father was slain, and till they should be grown to manhood Macbeth might promise himself the quiet possession of the throne. When they saw that their father was dead and that his slayer was on the throne, the young princes fled from a land where their lives were no longer safe. Donald is said to have made good his escape into the western isles. Malcolm found refuge in England. Edward the Confessor was then on the throne of that kingdom, and having known what exile was, he gave all the more cordial and gracious a welcome to the young prince who sought his protection in his evil day. Years passed on: Malcolm grew to manhood: the time came for asserting his claim to his ancestral kingdom, and with it came the power of making it good. Siward, the powerful Earl of Northumberland, was a relation of Malcolm's, the sister or the cousin of the Earl being Malcolm's mother. Siward now resolved to assist his relative Malcolm to recover his paternal throne. The expedition undertaken for that purpose is obscurely hinted at in the Saxon Chronicle and in the Ulster Annals. In the year 1054 Earl Siward went with a large army into Scotland, that he invaded it with both a land and a naval force, that he made great slaughter of the Scots, but that their king escaped. Siward only half accomplished his object in this expedition. He installed Malcolm in the provinces of Cumbria and the Lothians, but he failed to overthrow the usurper and give the throne to Malcolm. Meanwhile Siward died, and the matter rested for a few years, Malcolm reigning as King of Cumbria, and Macbeth occupying the Scottish throne. At this time Maldred of Scotland, Malcom's cousin, was Earl of Northumberland, who had married Princess Ealdgyth, granddaughter of Aethelred, Kind of England, and daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, and it was their son Gospatrick Dunbar bc 1040, who (or his son) was the first Earl of Dunbar (qv).


     From this time Macbeth himself seems to have prepared the way for his own downfall. The approach of the rightful prince and the forebodings which it filled the usurper brought back the memory of his crime, and appears to have wrought in him a morose and gloomy temper. He saw conspirators in the nobles of his court. His suspicions fell mainly on Banquo, the most powerful nobleman in his dominions, to whose posterity the prophecy of some witch, as tradition says, had given the throne after Macbeth. He is said to have invited him to a banquet, and dismissed him from the royal table with every mark of kindness, although he had already given orders that assassins should waylay him on the road as he road homewards. Banquo murdered, Macbeth is said to have transferred his suspicions to Macduff, than of Fife, and after Banquo the next most powerful nobleman in Scotland. One day, when it happened that Macbeth and Macduff were together, the testy monarch growled out a threat which made Macduff feel that his destruction was resolved upon. The Thane of Fife fled into England, but Macbeth, baulked of his prey, confiscated his estates. The nobles made haste to get away from the court, not knowing on whom the royal displeasure might next light. The affections of the people toward their monarch were cooled. These latter acts effaced from their memory the many good deeds of Macbeth's better year. They saw the man who had formerly been swayed by justice now governed by passion. The friends of the late king who had feared to show themselves came forth and began to demand that the son of the murdered Duncan should be recalled and placed on his father's throne.


     Macduff, driven into England, would naturally open communications with Malcolm, who, these three years had been contentedly governing his kingdom of Cumbria. He would tell him that the Scots were tired of Macbeth, that they were ready to receive back the son of their former king, and he would urge him to take the field and strike for his paternal inheritance. Prince Malcolm resolved to do as the thane of Fife had counselled. Tostig, the new Earl of Northumberland, came to his help in this second attempt to recover the throne, and he soon found himself string enough to advance into Scotland, The national sentiment rallied in his support as soon as he appeared. The force he brought with him was recruited by daily deserters from the standard of Macbeth; and so overjoyed were the soldiers at these presages of victory, that, as Buchanan tells us, they placed green boughs in their helmets, more like an army returning in triumph than one advancing to battle. They found, however, that the campaign was not to be ended by a single blow. Their antagonist was brave, resolute, and was now grown desperate, and a good deal of hard fighting was required to drive him from the throne. Few trustworthy details of the campaign have come down to us. One thing is certain, it ended in the defeat of Macbeth. He was driven across the Mounth, and slain by Malcolm at Lumphanan in Mar on the 15th day of August 1057.5 The uproar of civil war was instantly drowned in the rejoicings of the Scottish nation around the Stone of Destiny, on which they now saw seated the scion of their ancient kings, and the crown, wrested from the usurper, transferred to the brow of its rightful owner. Malcolm Canmore ( literally Abig head@) was king.


     The Sinclairs, certainly one of the most prominent families that invaded with the Norsemen, were accepted into Scotland by the house of Canmore, and had also enormous estates and thralldoms in England and Wales, from their cousin, William the Conqueror.


     On Friday the 13th of March 1307 Phillip IV of France arrested, and subsequently tortured the Knights Templar. They were a warrior-monk order set up in 1129 to protect pilgrims during the Crusades, and had learnt the concept of interest, discounting, and banking from the Moors. In their activities they provided banking and negotiating of notes in their castles between Europe and Palestine, and eventually became huge creditors of the powerful French king, from their centre of activities, the Temple in Paris. Philip then attacked his bankers on the grounds of sodomy, "worshipping heads" and other alleged irreligious activities. Phillip managed to get the Pope (who was also a creditor of the order) on his side, and instituted a persecution and inquisition into the order. Some of the Templars fled France from Nantes in 13 ships with Templar Assets. Some went to Portugal, where the head of the Portuguese state is still nominal head of their templar order. Bartholomew Diaz was in fact a Knight Templar. Most ships went to Caithness, and it is believed the Templar treasure ended up there in the hands of the Sancto Claros, and this financed Prince Henry's successful attack on the Faroes in 1391, and his discovery of North America 100 years before Columbus, as well as the construction of Rosslyn Chapel outside Edinburgh (c1440), which has strong Templar and Masonic links. The Templars were not persecuted in Scotland (or England) to much extent, one of the reasons being Robert the Bruce was on poor terms with the Pope, and the Frankish Knights, perhaps 300, that came across with the Templar fleet, were a very important military factor in Robert the Bruces' victory over the English at Bannockburn in 1314.


     The first St Clair in the Orkneys was Sir Henry St Clair who arrived in 1321, and this branch was settled in 1379 when his grandson Prince Henry St Clair obtained the "Jarldom" or Earldom of Orkney through the marriage of his father, Sir William St Clair, with Isabella Countess of Orkney. At this time the Orkneys were still a Norwegian possession and the links with Norway were very strong. In fact in 1374 Henry St Clair obtained a grant from King Hakon II to stop Scots moving to the Orkneys. In 1455 Sir Henry's great great grandson William 3rd Earl of Orkney received the Jarldom or Earldom of Caithness and at the same time adopted the Sinclair spelling. In 1470 the Orkneys were ceded to the Scottish Crown and the Stewart Earls of Orkney took over from the benevolent Sinclair Jarls, although the new regime was noted as "tyrannical".


     The Orkneys land tenure was by the "Audal" Norse freehold land ownership system. The land was worked, fishing, sealing, deer hunting and egg gathering as well as the trade in commodities and fur. The Sinclair name was the most widespread name in the Islands.


     The Sinclairs quickly established themselves in the north of Scotland. They appear to have intended setting up a Commonwealth to Nations with the north of Scotland being the hinge of the salt, timber, amber, fish and fur trade which was already established between America, Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, the Baltic and in fact the whole of northern Europe. It is believed by some that the family had a higher calling to act as the beneficial protectors and arbitrators of this Pan-European trade. Although various heads of the Sinclair family had the vision of their family heading up the enormous growth in the North Atlantic, this was not to be. The balance of power shifted south, firstly to Portugal, who opened up the East Indies and South America, followed by Spain's expansion and then the Northern European countries.


     The Sinclairs were pre-eminent in the north and today they still own more castles than any other family, and their descendants are spread through England, Scotland, Wales, France, Sweden and even Poland where they are the deposed Polish Royal family. They were the second most important family in medieval Europe and had important hereditary duties in the Masonic movement, and were guardians of the Scottish Regalia. It appears that the Sinclairs had an important part to play in early Scotland - the most ancient Christian Kingdom.


     The main Sinclair castles, Ginigoe and Sinclair Castles, are in the Wick area, both being in a ruinous. These were ceded by Feu Charter by G Cospatrick Duff-Sutherland-Dunbar in favour of the Earl of Caithness in 1953, for 10 shillings yearly "if asked only" at the term of Martinmas.


     The Sinclairs were an exceedingly difficult and warlike clan, involved in fighting with the Gunns and Sutherlands, as well as internecine infighting. Some of the Earls were known as " cruel and avaricious noblemen ", and were a law unto themselves in the remote far north. They were in constant opposition to the Murrays in the south, as well as the above clans. In the mid 1500's Donald Mackay of Reay with his friend George Sinclair usurped the banished Bishop of Caithness' lands, and collected his rents "on his behalf". Mackay took over his castle Skibo, while Sinclair took Strabister. The Lord Lieutenant for North Scotland summoned them to Helmsdale, and they refused to go, which resulted in Donald being imprisoned in the Munro castle Foulis until his escape in 1549. In 1555 Mary Queen of Scots attempted to get George Sinclair and his clan to meet with her to swear fealty, but only George turned up, and as a result was imprisoned for a year. The internecine fighting between Sinclair families, and amongst brothers, is well known, and has been vicious through the ages, leading to imprisonment and often to death.


     In the 17th Century Civil War, Cromwell=s  General Monk battered Rosslyn Castle to ruin but many treasures of Scotland were sealed in the crypt of  Rosslyn Chapel, away from his attentions. However Cromwell, as Master Mason of England, who knew the importance of the Chapel, and gave instructions for it not to be damaged. I have it on good authority that the Black Madonna, the Holyrood, as well as other historical treasures of Scotland are still in the sealed  Rosslyn Chapel crypt.


     The earliest Sinclair ancestor we have traced is William Sinclair born 19 June 1748 in the parish of St Andrews, 9km from Kirkwall in the largest of the Orkneys called Mainland or Pomona. By the time William reached his middle twenties he had left his home and sought work as a ploughman in Caithness. There he married Jean Manson in the parish of Olrig on 18 December 1773 and they had a family of nine born between 1774 and 1792. Eight of the children, four sons and four daughters, were baptised in the parish of Olrig, and the remaining son William was baptised on 8 June 1782 in the neighbouring parish of Dunnet. William's is the line we are following and he married Margaret Harrow, the daughter of David Harrow and Christan Cormack of Scarfskerry in the parish of Dunnet. The marriage took place on 22 June 1805 in the nearby parish of Halkirk. James, the first of their six children, was baptised in Dunnet on 15 March 1806 and the remaining children, four daughters and a son, were baptised in Halkirk between 1807 and 1815.


     In about 1827, William, Margaret and their family were living in the Dunbeath/Latheron area on the east coast of Caithness. William was one of a group of citizens of high reliability appointed to take their turn at watching the graves in Latheron cemetery for a number of days following each internment, in order to guard the corpses against body snatchers. They kept guard in special watchtowers built for the purpose. This was two years before Burke and Hare were brought to justice in Edinburgh.


     William's sons James and Robert married sisters Isabella and Margaret Budge, daughters of John Budge and Janet Sutherland of the nearby fishing hamlet of Forse. James and Isabella were married in Latheron on 22 December 1831 and settled at Dunbeath Mains Farm, where James worked as a grieve for Mr. John Scott. He is reported to have worked there for over 50 years, thereafter farming for his own account as a tenant farmer. In 1881 he was 70 years old, but still farming on 5 acres arable at Balnabruich. In an early census James and Isabella were living in a house with more than two rooms with windows, and spoke Gaelic but the children did not.


     They had eleven children all born at Latheron between 1832 and 1853. The eldest son, William, was baptised on 23 September 1832 and married Robertina Dunbar born 12 August 1838 in Latheronwheel, the daughter of Capt. the Hon. Robert Dunbar and Margaret Miller. They were married on 12 July 1858 in Edinburgh, where William was an innkeeper. Two children were born to them in Scotland; the first Isabella, on 22 January 1858 in Latheron, and then Robert on 24 February 1860 in Edinburgh. The family is thought to have emigrated to New Zealand in 1861. However they must have returned to Scotland as in the census of 1881 William was a widower staying with his sister Catherine McLeod in Edinburgh. He was living with his parents at Balnabruich in Dunbeath in 1891, and was the informant on their death certificates. He remained there, living with his unmarried sister Agnes, until his death in 1905.

James and Isabella Sinclair 1870

     Most of the other children emigrated, as there was little in the old days to keep them in Caithness. The second son John is believed to have gone to New Zealand. Third son James married Ann MacKay in New Zealand (although she was from Dunbeath). These Sinclairs farmed first at Yaldhurst, then Tai Tapu, and James was a Trustee of the Methodist Church. Their children and descendants have made their mark in British and International Law, the New Zealand Cabinet, education and the sciences, with six descendants having taken degrees at Oxford. Some members are continuing to serve the Methodist Church.

Isabella Sinclair with Dora Spoor and Ken Anderson

     Janet married Alexander Swanson and emigrated to the USA. The actress Gloria Swanson was their grandaughter and she visited Catherine McLeod in Edinburgh. Donald died unmarried in Australia. Jane married Donald MacKenzie in the Free Church Dunbeath and moved either to Australia or New Zealand.


     Catherine married John McLeod, a stonemason who later became a preacher. Their son Donald came out to Durban South Africa, perhaps to work with John Anderson at the quarry he had bought. It was Catherine's' son-in-law George Greig who painted the croft oil painting shown. In fact there was a portrait of Isabella Budge seated in the chair in the picture, but she asked George Greig to paint it out as "she had not put on a clean mutch" (white lace cap), and this is how the cat and kitten were painted in, and her image painted over. The picture is presently in the possession of Aileen Martin who is descended from John and Catherine's daughter Margaret Isabella. Aileen lives in Glasgow and is expected to be in South Africa in 2001 for a worldwide Soroptomist conference.


     Margaret married and lived in Edinburgh. Isabella married John Durran and moved to Thurso Robert died in Dunbeath in 1872 at the early age of 21.


     The family was originally Presbyterian but joined the Free Church of Scotland at its founding in 1843. This is why only the baptisms of the six children born prior to 1844 are in the Scottish Church Records, and the others had to be calculated from the census returns. The Free Church was a particularly harsh and strict form of Protestantism, but once the family members emigrated they gravitated to Methodism or Presbyterianism, as the Free Church of Scotland did not travel outside the borders of Scotland.


     Hazel Lindsay a great great grandaughter of Robert Sinclair and Margaret Budge is presently (2000) the secretary of the Dunbeath Trust at the Dunbeath Estate, and her office is in a wing of Dunbeath Mains farmhouse which was added in 1880. The original house, which James Sinclair would have known well, is at the rear. The property is now a large operative Scottish Estate employing 20 people and provides 10 holiday cottages to rent as well as shooting, walking, fishing etc. When Hazel became secretary in 1987 the owner was R Stanton Avery an American who invented the first roll-off sticky label machine. In 1985 Hazel's daughter Helen, then aged 15, wrote "Folklore of Dunbeath" (published by the Dunbeath Preservation Trust) which is a collection of stories related to her by the old people in the area. Mark and Lizette  Anderson visited Hazel, as well as Aileen Martin of Glasgow, also a Sinclair cousin, in Oct 2000, this being the first contact between the families in 110 years.


     Isabella the daughter of William Sinclair and Robertina Dunbar met John Anderson, a stonemason who had come from Fordyce Banffshire, probably to work in the Caithness flagstone industry, and married him on 12 November 1885 in Dunbeath. They went back to Banffshire, possibly intending to live there permanently. John Anderson left the world of stonecutting, and became a ship chandler in Buckie, providing to the salmon, and particularly, the herring fleet that were based there. They emigrated with their family to Pietermaritzburg South Africa in the 1890's, after the very poor herring catches of the 1880's.


All original material on this page is copyright © Mark Anderson.


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