Another story of auld Scotland

John Adamson (1886-1962) and Elizabeth Hoggan (1891-1984)

Fin de Siecle: a family party.  Tarduf House. Muiravonside (Saturday 25 July 1914)

It was intended to be a grand occasion, and the weather had played its role admirably. Various branches of the Stirling family had gathered in  the heavily pruned and manicured gardens of Tarduf House in the early evening for pre-prandial drinks. Their carriages and even a couple of motor cars blocked the stable yard and extended down the curving drive. The gentry had at length retired within the house for a grand dinner. Following the food and a brief and well received welcome speech from the host, Lt-Colonel William Stirling, Indian Army (retired) and recently returned to the United Kingdom, the furniture had been cleared and the dancing had commenced. Here and there, couples in all their finery retired for a cooling walk through the torch-lit paths of the wooded garden. It was as pleasant as could be imagined on this perfect summer night. 

There was however another large family in attendance apart from the Stirlings. The Hoggans had turned out in force. To be fair, they were being paid (in the main), and there were a few Wilsons and Horns present too. The Hoggans served the Stirling family in various capacities. Sometimes they were full time servants such as Liz Hoggan who even now was in the servant’s hall and was serving her second dinner of the evening. Sometimes they merely supplemented their full-time wages earned elsewhere. In the case of Harry and Dick Hoggan, it was by being part time gardeners and also pipers as and when required (such as tonight).

Notwithstanding payment or otherwise, there were also times when the Hoggans and their relatives  rallied round in numbers to make a social event possible. The truth was that for all the grandeur of the house, the Stirlings of Tarduf were by no means as wealthy as they had been. They employed only two live-in servants and they supplemented the household with daily people from the Loan village, such as the Hoggans. Liz, for example, was now the cook in her early twenties, having been promoted from scullery maid. If she needed help for large dinners from her most capable mother, then that was not to be wondered at. Her sisters Slim and Minnie were also there to help in the kitchen at the request of Mrs Stirling. Even youngsters such as Davie and Eck Hoggan were pressed into service. At that very moment they were out in the gardens making sure that the torches, which illuminated the pathways, were not burning themselves out. 

In the kitchen, there was a large, scrubbed table, which was now laid for a meal. Now that the gentry were dancing upstairs, the Tarduf servants and those who had come with the guests (mainly coachmen, but a couple of ladies maids also) were about to sit down to eat. 

Liz busied herself with serving roast beef cuts from an ashette or large, flat plate. “ Mr Dunlop, please have some more, it all needs to be eaten,” she said to the coachman of the Spens family. “I always keep some of the best cuts for the servant’s hall.”

“You’ve done a wonderful job Lizzie”, said the old coachman.

“Don’t thank me, thank my mother and sisters. We’ve all rallied round.”

The ceiling jumped, as upstairs an eightsome reel, piped by Harry and Dick came to a crashing finale. There was much whooping and then a spontaneous round of applause, as the pipers gave way to a concert band.

“The last two chairs will be filled just shortly” said Liz’s mother, Allison to the room. “Let’s get the plates out of the range.” With that, Harry Hoggan and then his younger brother, Dick arrived in the kitchen, bagpipes under  their arms. If they were slightly flushed and grinning, then they could be forgiven. Six Highland dances in a row, and barely a bum note between them. This was top flight piping, and some of the gentry were skilled enough to know it.

Upstairs, Lieutenant-Colonel William Stirling leaned on the marble fireplace and looked at his extended family with some satisfaction. The world might be on the brink of war, but for a soldier that meant employment. He was back from India and the Indian Army, but already he had sent in his papers to the War Office.  He was hoping for a training position if war did break out.  He was also heartily glad to be reunited with his two sons and his eldest daughter who had been sent back to Britain for their education.  Bill and Archie, in their mid-teens, looked as if Wellington College suited them, whilst Mary Silvia had blossomed into a young lady at seventeen and was attracting some attention from her male cousins. It was also good to see Margaret, the baby of the family, reunited with her three older siblings. 

William was very aware that this remained his mother’s house.

Accordingly he had purchased a property in Elie, in Fife, which was becoming a favoured retirement location for former Indian Army officers like himself. Glancing over at his mother, he noted that Mrs Mary Katharine Stirling sat as ramrod straight at eighty as she had when he left for India, over thirty years ago. His four sisters surrounded his mother like ladies in waiting: all four had happily dropped into their roles as favoured maiden aunts to his children. Sylvester, his surviving brother, was detained by matters of finance in London, and of course it was four years since James had been killed fighting on the North-West Frontier of India.

In the centre of the floor, younger members of the Stirlings of Tarduf danced with their cousins the Stirlings of Kippendavie, of Gargunnock and of Glenbervie. No wonder there were so many Stirling marriages, like his parents who had been first cousins. He accounted himself a fortunate man to have married Mary Spens, the daughter of the Secretary of Scottish Amicable Life Company. With her came not only new blood, but also a useful amount of money. William  looked up and nodded to his brother-in-law, Walter Spens, a prosperous Chartered Accountant, who passed by whilst dancing the new Foxtrot.

The heavy gilt frames of the oil paintings seemed to suit this impressive room. A series of landscapes depicted the Jamaican plantations with which the family had been associated. Content, Cinnamon Hill, Rock Spring, Equity and Blue Hole: such pleasant names for sugar plantations. Not only that, but portraits of three generations of plantation owners and  partners in the great Glasgow trading house of Stirling, Gordon & Co looked down upon the proceedings. Such a pity, he thought, that shipping losses in the American Civil War had led to the shameful sequestration of the assets of Stirling, Gordon. Tarduf House might look very grand but it was nothing compared to Kenmure House in Glasgow, where his grandfather had lived. 

Downstairs, Liz Hoggan was beginning to relax for the first time that day. She heard her sister Minnie say, “It’s all very well having a house this size, but you need to staff it properly. Just two live-in servants. I call it a disgrace.

“Not only that Minnie, but you mind me telling you that auld Mrs Stirling needs a maid to get dressed every morning,” laughed Liz. “Imagine it. Unable to go about your business unless helped by another person to put on your own clothes. They are strange folk, the gentry, and no mistake”.


1. Just west of the Loan village is the mansion of house of Tarduf. The Stirling family in Tarduf House were a junior branch of the Stirlings of Kippendavie. William Stirling (1822-1900) was a grandson of John Stirling, 6th of Kippendavie, and came from a branch of the family who had made its money in sugar and slavery in Jamaica, in the 18th century. He married his cousin, Mary Katherine Stirling (1833-1915) in 1855 and acquired and greatly enlarged Tarduf House shortly thereafter. He was certainly in occupation per the valuation rolls by 1865. William and Mary Stirling had three sons and five daughters. William (1861-1941) was the only one to marry, and he was a Lt-Col in the Indian Army, and then was with the Highland Light Infantry during WWI, having fought in the 1880s in Burma. Sylvester (1873-1924) was a Chartered Accountant in London, whilst his twin, James, was killed in action in India whilst a captain with Wilde’s Rifles (Frontier Force) in 1910. None of the five daughters married. They were Charlotte (1856 -1935), Mary (1857-1923), Elizabeth (1859-1923), Katherine (1866-1940) and Rose (1868-1893).  

2. Confusingly, Muiravonside House, at the east side of the Loan  village, was purchased in 1835 by an entirely separate branch of the Stirling family. They became known as the Stirlings of Muiravonside. The two branches of the Stirlings had diverged as early as 1600, although connected by marriages thereafter, and should not be mixed up. 

3. There is no doubt that the money for Tarduf House and to support the Stirling family came from ownership of slave plantations in Jamaica, and also merchant trading with the West Indies, through the Glasgow business house of Stirling, Gordon and Co.

The ‘Legacies of Slave Ownership website, maintained by University College, London [ ] shows the important role of Stirling, Gordon & Co in managing sugar plantations in the West Indies on behalf of a range of Scottish non-resident owners. The Stirling family was central to this firm and several generations were partners in Stirling, Gordon & Co. 

John Stirling, 6th of Kippendavie, was born in 1742, and in order to restore the family fortunes which had been badly damaged by support for the Jacobite cause, went to the West Indies as a young man, and succeeded in amassing a fortune from  the slave trade in the late 18th century. He died in Scotland in 1816 and left an estate of £146,000 (approximately £250 million in today’s terms). £57,000 of this was invested in the family trading firm of Stirling, Gordon. Several of his seven sons then became partners in Stirling Gordon, West India Merchants.

William Stirling (1787-1862) of Content Plantation in Jamaica and Kenmure House in Glasgow was John’s second son.  He was a partner in Stirling, Gordon. When compensation was paid out at the end of slavery in Jamaica in 1834, he received over £16,000 in respect of emancipated slaves on four plantations in Jamaica (Content, Equity, Rock Spring and Blue Hole). In total, £20 million was paid to the owners of slaves as compensation for what was deemed to be the loss of their property. It should be noted that not one penny was paid to the newly freed slaves themselves. William Stirling had a balance of £8689, at his death in 1862, with Stirling, Gordon & Co.  The total estate was just over £20,000.

William Stirling of Tarduf (1822- 1900) was the third son of Willian of Content and Kenmure, a Justice of the Peace, Hon Colonel 3rd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry and a partner in Stirling, Gordon & Co, Glasgow. The firm was wound up in an insolvency sequestration in December 1864 when William was the sole partner. This was towards the end of the American Civil War, when cotton was run from the Confederacy to the United Kingdom through a blockade of the United States navy. William had the Jamaican property settled on him by his father William in 1862.  The sequestration of Stirling, Gordon & Co would have fallen on William Stirling personally and doubtless eroded his personal assets as he was the sole partner and did not have the benefit of limited liability.

4. Lt-Col William Stirling (1862-1941), eldest son of Willian Stirling of Tarduf,  joined 5 Dragoon Guards as a Lieutenant in 1882. He transferred to 6 Dragoon Guards and was with them at Sealkote, Bengal in 1886 according to the Indian Civil and Military List. This was just after the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, which led to the annexation of Burma to be part of the British Empire. William was awarded a medal with three clasps for his part in this war. In 1891 he transferred to 2nd Madras Lancers, having been in Burma as an assistant commandant of a police district on attachment. He subsequently transferred to the 86th Carnatic Infantry and became a major in 1901. By 1910 he was a Lt-Colonel and the commanding officer of the 86th Carnatic Infantry which was based in Madras. He retired from the Indian Army in 1912 at the age of fifty. During the First World War he commanded 13th (Training) Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. 

He married Mary Spens in 1895, and they had two sons and two daughters. These were Colonel William Stirling, born 1898, Royal Artillery and the Commandant of Royal Pakistan Artillery Centre after the partition of India in 1947; Archibald Stirling, born 1899, who was killed in a RAF flying accident in 1924; Mary Stirling, born 1896, married in 1920; Margaret Stirling, born 1910, married in 1938. 

Lt-Colonel William Stirling died of a heart attack at 9 High Street, Elie, Fife in 1941. Mary’s brother, Walter Spens registered the death. 

5. Tarduf House was sold in 1917 following the death of Mrs Mary Katharine Stirling in 1915. 1915 was also the year that Elizabeth Hoggan married John Adamson at Muiravonside Manse.

6. The stories about the Stirlings of Tarduf being stretched for cash, the sinking of a cotton-carrying, blockade-running ship in the American Civil War, the inability of Mrs Mary Katharine Stirling to dress herself and more generally the life in the kitchen at Tarduf, come directly from my grandmother Elizabeth Hoggan. She was a good story teller and, unsurprisingly, a fine cook. 

The Stirlings of Tarduf

Harry (Henry) Hoggan -- one of the bagpipers and his sister Minnie (Marion) Hoggan, circa 1914

Lizzie (Elizabeth) Hoggan, the cook, circa 1914

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