SIR WILLIAM MACKINNON,
Hector L MacKenzie.
"One of the most eminent and remarkable men which this district has produced." Thus "The Argylishire Herald" of June 24, 1895, in its obituary notice of this son of Kintyre.
In Argyll Street, Campbeltown, there is a commemorative stone on the site of the house (now demolished) where William Mackinnon was born in 1825. He was the youngest of thirteen children born to Duncan Mackinnon, captain of a revenue cutter, and to Isabella Currie of Campbeltown. The Mackinnon family came originally from Arran, and Sir William's grandfather had the lease of Glenramskill Farm. After attending the School in Kirk Street, run by Mr. Duncan Morrison, and with some private tuition from the Grammar School Rector, Dr. Brunton, William Mackinnon entered the grocery trade in Campbeltown. There is a local tradition that he failed in this business because he gave too much credit to the Irish labourers engaged in the construction of the "coal canal" between Machrihanish and Campbeltown.
At the age of 25 he left Campbeltown and found employment with a merchant engaged in the Eastern trade, and shortly afterwards, aged 24, he went to India. There he joined his old schoolfellow, Robert MacKenzie, who was engaged in coastal trading in the Bay of Bengal. Together they founded the firm of Mackinnon and MacKenzie, shipping agents. In 1856, Mackinnon was instrumental in establishing what became the British India Steam Navigation Company, one of the greatest shipping companies of the world. It started as a single steamer, plying between Calcutta and Rangoon. Mackinnon then turned his attention to East Africa. He formed a friendship with the Sultan of Zanzibar and was eventually allowed by the London government to found the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1888. The territory administered by the Company was later incorporated into the British Empire as British East Africa for a cash payment to the Company.
In Africa he met Livingstone and Stanley, the explorers, and became a close friend of the latter, who actually attended his funeral in Clachan. It was, indeed, through Mackinnon's generosity that Stanley was enabled to continue his work of exploration. 'His whole life was spent in doing good," said Stanley in an obituary. Mackinnon was created a baronet in 1889, having earlier refused the knighthood offered by Palmerston. At Balnakil, near Clachan, he lived in style, entertaining among others, Leopold II, King of the Belgians, who was also a guest on board his sumptious yacht. Queen Victoria was preparing to visit him in Clachan when he died. Despite massive donations to charitable causes he left over £750,000.
His many business activities included a seat on the board of the City of Glasgow Bank, the failure of which impoverished many Campbeltown families. Indeed it has been said of this failure that "it was one of the most severe economic blows ever sustained by Scotland." But Sir William Mackinnon disagreed with the way the bank was being managed and resigned from the Board, selling out his shareholding interests, eight years before the crash came in 1878.
Of his very large contributions to worthy causes, the one most interesting to the people of Kintyre was the trust which later bought Keil House, Southend, and founded the Kintyre Technical College. It was, therefore, highly appropriate that, when the colossal statue of Wm. Mackinnon in Mombasa was returned to this country, it was re-erected in the grounds of Keil School, Dumbarton, where the School moved after the destruction by fire of Keil House, Southend.
A good deal of money, too, was spent on Clachan. The "model village", as it has been called, was largely the creation of Sir William. In addition to being Laird of Loup, he also acquired the estate of Strathaird in Skye - the ancestral stamping-ground of the Clan MacKinnon. Professor Blackie spoke of "the warm interest he took in the language and literature of the Highlands." For instance, he set aside £5,000 to provide bursaries for boys in Arran and Argyll with a knowledge of Gaelic. He was always very "dileas" to his ain folk. Only Campbeltown Malt Whisky was served on his ships, and many aspiring youngsters from Kintyre were recruited to the B.I. Line. Yet, when he sought to represent his native county in Parliament, he lost to a more radical candidate.
After he had settled in Scotland in 1867, he lived continuously either in Kintyre or Skye. He never had a London house. When called to London, he lived in the Burlington Hotel, and that, indeed, was where he died while on business in the metropolis. The news of his death, we are told, cast a gloom over his native burgh, and on his funeral day, "the bells of Lochend and Lorne Street Free Churches were tolled between three and four o'clock." He left no descendants, so the baronetcy died with him. His great grand-nephew is Mr. Tom Pollock of Ronachan in North Kintyre.
Empire-building is now out of fashion, and money-making on a large scale somewhat suspect, but there is no denying the strength of character of "the little Scotsman" of whom Campbeltown can be proud. He was resolute against the slave trade. "I first became acquainted with him," said Stanley, "through the interest he took in suppressing the slave trade." And there are many instances to show that, even in his business dealings, he did not value the amassing of wealth as the top priority of his life. William Mackinnon was a devout Free Church man. Latterly, he fell out with the church leaders, because he felt they were betraying the principles of 1843; and in a Codicil to his Will, he revoked all bequests made in favour of the Free Church of Scotland. He was a very strict sabbatarian at home and abroad, and observed family prayers regularly, night and morning, in his own home, whoever were his guests.
It is a pity that not more is known of his early life in Campbeltown, and the Editor of this Magazine would be glad to have any information thereanent.
Dictionary of National Biography.
"The Argyllshire Herald."
"Sir William Mackinnon" by J. MacMaster Campbell.
It may be of interest to our readers to know that the siding at which huge quantities of machinery intended for the ill-fated Ground Nuts Scheme in East Africa were off loaded and much of it left to rust, was "Mackinnon Road Siding."
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Page 2: The North Carolina Settlement of 1749
Page 3: Lifeboat No. 7
Page 4: John Paul Jones and Others - Part 1
Page 5: Archaeological Cannibalism
Page 6: West Highland Mercenaries in Ireland - Part 1
Page 7: Campbeltown Cross
Page 9: The Stuff Dreams are Made of........
Page 10: Glenbreakerie - A poem