Appendix 3 - The invention of the 'Clan Gunn Chief' in 1802/3
3. Concerning the ‘inquisition’, the Clan Gunn Society of the 1820s and the manipulation of the MacHamish ‘Chief’ line
Being a revised version of chapter 6 of my Key Issues for a Clan Gunn history booklet.
Now obviously the idea that the Gunns should have a Chief is wrong as I have discussed earlier in the book but an inquisition occurred.
According to the Reverend Sage in the year
1800 the Countess (of Sutherland) informed the Reverend Alexander Sage of her desire to know who was the chief of the Clan Gunn ... This wish of the Duchess-Countess put the whole Clan in commotion. There was no universally recognised chief
In 1800 there was no accepted Chief. The consequence of the Countess’ desire was simple - due to the importance of the Countess - in 1803 an inquisition was held. Now Sinclair wrote;
The inquisition was made at the sheriff-court of Caithness, held at Thurso, 31st May 1803, in the presence of Mr William Brodie, sheriff substitute of the said county, by these subscribed honest and faithful men of the county, namely Captain James Mackay of Borgie, George Paterson arms-bearing, bailie of Thurso; Messrs Alexander Paterson, James Craig, James Waters, John Mackay, Alexander Brodie, Peter Swany, Junior, and Patrick Leith, all merchants in Thurso; Messrs Donald Robeson, William Sinclair and John Reid, solicitors there; Messrs William Munro and John Macdonald, schoolmasters there; and George Morison vintner there. These being sworn, having given their solemn oath, say that the deceased Alexander Gunn, the McHamish, of Navidale and Killearnan (8,8), commonly called McHamish the Fifth ... the said Hector Gunn (12,45) ... is the legitimate and nearest heir-male of the said deceased Alexander Gunn (8,8), his great-great-grandfather...
This matches the generations according to the MacHamish chapter. To restate; the MacHamish line was declared by this ‘inquisition’ to be the Chief line and Hector Gunn (12,45) the Chief.
Something may be said of the notable persons of the deposition ... About the personal respectability of the inquisition there can be no doubt, although the decision in favour of Hector Gunn has been persistently disputed.
The inquisition seems to have been a procession of local notables who were sworn and made their statement. We have no idea on what basis they held their beliefs and there is no mention of anyone being able to challenge what was said. We also have no idea whether they actually knew what they were talking about; did that many people in Thurso in 1803 really know all the details of Gunn genealogy? I doubt it. That people were capable of making judgements as to male descent from a branch of the Gunn family is far more plausible. And note a real weakness; ‘heir-male’. It is at the time of writing accepted that a ‘Clan Gunn Chief’ could descend through the female line and, of course, without considering the female options their judgment as to who was ‘Chief’ was flawed. Of course, if you accept this inquisition then from now known female descendants of this line should be the ‘Chief’.
Sinclair notes three depositions were sent to John Robertson W.S. (lawyer) in Edinburgh when ‘Chief’ Hector Gunn (12,45) was getting involved with Lord Lyon’s office; one was from John Gunn Dalnaha (12,46) (father of Donald ‘Braehour and Brawlbin’ Gunn the sennachie (13,65)); one was from Robert Gunn of Achnakin / Acheneccan (possibly 13,70) and the third was from James Mackay of Strath Halladale. So at least two of the three depositions were written by people who were MacHamishes; as such they had something to gain from the result – their family would become linked to the Chief.
It is important to recognise that the inquisition was not the relevant court to make such a decision in fact it is not clear what legal right the ‘inquisition’ held. It is possible it was an ad hoc creation; the Countess of Sutherland, after all, owned much of Caithness and Sutherland and so was a woman who could not be ignored. Lord Lyon is the court which decides if a person may bear the arms of the Chief of the Clan and his court was certainly in operation at this time (the last revision of the Lyon Act being in 1672). Hector Gunn certainly wrote to the Lord Lyon court but did not formalise the Chiefship with it. Whether Lord Lyon has the right to choose a Chief is another matter which I discuss in the last appendix.
Clan Gunn Society
It is worth noting the role of the first Clan Gunn Society in support of the inquisition’s outcome. In Mark Rugg Gunn’s view (page 236-237) the first Clan Gunn Society was established by
several of the more well-to-do Gunns ... amongst whom were Lieutenant John Gunn, merchant in Swiney (Sinclair suggests a MacHamish link. This John died 1837 Glasgow – his wife was Margaret Gordon of Reisgill / Swiney), Donald Gunn, Braehour (13,66) … and Alexander Gunn, merchant in Thurso (Acheneccan line, probably the son of 13,70).
And the key 1821 letter to ‘Chief’ George Gunn (13,60), Factor, was signed by Donald Gunn of Braehour (13,66) and Alexander Gunn, Merchant, Thurso (13,70). In Mark Rugg Gunn’s words this showed that ‘George Gunn was the official Chief’ at least to the Clan Gunn Society.
But it’s worth restating the names and MacHamish links of the committee of that society; John Gunn merchant in Swiney (Sinclair suggests a MacHamish link), Alexander ‘Osclay’ Gunn (11,31 or generation 13 from his father’s side), Donald Gunn (13,65) farmer in Braehour, Alexander Gunn Shoemaker in Buolkork (he married 13,59). So, out of a committee of eleven three, perhaps four, were of MacHamish descent. The others I can not work out if they were or were not MacHamish line - George Gunn innkeeper in Thurso, William Gunn farmer in Knockglass, John Gunn messenger in Dunbeath, James Gunn messenger in Thurso, Peter Gunn in Swiney, Robert Gunn farmer in Olginbreg and John Gunn, Thurso. The first Clan Gunn society seems to be stacked; when too many of one family are on a committee its impartiality is certainly open to question.
The MacHamish line was never ‘Chief of the Clan Gunn’ but they were the most senior line from Coroner Gunn. The inquisition showed that the MacHamish line was not extinct.
 It is worth noting that the living which the Reverend Sage held was ‘owned’ by the Countess; if he annoyed her he could lose his position.
 Pages 206-207, Mark Rugg Gunn, Clan Gunn. Books such as Jean MacDougall Highland Postbag The Correspondence of Four MacDougall Chiefs 1715-1865 clearly show how Scottish Chiefs were well known and accepted from time immemorial – the Gunn contrast is obvious and the lack of clear Gunn Chiefs recognised in their own time supports the idea of no ‘Clan Gunn’ Chiefs.
 Page 155, Eric Richards, The Highland Clearances - ‘the Duchess / Countess represented wealth and power in its most conspicuous form.’
 Page 168, Thomas Sinclair, The Gunns.
 Pages 169-170, Thomas Sinclair, The Gunns.
 Yes, they exist; I have been in touch with one branch of the family.
 Page 169, Thomas Sinclair, ibid.
 http://www.bletherskite.net/2012/10/29/the-lyon-act/ accessed 21 March 2018.
 Page 169, Thomas Sinclair, The Gunns.
 Pages 174, Thomas Sinclair, The Gunns.
 See https://clangunn1.blogspot.com/2012/08/watten-gunns-john-gunn-crowner-gunns.html for more detail on this Gunn family. It may not be a MacHamish line; he seems to have been reasonably wealthy and well-connected, as such that may explain his position in the Clan Gunn Society.
 It is worth noting two long, anonymous letters - or signed with a wrong name – about the Factor George Gunn (13,60) are held in the Sutherland Estate papers along with shorter material. Phrasing like ‘These then, my lord, are the three charges I prefer agt Mr Gunn viz – Dishonesty; tyranny + Breach of trust’ and ‘Your Lordship maun wel ken that when Mr Gun went into your service he was not worth a penny, but since he has paid ten thousand pounds on account of McDonald besides he has well plenished farms!!’ provide a flavour of the writing. George Gunn (13,60) of Rhives elegantly answers them in a letter of February 1848. (NLS 313/860)
 Pages 174, Thomas Sinclair, The Gunns.
 Pages 121, Thomas Sinclair, ibid.