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David SINCLAIR 1812-1891 & the Earldom of Caithness

Hi everyone

I've just rejoined the list after a very short spell on it with little
activity from me well over a year ago (I was a lurker).

I'd love to hear more about the following in any way:

My gg-grandfather David SINCLAIR 1812-1891 was baptised 1812 at Hempriggs in
Wick parish to John SINCLAIR and Barbara CORMACK.  Barbara was from Watten
parish.  John & Barbara had a large family, most of their children being
born at Sarclet, Thrumster and, later, at Reiss.  John was one of at least 4
issue to James SINCLAIR and Elspet SINCLAIR.   Elspet was from Clyth?

David attempted to claim, unsuccessfully, the title of Earl of Caithness
when it was up for grabs circa 1890-91.   Affidavits by him, his older
brother Alexander and other family members were published in the 'Northern
Ensign', a newspaper circulating at that time.  I don't know the date of the
issue but I have seen a photocopy of an old clipping from it.  It seems that
the affidavits were presented in a court case in England.

In the affidavits David et al state that his grandfather was James SINCLAIR
'the chamberlain', son of Donald SINCLAIR 'the sailor' who had his own ship
and traded up and down the Caithness coast as far as Ross-shire.  Donald is
supposed to be a descendant of Broynach.  James was a chamberlain at
Hempriggs, then a fish curer and salt maker at Sarclet, the salt being
traded by Donald via his vessel.  David outlines the issue of Donald and
later generations in some detail and states that he never heard of a William
the 'tacksman' born to Donald, and if there was a William then he must have
been illegitimate.  

John HENDERSON, in his posthumous work published 1884, states that Donald,
who 'went to sea' and was the son of David SINCLAIR of Broynach, had a son
William and several daughters.

Roland ST CLAIR, in his work published 1898, outlines a completely different
set of issue to this latter Donald, and asserts that Donald the son of David
of Broynach and Donald 'the sailor' were the same person.  The set of issue
outlined by Roland ST CLAIR is almost identical to that given by my
gg-grandfather David for his ancestor Donald 'the sailor', except for a
younger daughter - and it may be simply a case of name alternatives there.

Wick parish records support my David's version of the children to Donald.

I know that there were other claimants after the title.  It is possible that
Roland St Clair's data came via David et al's affidavits etc or similar,
because Roland St Clair certainly lists Henderson as one of his sources.
The various versions of the "true" heirs to the earldom at the time I assume
depended on whose barrow was being pushed.

I learned from a Sinclair relative that one of my mother's old aunts used to
tell a story that we were descended from the Earls of Caithness, and that it
was an impoverished earldom, but I don't know that later rellies placed much
credence in this story.  A couple of years ago the old newspaper clipping
came to light and suddenly our genealogy research has become a lot more

Whether or not my gg-grandfather David had a legitimate claim to the title
is another ball game,  and I am content merely to accept that he was
descended from the earls, whatever the status of his claim to the earldom.
The Broynach's missed out on the title in the 1760s because they could not
prove a legitimate heir male , and were passed over in favour of Rattar.
Presumably my gg-grandfather David's feelings that his ancestors were
diddled out of the title stems from what happened in the 1760s.  By the
1890s my gg-grandfather was not even able to state for sure the connection
between Donald 'the sailor' and David of Broynach; all he knew was that
there was a connection.

He married 1846 Catherine SINCLAIR, daughter of Peter SINCLAIR, a blacksmith
at Forss.  There is a gravestone in St Mary's Chapel on the coast at Forss
for a Peter SINCLAIR, blacksmith of Forss.   In his affidavit David states
that Peter was the son of William SINCLAIR of Freswick, but so far I have
not been able to find evidence to support this assertion.  HENDERSON does
not list a Peter born to the relevant William SINCLAIR of Freswick and I
haven't seen one in parish records.  The Freswick SINCLAIRs were descended
from the Earls of Caithness.

David & Catherine SINCLAIR had a couple of children at Bilbster in Wick
parish, including my great grandfather Peter SINCLAIR, and then went to
Victoria, Australia where they had 5 further issue.  David did well for
himself farming first at Barrabool near Geelong and then the Bellarine
peninsula.  He reared cattle.  David's brothers Alexander (no issue), John
(issue), and James (no issue) also went to Victoria.

Three of David & Catherine SINCLAIR's issue went to New Zealand, two of whom
have descendants, which is why I am a kiwi.  Of the issue who stayed in
Victoria, only one had issue, Isabella who married John Allen.

Regards to all

Peter Sinclair DILLON
South Island
New Zealand

David SINCLAIR of Broynach
Donald SINCLAIR the sailor
John SINCLAIR=Barbara CORMACK  (parents Alexander CORMACK & Isobel CALDER)
David SINCLAIR=Catherine SINCLAIR (parents Peter SINCLAIR & Catherine
Peter Sinclair DILLON
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