Clan MacTavish

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Clan MacTavish
MacTamhais, MacTavish, McTavish, Mactavish, MacTavis, M‘Tavish, Thomas, Thompson
Clan member crest badge - Clan MacTavish.svg
Crest: boar’s head erased or langued gules" encircled by a strap and buckle (belt) bearing the motto "NON OBLITUS".
Pipe music"MacTavish Is Here"
MacTavish of Dunardry arms.jpg
Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry
Chief of the Name and Arms of MacTavish, the 27th Hereditary Chief from an unbroken line
Historic seatCastle of Dunardry

Clan MacTavish is an Ancient Highland Scottish clan.



It is commonly held that Clan MacTavish descends from Tàmhas (Taus/Tavis Coir), son of Colin Mael Maith and a daughter of Suibhne Ruadh (Sween the Red of Castle Sween).[5] Nothing certain is known of Taus Coir other than he is listed in traditional genealogies.[6] The 17th century genealogy Ane Accompt of the Genealogie of the Campbells, traces Colin Mael Maith back to the mythological King Arthur. Furthermore, this record references Colin Mael Maith having one legitimate son and two illegitimate sons. The Accompt states the legitimate son as "Gillespic" (Gilleasbaig) or "Archibald", ancestor of Clan Campbell; and the two illegitimate sons are Tàmhas Ceàrr ("Taius Coir") and Iomhar ("Iver"), ancestors of the MacTavishes and Clan MacIver.

According to Alastair Campbell of Airds, a more probable candidate for the ancestor of the clan, rather than the possibly mythological Tàmhas Ceàrr ("Taus Coir"), is the historical Sir Thomas Cambel.[7] Earlier in the 1970s, W. D. H. Sellar was also of the same opinion about Thomas.[8] In 1292 his name is recorded on a list of landowners in the sheriffdom of Kintyre. In 1296 he signed the Ragman Roll as 'Thomas Cambel among king's tenants in Perthshire'. The next year he was released from his imprisonment in the Tower of London. In 1308 he signed his name on a letter to the King of France. He was possibly dead by 1324, when his probable son, Duncan, was granted lands in Argyl for services rendered. In 1355, Duncan is listed as among 'the Barons of Argyll' at an inquest in Inverleckan, under the name of "Duncanus MacThamais".[9]

The chiefly line of MacTavishes are styled 'MacTavish of Dunardry' (the Gaelic Dùn Àrd-Rìgh means "fort or castle of the High King"). It is unknown who built the castle of Dunardry, or even when it was built. The castle is marked on a 1634 Timothy Pont map. By 1686 it must have been in the possession of the Earls of Argyll. It was renovated in 1704 by Duncan MacTavish, and according to the 19th-century historian G.D. Mathews, it was owned by the MacTavishes.[6] Today little of it exists as it was torn down to make way for the Crinan Canal venture, which also changed the size, shape and water level of Loch a' Bharain.[9][10]

17th century and Civil War[edit]

Dougal MacTavish who was a younger son of John MacTavish, 12th chief of Clan MacTavish, who in turn were a sept of the Clan Campbell, was killed during the Battle of Stirling (1648).[11] The chief of Clan MacTavish having lost most of his arms in the battle (sword and musket), the Marquess of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell, provided him with new weapons.[11]

18th century and Jacobite uprisings[edit]

In 1715 the Jacobite cause saw its first failed attempt to place the Stuarts back on the throne of Scotland and England. During this time Chief Archibald MacTavish was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause but took no action to support either the Government or the Jacobites.

Due to the fact that Dugald, the Younger, was imprisoned in September 1745 and that the Chief (Archibald) was quite elderly, during the 1745 Jacobite Rising, some of the MacTavishes fought within the ranks of their neighbor, MacIntosh.

On 16 April 1746 at the Battle of Culloden, the Jacobite army was defeated by a much larger force of the British government army (5000 fighting for Prince Charles and 9000 fighting for the government). On that day, the Jacobite army of Prince Charles lost the battle, and the fate of the Jacobite cause was sealed.

Highland Clearances[edit]

Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath of Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland in his capacity as commander of the expedition to finally put down the up-till-then unbeaten rebels ordered no quarter to be given to any Highlanders in the vicinity, although seeing as there were in fact Highlanders in other areas who had supported his cause, some even going so far as to fight for the Hanoverian King far to the north in Sutherland at the Battle of Littleferry, perhaps it would be wise to surmise that what in fact resulted from this order, no matter what the wording might have been was the pacification of the rebel clans, not all Highlanders, albeit using methods which were considered extreme in their indiscriminate brutality even at the time. With the eventual pardon of most former Jacobites in the decades after Culloden, there occurred a co-option of the Highland chiefs into the British aristocracy regardless of their alignment in dynastic politics before Culloden. However, many Highland nobles in their efforts to emulate what were widely seen as the successes of enclosure, proto-industrialisation and the new, improved methods of agriculture of the Scottish Agricultural Revolution, applied these capitalist reforms in an uncaring, even callous manner. Indeed, it would be fair to say that in many cases, upon hiring lawyers, Church of Scotland ministers, businessmen and other comparatively educated men as factors, Highland chiefs treated their clansmen very badly, often evicting them from the land they had farmed for generations and settling them on small plots of often poorly drained land or with thin, stony soil to make way for vast ranches full of new, superior breeds of sheep and cattle. The ranches themselves were generally let out to Lowland incomers who were familiar with the new techniques of selective breeding being developed at the time in Lowland and English farming. The factors were often educated economic advocates of economic and social reform full of new Scottish Enlightenment-inspired ideas for profit and improvement but lacking in sympathy for the poor, backward Highlanders. As a result of their advice and assistance to the landowner in his efforts to evict his tenants they were generally awarded generously, often partly in land.

Thus the clansmen and their families were forced to adopt the crofting system of agriculture, a form of subsistence farming. They were also put to work in various new industries by the landowners - the specific industry varied depending on the estate and area of the Highlands. For example, Highlanders were encouraged or forced to work in the kelp-harvest for use in the chemical industry or were employed as weavers in the burgeoning cottage industries of tweed and linen production or for example to take up fishing in part due to the bounty system then in place courtesy of the British government. In the case of Bonawe an iron furnace and associated local mining of haematite and production of charcoal were even established with help from an English company. All of these innovations in industry and the division of labour came at a great cost to many ordinary Highlanders in their involuntary transition from clansmen to crofters and industrial proletariat and in fact sometimes landowners forced their tenants off the estate altogether. As a result, due to industrialisation in the then fast-growing cities and towns of the Central Belt and England and the consequent proliferation of paid employment there, many people left the Highlands to seek new lives in the industrial towns and cities. Increasingly, however, enlistment in the army (see Highland regiments) and emigration to the British Empire and the United States became the main outlet for the Highlands' prime working age population. In the early part of this period, before chattel slavery took hold in the sugar and tobacco colonies, some were so desperate that they even sold themselves as indentured labourers to plantation owners in the British colonies in the West Indies or colonial America. Gathering pace through the 19th century, in particular with the post-Napoleonic Wars economic depression, this period has become known as the Highland Clearances. Most of the processes involved were actively encouraged by successive British governments as an opportunity to integrate the historically lawless frontier region of the Highlands into the British political and economic system, while simultaneously Highlanders increasingly came to be seen as loyal British subjects and therefore prime candidates to be settlers of British colonies and thus Highland depopulation was harnessed to shore up the British Empire. At the time it was seen as the easiest solution to alleviate the poverty and overpopulation of parts of the Highlands. To their credit the MacTavish chiefs and their successors, still seated in Dunardarie with their clansmen, did not succumb to the pressures of the day and were not involved in the "clearing" of their own kin, and no MacTavishes were put off the lands.

After Culloden, a few of the MacTavish started to use the Thom(p)son spelling. The Chiefly line of MacTavish, however, retained the name MacTavish and remained seated at Dunardry. Parish registers and family groups of gravestones in Argyll express the transition of the name from MacTavish to Thomson or Thompson.

Sale of Dunardry[edit]

Dugald's son and heir, Lachlan MacTavish, succeeded his father in 1775. On 5 November 1785, the Estate of Dunardry was advertised for sale by public auction in December[12] after Lachlan had fallen into financial trouble, partly due to judgement debts against him. At least two decisions by the Court of Session in Edinburgh arose from his father’s lead role in failing to account for, and to properly execute, the estate of Duncan Campbell of Kilduskland who had died in 1766.[13] A "considerable sum" (£400 Sterling plus interest) was due to Elizabeth MacDonald of Largie,[14] Kilduskland’s niece, and £2,000 including interest to Ronald Campbell, Kilduskland’s nephew, by 1780.[15] Lachlan’s portion of these two debts alone amounted to four times the annual income from the Dunardry lands (£392) as stated in the advertisement of 1785.[16] Lachlan, his wife and son Dugald, who was three years old, moved to Edinburgh where Lachlan was installed as Governor of Taxes for the Crown, living at St. James' Court.

In 1797, three years after work was started on the Crinan Canal, which subsequently divided the estate, Dunardry was purchased by Simon McTavish of Montreal, from Stratherrick, Invernesshire. Simon McTavish was born of the Garthbeg branch of the family and at this time was probably the richest man in Canada. Some Stratherrick McTavishes were considered a sept of Clan Fraser.[17] Lachlan's son John George McTavish soon became a fur trader with the North West Company under Simon's patronage.

20th century[edit]

Back in the 18th century Lachlan's son, Dugald, under age in 1796, did not register the MacTavish arms; and as a grown man, with his duties as the Sheriff Substitute of Kintyre he obviously did not feel inclined to do so, as he was, already, legally known as MacTavish of Dunardry. He died without having re-registered the Arms. Unfortunately, this carried on with his son William MacTavish who had moved to the "wilds" of Canada. William also declined to register the Arms. It is nominally suggested by Lord Lyon that at least every other generation re-register the Chiefly Arms, to avoid dormancy of the Clan. As a result of William not matriculating for the arms, the Chiefly line was "lost" until 1949, when the Lord Lyon, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, contacted the MacTavish family in Canada, advising them that they were the long-lost Chiefly line, inviting them to petition for the Arms and Chiefship of the Clan.


Clan MacTavish modern red tartan, as published in 1906 in W & A K Johnston's "Tartans of the Clans & Septs of Scotland".

Clan MacTavish experienced a dormancy of 200 years when Lachlan MacTavish was the last Chief to register at that time. The dormancy ended in 1997 when Edward Stewart Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry matriculated. His son, Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry is the current Chief of Clan MacTavish.

William's great grandson, Edward Stewart Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, was matriculated by the Court of the Lord Lyon 23 July 1997 and granted the Arms and Title of Chief of the Clan MacTavish of Dunardry, and was the 26th Chief of the Clan in an unbroken line. He died on 19 June 2005 at his home in Vancouver, BC. He is succeeded by his son and heir, the 27th Chief, Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

Clan profile[edit]


The current chief of Clan MacTavish is Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, Chief of the Name and Arms of MacTavish.[18] He is the 27th Hereditary Chief of Clan MacTavish from an unbroken line. He assumed leadership of the clan upon the death of his father, Edward Stewart Dugald MacTavish, the 26th Chief.[19]

Origin of the name[edit]

The clan name MacTavish is an Anglicised form of the Gaelic Mac Tamhais, which translates to Thomson or Thom(p)son in English.[20] This name is a patronymic form of the Scots personal name Tammas, which in turn is a form of the name Thomas.

The Gaelic name Mac Tamhais is pronounced similarly to 'MacTavis' or 'MacTavish' (the "mh" in Gaelic pronounced as the "v" in the English word "very"). In old charters, the name had many variant spellings. Some spellings found within old charters, post-Culloden parish registers, and in The Commons Argyll appear as MacAvis, MacCamis, McCawis,McKavis, McKnavis, M'Ash, MacAnish, mcTais, MacTavifh and mcThavish, to give but a few. It seems that from near the end of 17th century, the spellings, MacTavish and/or Thom(p)son or Thomas were the most common. Variations in surname spelling within one document are often seen for the same person.[21]

Clan Symbols[edit]

The crest badge suitable for members of Clan MacTavish contains the crest and motto of the clan chief. The crest is blazoned a boar's head erased or langued proper.[22] The motto is NON OBLITUS,[23] which translates from Latin as "not forgetful".[24] The MacTavish family name was wrongfully claimed by Clan Campbell, during the 200-year period where the chiefly line was "lost", until 1997 when the "Chief of the Clan MacTavish" was recognized by the Lord Lyon. The motto is a response to the Campbell chief's NE OBLIVISCARIS (which translates from Latin as "do not forget").[24] The phrase "Clan MacTavish", the crest badge and the Chief's coat of arms have all been trademarked in both Canada and the United States. The serial numbers for the existing trademarks are: Clan MacTavish 78847088 Crest Badge 78847258 Coat of Arms 78849931

Chiefly Arms[edit]

In 1793, John Hooke-Campbell Lord Lyon King of Arms granted the following coat of arms to Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry: Quarterly, 1st and 4th a Gyronny of eight Sable and Or; 2nd and 3rd, Argent, a buck's head cabossed Gules attired Or on a chief engrailed Azure a cross crosslet fitchèe between two mullets Or. Crest a boar's head erased Or langued Gules. Motto: NON OBLITUS. The arms display in the first and fourth quarters the gyronny prominent in Campbell heraldry reversed for difference. The second and third quarters are a differenced version of the arms of Thompson of that Ilk.[25]

In 2002 the Lord Lyon King of Arms re-granted Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry arms with certain amendments. Lord Lyon switched the Campbell gyronny from the first and fourth quarters to the second and third quarters. The new arms are blazoned Quarterly, 1st and 4th, Argent, a Buck's Head cabossed Gules attired Or on a Chief engrailed Azure a cross crosslet fitchèe between two mullets of the First; 2nd and 3rd, Gyronny of eight Sable and Or. Above the Shield is placed a Helm befitting his degree with a Mantling Azure doubled Argent, and on a Wreath of the Liveries is set for Crest a boar's head erased Or langued Proper, and in an Escrol over the same this Motto "NON OBLITUS".[22]

The phrase "Clan MacTavish", the crest badge and the Chief's coat of arms have all been trademarked in both Canada and the United States. The serial numbers for the existing trademarks are: Clan MacTavish 78847088 Crest Badge 78847258 Coat of Arms 78849931


Names, variant names, and septs for Clan MacTavish include Cash, MacCash, MacCavish, MacLehose, MacSteaphain, MacTavish, MacThom, MacThomas, Stephen(son), Steven(son), Tais, Taws, Taweson, Thom, Thomas, Thomason, Thompson, Thomson, Tod(d) and all variant spellings.[26][27][28][29]


  1. ^ "Clan MacTavish Official Website". Retrieved 17 October 2012.
  2. ^ "Clan MacTavish Connected Names or Septs". Official Clan MacTavish Seannachie Pages. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  3. ^ Thompson, Patrick, Official Clan MacTavish Seanachie. "Examining the Origins of the 'Sons of Thomas', 'Sons of Steven' and the 'Foxes or Todds' of Argyll, and elsewhere" (pdf). Retrieved 19 November 2015.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Thompson, Patrick, Official Clan MacTavish Seanachie. "The Clan MacTavish Surname Origin and Variant Spellings" (pdf). Retrieved 19 November 2015.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ "The Bloodline of the MacTavish Chiefs" (pdf). Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  6. ^ a b Mathews, G.D. Adams, Patricia (ed.). "Argylshire" (pdf). Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  7. ^ Campbell of Airds, Alastair (2000). A History of Clan Campbell; Volume 1, From Origins To The Battle Of Flodden. Edinburgh University Press. p. 46. ISBN 1-902930-17-7.
  8. ^ "The Origins of the Campbells". Clan Campbell Society North America. Retrieved 14 April 2009.
  9. ^ a b Campbell of Airds, Alastair (2000). A History of Clan Campbell; Volume 1, From Origins To The Battle Of Flodden. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 243–244. ISBN 1-902930-17-7.
  10. ^ The West of Scotland Archaeology Service Report WoSAS Site ID: 4164
  11. ^ a b Thompson, Patrick. L (2012). History of Clan MacTavish (PDF). p. 14. Quoting: "In 1845 the Chief of Clan MacTavish, Sheriff Dugald MACTAVISH of Dunardry wrote "twenty one generations from father to son without an instance of collateral or female succession" National Library and Archives of Canada: Hargrave-MacTavish Papers, Letter by Sheriff Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, dated Kilchrist, 18 Feb. 1845.
  12. ^ Edinburgh Evening Courant, 5 November 1785, advertisement of sale on 7 December 1785
  13. ^ National Archives of Scotland, CS230.MC.3.3.1 MacDonald of Largie v Campbell & MacTavish British Library, BLL01015832985, Answers by MacDonald of Largie
  14. ^ Argyll & Bute Archives, MacTavish of Dunardry papers, letter from Charles MacDonald to Lachlan MacTavish, 2 May 1777
  15. ^ National Archives of Scotland, CS237.C.5.2.A. 1780
  16. ^ The Edinburgh Evening Courant, 5 November 1785
  17. ^ Alexander Mackenzie. 1896. History of the Frasers of Lovat, with Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name, to which is added those of Dunballoch and Phopachy, Inverness: A. and W. Mackenzie, printed by The "Scottish Highlander" Office, pp. 697-699.
  18. ^ Clan Chiefs
  19. ^ burkes peerage
  20. ^ "McTavish Name Meaning and History". Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  21. ^ "Names Found in Anglicized Irish Documents".
  22. ^ a b "Clan MacTavish Press Release, New Arms For MacTavish Chief". Retrieved 17 January 2009.
  23. ^ "Chief or Representative - The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs". Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  24. ^ a b Campbell of Airds, Alastair (2000). A History of Clan Campbell; Volume 1, From Origins To The Battle Of Flodden. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 246–247. ISBN 1-902930-17-7.
  25. ^ Campbell of Airds, Alastair (2004). A History of Clan Campbell; Volume 3, From The Restoration To The Present Day. Edinburgh University Press. p. 394. ISBN 0-7486-1790-6.
  26. ^ Surnames of Scotland; by Professor George Black, 1866–1948, 12th Printing, 1999.
  27. ^ The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands; by Frank Adams, 7th Edition revised by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord Lyon King of Arms
  28. ^ "Clan MacTavish Family Names – Septs". Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  29. ^ Patrick Thompson; Clan MacTavish Seanachie. "Clan MacTavish Connected Names or Septs". Retrieved 13 May 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Thompson, Patrick (2012). History Of Clan MacTavish. LCCN 2012942086.

External links[edit]