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Margaret Macpherson Grant

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Margaret Macpherson Grant
A photograph of Margaret Macpherson Grant, dressed in a white shirt and wearing a necklace around her neck
Margaret Gordon Macpherson

(1834-04-27)27 April 1834
Garbity, Aberlour parish, Banffshire, Scotland
Died14 April 1877(1877-04-14) (aged 42)
Other namesMargaret Gordon Macpherson Grant
Years active1854–1877
Known forFinancing St Margaret's Church, Aberlour and orphanage
FamilyClan Grant

Margaret Macpherson Grant (27 April 1834 – 14 April 1877) was a Scottish heiress and philanthropist. Born to a surgeon, she inherited a large fortune from her uncle, Alexander Grant, an Aberlour-born planter and merchant who had become rich in Jamaica. She lived unconventionally for a woman of her time, dressing in a manner that one newspaper called "manly" and entering into what was described as a form of marriage with a female companion. She donated generously to charitable enterprises, establishing an orphanage (now the Aberlour Child Care Trust) and founding St Margaret's Episcopal Church in Aberlour. She made a will that would have left her estate to her female companion. Her companion left her, to marry a man, and ten months later Macpherson Grant revoked the will. An alcoholic, she died five months after the revocation, shortly before her forty-third birthday. Her disinherited former companion sued, and the court case which followed determined that the bulk of her fortune should go to cousins, who were probably unknown to her.

Early life and family[edit]

Margaret Gordon Macpherson was born on 27 April 1834 in Garbity, Aberlour parish, Banffshire, to Annie (née Grant) and Alexander Macpherson.[1][2] Following their marriage on 30 April 1825,[3] her parents had their first child, Alexander Grant Macpherson three years later.[4] Her father was a local surgeon in Aberlour, Moray,[3][5] and her mother, despite being the daughter of a poor minister, was from the influential Grant family, and the marriage was considered to be beneath her station.[5][6] Margaret attended school in Hampstead, studying with Mary Ann Stodart, a writer and activist for women's education. Alexander Jr travelled to India, where he died in 1852, leaving Macpherson as the only surviving child.[1]

Macpherson's uncle on her mother's side was Alexander Grant. Originally from Drumfurrich Farm in Aberlour parish,[7] he had travelled to Jamaica, where he amassed a considerable fortune as a planter and merchant. He was a slave owner, and a member of the Jamaican legislature. It is not certain when he returned to Britain, but it is thought that he was in London by the 1820s.[1][2] He visited Aberlour in 1829 to attend to the burial of his father, George Grant.[8] When slavery was abolished in 1833, Grant claimed compensation for the loss of his slaves as business assets of over £24,000 (worth approximately £2,200,000 in 2019 figures).[1] He commissioned the architect William Robertson to build Aberlour House for him, which was completed in 1838.[2] He also had plans to buy the farm on which he was born.[7] Aberlour House became his official residence,[2] although it is doubtful that he ever actually lived there.[9] He was still engaged in business in London, where he was known as a West Indies merchant, trading out of a property on Billiter Square.[2]

While in Jamaica, Alexander Grant and Marianne McKenzie had a son, Alexander Green Grant, in 1815, who was baptized in 1816 in Kingston, Jamaica. Green Grant attended Eton and was described in his father's will as his adopted son.[2] Rather than bequeath his vast wealth to Green Grant, his will left his estates in Scotland and Jamaica, valued at £300,000 (worth approximately £28,000,000 in 2019 figures)[Notes 1] to his niece, Margaret Gordon Macpherson.[1][2]

Adult life[edit]

A photograph of the north face of Aberlour House, with a flight of stone steps leading to the house in the foreground
Aberlour House, viewed from the north


When Alexander Grant died in 1854, his twenty-year-old niece inherited his fortune. She added the name Grant to her own name, and moved into Aberlour House.[2][10] She immediately started improving and extending the building, employing A & W Reid, the nephews of its original architect, who had continued his practice in Elgin after Robertson's death in 1841.[10][11] They added bay windows to some of the rooms, expanded the service quarters to make space for a new ball room, and built a porte-cochère at the principal entrance.[10] Macpherson Grant spent her time salmon fishing and travelling, leaving the management of her estates in Jamaica to her agents, Milne & Co in Elgin.[5][12] An enthusiastic supporter of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Macpherson Grant made a will leaving all of her wealth to the church.[5][13]

Life with Charlotte Temple[edit]

On a trip to London in 1864, Macpherson Grant became acquainted with Charlotte Temple, the twenty-two-year-old daughter of William Temple, a landowner and former High Sheriff of Wiltshire.[5][14][15] The pair became friends, and Temple visited Macpherson Grant in Aberlour later that year, staying until the spring of 1865 when she returned to her father's house in Wiltshire.[5][14] Some weeks after Temple had left, Macpherson Grant returned to London, and the pair renewed their friendship, with Macpherson Grant becoming acquainted with Temple's social circle. Macpherson Grant went on to ask Temple's parents to allow her to come to live with her at Aberlour permanently. Her parents were reluctant at first to accept the arrangement, but were eventually persuaded by Macpherson Grant's offer to make Temple her heir. Macpherson Grant went immediately to her solicitors in London, and drew up a new will, directing that her estate should not go to the Episcopal Church, as her previous instructions had dictated, but to her own children (should she have had any). Should she die without issue, Macpherson Grant left her estate to an elderly aunt named Margaret Gordon, and failing her to Temple.[13] She is then reported to have met Temple, waiting in a carriage outside the solicitor's office, and presented her with a pen, saying "Do you know what I have been doing? I have been making you my heir, and here is the pen I did it with; keep it!"[5][13]

Macpherson Grant and Temple returned to live in Aberlour House, spending their time in field sports and stock raising. Newspapers carried stories of their shooting expeditions and livestock entries into agricultural shows.[1] Macpherson Grant promoted and supported various charitable causes, especially those involving the church.[1][5] Their life together was described as being much like a marriage: Macpherson Grant placed a ring upon the ring finger of Temple's left hand, and Temple referred to herself as 'wifie' in letters to Macpherson Grant. This lifestyle was unusual for the time, and was described as "remarkable tomfoolery" in the local press.[5][16] Newspapers of the time also commented on her "strong-minded nature" and described her as "very masculine in appearance and manly in dress".[5] However, the scale of her wealth, and of her charitable donations, allowed her to be accepted into society.[1][5]

Macpherson Grant drank heavily during the late 1860s. Temple encouraged her to stop, and tried to prevent her drinking causing public scandal. She went through periods of abstinence only to relapse. Her father also tried to convince her to reduce her intake, and she temporarily stopped drinking when he moved into Aberlour House in 1870, but relapsed again after he died in April 1871.[1][5] After his death, and as her aunt Margaret Gordon had died in 1866, Macpherson Grant thought it necessary to reorganise her affairs. On 31 May 1872, she had her London solicitors prepare a new will, leaving her estate to her own children (again, if she had had any at the time of her death); if she had no children, her estate went to Temple and Temple's heirs. Her Scottish solicitors warned her that they were unconvinced that this English document would satisfy the requirements of Scots law. Macpherson Grant, distressed by the prospect that her will might be contested, instructed her various solicitors to communicate with each other and come to an arrangement that would put the matter beyond question. On 8 March 1873, Gibson-Craig & Co produced another will, leaving the whole of her estate in trust, with a provision that Temple inherit or should be paid a legacy of £20,000 in the event that any children of Macpherson Grant should contest the settlement. She also gave instructions that her inheritor should become the bearer of the name and arms of Grant of Aberlour.[6]


Macpherson Grant continued to fund the Episcopal Church for various enterprises. She provided the organ for Inverness Cathedral, built in 1866 by the architect Alexander Ross,[1][2] and in 1874 convinced Canon Charles Jupp to come to Aberlour to act as her personal chaplain with the promise to build an orphanage with a church and school. The orphanage was founded in 1875, under Jupp's administration. It initially operated out of a cottage until new buildings were completed.[17] Alexander Ross was engaged to design the orphanage and its chapel, later known as St Margaret's Church, and work on these started in 1875.[18]

Temple's marriage[edit]

Also around this time, Captain Harry Farr Yeatman, a retired commander of the Royal Navy,[19] visited Aberlour. It is not clear exactly when he arrived, but in August 1875 there was a report in the London Standard about his success in shooting on Macpherson Grant's land. By the following December, he had become engaged to be married to Charlotte Temple. Macpherson Grant's response to this betrothal was mixed: at times, she seemed positive, and offered to host the wedding at Aberlour House; but she also showed distress at the prospect of Temple leaving her.[5] On 11 December 1875, shortly after the engagement was announced, a fire broke out at Aberlour House, the cause of which is unknown, and from which Macpherson Grant had to be rescued.[5][9][12] She became increasingly confused – sometimes believing she had rescued her servant from the blaze, while at other times she thought she had sustained a head injury.[12]

On 8 February 1876 Yeatman and Temple were married at St Peter's Church, Eaton Square in London.[20] Shortly before the marriage, Temple had written to Simon Keir, a partner of Macpherson Grant's agents at Milne & Co., directing that his accounting of sales no longer be sent to Macpherson Grant directly, but rather to Macpherson Grant's Edinburgh solicitor, Mr Falconer. Dissatisfied with this new arrangement, and with what he saw as Temple's interfering in his affairs, Keir drew up a deed of revocation, that would cancel Macpherson Grant's existing wills. In November 1876 he visited Aberlour, and Macpherson Grant signed the deed, thereby revoking any claim that Temple, now Mrs Yeatman, had on her estate.[12] By this time, with Temple gone, Macpherson Grant was depressed, mentally unstable and drinking heavily. She died on 14 April 1877, after suffering a partial paralysis. Her death occurred before the completion of the orphanage and church and two weeks prior to her forty-third birthday.[5][14] She was interred in the Aberlour church yard in a burial aisle she had previously erected for her parents.[21]


Since she had signed the deed of revocation, but had not written a new will, Macpherson Grant died intestate.[5][22] Her trustee, Mr Falconer, determined that cousins on her father's side of the family, the Proctors, should inherit her estate.[6] A court case ensued at the Second Division of the Court of Session, wherein the Yeatmans' solicitor, Mr Fraser, argued that Macpherson Grant had been coerced by Keir into signing the deed of revocation, because he was aware of her declining health, and that the estate should go to Mrs Yeatman as previously agreed.[23] They further argued that it was highly improbable that Macpherson Grant would have wanted it to go to the Proctors, whom she had most probably never met, especially since they were related on her father's side while the fortune had originally been amassed by her uncle on her mother's side, who had never thought well of her father.[24] After Fraser made his initial statement, counsels for both parties retired to discuss the case in private. Following more than an hour of negotiation, they returned to court, and the lord advocate presiding in the case announced that they had agreed on terms.[12] The estate was to pass to the Proctors, and Yeatman was to receive a settlement of £10,000 (worth approximately £1,100,000 in 2019 figures).[25] She was also entitled to receive a gold watch that she had gifted to Macpherson Grant, and a diamond brooch that had belonged to her, the value of which was to be deducted from the settlement.[26] The press noted at the time that the closure of the case denied the public "the full revelation of a curious, an interesting, and instructive romance".[25]

Later events[edit]

A photograph of St Margaret's Church, surrounded by trees, with a grass field in the foreground
St Margaret's Church, founded by Macpherson Grant

The Yeatmans relocated to Dorset, and had a son, also called Harry Farr Yeatman, who was killed in 1917, aged 37, in the First World War.[15] He is commemorated by a memorial at St Barnabas Church in Sturminster Newton in Dorset.[27]

James William Grant of Wester Elchies, another member of the Grant family, purchased the old ruin of the Aberlour church from the other legatees, after it burned in 1861.[28] His son William (1809–1877)[29][30] paid for the continued construction of the orphanage's chapel, St Margaret's Church, which was completed by 23 November 1879.[31] The church was extended and improved in the following decades. Designated a Category B listed building in 1976 and upgraded to Category A in 1987, it continues to be used as an active place of worship.[32]

William Grant died in 1877,[30][33] leaving a legacy of £8,000 (worth approximately £800,000 in 2019 figures) to cover the cost of completing the orphanage.[17] After expansion, it became the second largest children's home in Scotland,[34] continuing to operate until 1967. The building has now been demolished, with only the clocktower remaining in a memorial garden near the church.[17][35] The charity that managed the orphanage continues to operate as the Aberlour Child Care Trust.[17][31]

The Proctors were unable to afford the expense of maintaining the estate, and sold it to John Ritchie Findlay, a partner of The Scotsman newspaper. Findlay expanded his land holdings in the area and was known as a benevolent landlord who worked to better the living conditions of his tenant farmers.[36] He died at the estate in 1898.[37] Aberlour House remained in the Findlay family's possession in the decades that followed, and was requisitioned for military use during the Second World War. In 1947, it was sold to be used as a school, which was simply known as Aberlour House.[38] The school operated out of the house until 2004, when it was absorbed into the Gordonstoun campus; the building was purchased by Walkers Shortbread and extensively renovated in order to be used as their head office.[39]

Notes, citations and sources[edit]


  1. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017)."The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 23 September 2019.