Lanrick Castle gatehouse
Lanrick Castle Gatehouse – the approach Alexander Campbell would have seen when he visited Sir John Macgregor Murray.


I was invited to read a paper at a seminar in Paris, at the Sorbonne, at the end of May 2019. It built upon work I did on Sir John Macgregor Murray (also known as Sir John Murray Macgregor) for my PhD. The French social scientists were researching his involvement in commissioning Persian treatises about various aspects of the Indian way of life, in connection with his work as an official in the army of the East India Company. My input, by contrast, would be about his contribution to the documentation of Gaelic culture.

Towards the end of July, I was invited to give a modified version of my talk to Clan Gregor members, as the after dinner speaker at the annual clan gathering in Killin (in the Scottish Highlands). I subsequently saved my slideshow here:

The Name

The confusing name arises from the fact that use of the clan names was proscribed by King James VI after April 1603 – and that means they were forbidden to use those names and had to use others. In 1772, a couple of years before Sir John became Chief of Clan Gregor, the proscription was lifted, and he called himself John Macgregor Murray. When, in 1822, Sir John’s son Evan became Clan Chieftain and founded the Clan Gregor Society, he sought royal licence to reverse the order of the names, since it didn’t seem appropriate to have a chieftain with a different surname to his clansmen!

Different sources refer to him as Sir John Murray, Sir John Macgregor Murray, or Sir John Murray Macgregor (with or without a hyphen). Although people now refers to their ancestor as Sir John Macgregor, I’ve tended to use  the form used in 1815 by song-collector Alexander Campbell, who sought advice from Sir John about his route and whom to consult. Campbell referred to him as Sir John Macgregor Murray, the correct version at that particular time.


My remit was to talk about Sir John in connection with his support of Highland music and Campbell’s song-collecting, and to set him in context along with other people assuming a similar role. I made a chronology to help myself get everything straight. (It is also posted on the Claimed from Stationers’ Hall Facebook page):-

1603 Proscription by James VI of the name of Macgregor
1745 some say Sir John was born the year of 2nd Jacobite Rebellion, but clan historians say it was actually in the 1730s.
[1769] Family historian Amelia Georgiana Murray Macgregor noted that prior to 1770, John Macgregor Murray wrote a memoir on the MacGregors and MacAlpins, and he also provided genealogical information to Sir Robert Douglas in 1769.
1770 joined East India Company. Eventually Auditor-General of Bengal.
1772 Act of Proscription repealed.
1774 Now a Major, Sir John married Anne Macleod, ten years his junior.
1775 Elected Chief of Clan Gregor.
1776 Buys Lanrick Castle, which becomes the new Clan seat
1783 (October) writes to Highland Society of London from Calcutta in connection with funding a Gaelic edition of Ossian.
1784 founder member of Highland Society of Scotland … which received its first royal charter in 1787.
1784 returned Joseph Macdonald’s bagpipe manual manuscript, A Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe (now Edinburgh University Library MS La.III.804) to Joseph’s brother Patrick. If you’re interested, you can pause here to watch the very briefest of brief animations explaining how this is just one instance of Sir John’s involvement in mediating Gaelic culture.
1785 January, son Evan Macgregor Murray born. As an adult, would become Governor of Dominica and the Windward Islands. (Cf Clan Macfarlane genealogy website
1786 Sir John now a Colonel, and Commissary-General (National Archives ref to correspondence)
As a Colonel, Sir John donated 50 shillings a year for clan seats in Edinburgh’s Gaelic Chapel. (cf C W J Withers, Gaelic in Scotland 1698-1981, published John Donald, 1984)
1790 is now Military Auditor-General (National Archives ref to correspondence)
1793 still referred to as a Colonel in National Archives.
1797 National Archives ref to correspondence bidding him farewell (leaving India?) 
1797 Sir Evan’s portrait painted by Sir Henry Raeburn.
1798 National Archives ref to correspondence where he wishes to remain in UK.
1800 Leyden, on a Highland tour, met Sir John …
1815 July and October welcomed song-collector Alexander Campbell to his home. Campbell dedicated a song to him, in his published collection, Albyn’s Anthology.
1815 July, Sir John to judge piping competition in Edinburgh after breakfast with Campbell.
1816 Highland Society of London included the red and black Macgregor tartan in its collection, verified by Sir John. (Now erroneously called Rob Roy, according to the current Clan Chief, Sir Malcolm Macgregor.) The Macgregor red and green tartan is also in this collection, but may only go back to circa 1800.
1816 – Alexander Campbell publishes vol.1 of Albyn’s Anthology, including MacGregors Gathering, with words by Sir Walter Scott
1817 Sir Walter Scott published Rob Roy, one of the Waverley novels – Rob Roy was a very distant relative of Sir John.
1818 son Evan seriously injured in India during the surrender of Fort Talneir. Cf Clan Macfarlane genealogy.
1818 Alexander Campbell publishes vol.2 of Albyn’s Anthology, including MacGregor of Ruaru – and a song dedicated to Sir John, set to the tune, The Highland Watch.
1819 Sir Walter Scott published 3rd instalment of Tales of my Landlord: The Bride of Lammermoor, and A Legend of Montrose. Sir John reportedly disagreed with Scott’s version of Macgregor history in the Montrose story, though I note that his own fact-finding precedes the date of Scott’s publication. (cf Amelia Georgiana Murray Macgregor of Macgregor’s clan history of 1898, History of the Clan Gregor, from public records and private collections. Online via Internet Archive)
1822 died in July. Mausoleum is at Balquhidder near Stirling.
1822 August, his son Evan Macgregor Murray involved with King George IV’s Jaunt to Edinburgh (organized by Sir Walter Scott), as Commander of the Macgregor guard of honour, wearing the red and green tartan. Got royal licence to reverse names to Murray Macgregor. (cf Clan Macfarlane genealogy.)
1822 Clan Gregor Society founded.

Facebook link:-

Posted by Claimed From Stationers Hall: Early Legal Deposit Music on Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Lanrick Castle
Lanrick Castle (now demolished), seat of Clan Gregor

Audio-visual Media

Sir John’s Home

You can catch a glimpse of the Lanrick Estate on this YouTube video, even though the estate has not belonged to Sir John’s family for a very long time:-

Whilst I was putting together a summary of my slideshow after the Clan Gregor event in July, I just happened to find an evocative video about Lanrick Castle, shared here:

Sir John’s Employer – the East India Company

I was curious about John Macgregor Murray’s role in the East India Company, and I found this YouTube video by “Brandon F” which at least explained what the Private Army of the East India Company actually was. It doesn’t mention our hero – it’s just an overview – but it’s quite informative from this point of view.

(Brandon’s Facebook page informs us that he’s “an independent historical educator with an interest in 18th and 19th Century social and military history”)

Some useful musical resources

As listed above, Joseph MacDonald’s A Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe, c.1760, is now in Edinburgh University Library and available online via Alt Pibroch Club – Musical Materials. Sir John was merely the envoy, but it was a highly significant document to have rescued and restored to Scotland.

Meanwhile, Alexander Campbell’s Albyn’s Anthology appeared in two volumes in 1816 and 1818. The first volume is available online at IMSLP. Albyn’s Anthology features prominently in my own monograph, Our Ancient National Airs (Routledge, 2013).
And some more loosely-related musical resources


I now have a puzzle, having come across a tune that Niel Gow named for Sir John – ‘Sir John Mcgregor Murray in the Celtic Chair’! I have a link to the transcribed melody, and I’ve now seen the original piece, bassline and all. (Sadly, it’s not a collection that we digitised for the Bass Culture project at …) The sixth collection was published by Nathaniel Gow in 1822 (the year that Sir John died, as it happens), but it’s ascribed to “Niel Gow”. Nathaniel wasn’t always very honest, so there’s the chance that he wrote it himself. Alternatively, it could have been by Niel Gow Junr., his son, although I personally feel that it is stylistically a bit early to have been by Junior. Niel Gow Junr. died young, and Nathaniel published some of his tunes posthumously, but they are a wee bit more modern than this ‘Sir John McGregor [sic] in the Celtic Chair’.

Hear it here:-

Now then, the famous Niel Gow (senior) died in 1807 – around the time when Sir John was trying unsuccessfully to get a Celtic chair (professorship) established for Edinburgh University. And this raises an interesting, if trivial question – whichever Gow composed it, were they alluding to the professorial chair, or literally a piece of furniture …?!

And there’s one more tune to share. Nothing to do with Sir John, to be honest – he was home by the time this tune was published – a country dance tune, The East India Volunteers’ Country Dance (published 1800):-

East India Volunteers Country Dance for the year 1800

Soundfile: East India Volunteers