The Mingary Castle restoration blog was written by Jon Haylett, who lives in the local village of Kilchoan. Now that restoration is almost complete Holly and Chris Bull will take over to report on bringing the Castle back to life.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Memoir of Life at Mingary

We are very grateful to Don Sheppard for allowing the Trust to reproduce the following.  It is part of a document which describes the life of his great-great grandmother, Margaret Riddell Moore, nee MacDougall, 1806 – 1896, who lived the first twelve years of her life at Mingary Castle.  The document is held in the Charlottetown Archives.
Margaret was the youngest of the children of the family of Elizabeth and Alexander MacDougall. She was born in Mingary Caastle in 1806, and lived there with her parents until her twelfth year, and she remembered the family life very well.

Sketch by MacGibbon & Ross, 1889.
Mingary was a rambling old castle of the first period of Scottish castellated architecture, inside a fortified wall surrounded by a moat and the sea. The life there was interesting for a large family. They had their mounts and rode as soon as they could walk. They were early trained in boating and the management of sailing craft, and they were as much at home on the water as on the land. There was also work to do in the way of study. The girls had a governess and the boys a tutor, besides dancing masters and music teachers, piano and singing. They all sang.

When the children had their meals in the main dining hall they were seated at a side table, where they were supposed to remain until the meal was ended. John once ventured to disobey, and stole up behind his father's chair thinking he would not be observed. The father looked over to the children's table, and missing John pretended he was lost, and made a great 'to do' about John being lost; when a frightened voice said, “I am here, Sir.”

Another thing the children might not do was visit the kitchens, which were in another building, because the servants spoke Gaelic, and the parents wished the children to speak English until later, when the use of Gaelic would not influence their English accent.

Margaret when quite small found herself standing by a fire on which something was moving; she had never seen water boil before. Just then her father appeared! She was reprimanded for being in the kitchen.

It was 'infra dignitatem' at that period to eat an egg from the shell at the dining table; to do so, one must go to the sideboard where the eggs were ready, and eat it there. One guest was allowed to infringe this rule, and that was Elizabeth's uncle, Sir James Riddell of Mount Riddell, Falkirk. Margaret was called after his mother, Margaret Riddell.

Daniell & Ayton, 1814-25
There were many dangers for the children in that historic spot, and it speaks well for their nurses and attendants that they never seem to have fallen down precipices or into the sea. From the postern door, a bridge and a railing kept them from falling down a deep precipice to the right, and on the left, a rail kept them from falling into the moat, which was dry in times of peace. It must have been a wonderful place to play; but it was probably too deep to allow them to use it.

From the seaward door they could easily fall down a flight of steps into the sea. The door, it is true, was guarded by a 'yett' – an iron door with openwork bars of steel. This was made for defence purposes and not to keep the children prisoner. To have kept ten children safely must have been a problem.

Margaret's mother had a sufficient supply of linen to do her during her housekeeping days, and also enough for her children during theirs, and Margaret handed some of her share on to her children.

The finest of 'damask' was used and made on the Estate, from the finest handkerchiefs of cambric to heavy sheeting, mattress and pillow covers, sail cloth, etc. Margaret remembers seeing the weavers spread it to bleach on the beach. Some of the table linen made on the Estate was extant in 1916; it was in a checkered pattern and shone like silk. Cotton was not in vogue, linen was used instead.

Margaret remembered great fields of wool drying in the sun, which the shepherds had sheared off the sheep. This was manufactured by the spinners and weavers for family use. The head of each department had a cottage on the Estate in which to live. There were the shepherds, the cowherds, the calfherd, the farmer, etc. The family never had fewer than seven house servants, but usually twenty sat down in the servant's hall to their meals. All that are left of the cottages is the farmer's. In it is preserved the last remaining leaded diamond-paned window from the castle.

When Alexander, Margaret's father, decided in 1819 to cross the ocean, he chartered three vessels to transport his family and goods. Alexander commanded the leading vessel, while his sons followed, in command of the other two. Alexander, the father, reached Miragimish first, and when the sons arrived he had planned to occupy 2,000 acres of unbroken forest, but the sons would not think of such a place and they went on. After viewing several places, they settled on Platt River, Prince Edward Island.

When the family left Scotland for overseas, Margaret and John, the two youngest, remained at school in Fort William. Margaret's cousin, the school headmistress, was Miss Chisholm. Margaret never forgot the look on her mother's face when she parted from her.

For two years they remained at school in Scotland, and then their mother returned for them. On arriving, she went first to her sister's who surprised her by having Margaret and John hidden behind a curtain in a window embrasure. After deploring that the children were yet so far away, she had them appear before her. Margaret was now grown into a beautiful girl, and John quite a man.

When they reached the Platt River in 1823, they found the members of their family settled in various parts of the Maritimes.


  1. Interesting read! I am from Nova Scotia (Canada) and there are a number of correspondence items in the public archives relating to this family. Information about the collection can be found at:

  2. Many thanks, Greg - I'll follow that up. Jon Haylett