artwork
Portrait of Lady Emily Gordon Cathcart, dated 1876 by unknown artist

Lady Emily Eliza Steele Gordon Cathcart (1845–1932) was a wealthy heiress who played a leading role in the Highland Clearances. A controversial figure, she inherited swathes of land on the Scottish mainland as well as some Scottish Islands together with a large fortune from her first husband. She perpetuated the harsh regime adopted by his father, Colonel John GordonDaubed as "The richest commoner in Scotland", Colonel John Gordon owned estates on mainland Scotland and purchased several Scottish islandsDaubed as "The richest commoner in Scotland", Colonel John Gordon owned estates on mainland Scotland and purchased several Scottish islands, of evicting tenants and crofters, advocating emigration.

Vehemently against Catholicism, her attempts to enforce emigration were considered a means to eradicate Catholics from her lands.

Personal life


Baptised Emily Eliza Steele, her parents were John Robert Pringle and his wife, Hester Ellen McNeill.[a]The pair were married on 2 August 1844 in Madras Cathedral.[1] The couple were living in India, where Emily, their only daughter, was born in 1845, as her father was in the Madras civil service although she was brought up in Roxburghshire.[2][3]

Emily married Captain John Gordon, who was twenty-five years her senior,[2] on 19 December 1865 in Edinburgh.[3] The natural son of Colonel John GordonDaubed as "The richest commoner in Scotland", Colonel John Gordon owned estates on mainland Scotland and purchased several Scottish islandsDaubed as "The richest commoner in Scotland", Colonel John Gordon owned estates on mainland Scotland and purchased several Scottish islands “the richest commoner in the northern kingdom”[4] he had inherited his father’s extensive assets, valued at £2–3 million in 1858, on the lower estimate equivalent to about £200 million as at 2019.[b]Using the retail price index.[5] The estate included Cluny CastleCluny Castle was originally built in about 1604 as a Z-plan castle replacing either a house or small peel tower. Sited in the parish of Cluny, it is south of Monymusk and north of Sauchen in Aberdeenshire, north-east Scotland. , North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra.[6]

When Captain Gordon died without legitimate issue in 1878, Emily inherited the estates. Her second husband was Sir Reginald Archibald Edward Cathcart (1838–1916) whom she married on 5 December 1880 at St George’s Hanover Square, London.[3][7] He was the sixth baronet of Cathcart, succeeding to the title in 1878. The Cathcart family seat was Killochan Castle near Girvan in Ayrshire, but the couple lived mainly in Titness Park, Sunninghill, Berkshire.[6][8][9]

Highland clearances


Lady Cathcart never lived in the highlands and is thought to have visited only once.[10] Known for her stance against Catholicism, she played a leading role in the Highland Clearances as she continued the clearances initiated by her father-in-law.[11] She held shares in the Canadian Pacific Railway[7] and, like her contemporary the folklorist and author Jessie SaxbyJessie Margaret Saxby was an author and folklorist from Unst, one of the Shetland Islands of Scotland. She also had political interests and was a suffragette. , encouraged immigration to Canada;[12] many crofters on Cathcart lands were re-settled to the North West territories of Regina and Wapella.[7] She took ten Vatersay crofters to court in 1908 after they refused to vacate their cottages. They were sentenced to serve two months imprisonment but released two weeks early.[13]

In 1891 Lady Cathcart commissioned Old Tom Morris to design a golf course at Askernish on South Uist. She included a clause in the crofters tenancy agreements retaining the right to allow golf to be played on the land.[14]

Death and legacy


She died on 8 August 1932 at Margate in Kent.[15] Her will included instructions that a Long Island, United States emigration fund should be set up, but the trustees were fearful of possible repercussions, so it never materialised.[7]

Notes[+]

Citations



Bibliography


Bulloch, J. M. (1911). The Gordons of Cluny from the Early Years of the Eighteenth Century Down to the Present Time.
Buxton, B. (2008). The Vatersay Raiders. Birlinn.
Gilchrist, J. (2008, July 3). Land and freedom. The Scotsman.
Harper, M. (2006). Enigmas in Hebridean Emigration: Crofter Colonists in Western Canada. In P. Buckner & R. Douglas Francis (Eds.), Canada and the British World: Culture, Migration, and Identity. UBC Press.
Harper, M. (2018). Gordon Cathcart, Emily Eliza Steele, Lady. In E. Ewan, R. J. Pipes, J. Rendall, & S. Reynolds (Eds.), The new biographical dictionary of Scottish women (p. 166). Edinburgh University Press.
MeasuringWorth. (2020). Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1270 to Present. https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ukcompare/
Owen, D. (2009, June 28). The missing links. The Observer. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2009/jun/28/south-uist-golf-course
Simmonds, P. L. (Ed.). (1844). Births, Deaths and marriages. Simmonds’s Colonial Magazine and Foreign Miscellany, III, 502.
Staff writer. (1858, July 23). The richest commoner in Scotland. The Times.
Staff writer. (1932, August 9). Death of Lady Emily Cathcart. Nottingham Evening Post, 5.
Szasz, F. M. (2000). Scots in the North American west, 1790-1917. University of Oklahoma Press.
Unattributed. (1923). Parishes: Sunninghill. In P. H. Ditchfield & W. Page (Eds.), A History of the County of Berkshire (Vol. 3, pp. 134–136). http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/berks/vol3/pp134-136
University of Aberdeen. (2021). Gordon of Cluny: the working life of an Aberdeenshire Castle. https://www.abdn.ac.uk/special-collections/gordon-of-cluny-the-working-life-of-an-aberdeenshire-castle-440.php