Who was Sir William Dunbar of Durn?

Sir William Dunbar was created a baronet on 29th January 1698, and William Dunbar the Jacobite was the third baronet of that creation. He joined Lord Pitsligo in Aberdeen in September 1745 and, with him there went from Banffshire; Arthur Gordon of Carnousie; Andrew Hay of Rannes; James Gordon of Glastirem; and “Abernethy, brother of Mayen”.

They joined the Prince at Holyrood on 9th October 1745. Sir William declined a commission and served as a Volunteer throughout the campaign. When some of Prince Charles’ troops plundered Cullen House on 8th April 1746, the Duke of Cumberland withdrew his protection of the house of Durn in retaliation, which in turn suffered considerably. Lady Dunbar, as well as her husband, was - at that time - with the Jacobite army.

After Culloden, he was in hiding in the neighbourhood of the estate for a considerable time and evaded capture. His name appears on the Bill of Attainder in May 1746, and again in the list of those especially exempt from pardon in the Act of Indemnity in 1747. In Edinburgh in October 1748, a true bill was found against him in his absence. On 5th November 1748, Lord Findlater wrote to the Duke of Cumberland on William’s behalf:

“He is certainly a very weak, foolish man, and I can say nothing for him but that he is quite incapable to do good or hurt to any party. Your Grace, however, will not be surprised at my being anxiously concerned for the preservation of the family when I have acquainted you that my Mother was a daughter of it. The family was always firm and zealous for the Protestant and Revolution interest, until the late Sir James Dunbar, father to this man, had the misfortune to marry a Jacobite wife, who introduced nonjuring Ministers among them. Notwithstanding my near connection, I do in the sincerest manner assure your Grace that I would not say a single word on this subject, if I were not fully convinced that the public interest cannot possibly receive any hurt from His Majesty extending his mercy to this foolish, silly man, providing it be made a condition of his pardon that his children, who are all young, shall be educated in principles of strict fidelity to His Majesty. The just respect I have for the memory of my Mother and of her ancestors would indeed make me take this act of clemency as an extraordinary favour. Would your Grace, therefore, be so good as to lay this my humble and earnest request before His Majesty.”

The Jacobite wife referred to was Margaret, daughter of Sir James Baird of Auchmeddon. This petition must have been successful, for Sir William Dunbar returned to pass the remaining years of his life at Durn.

The present House of Durn, in Portsoy, is not that in which Sir William lived, as the old house and gateway were demolished about 1770. Sir William died in Banff on 28th January 1786. Durn is now part of the Seafield Estates.