Select Chisholm Miscellany

Here are some Chisholm stories and accounts over the years:

Chisholm Origins

The name is formed from the Norman “chese” which meant “to choose,” and “holm” which is a Saxon word that meant “meadow.”

According to one account, the kingdom of Gododdin was taken by the Northumbrian English in the 7th century and was then taken in turn by the Normans three hundred years later.  The early Chisholms came across the North Sea and the lands they claimed in Roxburghshire became a feudal barony. 

The name of Alexander de Cheschelme appears on a charter from 1249, and the Ragman Roll of 1296, listing the supporters of England’s Edward I mentions Richard de Cheschelme and John de Cheshome.  The seal used by the family shows a boar’s head which represented the traditional story of two Chisholm brothers who saved a king from a wild boar. 

The Chisholms and the Macraes

The Macraes had for a considerable period a stranglehold on the Chisholm lands.  Maurice Macrae was said to have loaned substantial sums of money to the Chisholm and received in return grazing land in Glen Affric. 

Maurice was said to have met his death through his own generosity.  Having met up with some Chisholms on the way home from a business trip to Inverness, Maurice took a drink with them at The Struy Inn.  He never returned to Kintail and was later found drowned in the River Glass.

The Chisholms were strongly suspected of the disposal of Maurice, but nothing could be proved.  Soon afterwards, a party of Macraes arrived in Strathglass to take back Maurice's body.  While passing Clachan Comer with his body, they noticed the burial taking place of one of the prominent Chisholms.  The Macraes stepped into the sacred burial ground amidst the Chisholm funeral party and seized the gravestone that was about to be laid.  It was said that they did this in order to try to provoke a fight so that they might then have the opportunity to avenge Maurice's murder. 

Legend has it that the challenge was not accepted.  The Macraes carried the stone block away all the way back to Kintail and placed it on Maurice's grave. 

The Strathglass Clearances

In 1801, William, the 24th Chisholm, began the clearances in Strathglass.  In the period of one year, half of the clan were evicted.  Many left for Canada and Nova Scotia.

After William's death, his son was still a minor; but his wife Elizabeth continued with the evictions for one sole purpose - to pay for her son's (the future 25th Chisholm) education at Cambridge. 

Bishop Chisholm had pleaded with her to end the evictions:

"Oh! Madam, you would really feel if you only heard the pangs and saw the oozing tears by which I am surrounded in this once happy but now devastated valley of Strathglass, looking out all anxiously for a home without forsaking their dear valley; but it will not do, they must emigrate!"

She promised the tenants, who had gone to her for help, to come up with a solution.  But she never did.  Two sheep farmers, Thomas Gillespie and William MacKenzie, had convinced her that she should continue with the “improvements” to her land.

The evictions continued with the Cambridge educated son, Alexander.  He followed in his parents’ footsteps and totally depopulated Strathglass.  It was said that only one Chisholm remained.  Bard and poet in the old Gael tradition, Donald Chisholm, wrote these words:

"Our chief is losing his kin! He prefers sheep in the glens, and his young men away in the camp of the army!"

A man of the time described Alexander as wanting nothing so much as to replace all his people, "his family from the beginning of time," with sheep. And, unfortunately, it was true.

Chisholms on the Nova

The first vessel with Chisholm emigrants from the Highland clearances was the Nova, which arrived at Pictouin Nova Scotia in 1801.  One of the 500 passengers on board that vessel, Margaret Chisholm, lived for another seventy years.  She recalled in later life the horrors of the voyage:

"At starting nothing could be heard but for the laughing and the frolic of the children. One by one their bodies were consigned to the angry deep. The laughter and frolic and crying were hushed and the hearts of the mothers were filled with anguish.”

Smallpox had broken out on the ship and sixty five children died during the crossing

Robert Chisolm at Home in the Sea Islands

Robert Chisolm's town house was in Beaufort in South Carolina, looking out on the Beaufort river.  There are still to be found some ancient camellia plants which Robert had brought there in the years before the Civil War.  Most of the streets are covered with fine sand, deadening noise.   Mockingbirds can be seen in the middle of the streets, dusting themselves, swishing their tails and flying off only if the driver of the car or cart insists on passing. 

The most striking characteristic of the town is the great number of large white houses with deep verandas. Many have enormous pillars, fine fanlights, and decorative detail in the localities where money and labor were available.  They are made of wood with tabby understructures that were once used as service quarters.

Robert cultivated on Chisolm's Island.  This island, at the head of St. Helena Sound, is bounded on one side by the Coosawriver and lies near the outfall of another river, the Combabee.  In 1830 he set out an olive orchard on 1.3 acres.  The trees survived the freeze of 1835 (although the orange trees were killed to the roots).  Robert Chisolm made a success of the venture and shipped out olives up to the time of the Civil War.  The trees were then cut down by Federal soldiers for fuel.  


The Scots can be nostalgic.  The name Gledswood is said to have come from a Scottish property on the Tweed river, just below Sir Walter Scott's favorite view of the river, to which James Chisholm was also partial.

James Chisholm, an early settler in Australia, had accumulated vast sheep-rearing lands in the Goulburn district, 200 kilometers south of Sydney.  He acquired the Gledswood property in 1816.  Convict labor was used to build the Coach House, which was completed in 1829.

Gledswood has historical significance for its association with the early development of Australia’s wine industry. James Chisholm junior had planted a vineyard in 1830 and in 1847 vinedressers from Germany were imported to work it.  The convict-built cellar under the homestead was capable of holding 20,000 bottles of wine.

The house still stands as a prime example of early colonial architecture.  It is said to be haunted by the ghost of Polly Chisholm who was found dead in a dam on the property in the 1890’s.  She is still “seen” in the dining room of Caves House.


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