Select Hepburn Surname Genealogy

The surname Hepburn is thought to have come from Hebron or Hebburn, small villages in Northumberland in the north of England.  But it could alternatively have a Scottish origin, meaning something like the "house beside the water" as burn is a widely used Scots word to mean river.

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Scotland.  The main Hepburn branch in Scotland originated in East Lothian. 

Adam Hepburn was said to have been granted land there in 1343 for having saved the Earl of March from a horse that had lost control.  These Hepburns became one of the great barons of Scotland.  Patrick Hepburn was Lord of Hailes in 1451 and his grandson Patrick Lord High Admiral of Scotland in 1488 and ennobled as the Earl of Bothwell.  But the family is probably best remembered for James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell who married Mary Queen of Scots and then fled to the Continent with blood on his hands. 

There were also Hepburn families in East Lothian at Waughton, Beanston and Athelstaneford, and branches at Keith and Smeaton.  Smeaton Hall stayed with the Hepburn family until 1934.  Today, Robin Hepburn runs his Waughton financial communications company in London.

Hepburns were as well at Fowlis Wester in Perthshire and, increasingly in the 19th century, in and around Aberdeen and Glasgow.  One family in Biggar traces itself back to John Hepburn, a veteran of the battle of Waterloo and the town jailer in Lanark.  Charles Hepburn co-founded the Hepburn and Ross whisky firm in Glasgow in 1920.  The business made him exceedingly rich and he became a noted art collector and benefactor in the town.  

England.  The spelling in Durham was sometimes Hebron.  Not all Hepburns were well-to-do.  Thomas Hepburn was a Durham miner who tried to unionize his colliery in the 1830's, but with little success.  One Hepburn line in the East End of London dates from the 18th century.  Another Hepburn line starts with a docker on the Clyde who moved there in the late 19th century.

Ireland.  There were also Hepburns in Ireland who had moved there from Scotland in the 1700's.  A Donegal family started out in Raphoe as masons.

America.  Some Scots Hepburns migrated to America.  Samuel Hepburn, a Covenanter, decamped to Ireland and then followed his sons to America in 1773.  He suffered the loss of his wife and a daughter on the voyage:

"The vessel, the Faithful Steward on which they sailed, was lost somewhere on the American coast and mother and daughter were drowned while trying to get ashore on a small boat."

The family settled along the Susquehanna river in Northumberland, Pennsylvania.  Samuel himself died there in 1797 at the grand old age of 97.  Son James was a prominent merchant in Northumberland.  James Curtis Hepburn, a Presbyterian missionary to Japan, was a later descendant.  The family line was covered in John Meginness's 1894 book The Hepburn Family of the Susquehanna Valley.

An earlier arrival was James Hepborn from Scotland, transported to Maryland in 1655.  His descendants were small farmers in Kent county on Maryland's eastern shore for many generations.  The Rev. Sewell Hepburn changed the family name from Hepborn to Hepburn in 1879.  From this line came the actress Katharine Hepburn.

Other Hepburn lines can be found in Canada and the Bahamas.

Australia.   Robert Hepburn of the Royal Navy was a pioneer settler on the east coast of Tasmania, arriving with his wife and eight children in the early 1830's.  He set up a whaling station on Great Oyster Bay.  His Swanwick homestead was in Swansea. 

Another naval captain, John Hepburn, came to Hobart in 1835 and then moved onto Victoria.  He too was a pioneer of the country, being the first European settler in the Daylesford region of Victoria.  He named his homestead Smeaton House after the Smeaton back home in Scotland.  Also settling in Victoria were two Hepburn brothers, Donald and Angus, who arrived from Inverness in 1851.

Select Hepburn Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Sir John Hepburn
from Athelstaneford was a distinguished soldier for Sweden and France in their wars in the early 17th century.
Katharine Hepburn was a celebrated American actress. 
Audrey Hepburn, another celebrated actress, took her Hepburn name from her maternal grandmother, Kathleen Hepburn. 

Select Hepburns Today
  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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