Alexander McLaren of Lephenstrath
For family tree see McLaren on Ancestry (subscription required)
Alexander McLaren (c.1805–70) was the son of Duncan McLaren (1769–1849). Duncan was from Killin (Perthshire) but moved to Greenock to work in the Customs Service. At the age of fifteen – that is, about 1820 – Alexander McLaren went to Demerara where he remained for about thirty-five years. According to his obituary [Argyllshire Herald, 7 May 1870] he later ‘got the management of the estates of Messrs Sandbach, Tiune & Co., Liverpool, Mr Rainy of Raasay, and other extensive planters’. His initial employment in Demerara may have been with the firm of Sandbach, Parker & Co and he was later in partnership with Peter Miller Watson (1805–69), who was an employee of the firm from 1822.
McLaren does not appear in the compensation records. On 26 January 1848 he purchased the sugar plantation La Bonne Intention, on the west coast of Demerara, buying it at execution sale for $30, 200 [Henry Dalton, History of British Guiana, 2 vols (Georgetown, 1855), ii, 543] and by 1860 he was the joint owner, with Peter Miller Watson, of Zeeburg [see http://sites.rootsweb.com/~nyggbs/Transcriptions/1860Plns_Villages_byPlnName.pdf]. He had returned to Scotland by 1855, purchased the estates of Lephenstrath (near Campbeltown) and Sunderland (Islay), continued to import sugar from Guyana, had business interests in both Greenock and Liverpool, and died leaving ‘a large family and a handsome fortune’ [Argyllshire Herald, 7 May 1870]. A later source also described him as a shipowner in Greenock [Greenock Telegraph, 22 Nov 1907].
McLaren’s ‘large family’ were [mostly?] the children of two free women of colour in Guyana, one called Fatima Pau or Martin. His eldest son, Peter Miller Watson McLaren (1837/8–72), was educated in Greenock and returned to Demerara to manage Zeeburg, where he died in 1872 [Glasgow Herald, 29 Feb 1872]. Donald Alexander McLaren (1838–92) became a ship’s captain and died in Liverpool; and Alexander Duff Mclaren (1846–1907) was a merchant in Greenock. His daughter Mary (1841– ) married a doctor in Liverpool and Annie (1849–1912) married a solicitor from Elgin and emigrated with him to Vancouver (British Columbia). Family photographs show that these descendants were visibly of African descent. His youngest Demerara-born child, Isabella (c.1854-1940), married James Smith, an engineer in Greenock.
All the children were cared for in Greenock by Jane Fairlie or Fairly, a lodging house keeper, and her sister Isabella - a widow who had been married to a man named McLaren and so was possibly a relation
Alexander McLaren probably bought the 1000–acre Lephenstrath estate near Campbeltown, with its mansion house, when it was offered for sale in 1855 [Glasgow Herald, 22 June 1855]. In May 1862 McLaren bought the Sunderland and Foreland Estate on Islay including Coull and Cladville on the Rhinns [see https://www.islay.blog/article.php/islay-inspired-book-will-launch-soon]. He was said to be ‘a liberal landlord, and much liked and respected by his tenantry’ [Argyllshire Herald, 7 May 1870]. The Cladville estate is still owned by a descendant of Alexander McLaren and Fatima Pau [see https://www.islay.blog/article.php/islay-inspired-book-will-launch-soon].