Saturday, 30 November 2013

(90) Allan of Aros House, Mull

Captain Sandy Allen (1780-1854), the son of the Fairlie House estate carpenter and a first cousin of the poet, Robert Burns, was apprenticed as a shoemaker after his father died young.  He completed his apprenticeship but by 1800 had moved to Saltcoats on the Ayrshire coast and gone to sea with the merchant navy.  He quickly rose to the command of a vessel and within a few years was part-owner of several ships.  In 1819 he founded his own shipping company, later the Allan Line, specialising in the busy transatlantic trade between Scotland and Canada, and playing a major role in the transport of Scottish families to new lives in Canada and the USA.  The 1970s television series, The Onedin Line, was loosely based on the story of the family and its transatlantic steamships.

Allan Line poster from c.1900

All five of his sons joined the business in turn, and when he retired in 1839 it was his second son, Hugh Allan, responsible for the Canadian end of the shipping business, who emerged as the leading figure.  Hugh (1810-82), who also developed extensive banking and commercial interests in Canada, was later knighted and when he died was thought to be one of the richest men in the world, with an estimated personal fortune of between £8m and £12m.  He lived at a grand mansion called Ravenscrag in Montreal's Golden Square Mile, which was designed by John Hopkins and Victor Roy and built in 1860-63.

Ravenscrag, Montreal, Canada.  Image:

Bryce Allan (1814-74), the middle one of Captain Alexander Allan's five sons, was at first one of the firm's sea captains, but in 1853 he moved to Liverpool to manage the company's office there.  In 1874 he bought Aros House near Tobermory on Mull, presumably with the idea of retiring there, but he died only a couple of months later.  His son, Alexander Allan (1844-1927) quickly sold up his business interests and became a full-time laird at Aros House.  Within a couple of generations, however, the family had exhausted its capital and Alastair Hugh Allan (1902-82) sold the house and later the estate in the 1950s.  The house was sold to a house-breaker who stripped the fixtures and fittings, and the Forestry Commission, which acquired the house and estate in 1959, decided that nothing could be done with the house and decided to demolish it.  As it was so solidly built, the Army was invited to blow it up as a training exercise in 1962.  More happily, the grounds were opened to the public as a park, but over the years became heavily overgrown with rhodedendron ponticum, and a radical programme of clearance and replanting has been taking place in recent years.

Aros House (formerly Drumfin House), Mull, Argyllshire

Aros (Drumfin) House as first built by William Burn for Col. Maclean.  Image: Mull Museum

A Tudor Gothic house of dressed granite, begun by William Burn in 1825 for Lt-Col. Hugh Maclean of Coll as a winter residence, but never completed to the planned designs because Maclean ran out of money.  

Aros House, showing the new front and tower built by J.M. Wardrop in 1875; from an old postcard

In 1875 Alexander Allan employed J.M. Wardrop to extend the house and add the prominent tower at the south angle.  The house was sold in 1952 to a house-breaker who stripped the fixtures and fittings for sale, and in 1959 the Forestry Commission bought the house and estate.  The house was then uninhabitable and becoming unsafe, so in 1962 it was blown up by the army as an exercise.  The grounds were landscaped by the Allan family from c.1876 onwards and were opened to the public by the Forestry Commission in 1969.

Descent: British Fisheries Society sold 1821 to Lt-Col. Hugh Maclean (1782-1861); sold 1846 to David Nairn of Drumkilbo; sold 1850 to Alexander Crawford of Edinburgh; sold 1856 after his death to Capt. Farquhar Campbell; sold 1874 to Bryce Allan (1814-74), who was already the tenant; to son, Alexander Allan (1844-1927); to son, Bryce Allan (1874-?); to son, Alastair Hugh Allan (1902-82), who sold 1952 to Forestry Commission.

Allan family of Aros House, Mull

Alexander Allan 1780-1854
Allan, Capt. Alexander (Sandy) (1780-1854), of Saltcoats (Ayrshire).  Son of James Allan (1755-92), estate carpenter at Fairlie House and his wife Jean Brown (1750-1821), born 5 March 1780. He was a first cousin on his mother's side of the poet, Robert Burns, whose family also worked on the Fairlie estate.  Apprenticed as a shoemaker, but in 1800 moved to Saltcoats and went to sea.  He became a captain very quickly and within a few years was part-owner of several vessels; established the Allan Line in 1819, trading between Scotland and Montreal in Canada, and by the 1830s the firm had offices in Glasgow, Liverpool and Montreal and was one of the largest firms in the transatlantic trade; retired 1839. In later life he was an active temperance campaigner.  He married, 1806, Jean Crawford (1782-1856) and had issue:
(1) James Allan (1808-80); captain in the Allan Line and later manager of the company's affairs in Glasgow; Chairman of the Clyde Pilot Board and Clyde Lighthouse Trust; married and had issue four sons and four daughters; died 25 August 1880;
(2) Sir Hugh Allan (1810-82), KCMG, of Ravenscrag, Montreal (Canada), born 29 September 1810; chairman of Allan Line; shipping magnate, banker and capitalist based largely in Canada; married, 13 August 1844, Matilda Caroline (1828-81), daughter of John Smith of Athelstane Hall, Montreal (Canada) and had issue four sons and seven daughters; knighted 1871; died in Edinburgh, 9 December 1882; buried in Montreal; reckoned as one of the wealthiest men in the world at his death (estimates vary between £8m and £12m);
(3) Bryce Allan (1812/14-74) (q.v.)
(4) Andrew Allan (1822-1901), born 1 December 1822; chairman of Allan Line after his brother Hugh died; shipping magnate, banker and enterpreneur based largely in Canada; chairman of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, Montreal, 1872-1901; master of Montreal Hunt in 1870s; president of Montreal Sailors Institute, 1862-1901; married, 1848, Isabella Ann, daughter of John Smith of Athelstane Hall, Montreal (Canada) and had issue five sons and three daughters; died 27 June 1901 in Montreal;
(5) Alexander Allan (1825-92) of Blackwood House, Kirkmuirhill; joined his brother James in the Glasgow office; married, 1 June 1854, Jane, daughter of Robert Smith of Glasgow, merchant, and had issue; died 2 April 1892.
He died 18 March 1854, aged 74 and was buried in Glasgow Old Churchyard, where there is a granite mausoleum to his memory.  His widow died 14 December 1856.

Allan, Bryce (1812/14-74), of Liverpool.  Third son of Capt. Alexander Allan (1780-1854) of Saltcoats (Ayrshire) and his wife Jean Crawford (1782-1856), born 21 November 1812 (or by some accounts 1814).  His father was a sea captain who established the Allan Line, which played a major role in moving people and goods between Scotland and Canada throughout the 19th century. Bryce was the third of five sons who enable the business to expand rapidly in the early 19th century. He worked first as a ship's captain and from 1853 as manager of the firm's Liverpool office; his elder brother, Sir Hugh Allan, succeeded his father as head of the firm and managed the Canadian end of the business.  Bryce married, 25 January 1844, Janet, daughter of George Blair of Greenock and had issue:
(1) Alexander Allan (1844-1927) (q.v.).
He purchased Aros House shortly before his death in 1874.
He died in Liverpool, 24 May 1874; his will was proved 17 August 1874 (estate under £250,000).

Allan, Alexander (1844-1927) of Aros House.  Only son of Bryce Allan (1812/14-74) and his wife Janet, daughter of George Blair of Greenock, born 4 November 1844.  JP and DL for Argyllshire; Sheriff of Argyllshire.  He married, 18 September 1866, Julia Elizabeth (d. 1926), daughter of Alexander M'Ewan of Sunderland, Islay and had issue:
(1) Bryce Allan (1874-1942) (q.v.);
(2) Sheila Elizabeth Allan (1880-1971), born 23 November 1880; married, 20 June 1916 at Muree, Punjab (Pakistan), Edward Francis Sykes (1872-1948) and had issue one son and one daughter; died at Tobermory (Scotland), 1971.
He inherited Aros House from his father in 1874.
He died 15 December 1927. His wife died 6 November 1926.

Allan, Col. Bryce (1874-1942) OBE of Aros House.  Only son of Alexander Allan (1844-1927) and his wife Julia Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander M'Ewan of Sunderland, Islay, born 2 June 1874.  Educated at Fettes College, Harrow and St. John's College, Oxford (BA).  Served in Royal Artillery and was later Col. commanding 13th (Highland) Light Brigade, 1926-30; served in WW1 (mentioned in despatches, Croix de Guerre).  JP and DL for Argyllshire; member of Argyllshire County Council.  He married 1st, 14 February 1900 (later div.), Hilda Mary (d. 1967), daughter of James H. Allan of Shrawley Wood House (Worcs), and 2nd, 2 June 1928, Margaret Mary (d. 1964), daughter of Joseph William Melles of Gruline, Mull and widow of Capt. William George Keppel Gough, and had issue:
(1.1) Alastair Hugh Allan (1902-82) (q.v.)
He inherited Aros House from his father in 1927.
He died 3 June 1942.  His first wife died 1 August 1967; his widow died 23 October 1964.

Allan, Alastair Hugh (1902-82).  Only son of Col. Bryce Allan (1874-1942) and his first wife, Hilda Mary, daughter of James H. Allan of Shrawley Wood House (Worcs), born 18 January 1902.  Educated at Royal Naval College, Osborne, and Edinburgh Academy.  Served in merchant navy (certificate of competency as second mate, 1925); qualified as chartered accountant, 1934.  Served in WW2 as Lieutenant in RNVR.  He married, 7 July 1934, Anne, daughter of John Sutherland of Kirkcaldy (Fife) and had issue:
(1) Susan Mary Allan (b. 1936), born 27 April 1936; married, 26 April 1958, John Alexander Don Harrison, son of Alexander Harrison CBE of Edinburgh and had issue two sons;
(2) Margaret Doris Allan (b. 1939), born 14 March 1939; married Rev. Richard Gorrie of Glasgow;
(3) Jane Elizabeth Allan (b. 1941), born 3 December 1941; married 1st, 30 August 1968 (div. 1976), John Michael Griffiths-Jones, son of Charles William Griffiths-Jones of Cheltenham (Glos) and had issue a daughter; married 2nd, 1989, Ray Steadman of Burcombe (Wilts).
He inherited Aros House from his father in 1942, but sold the house in 1952 and the estate in 1959.
He died 7 January 1982.


Sir H.M. Colvin, A biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840, 4th edn, 2008, p. 189;;;

Location of archives

No significant group of archives is known to exist.

Coat of arms

Per bend indented ermine and gules, in chief a stag's head erased of the second, attired or, and in base a crescent argent, all within a bordure sable.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 30 November 2013 and was updated 4 April 2021.


  1. I have had the pleasure of owning Col. Bryce Allan's bespoke Mortimer Best Anson and Deeley shotgun. It was made to order for him at the age of 42 and is choked for the European woodcock that I believe may be part of the bird population on the Aros Estate and the rest of the island. It has been a pleasure to own and fits me perfectly. My first shots with it on game gave me a simultaneous flush double, or right and left as you say there. The original case and accessories are still with the gun and even the key. I read with interest the preservation of the park and the joy that it gives to many. Due to the unnecessarily strict firearms ownership laws now in the UK, the shotgun will probably remain here in the States so that it can be used as intended by Col Allan and the gunmaker.

  2. Allan, Alexander (1844-1927) of Aros House actually had two children, not just one as suggested by the text above: A son, Bryce and a daughter Sheila who married Edward Francis Sykes. She was my grand-mother

    1. Many thanks for the correction which I have incorporated above.


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