William Maclean – the early years
William Maclean lived and worked in the Ross-shire village of Maryburgh for the majority of his life. He was brought up in the Maryburgh house of his Uncle William, a millwright, by his paternal grandmother, Catherine Maclean. She was regarded as his mother by friends and neighbours and must have been an important figure in William’s early years.
There is some mystery surrounding William's birth. He consistently stated that he was born in Inverness and from the ages recorded in various Census, he would have been born in 1867. However there is no record of a William Maclean being born in Inverness or in neighbouring areas, in the 1860s. His death certificate, completedby his friend and neighbour, Richard Brodie records William's mother as 'Catherine Maclean' but his marriage certificate identifies his mother as 'Mary Stuart'. An illegitimate son, William was born to a Mary Stewart, an illiterate domestic servant, in Inverness, on the 22nd June 1867. One must conclude that William Maclean was born William Stewart (illegitimate).
The Macleans were a Dingwall family who had lived in the Burnside, a jumble of small rented cottages, many with sub-tenants, for several decades. The 1841 Census records the family of Hector and Catherine Maclean living with their son Kenneth and his wife Catherine and their children, William the future millwright, Isobel and Hector, William’s father, then a child of two years. Another daughter, Alexina, was born in 1846. In 1874 the surviving Macleans, that is Catherine, Hector, Alexina and young William, moved to Maryburgh when Uncle William bought a house and workshop in Hood Street.
William was educated at Maryburgh School, Dingwall Academy and Raining’s School, Inverness. Maryburgh School was a typical village school of the Highlands. The school year was closely related to the farming practices of the area in that the children were expected to provide field labour at key times like potato planting and potato lifting. At the same time there were high educational aspirations for those pupils who demonstrated their potential to better themselves. The teacher in charge, Alexander Mackenzie, had been a Major in the Seaforth Highlanders. In 1877, when William Maclean would have attended, the pupils were taught not only reading and writing but also literature including poetry, history and physical geography. Arithmetic with Euclid and Latin grammar was taught to a few of the brighter pupils like William, a class of three or four out of a school of over a hundred pupils. William received a thorough educational grounding which enabled him to go on to further studies.
The Rector of Dingwall Academy is credited with instilling in a very receptive William, a love of botany and geology but it was at Raining’s School, under Dr MacBain, that William developed his life-long love of books especially the Classics and his interest in ethnology and philology. Dr MacBain published widely in the proceedings of the Gaelic Society of Inverness and the Inverness Field Club. His first book was Celtic Mythology and Religion, which appeared in 1885. The work for which he is best known is the philological milestone An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language (1896). The Maclean family were Gaelic speakers and William was to rate Gaelic in importance with Latin and Greek.
It was during his time at Raining’s that William met Richard, the son of Mr J. Purse Brodie a merchant and Provost of Inverness. William and Richard became life-long friends and medical colleagues, brothers-in-law and even share a gravestone in Fodderty cemetery. It must have been an attraction of opposites for while William is described as well liked and respected by his peers, he was a serious, intellectual student with an incisive, logical mind. Richard Brodie was a tremendously charismatic character who was loved and remembered by all who came in contact with him.
Wiliam became a student at Edinburgh University Medical School in the late 1880s. The College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine has a long history as one of the best medical institutions in the world. In the nineteenth century there had been enormous advances in surgery, under great names such as Robert Liston, James Syme and Joseph Lister so that Edinburgh retained its place as one of the most prestigious medical schools. By 1880 the new Royal Infirmary had been built and the construction of new medical buildings adjacent to the Royal Infirmary were complete by 1884. Together they housed the Medical Faculty with proper facilities for teaching and scientific research as well as practical laboratories. William was to enjoy a first class opportunity to become a Doctor and Surgeon, qualifying as a Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery in 1892.
Dr Maclean returned to Ross-shire to take up a position with Dr Adam in Dingwall before becoming the General Practitioner for Fortrose with a surgery in what is now the Post Office. The 1890s were a good decade for the young doctor. His excellent qualifications and position gave him entry into the elegant Fortrose society.
Fortrose was singular location, a Royal burgh with Cathedral ruins and many large houses, its social life was dominated by county families like the Mackenzies of Flowerburn, the Fowlers of Raddery and the Davidsons of Tulloch who maintained town houses there. The Census records many Annuitants retiring to Fortrose, gentlemen of private means, such as Colonel William Bruce Raikes Hall, RA, with whom Dr Maclean excavated Caird's Cave. Colonel Hall rented a house in the Precincts to the value of £37-10-0d. (This house is now called ‘Viewmount’, High Street.)
It was at this time that William met the future Mrs Maclean, Louisa Fowler Grant. Louisa was the daughter of Peter Grant, Bank Agent and Provost of Fortrose and granddaughter of Sir Henry Fowler of Raddery. William and Louisa were married in the Royal British Hotel Edinburgh on the 22nd of May1899. William’s friend Richard Brodie married her younger sister, Margaret the previous year.
Dr Maclean was a man of wide academic interests, keen on geology, botany, history and archaeology as well as being an active sportsman, fishing, playing cricket, curling and particularly golf. He became a very successful member of the prestigious Fortrose and Rosemarkie Golf Club winning the championship title in 1895, 1897, 1907 and 1909 as well as setting the club standard for the course in 1896. His name is recorded on the Club Honours board which still hangs above the bar in the clubhouse. The Fortrose and Rosemarkie Golf Course on Chanonry point was a favourite with Prime Minister Asquith when he was staying with the Mackenzie-Gillanders at Highfield in the early 1900s and Andrew Carnegie is known to have sailed over from Skibo Castle for a round of golf there. As a champion golfer Dr Maclean would have been welcomed into these circles and he continued to be a member of the Club even after moving to Maryburgh in 1908.
Unfortunately by the early 1900s he began to have health problems. In 1903 Richard Brodie now Dr Brodie of Munlochy, stood in for Dr Maclean for six months to enable William and Louisa to take a health giving cruise down to South Africa. By 1907 Dr Maclean felt he no longer had the physical stamina to continue as the Fortrose GP and had to carefully reconsider his future.
Photo: William Maclean's grave, Fodderty Cemetry