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How Benmore was built by John Lamont of Benmore and Trinidad

History of the Benmore Gardens - North of Dunoon, Cowal Peninsula, Argyll, Scotland, UK

This article was based on an article on the Lamont website

 Benmore House at Benmore Gardens
Benmore House at Benmore Gardens

Glen Massan Entrance of Benmore Gardens
Glen Massan Entrance of Benmore Gardens with initials of Mr Duncan

Giant Sequoia Trees at Benmore Gardens
Giant Sequoia Trees at Benmore Gardens

Fountain at Benmore Gardens
Fountain at Benmore Gardens

Quite a number of people wonder how modern Benmore Gardens, located North of Dunoon in the Cowal Peninsula, began. It was once part of Loch Eck forest. There was a house here many years ago, and the old name for the place was “Innasraugh” – The sheltered valley of the fleece.

The present name comes from the high mountain, which we call Ben More today. If you stand on the summit and view the valley of Coir-an-T far below, you look down into a natural bowl very suitable for grazing sheep. Even now this grazing land occupies the space between the hill itself and the plantation of trees growing below – “The sheltered valley of the fleece.”

Fletchers, Fergusons, Ewings, Napiers, Lamonts, Duncans and Youngers have all carved their names on the history of Bemore, but to find out how the present mansion house came into being we have to go back to the time of the Napoleonic wars.

In an old graveyard at Inverchaolain, at the head of Loch Striven, stands a memorial stone enclosed by an iron railing. This stone is rather unique for it bears the name of no fewer than fourteen sons of Mr. James Lamont of Knockdow, a famous Agriculturist in his time and one daughter. Most of these young men served their country in the war against Napoleon, and one at least was lost off Bologna during attacks on assembled French fleets.

But James Lamont had an older son, named John, whose memorial tablet is on the wall of Inverchaolain church. He was born to James Lamont Esq of Knockdow and Isabella Clark, daughter of Duncan Clark and Isobel Lamont of Gortonansaig. Gortonansaig is a farm close to the Knockdow mansion. The couple was not allowed to marry as Isabella Clark was of "inferior stock". The gravestones of Duncan Clark and Isobel Lamont as well as of his mother Isabella Clark can be found in an enclosure, just in front of Inverchaolain church, opposite the Lamont memorial.

John Lamont was probably raised by his maternal grandparents and mother at the farm of Gortonansaig, in view of the Knockdow Mansion, where his father and half brothers lived. Despite being the first born son, John had no birth rights to the Knockdow family heritage.

In 1801, he left for Trinidad, Britain’s newest colony at 19 years of age to find his way in the new world. After serving an apprenticeship as overseer/manager on the Eccles plantation, he soon sets up as a planter of his own. In 1809 he bought the estate of Cedar Grove in the south-west of the island. Over the years he buys the estates of Canaan, River & Palmiste and becomes a successful plantation owner.

For a while he seems to have fallen out of touch with his father's family. In 1816 he received a letter from his half brother, Alexander Lamont. This letter has been described as a truly fraternal letter to re-establish contact with long departed brother. The response from John was “I often felt I was alone in the world – a consequent degree of melancholy has been my constant attendant from youth upwards; but the frank generous manner in which so many estimably brothers correspond with me, has given me a new and much more pleasing party assembled at Kilmichael. How delighted I should be to make one of the numbers.”

By 1828 he had become a very wealthy man. In 1828 John was invited to pay a long deferred visit to his native Toward, to visit his ailing father who expressed a great longing to see him. His visit back to Scotland lasted from Oct 1828 until June 1829.

John came back to find out that out of the very large family of brothers’ only one, Alexander had a son, James. To his nephew he took a great liking, and resolved that the youth should re-build the family of Lamont as it had been prior to the toll of the war years. So he took the young Lamont to Trinidad for a holiday, and later told him of his hopes. James returned to Scotland in 1848, and the same year John Lamont engaged a firm of lawyers to look out for a suitable property for his nephew, so that he might set him up in a household of his own.

In 1849 John Lamont bought Benmore for £13,000, at a public sale, and a Mr. Baird a city architect, was engaged to build a new mansion on the site of the old building. The purchase included the forest of Benmore, Coir-an-T, and the lands of Cur, with woods, meadows and salmon fishing.

John Lamont returned to Scotland the same year to see how things were going, and having settled his nephew and arranged for him supervising the building, returned to Trinidad where he died in 1850. So he never really saw the mansion finished. After his death it was found that his wealth was much greater than had been surmised.

Now, of course, Robert Burns, our great Scottish poet, tells us “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” This is what happened to John Lamont’s fond hopes.

Nephew James, on the building being completed, was only in his early twenties, and had no thought of settling down. So he sold Benmore and its mansions, for some £17,000 and departed on a glorious big game hunting expedition to Africa.

Benmore’s new owner was a man named Sinclair but he did not remain long, and sold Benmore to an American named Patrick, who in turn disposed of the estate to Mr. James Duncan, a sugar broker. Mr. Duncan planted many of the trees and added a picture gallery to the house, which was later demolished. His memory is retained in the golden gates at the Glen Massan entrance, which bears his monogram “J.D.,” and a fountain topped with an obelisk at Grahams Point at Kilmun. When the sugar bounty came along from Germany he sold out to Mr. Henry Johnston Younger, Father of the late MR H.G. Younger. In 1927 Mr. H.G. Younger gifted this lovely house and estate to the nation.

In Mr. James Duncan’s time many eminent men came to Benmore. They included Mr. H.M. Stanley a journalist and explorer, who traced Dr Livingstone, and Mr. Spurgeon, the great London Evangelist. Mr. Spurgeon preached one Sunday to a crowd of about 5000 on the lawn in front of the mansion house. Later, in a letter of thanks to his host he wrote, “I feel much better for my stay in lovely Benmore. I may say I came for a restful holiday, but on consulting my diary I find I preached fifty sermons in ten days.

For some years Mr. James Duncan attempted to get both Iron and Silver from mines in the hillside. The Iron smelting took place on the hillside between Rashfiled and Pucks Glen, and remains of the smelted metal can still be found on the surface of the ground.

The Silver was mined near Blairmore. The little wooden houses on the hillside between Blairmore and Gairletter were built for the miners of that time.

The old entrance to Benmore was at Uig near Eckford house, where the ford is still usable. Here resided in Napoleonic times Charles Turner, a farmer who herded cattle on this land just as his father Donald Turner had done. Charles Turner was the brother in law of John Lamont's mother, Isabella Clark, as her brother, John Clark, married Marion (Sarah) Turner, Charles Turner's sister and Isabella Clark's sister, Lillias Clark was the stepmother of Charles and Marion as she married the widower Donald Turner.

Owner/SourceD & G Clark
Date16 Jul 2010
Linked toJohn Lamont

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