The brothers of Brigadier John Pennycuick
The Scottish, American and Swedish branches




Children of John Pennycuick

Children of Alexander Pennycook

(later Alexander McDonald)

(all took the surname McDonald)

Children of Charles Pennycook

Children of James Pennycook


Other sources

  1. Correspondence with Bruce McDonald, great-nephew of Frederick Alexander McDonald (jnr.), and Kathy Tucker (cousin of Bruce)
  2. Autobiography of James R. McDonald (1828-1902), courtesy of Bruce McDonald
  3. Correspondence with Colin Pennycook, great-grandson of William Pennycook
  4. 'Pennycook History Booklet', information on many Pennycook ancestors, compiled by Colin Pennycook
  5. Correspondence with Carl Robert ('Bobby') Pennycook, grandson of Charles Christian Pennycook

Family trees

Pennycuick FT
Family trees of the Pennycuick, McDonald and Farrell families

Maps - Perthshire

Alexander Pennycook: date and place of birth

For Alexander, the second son of 'the Big Laird', no baptism register naming both parents exists. The birth date of 12th April 1789 is given on his grave-stone and in the autobiography of his son James R. McDonald;ii elsewhere 12th January 1789 is given as his birth date.i

There is however a baptism register naming just the father (John), from 17th December 1789 in Park of Laighwood, near Leduckie. John may have been estate manager there at the time. This is probably the most likely birthplace and date. (The reason for the discrepancy between April/January and December is not at present clear, but is perhaps a birth date - baptism date difference.)

It is also possible that this baptism register is not the 'right' Alexander, and that he was born in one of the other places his father lived in around that time, for example Soilzarie, Wester Logie or Ballied.

For the purposes of these pages, 'Perthshire, 1789' will be used.

Photos of James and Janet Pennycook

These photos of James and Janet, taken in the mid-19th century, are now in the museum of modern art and photography (Moderna Museet)  in Stockholm. Although both are labelled as Ambrotypes by J. Valentine of Dundee, ca. 1860, it is more likely that Janet's (labelled simply Dundee) is a Daguerotype from ca. 1850. Janet died in 1851: James Valentine of Dundee was founded in that year, but the Ambrotype process was not invented until 1853.iii

Map - central Sweden

  1. Kyleberg, Svanshals
  2. Risinge
  3. Borggård, Hällestad
  4. Tomta
  5. Norrköping
  6. Jönköping

Source: (CC-BY licence)

Other information

Felix Hamrin


Felix Hamrin (1875-1937)

Swedish politician in the 1920s and 1930s

Ruth Hamrin-Thorell


Ruth Hamrin-Thorell (1903-91), daughter of Felix Hamrin and Lizzie Pennycook

Journalist and politician

Bruce McDonald
Bruce McDonald (3rd from left)

Great nephew of Frederick A. McDonald (jnr.)

Bobby Pennycook


Bobby Pennycook in 2020

Grandson of Charles Christian Pennycook

Wester Logie House
Wester Logie House in Clunie

Estate agent's photo

The families of the brothers of Brig. John Pennycuick are a fascinating lot, diverse, yet at the same time typical of Scotland in the first half of the 19th century. Some of the children of these brothers probably lived all their lives in Perthshire; others flew the nest, individually, in couples or in one case a whole family, ending up in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Sweden. Unlike the descendants of the Brigadier, who were scattered around Asia and Britain as dictated by his military postings, these families left Scotland for the colonies in a wave of emigration. Of the 32 children of these three brothers, all born in Perthshire, 21 moved away from Scotland.

Four descendants of the Pennycook brothers have helped enormously to piece together the families: Colin Pennycook of Glasgow, Bobby Pennycook in Varberg, Sweden, and Bruce McDonald and Kathy Tucker in San Francisco have all opened their coffers of information and photos. Thanks all.

The parents of these boys were John Pennycook (1760-1827), also known as 'the Big Laird of Soilzarie', and Jean McDonald (see the page on Soilzarie for their antecedents). John was a farmer or farm manager, and later landowner. He and Jean married in February 1785 and their first son John was born in Soilzarie some 38 weeks later. (See the maps of Perthshire - links left - for most of the locations mentioned here.) Their second son Alexander was born in 1789 (see side note for details), then John and Jean moved to Wester Logie farm in Clunie (see photo above), where Charles and James were born in 1792 and 1796.

The family presumably lived several years in Wester Logie, a fine house and farm just north of Clunie, seated on high ground above the valley of the Luna Burn. (The Pennycooks did not own the farm, but leased it from the Spieds of Forneth.1) In 1808 the Big Laird bought the Soilzarie estate from the 4th Duke of Atholl, and perhaps lived there for a time. His son John made it his home when he returned from his campaigns in Asia in 1817 (see the page on Brig. John Pennycuick). The Pennycooks (John's three brothers used this spelling of the name) retained a foothold in Wester Logie until the 1870s - the Big Laird died there, Alexander's first daughter Elizabeth was born there, Charles lived there from the mid-1820s until his death in 1857, and his son William ran the farm until the late 1870s.


Although his American descendants have known since the 1970s about their forebear Alexander Pennycook (later Alexander McDonald) and his relation to the family, most of the Pennycuick family in Europe were unaware of him until very recently. No birth register proving his exact parentage exists, and to make tracing him more difficult, at the age of 44 he upped sticks and moved his whole family to the United States, changing his name to McDonald. His parentage is proven by a law report from 1818 (see below), describing him as 'Alexander Pennycook, son of John Pennycook of Soiliary'. Other smaller indicators back this up. The year of his birth was 1789, but the exact date, and the place, are less certain. See side note for details.

Alexander married Helen Stirtan in about 1813 and their first child was born in Wester Logie the following January. (Helen was probably born in 1791, daughter of John Stirtan of Clunie.) A year or two later they moved to the next-door farm of Ballied (also spelt Balleid), where their next eight children were born. The Ballied estate belonged to the Campbell family, and was at some stage renamed Achalader after their ancestral seat. The castle which stood there is now sadly gone.i In about 1830 they moved again to Pitcur in the parish of Kettins in Forfarshire, where Sarah and Thomas Elder were born. (Thomas's middle name may be that of a brother-in-law of Helen.)

It seems Alexander was the black sheep of the family. In about the year he married he had an illegitimate son, Alexander, by Elizabeth Robertson of Cairns. This son may have later emigrated to Australia. Then in 1816 Alexander was fined for double-selling 40 head of cattle at a market in Falkirk (the law report from 1818 very handily names his father).2 From about 1827 he ran a distillery in Ballied in partnership with a certain William Johnstone of Blairgowrie, until this folded in 1834.3 Then in October of that year he was declared bankrupt, at the insistence of the bank in Blairgowrie. But the creditors went away empty-handed, as he had already left the country.4 He arrived in New York on the Ajax in November 1834 as Alexander McDonald, with sons John and Alexander, and Margaret McDonald (perhaps a cousin). His wife Helen and the remaining nine children followed on the Canada in May 1835, and made their way to Morgan Co., Illinois, where Alexander had bought land on Buckhorn Prairie, near Murrayville, eight miles south of Jacksonville. The family built a working farm there from nothing, but sadly later that year a fever swept through the family and Alexander died.ii

The McDonalds of Murrayville

So there they were, Alexander's widow and 11 children on the plains of the Midwest. The farm flourished for some time, but after Helen died in 1845 it was sold a year later. Many of the children married, and found work as storekeepers or farmers. Two of the girls became teachers. Most stayed in the district of Murrayville and Jacksonville, but a few went out west - to the California gold rush for example. The fortunes of all them would fill too many pages, so I will pick out a few.

Alexander McDonald
Alexander McDonald

Photo: Bruce McDonald

Alexander McDonald

After growing up on the family farm on Buckhorn Prairie, Alexander went to work in a store in Jacksonville, and then in St Louis. He fought in the Mexican War of 1846-48,5 and later married and opened his own store in Jacksonville, for a time in partnership with his brother Charles. Alexander was involved in many civic projects such as the Chicago-St Louis railroad, a school for girls, and the mental hospital. Of his three sons, two lived in Jacksonville and became a lawyer and a banker, and the youngest, Frederick Alexander McDonald, worked as a lawyer in Jacksonville, then moved to California to work in his aunts' seminary, of which he later became Principal. After running a sheep ranch and working as a county judge in Oregon, Frederick settled in Seattle, where he took various civic posts. His grandson, also Frederick Alexander McDonald, the great-uncle of Bruce McDonald, was an episcopal canon in San Francisco.

James R McDonald
James R. McDonald

Photo: Bruce McDonald

James R. McDonald

James, who took the trouble to write an autobiography a few years before he died,ii lived with his sister Jean (born Jean McDonald Pennycuick, corroborating Alexander's parentage) after the family farm was sold, then in April 1850 departed for California to seek his fortune in the gold rush which had just started. He was a successful gold miner for a few years, then ran a farm in Alameda Co. with his brother Charles, then involved himself in various business ventures, finally settling in Grayson, Stanislaus Co., where he owned a store and entered local and state politics. (He had been a delegate at the 1860 Republican Convention in Chicago which elected Abraham Lincoln.) James served as Treasurer of the state of California in 1890, and later ran (unsuccessfully) for the post of Governor.

Sarah and Maria McDonald

James's sisters Sarah and Maria became teachers, starting schools in Missouri and then Louisiana, until the Civil War forced them to close. They travelled to San Francisco (by sea via Panama) and founded the Napa Ladies' Seminary, in what is now the wine country, in 1864. The school became successful, and after Maria and Sarah sadly died quite young (in 1871 and 1879), it was taken over by their nephew, Frederick Alexander McDonald.

Sarah F McDonald
Sarah F. McDonald

Photo: Bruce McDonald

Napa Seminary
The Napa Ladies' Seminary

Photo courtesy of Bruce McDonald

Frederick Alexander McDonald with grandson
Frederick Alexander McDonald (1850-1913) with grandson (also Frederick Alexander)

Photo: Bruce McDonald


The Big Laird's third son was born in Wester Logie in 1792. He married Maria Scott in Blairgowrie on 31st December 1820 (the year of three Pennycuick weddings!) and they had nine children. At first they lived at Littleour in the parish of Caputh (see the map of Perthshire (S) for locations) - then in around 1825 Charles and Maria moved back into Wester Logie, where their remaining seven children were born. Charles also fathered an 'unlawful' daughter by Janet Doeg shortly before he was married. At the time of his death in 1857, Charles's eldest son James was already married (having also previously fathered a child out of wedlock6) and settled in Loaning, just across the burn from Wester Logie, so Charles stipulated in his will that the lease on the farm should go to his second son William.

William Scott Pennycook


Lieut.-Col. William Scott Pennycook (1872-1918)

Relatively little is known about the children of Charles Pennycook: at least four probably stayed in Perthshire - Benjamina for example married a butcher in Blairgowrie. Janet (also called Jessie) married William Stirton and they emigrated to Victoria where they ran a farm. Three of the children of James and his wife Agnes also emigrated: Jane to Rockford, Illinois, and Elizabeth and William Scott to Clutha Co., New Zealand. The latter worked as a printer and newspaper editor in Christchurch and Balclutha, and when World War I broke out, joined the Otago Regiment. He fought in Gallipoli and in France, and was killed in Bapaume in the last months of the war.7

Charles Pennycook


Charles Pennycook (1865-1930)

Photo: Anent Scottish Running

The farm at Wester Logie was taken over by William. He had accompanied his cousin Charles to Sweden in 1851 (see below), but returned and later married Catherine McLeish. It is not certain when and where he died: the valuation rolls on the Scotland's People website1 reveal that he leased the farm in 1875 but not 1885, so perhaps in the late 1870s. His six children all moved away from farming into other professions, and eventually left Perthshire: Isabella taught French in Blairgowrie High School for over 40 years; Mary and her husband David Smith were also schoolteachers in Montrose, and their son David McLeish Smith became a leading pioneer in the development of jet engines.8 Daniel joined the Navy, and Helen, Charles and David all took office-based jobs: Helen moved to England and married a high-ranking civil servant before settling in Beaconsfield. Charles (grandfather of Colin Pennycook) moved to the Maryhill area of Glasgow, where he was manager of a cable manufacturing company. He was also an outstanding long-distance runner, winning the Scottish mile and long distance championships in the 1880s.9

Isabella Pennycook
Isabella McLeish Pennycook (left) at Tullyneddie Cottage in Clunie

Photo (probably 1900s): Colin Pennycook

Helen Pennycook
Helen McLeish Reid née Pennycook (left) and husband Sir George Reid

Photo (probably 1920s): Colin Pennycook

David Pennycook
Ethel and David Pennycook (1900s)

Photo: Colin Pennycook


The youngest son of John Pennycook was also born in Wester Logie, in 1796. He married Janet Cathro (also spelt Cathrow) in 1820 and they moved to the parish of Blairgowrie: of their first six children, four were born in Millbank, two in Banchory - see the map of Perthshire (S) for locations. In about 1830, when James's elder brother Alexander moved out of Ballied farm for Pitcur, James moved in, and the remaining six children were born there. Some time after 1839 they moved near Coupar Angus in eastern Perthshire (not shown on the maps): the census of 1851 shows James and Janet and seven children living in Arnbog Farm in the parish of Meigle. (James's daughter Jean was already married and living nearby.) That same year Janet died, and James lived as a widower for many years with his daughter Janet, who predeceased him by a few days.iii It would seem that James and his family enjoyed a fairly comfortable lifestyle, if the two fine photos below are anything to go by (see side note).

Janet Cathro
Janet Pennycook, née Cathro (1795-1851)

Photo ca. 1850, Moderna Museet, Stockholm

James Pennycook
James Pennycook (1792-1875)

Photo ca. 1860, Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Eight of James and Janet's twelve children moved away from Scotland: John and James went to Kildare, Ireland, and married Jane and Amelia Dick, who were sisters. Three emigrated to Victoria, Australia, in 1853, on the London: Helen married George Grieve in 1856 and settled in Smeaton; Alexander came back and married in Dundee before returning and settling in Smeaton; and Anne moved to Bacchus Marsh where she married a year later. (Smeaton and Bacchus Marsh are near Ballarat, NW of Melbourne. The Stirton family (Charles's daughter Janet) were in Benalla, NE Victoria, while the family of James Farrell Pennycuick settled around Hamilton, SE of Melbourne. The distances are not great, and it is likely the families were in contact with each other.) Lastly, youngest sons William and Andrew Kessen also moved to Australia, gravitating to New South Wales and Queensland; and Isobella and her husband John Lowe emigrated to Ontario.i

The Swedish connection

The descendents of Charles Pennycook (1827-1885), fifth child of James, are of particular interest, because (alone among my ancestors) he emigrated not to the British colonies but to continental Europe. Charles first travelled to Sweden in 1851, accompanied by his cousin William (see above), who later returned to Scotland. Charles initially teamed up with Axel Dickson, the son of a Scots trader, who owned the Kyleberg estate in south-central Sweden, near Svanshals on lake Tåkern.12,13 (See the map of central Sweden (left) for locations.)



Kyleberg manor and estate

Charles worked as a drainage expert (one sourcev gives 'agricultural inspector') on the estate. The Kyleberg estate became a model of modern farming practices, including the use of covered ditches, and the Wikipedia page states that Dickson had the help of a "good friend" to accomplish this - very likely Charles Pennycook.12 While there he had a relationship with Maria Sjöberg, and their son Charles Christian was born in Stockholm St Klara in 1862. Charles later married Maria Klein, who worked on the Kyleberg estate, and they had a daughter Maria Elisabet ('Lizzie'), born in 1879. Charles and his wife Maria later lived on a farm in Tomta east of Svanshals - after he died, she went to live near her family in Jönköping.iv

Charles Christian Pennycook
Charles Christian Pennycook (1862-1940)

Photo: Bobby Pennycook

The two children of Charles Pennycook grew up quite separately from each other, and their descendents were not in contact until quite recently. Charles Christian (Karl Kristian, as he was probably called) grew up as a foster child, first with the Hamräus family in Stockholm, where Per Gustav Hamräus was a school teacher and organist, then with this same family in Skog in northern Sweden, then in the 1870s with the Håkansson family, who lived in on the Finspång estate near Norrköping, not far from where Karl Kristian's father Charles was living.

Family of Charles Christian Pennycook
The children of Charles Christian Pennycook: Elsa, Gösta and Harry (1925)

Photo: Colin Pennycook

Karl Kristian married Kerstin Gullbransson in 1913 and they settled in the village of Borggård near Hällestad, north-west of Finspång, where he was manager of a factory making iron tools. (This company, Borggårds Bruk, is still in operation.) Karl Kristian and Kerstin later lived in Norrköping.v They had three children, the eldest of whom, Charles Harry Robert Pennycook, was a major in the Swedish army. Charles Harry had two children: a daughter who lives in Iceland, and a son, Carl Robert ('Bobby') Pennycook. Iris and I had the pleasure of meeting Bobby and his partner in Sweden in 2020, and I am grateful to him (and Colin Pennycook in Glasgow) for opening up his store of information on the Swedish side of the family.

Lizzie Pennycook
Maria Elisabet ('Lizzie') Pennycook

Photo: Colin Pennycook

Lizzie Pennycook was born in 1879 in Svanshals near the estate where her parents both worked. In 1900 she married Felix Hamrin, a businessman from Mönsterås in the district of Kalmar. Felix entered politics, becoming a member of parliament for the liberal People's Party in 1912. He was minister for trade, then finance, then briefly Prime Minister in 1932, before becoming leader of the People's Party.14 Lizzie and Felix lived in Jönköping where they were both active in local politics, and had seven children. Some of these also went into politics: Ruth was editor of the Idun magazine for over 30 years, MP in the People's Party, and a women's rights campaigner;15 Mac was an MP and disability rights campaigner,16 Charles Felix was a diplomat in Bonn, and Lovisa and her husband Manne Ståhl were both politicians.