The Pennycuicks and related families



Family trees

Penycuke Family Tree
Family tree of the Penycukes of that Ilk

Family tree of the Pennecuiks of Newhall

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


The family from which my maternal grandfather descends has a long history stretching back from present-day England, via India and other colonies in the 19th century, to Perthshire in Scotland in the 18th. From there the roots of the family lead, sadly indirectly, to Edinburghshire (now called Midlothian) in the middle ages, to the land around the village (now town) of Penicuik. It was these long roots, and certain key figures along the way, which first fired my interest in family history, through a cousin's handwritten notes left by another cousin. But more of that later.

The name

The unusual name Pennycuick, originally a place-name meaning 'Hill of the Cuckoo', denoting the area around Penicuik, was used from the 12th century for the lairds of the Barony of Penicuik. The surname, pronounced [penikyk] or [penikuk], is spelt in many different ways (over 70 different spellings in the Scottish birth/marriage/death records). I have used different spellings for the various branches or generations of the family, as can be seen from the page links below; where the whole family is meant, I use the spelling Pennycuick.

The family

The first Pennycuicks of Edinburghshire were lairds (landowners), hunters and rangers to the Scottish kings; later they were knights of the shire, and (generally) upstanding members of Scottish Lowlands society. Similarly, the Perthshire Pennycuicks were landowners and farmers. (It is usually assumed that all Pennycuicks can trace their lineage back to the original family in Midlothian, although this is not necessarily the case: another Hill of the Cuckoo could have given its name to other Pennycuicks elsewhere, e.g. Perthshire.) My Pennycuick ancestors broke away from this pattern in the early 19th century, when John (later Brigadier John) Pennycuick, son of a Perthshire laird, joined the army and moved where fortune took him, principally the British Empire in Asia. His family in most cases stayed in or moved to the colonies, in some cases 'returning' to England: my grandfather was born in Surrey some 95 years after the Brigadier left Perthshire.

Soilzarie Bletoun Hill
Bletoun (Bleaton) Hill north-west of Soilzarie, Perthshire

Photo: current owners of Soilzarie House

Nowadays there is still a large concentration of Pennycuicks in Midlothian where the family started, and in Perthshire where many moved to in about the 17th century. There are also concentrations in England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, plus a small knot in Sweden.1 Although the name can be found on various websites dealing with Scottish clans, it seems the Pennycuicks weren't a clan as such, but just a family.2,3 So although there is a coat of arms and a motto (see below), there is no clan chief and no tartan (shame...).


The family that settled near Penicuik in Midlothian in about the 12th century were called Penicok, later Penycuke of that Ilk (meaning 'of the place of that name'). After many centuries of (largely) blameless living as lairds of the shire, the black sheep, in the form of Alexander Penycuke, got into debt, sold the estate, took to violence, and was banished from Scotland. The estate was later bought by the Clerk family: this connection with the Pennycuicks, not to mention their important contribution to Scottish culture in the 18th century, merits their inclusion here.

The other notable Midlothian Pennycuicks are two doctors, both called Alexander, namely the Pennecuiks of Newhall and Romanno. This seemingly isolated family grouping gives an insight into the comfortable life of minor Scottish landowners in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The fourth page in this section, "Free for a blast", deals with family mottos and heraldry.


At some time in about the 17th century, Pennycuicks settled on the north side of the Forth, in Perthshire. Their precise roots are a fascinating area for further research, but my direct ancestors are Alexander Pennycook of Leduckie and his son John Pennycook, 'the Big Laird of Soilzarie'. Soilzarie is a small hamlet in Glen Shee where the family bought the house which later acquired a special place in Pennycuick folklore. The turbulent history of uprisings in that region in the 18th century is also outlined on this page.

The eldest son of the Big Laird, John, joined the army and served in different infantry regiments, reaching the rank of Lieut.-Colonel. He served his country in various inhospitable corners of Asia before meeting his death at the head of a brigade at the Battle of Chillianwala in 1849. His wife Sarah, daughter of Irish vicar James Farrell, brought up their large family in various far-flung places, before retiring as a soldier's widow to Hampton Court. John's brothers Alexander, Charles and James and their descendants also led interesting lives, touched upon in the page on the Brothers of Brig. John Pennycuick.


The next generation, the Children of Brigadier John Pennycuick, were for the most part born in India, or other places where their father's campaigns took him. They grew up like many colonial families at that time: the men joined the army (Alexander fell literally alongside his father at Chillianwala, and James Farrell became a senior artillery officer), or worked for the British administration in various professions - John became an engineer, Charles Edward was in the government of Ceylon. The daughters in most cases married into the colonial structure. John, my great-grandfather, became renowned for his engineering marvel, the Mullaperiyar Dam in southern India. His wife Georgiana Grace was from the Chamier family, Huguenots from Protestant France, who had become pillars of the governing classes in India.


And lastly, 'back home': in the latter part of the 19th century, various of my forebears (great-grandfathers McConnell, Stannard and Pennycuick) gravitated (back) to England from where they were born (New Zealand, Ireland and India). My grandfather Sir John Pennycuick was the first male of his family to be born in England, soon after his father John retired there. He lived in a 16th- century manor house in Buckinghamshire, amassed an immense postcard collection, and became, in the words of one of his colleagues, "one of the really great judges of his generation".


Compared to some branches of my family (for example the Stannards), researching the Pennycuicks has not been very difficult. Online, as well as the usual websites and,4,5 I have used extensively,6 as well as a wealth of archived books, documents and pictures.

Tom Gibb and Stuart Sampson


Tom Gibb (grandson of James A.C. Pennycuick) and Stuart Sampson, in 2020
Colin Pennycook
Colin Pennycook, in 2019

At the Mullaperiyar Dam in India, next to a statue of Col. John Pennycuick.

Photo: Colin Pennycook

More importantly, several members of the family possess large archives, considerable patience and a talent for historical research. First among these is my cousin Stuart Sampson, to whom I am exceedingly grateful for sharing his wide knowledge. A barrister and military historian, he is the grandson of Col. John's daughter Hilda, and is cited on almost every page from Soilzarie onwards. Colin Pennycook of Glasgow, a descendant of Charles Pennycook of Wester Logie, Perthshire, has been an enormous help in piecing together the Perthshire branch of the family. Two descendants of Charles E.D. Pennycuick, Eoin and Netta, who now live near Dublin, have opened up that branch of the family, kindly sending me their book Dear Grandchildren, and the research notes which their mother, noted Irish historian Elizabeth Hickey, put together on the Farrell family. And lastly, the handwritten notes by Col. James Alexander Charles Pennycuick, later added to by his daughter Janet, are what first awakened my interest in family history, forming, in a way, the basis of this website.