Soilzarie and the Pennycuicks of Perthshire
Home of the Pennycuick family in the first half of the 19th century




Other sources

  1. Correspondence with the current owners of Soilzarie House
  2. Correspondence with Colin Pennycook, descendant of Charles Pennycook (b. 1792)
  3. 'Pennycook History Booklet', information on many Pennycook ancestors, compiled by Colin Pennycook

Family trees

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


Soilzarie Pont Map


Pont Map of Scotland, sheet 27

('Souillery' is in the middle of the map)

The Pennycuick / Pennycook families

Leduckie farm, Clunie

Congraigie farm, Caputh

Knockend farm, Clunie


Children of 'the Big Laird'

Other information

The Creichtoune connection

The large and complex Clan Creichtoune (Crichton) seems to provide the 'missing link' between the Pennycuicks of Perthshire and the Penycukes of that Ilk from south of Edinburgh.iii Much of the Pennycuick land in Perthshire was leased ('feued') from the church, in this case the bishopric of Dunkeld, which was controlled by the Creichtoune family. And many of these leases ('feus') were witnessed by members of the Creichtoune family. The Creichtounes were related by ties of blood and marriage to the Penycukes; they also at one time owned the Newhall estate, which was bought by Dr. Alexander Pennecuik in 1646.

This subject is too interesting and important to be sandwiched in to a side note, so rather than delay (still further!) the launch of this website and its accompanying printout, the Creichtoune-Penycuke connection will get a page to itself, probably in an Appendix.

Soilzarie purchase


Document showing the purchase of Soilzarie from the Duke of Atholl in 1808
Mains of Soilzarie


Mains of Soilzarie

Ownership of Soilzarie

Soilzarie House with Mount Blair
Soilzarie House (from the south-west) with Mount Blair

Photo: current owners

Soilzarie is a small hamlet in the parish of Kirkmichael in Glen Shee in Perthshire. The main house and estate belonged to the Pennycuick family (Brigadier John Pennycuick, his wife Sarah and their children) from 1808 till the early 1850s, during which time they left Scotland for the colonies. Soilzarie seems to have occupied a special place in the family imagination: it was only sold due to necessity, and two other houses were named after it. It is also the focal point of Pennycuick family history in the context of Scottish history, throwing some light on where the family came from, and how far back the line can be traced. I am very grateful to the current owners of Soilzarie House for photos and some of the information given here,i and to Colin Pennycook of Glasgow who has tirelessly researched much of the early history of the Perthshire branch of the family.ii,iii

As can be seen from the above photograph, Soilzarie House looks out from its slightly raised position over a clear, open landscape, and indeed the name means 'clear, bright place' in Gaelic.1 There are many different spellings (Soilarzie, Solzarie, Soilarie etc.1 - the Stravaiging website gives eight more2) and probably many pronunciations: I am told the most usual is 'solairie', but the Pennycuick houses named after it were called 'Silourie' and pronounced 'silery'. The hamlet can be found on many old maps: Timothy Pont's map from the 16th century shows it as 'Souillery', with the owner 'Murey' [Murray] helpfully mentioned;3 the beautiful map by James Stobie (see links left), printed in 1783, shows Soilzarie and most of the other farmsteads and villages mentioned here.4

The Jacobite uprisings

In the 1600s the Soilzarie estate belonged, as mentioned, to the Murray family, an important Scots clan. The story of how it belonged to the Pennycuicks 200 years later is bound up in the history of the period. Following the death of Queen Anne (the last Stuart monarch, second daughter of James II) in 1714 and the accession to the throne of her cousin the Elector of Hanover as George I, there were two rebellions by supporters of the Stuart dynasty, attempting to restore a Stuart to the throne. The Jacobite 'pretenders' were James Francis Edward Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart ('Bonnie Prince Charlie'), son and grandson respectively of James II by his second wife Mary. The rebellion of 1715 fizzled out without conflict, but that of 1745 was more serious, culminating in the battle of Culloden (a few miles east of Inverness) in 1746, at which 1,500-2,000 Jacobites were killed or wounded, as against 300 of the Government forces, led by the Duke of Cumberland.5

The rebellions caused deep divisions in Scotland, of which those in the Atholl family were probably by no means untypical.6 John Murray, 1st Duke of Atholl and head of the Murray clan, succeeded to his titles in 1703, and was for the most part loyal to the British government. His son and heir William however supported the uprising of 1715 and was subsequently disinherited ('attainted'); his more loyalist brother James became 2nd Duke in 1724 (referred to as 'Duke James' in the Atholl Chronicles).7,8,9 William (referred to as 'Tullibardine' in Wikipedia and as 'Duke William' in the Atholl Chronicles7,8,9) continued to support the Jacobite cause however, and was involved in the uprising of 1745, on the opposite side to his brother James. He was captured after Culloden, and died a few months later in the Tower of London.

The sixth son of the 1st Duke John, and brother of William and 2nd Duke James, was Lieut.-Gen. Lord George Murray. He was one of the most prominent Jacobites in the 1745 uprising, and effectively commander-in-chief to Charles Stuart at Culloden. Following the Jacobite defeat, he went into exile in the Netherlands and died in 1760.10 His son John however (after a certain amount of wrangling, given Lord George's Jacobite leanings) became the 3rd Duke after (2nd Duke) James's death in 1764. John died in 1774 and his son, also John, became 4th Duke; he died in 1830. It was this 4th Duke who sold Soilzarie to the Pennycuick family in 1808 (see below).

Thus the Murray clan was effectively split by the uprisings: on the 'losing side', Duke William died in the Tower, Lord George in exile. On the 'winning side', the Atholl dukedom remained in the family (2nd Duke James and his nephew, 3rd Duke John). And some properties were, it seems, confiscated from 'Jacobite' Murrays and given to 'less Jacobite' Murrays. For example Soilzarie.

Fencible Men

An important fighting force at Culloden, effectively a private army of the Murray clan, was the Atholl Brigade, also known as the 'Fencible Men', who could be called upon to defend the Dukes of Atholl if the need arose. The brigade was on the Jacobite site at Culloden, commanded by Lord George Murray. (A complete listing, covering 80 pages, is given as an appendix to the Atholl Chronicles vol. ii.7) The officers in this brigade, called the Atholl Gentlemen, are listed in vol. iii pp. 299-302,8 and include a Captain Alexander Murray and a certain Captain Spalding: both had connections with Soilzarie.

The Soilzarie connection

Captain [Alexander] Murray of Soilzarie is listed with the Atholl gentlemen of 1745.8 Elsewhere (vol. iii p. 345) he is referred to as 'Murray of Soilarie' or just 'Solzarie', indicating he was probably the owner of Soilzarie House at that time.8 Following the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the house was in all likelihood taken from Capt. Murray and given (or restored) to his kinsman, the Hanoverian-supporting 2nd Duke (James) of Atholl. It was later sold for £5,000 in 1808 by the 4th Duke to John Pennycook (see below).

A curious footnote to the sale of Soilzarie by the 4th Duke occurred in 1820: James Murray, presumably a relation of the above Alexander, turned up at Dunkeld, threatening to kill the duke, claiming he owed him £5,000 for the Soilzarie estate which was taken from him after the uprising (and subsequently sold to the Pennycooks for that sum). After some sort of fracas, Murray was arrested and sentenced to seven years' transportation.9

The Spalding clan, an offshoot of the Murray clan, lived in Ashintully Castle in Strathardle, north-west of Soilzarie. In the late 17th century, Soilzarie House had also belonged to the Spalding family.i,2 Like the Murrays, the Spaldings were strong supporters of the Jacobite cause, and after the uprising of 1745 were similarly dispossessed of some of their lands.

Early Perthshire Pennycuicks

The earliest mentions of the Pennycuick family in Perthshire are from the 16th century, in the Register of the Great Seal of Scotland (in Latin), and the Records of the Privy Seal of Scotland (in English), which have been painstakingly picked through by Colin Pennycook of Glasgow.iii It seems there was a family of Pennycuicks living on the western fringes of Caputh, in Stenton and Dulgarthill, and further north in Park of Laighwood. Two brothers, John and Peter, were granted land here in the 1570s; John's two sons, John and Patrick, also feature in the sources. It is not yet clear how these early settlers might be related to the four families mentioned below, but it's a start. (See also the side note (left) on the links to the Penycukes of Edinburghshire through the Creichtoune family.)

In the mid-18th century there were four families of Pennycooks living on three farmsteads in the parishes of Clunie and Caputh. Details of these farmsteads are shown (left); see also the Stobie maps of Perthshire (north) and (south) for the locations. Most of the detail below was gleaned from the birth registers on the excellent website - sometimes hard to read, but worth the effort.11

Two Pennycocks, Charles and John, appear in the 'Roll of the Duke of Atholl's Fencible Men' of 1705 for Leduckie (Atholl Chronicles, vol. ii,7 pages lx and lxi), both described as 'armed'. It is likely that these are Charles Pennycook of Leduckie and his (probable) brother John. These two were presumably supporters of the Jacobite cause, at least in a broad sense, at that time. What their loyalties were in the more serious rebellion in 1745 is another matter. Who the father of Charles and John of Leduckie might have been, or what relationship they had to other Pennycuicks of the region, or of Midlothian, are all matters for future research!

The 'Big Laird of Soilzarie'

John Pennycook ('the Big Laird') was born in Leduckie in 1760, the sixth child of Alexander Pennycook. He married Jean McDonald in Kirkmichael in 1785. (The marriage was registered in Kirkmichael on 5th February and in Moulin near Pitlochry on 6th February.) Jean was born at Brig of Merkland, south of Kirkmichael in 1769, daughter of Alexander McDonald and Margaret Ferguson. She had a brother James, born in 1758, referred to in letters from Sarah Pennycuick as "James McDonald his [i.e. her husband's] uncle", which helps to 'fix' their family.

The Big Laird was perhaps an estate manager, working on various farms, if the birthplaces of his four sons are anything to go by. His first son John (the future Brigadier John Pennycuick) was born on 31st October 1785 at the Mains of Soilzarie, the farmhouse on the edge of the Soilzarie estate; second son Alexander, as has recently come to light, was born in 1789, probably in Park of Laighwood, where his father was perhaps working as an estate manager. Charles and James were born in 1792 and 1796 at Wester Logie. Full details on the interesting histories of all three brothers and their descendants are given in the page on the Brothers of Brig. John Pennycuick.

In 1808 'John Pennycook' (presumably the Big Laird, as his son John was only aged 23 at the time, and abroad with his regiment) bought the estate of 'Soilzarie' from the [4th] Duke of Atholl for £5,000 (Atholl Chronicles, vol. iv,9 page 233) (see left). The Jacobite leanings of John's grandfather Charles, one of the 'Fencible Men' in 1705, seem not to have been a hindrance. There was a mortgage on the property with Farquharson, a wealthy financier from Invercauld near Braemar.i From about this time the Big Laird and his wife presumably lived partly in Soilzarie and partly in Wester Logie. His son John lived in Soilzarie after he married in 1820.

Soilzarie House
Soilzarie House (from the west-south-west)

Photo: current owners

At some stage the Big Laird probably moved out of Soilzarie and went back to Wester Logie where his younger son Charles lived, as he is recorded as dying there in 1827: a listing of the gravestones formerly in Clunie churchyard contains the entry: "John Pennycook of Soilzary died at Wester Logie on 11th June 1827 aged 67". This inscription, discovered by Colin Pennycook,ii effectively 'fixes' much of the information about the Big Laird's life. Unfortunately we don't know when his wife Jean died, as deaths weren't routinely recorded in Scotland at that time.

Soilzarie House

The first reference to Soilzarie House was in the rent books of the Cistercian monastery at Coupar Angus (south-east of Blairgowrie) in the 1400s.i The house is a largish six-bedroom detached house with a back wing. Stuart Sampson mentions that although it was probably built in the 18th century, the house is centred around a medieval core. A satellite photo shows that behind the house is a long C-shaped building,2 and there may have been others on this site in earlier times.12

The estate is currently about 28 acres (including a cottage), but in the Pennycuicks' day it would have been considerably larger.i In addition to Soilzarie House, there are three farms in the hamlet: the Mains of Soilzarie (on the road to Kirkmichael), West Craig and East Craig. The Mains of Soilzarie, where Brigadier John Pennycuick was born, would have been the 'home farm' and is now a private house. The Coach House of the Mains is now let as holiday cottage.13 West Craig and East Craig are possibly farms on the hill north of Soilzarie, marked as Craigies on the Stobie map.3

The ownership of the house can be traced in various online sources - see side note for details. How much the Pennycuick family actually lived there is another matter. At the time of the purchase, John was in the army, stationed in many different places. After his marriage to Sarah in Ireland in 1820, the couple made Soilzarie their home, and their first son John was born there in 1824, but the next year the young family moved to India. Of the other children, the only one born at Soilzarie was Alexander (on 27th October 1831, although no birth record exists), who died alongside his father at Chillianwala. The family also had a residence in Cheltenham,17 where Sarah and the younger children lived when not in India - see page on the Farrell family.


It is not certain exactly when the Pennycuicks sold Soilzarie. Letters in the National Army Museum18 (folio 1976-04-9-2) from Sarah Pennycuick to Peter Shaw of 'Finegard by Blairgowrie' (presumably the family's agent, possibly at the present 'Finegand' on the A93 north of Soilzarie) ask him to set the sale of the house in motion, as the family needed the money to settle debts and pay for John's promotion. "It is a very sad thing to us to part with it, but what is to be done?" she writes in October 1839. The last of these letters was from January 1840, and indeed John was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in June that year. Stuart Sampson mentions that this promotion meant selling the estate for £5,000.17

But it seems the house was not sold at that time. The Brigadier stipulated in his will dated 12th June 1848 (in the National Archives,19 reference PROB 11/2096/339), that the estate should be sold in the event of his death: "My landed property of Soilarie I direct may be sold and the surplus (should there be any after payment of the debt arising from a mortgage on the property) added to the fund before-mentioned..."

After the death of the Brigadier at the Battle of Chillianwala in 1849, James Farrell Pennycuick, who later styled himself "Former Laird of Soilzarie and [Wester] Logie",20 went to Soilzarie to sell the property to Farquharson, who subsequently sold it to the Constable family of Dundee.i The valuation rolls for 1855 and 1865 indeed give the owner of all three Soilzarie farms as George Constable.11 The 1852 edition of the Directory of Gentlemen's Seats lists 'Solarzie' as being unoccupied;21 in 1857 the listing is "G.N. Constable, proprietor - House, James Wallace".22 This would seem to confirm that the Soilzarie estate was sold between 1848 and 1855.

The name Soilzarie was seemingly burnt into the Pennycuick family consciousness: Col. John Pennycuick (son of Brigadier John), when he retired to Camberley in 1896, named his house 'Silourie' (pronounced Silery), and the house in Sandgate, where two of his daughters and later his widow lived, was also named 'Silourie'.