History Of The Clan

The name Matheson comes from the Gaelic MacMathan, "son of the bear" not to be confused with the English Mathewson which is simply "son of Mathew". The MacMathans were settled in Lochalsh in Wester Ross from an early period. Kenneth  MacMathan, traditionally Constable of Eilean Donan Castle, is recorded in both the Chamberlain Rolls and the Norse account of the expedition of King Haakon IV against Scotland in 1263 which culminated in his defeat at Largs. 

The Mathesons fought for Donald of the Isles at Harlaw in 1411. Alasdair McMhurchaidh, Clan Chief and leader of 2,000 men, was arrested by James 1 at Inverness in 1427, along with other Highland chiefs.  Alasdair and four sons died in the battle of Cnoc na Catach in 1438. Although the record is silent on the  immediately subsequent years a probable son, Iain Dubh Matheson the Elder eventually succeeded to the Chiefship.  Iain was followed by his son, Iain Dubh Matheson the Younger, and  one of his younger sons, Donald, may have been the forbear of the Mathesons of Shinness. 

Iain Dubh the Younger, Constable of Eilean Donan Castle, was killed in 1539 defending the fortress against the Macdonalds, who were allied with his cousin, Murdoch Buidhe, a rival claimant for the chiefship.  After the death of another brother of Iain, Dugald Ruadh, Murdoch Buidhe’s claim to the chiefship was unchallenged.   

Murdoch Buidhe’s son, Roderick of Fernaig, succeeded him as chief.  Roderick was followed successively by three Johns, son, grandson and great grandson.  The great grandson, John (Iain Mor) Matheson, bought land on the Black Isle (East Suddy in 1688; Bennetsfield in 1697) and with his family left Lochalsh. The Chiefship of the Mathesons remained with this family, the Mathesons of Bennetsfield, until 1975 when the then Chief, Colonel Bertram Matheson of Matheson, M.C. died without issue. Meanwhile, Iain Mor’s nephew, Farquhar, took over Attadale and his successors continued to hold land in Lochalsh until Attadale was sold in 1825 by John Matheson  IVth of Attadale.  

John's eldest son Alexander Matheson (b. 1805) (later of Ardross and Lochalsh), a 6 x great grandson of Roderick of Fernaig and grandfather of the present Chief, went to China to join his maternal uncle James, a Sutherland Matheson, a founder partner in Jardine Matheson & Co.    Alexander returned to Scotland in 1840 and started to buy land in Ross-shire.   In 1851 recovered the Lochalsh estate. He was created Baronet of Lochalsh in 1882. His grandson, Major Sir Torquhil Matheson of Matheson, 6th Baronet, succeeded   Colonel Bertram Matheson of Matheson, M.C., as Chief of the Mathesons, by tanistry,in 1975 and on his death in 1993 was succeeded by his younger brother, Major Sir Fergus Matheson of Matheson, 7th Baronet, the present Chief. 

From the Sutherland Mathesons descend Sir James Matheson , 1st and last Baronet of the Lews, of the Shiness branch.  He joined Dr.William Jardine in founding the mercantile house of Jardine Matheson & Co. trading in India and China. On returning to Scotland he bought the Island of Lewis in 1844 and was created Baronet of the Lews in 1851 for his exertions and generosity in alleviating the sufferings of the inhabitants of the island during a period of famine.

Today, descendants of Lochalsh and Sutherland (Shiness) Mathesons are to be found in many overseas countries, particularly in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and U.S.A.