James Fergusson

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James Fergusson
8th Baronet of Kilkerran
James Fergusson 1936.jpg
Picture from the Glasgow Weekly Herald, 1936
Born (1904-09-18)18 September 1904
Dailly, Ayrshire, Scotland
Died 25 October 1973(1973-10-25) (aged 69)
Ayrshire, Scotland
Education Eton College, Windsor
Alma mater
  • Edinburgh University
  • Balliol College, Oxford University
  • LL.D (Hon, Glasgow 1960)
  • BBC Scottish talks assistant, 1934–1940
  • BBC Overseas Service, 1940–1944
  • Glasgow Herald journalist, 1945–1949
  • Records of Scotland keeper, 1949–1969
Spouse(s) Louise Frances Balfour Stratford Dugdale (married 17 July 1930)
  • General Sir Charles Fergusson of Kilkerran, 7th Baronet
  • Lady Alice Mary Boyle

Sir James Fergusson of Kilkerran, 8th Baronet (18 September 1904—25 October 1973) was a journalist, author and historian who served as talks assistant for the BBC Scottish Region from 1934 to 1940.


James Fergusson was born on 18 September 1904, the eldest son of Sir Charles Fergusson, seventh baronet (1865–1951), of Kilkerran, Ayrshire, a former Governor of New Zealand, and his wife, Lady Alice Mary Boyle (1877–1958), second daughter of the seventh earl of Glasgow.

He was educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford (1922–5), where he took a fourth-class degree in history in 1925.

He succeeded to the title of 8th Baronet Fergusson, of Kilkerran [N.S., 1703] upon the death of his father on 20 February 1951.

BBC career

In 1932, the BBC's then Scottish Director, David Cleghorn Thomson, considered persuading Fergusson to join the BBC, but an approach was not made until the following year, by which time Thomson had been replaced by Melville Dinwiddie. At the time, Fergusson was working as a a bookselling assistant in London and with Blackwood's publishing firm in Edinburgh. His first job was as Andrew Stewart's permanent assistant in Glasgow.[1].

In 1934, he moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh to become talks assistant to the Scottish Regional Director, Melville Dinwiddie. While working for the BBC he was also a town councillor in Haddington, East Lothian.[2]

At the start of the Second World War, Fergusson was one of the few programme officials not to transfer to Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow. However, between 1940 and 1944 he moved to work with the BBC Overseas Service, during which time he broadcast on Nazi propaganda and lectured to forces in the Middle East.

Glasgow Herald

Following the Second World War, he was a leader writer on the Glasgow Herald from 1945 to 1949.

Scottish Record Office keeper

The war had depleted the staff of Register House, Edinburgh, and when the post of keeper of the records became vacant in 1949 a selection board under the chairmanship of Sir Alexander Gray was initially unable to recommend an appointment. When he learned of Fergusson's candidature at the instigation of Dr Henry Meikle of the National Library, Gray noted, "This looks quite promising: whatever else he is J. F. is something of a personality". Fergusson was interviewed at a second sitting of the board and his appointment was confirmed.

His twenty years as keeper (from 1949–1969) were a time of considerable expansion for the Scottish Record Office. Fergusson was generous in his assistance to researchers, whose numbers increased dramatically. He played an important part in the deposit of many collections of private papers and built up a qualified staff. Above all he persistently pressed the office's accommodation requirements in the face of increasing accessions of records. Although he would have preferred expansion at Register House itself, the outcome was the conversion of St George's Church, Charlotte Square, into West Register House, opened in 1971. Before his retirement he had already become ill and he received much help from his deputy and successor, John Imrie.

As keeper, Fergusson was also chairman of the Scottish Records Advisory Council, which gave its support on accommodation, the transfer of Scottish records from the Public Record Office, and the development of local archives.

Another duty which he undertook with relish was the supervision of the elections of Scottish representative peers to serve in the House of Lords, held normally in the picture gallery, Holyroodhouse, but held in 1955 in Parliament House. When he wrote The Sixteen Peers of Scotland (1960) he did not know that the procedure would be brought to an end by the 1963 Peerage Act. He was also an active chairman of the editorial committee of the History of Parliament project.[3]

Memberships, offices and awards

He succeeded to the title of 8th Baronet Fergusson, of Kilkerran [N.S., 1703] on 20 February 1951.

Before 1949 he was a trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland and later he became a member of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts and a trustee of the National Library of Scotland.

He was invested as a Fellow, Royal Society of Edinburgh (F.R.S.E.)[4]

Glasgow University awarded him an honorary LLD (Doctor of Law) in 1960 and he was elected FRSE in 1968.

A member of the Royal Company of Archers (the queen's bodyguard in Scotland), he became Lord-Lieutenant of Ayrshire on his retirement as keeper and held the office from 1969 until his death in 1973. He was loyal to the Church of Scotland both in his parish of Dailly and as a commissioner to the general assembly. He held the office of Justice of the Peace (J.P.)


From 1947 to 1968, Fergusson took part in the Light Programme (later Home Service) Round Britain Quiz with Jack House, who explained their success by saying "James is public school and I am public house".


During the week Fergusson stayed at the New Club, Edinburgh, and wrote in the evening. He continued to contribute to the Glasgow Herald on historical subjects.

His family background provided material ranging from the eighteenth century to his father's role in The Curragh incident (London: Faber & Faber, 1964). In this book he examined some of the unsolved mysteries of the incident at the height of the Irish Home Rule crisis of early 1914 when 58 cavalry officers stationed at the Curragh and in Dublin, chose dismissal from the army rather than the possibility of 'active operations in Ulster'.

Thus his first book was Letters of George Dempster to Sir Adam Fergusson (1934), and chapters entitled ‘The Kilkerran improvers’ and ‘The farmer judge: Lord Hermand’ were included in Lowland Lairds (1949).

In The Man Behind Macbeth (London: Faber & Faber, 1969), he puts forward the theory, with a wealth of historical evidence to support it, that Shakespeare's characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had two originals in contemporary life: the notorious Captain James Stewart, briefly Earl of Arran and Chancellor of Scotland, and his flamboyantly wicked wife, two of the best-known and best-hated figures in Scotland during the early years of King James VI and I, that King for whose particular diversion Shakespeare wrote his play. The book included a piece on Thomas Thomson, the son of Dailly manse who became deputy clerk register from 1806 to 1841 and who was commemorated by a new Scottish Record Office building opened in 1995.

His knowledge of Argyll was put to use in Argyll in the Forty-Five (1951) and in his study of the Appin murder case, the background to R. L. Stevenson's Kidnapped, printed in The White Hind (1963).

In retirement he produced a study of The Declaration of Arbroath 1320 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1970), in which he provided a translation of the treasured document, arranged into paragraphs, with shorter sentences and modern punctuation for ease of reading.


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that:

Sir James was tall and of distinguished appearance with a small moustache. Photographs convey something of his characteristics of tenacity of purpose and directness combined with personal courtesy, composure, and a sense of duty and service.


Fergusson married on 17 July 1930 Louise Frances Balfour Stratford Dugdale (d. 1988), daughter of Edgar Trevelyan Stratford Dugdale and related to the Balfours of Whittingehame and the dukes of Argyll. They had two sons and two daughters: Charles, who succeeded to the estate; Adam, MEP for West Strathclyde (1979–84); Alice, who married the Rt Hon. Timothy Renton MP; and Christian, who died in a car accident at the age of 14 in 1954.


He died on 25 October 1973 at age 69. His private funeral was held at Kilkerran on 29 October 1973, with a thanksgiving service in the Dailly Parish Church, Ayrshire, the following day.[5] A memorial service was held in on 19 November at Greyfriars Kirk, whose minister, Dr Stuart Louden, was a friend with affectionate memories from his earlier ministry at Dailly. His wealth at death was £138,947 (confirmation 1 Oct 1974, CCI).


  1. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 17.
  2. Ariel, June 1936, 26.
  3. D. M. Abbott, ‘Fergusson, Sir James, eighth baronet (1904–1973)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) accessed 14 May 2015
  4. Mosley, Charles, editor. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes. Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003.
  5. Death notices, Glasgow Herald, 27 October 1973, 14.
Media offices
Preceded by
Kembal Johnston
BBC Scottish talks assistant
Succeeded by
Robert Dunnett