When young John Campbell inherited Saddell Castle (left) in 1798, he fulfilled a chilling prophecy which came to his parents in a dream. Unfortunately, no one could predict that John would be a fun loving big-spender whose cosmopolitan lifestyle was better suited to London or Paris than the remote Scottish Isle of Kintyre. By the time John was 26, he had seriously overspent and by the age of 38, he had lost the Castle that played a major role in the history of his family, Saddell and Kintyre.
That history - and a part of John's lost inheritance - will be brought to life at the world famous Christie's Auction House on October 28, 1999.
Four portraits once belonging to the Campbell family, including paintings of young John's grandfather, uncles and father, will be auctioned off at Christie's inaugural Sale of Scottish Art in Edinburgh. And the public charity that now operates Saddell Castle hopes to raise the funds necessary to bring the portraits back "home" where they belong.
The Campbell portraits were painted in the late 1700s by Scottish artist, David Martin (1737-1797), a leading Scottish portrait painter. Martin's most famous painting was of Benjamin Franklin which hangs in the Green Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Right: Colonel Donald Campbell, 1726-1784. Click on picture for larger view).
Martin was a pupil and later chief assistant of Alan Ramsay and travelled to Italy with him. He became Vice-President of the Scottish Academy and exhibited there as well as at the Royal Academy in London.
Martin was appointed 'Portrait painter to the Prince of Wales in Scotland' which is how he often signed his pictures. He was one of the first resident painters in Edinburgh to earn a good living, but his dominant position was encroached upon by Raeburn - whom Christie's now believes may have been the painter of Charles Campbell's portrait.
The Scottish Sale is Christie's first in Scotland and is part of the famous Auction house's autumn British Art Sale. According to Rosie Stynes, Christie's specialist in Scottish Art, the Campbell Portraits in particular have attracted considerable attention from around the world.
The portraits have also attracted the attention of The Landmark Trust. Established in 1965, The Landmark Trust is a unique charity with the twin aims of rescuing historic buildings and then renting them for holidays. The Trust has rescued over 200 buildings from decay, disuse or demolition in the United Kingdom. The organization currently owns and operates 167 former privately owned historic buildings including Saddell Castle, historic home of the Campbell portraits.
Alastair Dick-Cleland of The Landmark Trust explains that as soon as the Christie's Auction was announced, the charity started the hard work of raising the funds to purchase the original Campbell portraits and bring them back home to Kintyre. The price of the portraits is in the range of 15.000 British Pounds and The Trust is seeking public donations to help with the purchase. (Left: Captain Donald Campbell, 1763-1793. Click on picture for larger view).
"It is extremely unusual to have the opportunity to acquire a group of family portraits with a direct connection to the property they once owned," Mr. Dick-Cleland says. "This is the first time that it has happened to us, and we believe their importance lies not only in the chance to buy a single portrait of the builder of one of our houses but also as a group of pictures in their original frames which would greatly enhance the enjoyment and education of those staying at the Castle," he adds.
Young John Campbell was the grandson of Colonel Donald Campbell, (1726-1784), a military man who spent most of his career in India. Campbell and his wife Anne had three sons, Charles (1767-1790), Donald (1763-1793) and John (d. 1799).
In 1774, the elder Donald, having recently returned from India, built Saddell House out of the ruins of the nearby Saddell Abbey. The Abbey is home to the MacDonald Clan burial ground and Somerled, the grandfather of Clan Donald, is buried there. Campbell's insensitive act so enraged the locals that nearly sixty years later, when William Dobie wrote his Peregrinations in Kintyre, feelings still ran high.
The pulling down of the crazed walls of this Religious Edifice (Saddell Abbey), were regarded by the good folks of the district at the time, as acts of the most daring impiety, and the general belief was, and still is, that he thereby brought a curse, not only on himself but on his posterity likewise. The curse, it is said, did soon overtake him, for he died by an accidentally self-inflicted wound and though it has hung thus long over his descendants, it is now about being consummated, inasmuch the present Laird of Glensaddel is merely nominally such, and it would require little skill in Palmistry to foretell he shall be the last of his line."The curse seemed to work. Donald died in 1784, and of his three sons, only Donald and then John, succeeded him. It was John's son and namesake who lost the Castle and sent it into a spiral that was finally stopped when Landmark Trust became involved in the property in 1975. (Left: Charles Campbell, 1767-1790. Click on picture for larger view).
The story of how young John inherited the castle is eerie in light of his grandfather's curse and parent's prophetic dream.
In 1797, John's father married Mathilda Lochart of Largee and the baby John was born the same year. Soon afterwards, the elder John and his wife had identical dreams wherein two great oak trees disappeared, leaving one young tree growing between them.
Mathilda asked a fortuneteller the meaning of their strange dreams and was told she and her husband would both die, but their child would flourish. The prophecy began to unfold within months: John died in September and Mathilda in December of the following year, 1798.
Their pathetic tale was commemorated by the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon in "The Dream", a romantic ballad written in 1826.
Two fair oak trees most caught her eye;Young John Campbell was ill suited for the pastoral life at Kintyre. On his 21st birthday he filled Saddell Castle and Saddell House - the controversial home his grandfather built aside the Castle - with his guests and no one was allowed to cross the burn between the two without partaking of a dram. He had apartments in London and Paris and a yacht. He was a keen hunting man, with a hunting box in Melton Mowbray. It is believed he kept a horse in Edinburgh because there is a story of his riding 20 miles back to Edinburgh after hunting one day, and 30 miles to a meet the other side of Edinburgh the next. Locally, he was known as "The Rider". (Left: Major John Campbell, d. 1799. Click on picture for larger view).
John Campbell and his ancestors were just one of a series of Scottish families who lived in the Castle since 1508, when David Hamilton, Bishop of Argyll, was granted the lands of Saddell Abbey.
The Bishop built Saddell Castle between 1508-1512 in the typical tower-house style of the period. Similar to Cawdor Castle, Saddell has a convenient trap door placed in the main entrance passage which was activated to send unwanted visitors into a dungeon from which there was no escape.
Over the centuries, Saddell Castle has been deliberately destroyed, rebuilt, gutted by fire, neglected and rediscovered. It has been at the centre of some of the most important events in British and European history, from the English invasions of Ireland, to Charles II's suppression of the Covenantars, to the early days of the British Raj in India.
Having survived the 19th and 20th centuries relatively intact, it is appropriate that its present owners, Landmark Trust, seek to reunite the Campbell family portraits with their ancestral home just in time for the dawn of the 21st century.
MMJ, October 1999
If you would like to contribute to the purchase of the Campbell Portraits, please contact Alastair Dick-Cleland of The Landmark Trust by email@ email@example.com.
Mr. Dick-Cleland can also be reached by telephone at: 01628 825920 or by fax at 01628 825417
The Landmark Trust is located in Shottesbrooke, Maidenhead, Berks SL6 3SW.
Remember! Time is of the essence! The sale takes place at 2 pm, on October 28, 1999!
Christie's Scottish Art Sale in Edinburgh takes place at 2 pm on October 28, 1999 at the Assembly Rooms, George Street. For further information, check out the Scottish Sale on Christie's website at www.christies.com
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