James Lobban (1873–1949), Cameron Highlander

James Lobban (1873–1949)

James Lobban (1873–1949) was born in Nethybridge, Abernethy, near the River Spey, Inverness-shire to James Lobban (1838–1910) and Jane Taylor. According to John Stewart, in his biographical introduction to ‘Gillies Lobban’s Manuscript’ (reference at end *) the elder James and Jane went through a ‘trial’ period of marriage before becoming wed (1876). By that time three children, including James, had sprung from the union and the first legally born son was  Benjamin (Gillies was a later son). [Although the family at the time were in Inverness-shire, the family tree shows that they came originally from Moray (Moray Lobbans).]  His father was a sawmiller who met a sad fate (see below).

James enlisted first in the 3rd Battallion of the Seaforth Highlanders (date unknown) and in 1893 (age 20) transferred to the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders (Army No 3497) “for 7 years with the Colours and 5 in the Reserve.”

Cameron Highlanders with Egyptian and Sudanese troops: Battle of Atbara on 8th April 1898 in the Sudanese War. Source: https://www.britishbattles.com/war-in-egypt-and-sudan/battle-of-atbara/

Letter to parents from Soudan April 1898

The letter below, apparently begun 3 Apr. but finished after the Battle of Atbara, gives a first-hand account (in language appropriate for his parents). The letter explains that he was a piper, so I particularly like the painting reproduced below, showing the pipers leading the funeral procession for the fallen after this battle.
Background info on the fighting in Sudan: The Anglo-Egyptian conquest of Sudan in 1896–1899 was a reconquest of territory lost by Egypt in 1884 and 1885 during the Mahdist War, including the famous fall of Khartoum. Egypt, although nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, was for all practical purposes under British rule. During 1898, Kitchener’s forces were pushing back towards Khartoum:
To be sure of having the necessary strength to defeat the Mahdist forces in their heartland, Kitchener brought up reinforcements from the British army, and a brigade under Major General William F. Gatacre arrived in Sudan at the end of January 1898. The Warwicks, Lincolns and Cameron Highlanders had to march the last thirty miles as the railway had not yet caught up with the front line. Skirmishes took place in the early Spring, as the Mahdist forces made an attempt in March to outflank Kitchener by crossing the Atbara, but they were outmanouevred; the Egyptians steamed upstream and raided Shendi. Eventually, at dawn on 8 April, the Anglo-Egyptians mounted a full frontal assault on the forces of Osman Digna with three infantry brigades, holding one in reserve. Fighting lasted less than an hour and concluded with 81 Anglo-Egyptian soldiers killed and 478 wounded, to over 3,000 Mahdist troops dead. (Wikipedia)
This  Battle of Atbara, 8 Apr. 1898 is described and illustrated on the British Battles.com website, from which the pictures here are taken. Here follows a copy of a transcription of James Lobban’s letter (original letter now probably lost), originally posted to Ancestry.com by Fiona MacDonnell.


Dear Father and Mother,

I now write you this few lines in answer to your letter which I received about a week ago.  We are further up the country since I wrote you last by 143 miles.  We marched 109 miles in 112 hours.  One day we marched 32 miles.  We were expecting to meet the Dervishes but they retired.  There was a skirmish between the Dervishes and the Egyptians: we could hear…  [passage missing].

The day we did the 32 miles we were pretty bad off for water, and as soon as we came in sight of the Nile there was a rush for the water.  The men were rushing into the water up to their knees and drinking it like horses.  The men whose feet were sore were carried on camels.  You would laugh to see them.  A camel’s hump is not an easy thing to sit on.  You would laugh to see the kilties falling off.

We have been in the kilt now for over a month — not off day or night.  We sleep in marching order.  Every man has 100 rounds of ammunition in his pouches and sleeps with that too, and his arm round the sling of his rifle.  I have no rifle myself: only the pipes.

You speak about the heat at home sometimes.  If you would feel it here, sometimes 118 degrees in the shade; …  [passage missing].

9th April. – I will now give you some news of the fun we had yesterday.  We left camp on the night of the 7th and came in sight of the Dervish camp at daybreak.  Then our artillery opened fire on them for about an hour. Then we were ordered to advance and drive them out, the Cameron’s to lead the way; and they did it in fine style.  The Dervishes had a strong position and they kept up a heavy fire.  They were all in pits and a lot of our men fell, killed or wounded; but nothing could stop our rush, and the Dervishes fled after one hour and forty minutes’ heavy fighting.  We lost two officers and fifteen men killed, and about forty wounded in our regiment alone.  The Sirdar [Major General Sir Herbert Kitchener] said he never saw anything done better in his life.  One of our pipers was killed about a yard from me, and the Pipe-Major had a hole shot through his helmet but otherwise got away scot free.  You might send me a paper if you see the account of the fight in it.  There were about three thousand five hundred Dervishes killed and a terrible lot taken prisoners.  Hardly anyone escaped.  I hear we are not going any further: that they can manage to take Khartoum with the Egyptian troops.  I don’t know if this is true or not.

I have no more to say in the meantime.  Hoping to hear from you soon.

I remain your affectionate son,

James Lobban

‘Lament in the Desert’: Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders burying their casualties: Battle of Atbara on 8th April 1898 in the Sudanese War: picture by Lady Butler. Source: https://www.britishbattles.com/war-in-egypt-and-sudan/battle-of-atbara/

James’ later life

According to brother Gillies  Lobban’s Manuscript,* his eldest brother James, or Jamie as he called him, served in South Africa (Second Boer War), coming home in 1902. It was then that Gillies remembered him, when he planted a double row of sycamore trees at the sides of the drive to the farmhouse at Milton of Kincardine. In 1905 he enlisted into Section D of the Army Reserve with a ‘Good Record’ from the Camerons on 15 July at Perth and into General Service for a further 4 years, his oath of allegiance being given to King Edward VII at Inverness, also on 15 July 1905.

After his service in the Army he worked as a “railway surfaceman.” Neil Worthington explains that “Surfaceman is the Scots term for a track worker (usually platelayer in English, though different terms applied in different companies). He would have been a general labourer with some specialist skills in fixing bits of rail and sleepers. Chopping back trees, mending fences, clearing drains, shovelling snow in winter and sitting at distant signals with a red lamp and detonators during fog and falling snow would have been his principal occupations.”

In 1907 James married Margaret Duncan.  The marriage certificate reads, “On 15th March 1907 at the Temperence Hotel Huntly, according to the forms of the Church of Scotland, a marriage between James Lobban, Bachelor & Railway Surfaceman aged 33 of ‘Tanandry,’ Perthshire, son of James Lobban, crofter & Jane Lobban m.s. Taylor:  to Margaret Duncan, Spinster & Domestic Servant aged 31 of ‘Robertstown’, Huntly, daughter of James Duncan, Farmer and Margaret Duncan m.s. Gordon: Witnesses were Joseph Lobban & Bella Duncan; Minister was Adam Semple”.  At the 1911 Census he was recorded at No. 2 Railway Cottage, Moy, Invernesshire, with two daughters, Margaret Jeanie born in Huntly and Christina born in Duthil; a son, James Duncan was born just after the Census, while they were in Moy and died in 1990.  I have not yet found whether James (1873) also served in the Great War; he would have been 41 when it started.  He died of coronary thrombosis at the Brandner Library in Huntly, 22 Nov. 1949, Margaret having predeceased him in 1928.

James’ father James

James Lobban (1838–1910)  used to float timber from Abernethy, down the River Spey to Spey Bay on the Moray Firth, a distance of 42 miles as the crow flies but 60 river miles. He fell into the river many times and even though he couldn’t swim, he somehow managed to scramble back aboard the logs. Having delivered the timber, he then had to walk all the way back to Kincardine.

fmacdonell86 posted this, apparently a newspaper obituary, on Ancestry.com:

Mr James Lobban. Kincardine Saw Mills

The melancholy death from exposure of Mr James Lobban, Kincardine Saw Mills, in his 72nd year, has to be recorded.  He was in Grantown on business on Friday 5th February 1910, and returned by the afternoon G.N. [Great Northern Railway] train to Boat of Garten.  He called on the way home at Mullingarroch Mills, where he had tea, leaving in the best of spirits about 7 o’clock. The darkness of the night and the stormy nature of the weather impelled one of his sons to go out to meet him.  Leaving home almost at the same hour as the deceased left Mullingarroch, he must have missed his parent on the way.  Retracing his steps, apprehensions of disaster only entered his mind on finding that his father had not turned up.  Search was at once instituted, but, owing to the darkness and storm, failed until daylight set in on Saturday, when the remains were discovered a short distance off the footpath by a short-cut to home.  The deceased was a very worthy and much respected Strathspey man.  Naturally intelligent, he had a wealth of information as to the old-world themes relative to the people and places in his native Strath.  He leaves a widow and a large grown-up family, for whom every sympathy is felt. Messrs Alex Lobban, Brae, Ruthven and James Lobban, Duke Ville, Kingussie, are sons of the deceased.

James’ death certificate noted that he died at Auchgourish (less than a mile from home), between 28 & 29 Jan, his usual residence being the Sawmill at Kincardine; the doctor’s finding of cause of death was  “Exposure following an epileptic fit.”



‘Gillies Lobban’s Manuscript’ was published in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Vol IV,  1986-1988, pp. 73–96, together with a list of place names and some additional notes.


Page by Chris S. Lobban, with materials from Syd Lobban’s tree and Fiona MacDonell’s posts on  the fmacdonell86 family tree web page. Posted 1 May 2019.