Gillies Lobban (1892–1972)

Gillies McDonald Lobban (1892–1972)

Gillies left some autobiographical notes which were published in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness 55: 73–105 (1986-88), to which was appended a glossary of the place names he mentioned. Here I reproduce the accompanying biographical note by Gillies’ grand nephew, Dr. Adam Watson, and a small sample of Gilles’ notes. An account of his brother and father is under the Soldiers tab, link.

Biographical Note

Gillies Lobban was born in the Parish of [Abernethy and] Kincardine, Inverness-shire on 21st March, 1892. He was the youngest member in a family of fifteen and was brought up in the family home, Mill of Kincardine. This house still stands today. Gillies was a sawmiller all of his working life as was his father before him. Considering the forests which surrounded him, his choice of trade was not surprising. In childhood he received very little education. What education he did have was at a small school in Kincardine, the chimney of which still stands. He also made the long walk to Rothiemurchus school for further learning. In the summer months he worked instead of going to school and despite his lack of education he was nevertheless an avid reader of non fictional works. His work eventually took him down into Perthshire. He died in Bridge of Earn on 1st April 1972, and perhaps up until the time of his death was one of the last Strathspey Gaelic speakers. In his latter years he took great pleasure in naming and translating the Gaelic place names in the area of his birth.

His own mother and father went through a ‘trial’ period of marriage before becoming wed. By this time quite a few children had sprung from the union and the first legally born son was Joseph. Joseph pre-deceased Gillies in 1971 aged 86 years and was also a Gaelic speaker. He died in Nethy Bridge. Members of this large family settled various parts of the World as far apart as Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.


Here Gillies recalls something of his father’s life:

In my father’s young days he was employed as a ‘Floater.’ I can remember on him telling us once of an occasion down near Carron when he got swept off the Float in shallow water. Even if he had been able to swim (which he could not) it would have made no difference. However the river bed at that part had a lot of large boulders and having a long sweep oar in his hand he was able to get from one to another by putting the oar in his hand across and so got on to ‘terra firma.’ The floats were assembled on the Spey at the mouth of the Nethy and apparently were bound with willow wands. The ‘Floaters’ were paid by the cubic foot. I have in my possession a ‘Hoppus’ table of measurement with his name on it and dated 1864. Whenever they got paid for their ‘cargo’ at Garmouth they would set out to walk home and prepare another float. He used to tell that sometimes when the water was high the man on the ‘head’ of the float as they called it, could not be seen; and when the water was too low they often got stranded on the rocks, so it was a case of always depending on the weather to make a living.


Thanks to Malcolm Lobban for showing me this article. Christopher S. Lobban. Posted 6 Oct. 2019.