LADY CHARLOTTE CAMPBELL
The village was built on the site of an older hamlet, where a ferry had run across Loch Indaal to the Bowmore side. The land was originally part of Glassans, or Classans Farm. The Gaelic name Port Sgioba, with “Skiba” literally translating as "teams", could be a reference to ploughing the land, or to sailing ships. Its English name, Port Charlotte, is a tribute to a celebrity in the court of George IV, a lady of letters, whose connection was that she was the Laird of Islay’s mother.
Lady Charlotte Campbell, after whom the village is named, was one of the Duke of Argyll’s daughters, of Inverary Castle not far away on the mainland. She and Colonel John Campbell of Islay, a soldier and latterly a politician, had nine children together. He died young, in 1809; she lived for another 52 years and published somewhere between 13 and 25 books, not all publicly bearing her name.
After being widowed, she became a lady in waiting to Queen Caroline of Brunswick in an era of royal scuffles and scandals that attracted intense popular interest. The writer and critic William Hazlitt reported in the 1820s that the “queen’s business…struck its roots into the heart of the nation; it took possession of every house or cottage in the Kingdom.” Lady Charlotte herself caused ripples when she married her children’s tutor, the young Reverend Bury, to whom she bore two more children, then again outlived. Lady Charlotte knew the writers Walter Scott and William Blake. In 1828, while the foundation stones of Port Charlotte were being laid, Lady Charlotte herself published “Flirtation” - her fourth popular novel. George IV’s famous trip to Scotland in which he blessed and ratified the Scotch Whisky industry had taken place in 1822.
WALTER FREDERICK CAMPBELL
Where had the “improving landlord” impetus come from? In 1828 It was Lady Charlotte’s son, Walter Frederick, who triggered the planning and building of Port Charlotte (he gave plots of land and handed out building specifications but houses were paid for and constructed by their new owners). He had already overseen Port Ellen, begun in 1821, and the redevelopment of Portnahaven as a fishing-crofting settlement. It has to be noted that the 1820s were the middle of the Highland Clearances. Walter Frederick had inherited Islay from his grandfather, who was also empowered to build, having devised Bowmore in order to rehouse a community there in 1768.
Walter Frederick was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh at the age of 24, the same year he became an MP. Edinburgh had been significant for a few generations for its role in the Scottish Enlightenment. Back before the French Revolution in the 1760s, the Encyclopaedia Britannica had been started in Edinburgh. That decade, the construction of the New Town with its insistent proportions and salubrious street plans had begun, and Voltaire had written “today it is from Scotland that we get rules of taste in all the arts, from epic poetry to gardening.” Adam Smith, author of Wealth of Nations (published in 1776) in which the fundamental principles of capitalism and meritocracy over aristocracy were set out, had been active in Edinburgh and its university. By the late 1820s, Scotland was capturing the romantic imagination, as Hector Berlioz set Scott’s Waverley to music, and Mendelssohn toured the Hebrides.
THE WIDER CONTEXT
The 1820s were busy industrially and politically. While Islay was still essentially feudal (it could be argued fractions of it still are!) 1818 had seen the first shipyard open in Glasgow. The Scottish iron industry was revolutionised by Neilson’s invention of hot blast smelting in 1828. The first locomotive-powered trains ran in greater Glasgow from 1826. Cotton was a massive industry in the West of Scotland; an establishment like New Lanark Mills is an interesting precedent because it was a planned settlement built around a successful business, housing for the workers intrinsic to the design.
Could this have been something of an inspiration to Walter Frederick? At New Lanark, the incumbent owner Owen became the utopian socialist leader of a working class movement, opening the first infant school in Britain there in 1817. Industrialisation stirred up social change; there was unrest among the educated artisan weavers in Paisley with the “radical wars” of 1820.