How do I find my 4th great grandfather's Scottish parents?

Rear Admiral Donald Campbell 1752-1819 was a contemporary of Nelson's & also served with the Portuguese Navy. I can trace his career, and death, and there is a memorial to him in the Garrison Church in Portsmouth. He married Margaretha Hendrina van Renen. I can find out about his children but I can't find his parents.

Donald Campbell is a pretty common Scottish name. There was in fact another Rear Admiral Donald Campbell around at about the same time but 50 years younger so I have had to be careful when tracing facts.

I think "my" Donald Campbell may have been born on the Island of Islay but that's all I know.

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    Denise, welcome to genealogy.SE, and thanks for your question. It would be useful if you could let us know what you've already tried to answer the question, so we don't go over old grounds for you. For instance, do you have any information about the marriage of Donald to Margaretha, and does that say anything about his father?
    – user104
    Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 15:22
  • Good thought - checking his marriage - and one I had completely missed but I think he probably got married in South Africa as that is where Margaretha van Renen was from. His first child was born in Cape Town. My source for the marriage is "A Notable Record -some account of the many families descended in the male and female lines from Daniel van Renen". Not sure where to look for a marriage certificate! Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 8:12
  • that far back I suspect it will be a church register of some sort, rather than a certificate? Is Margaretha Dutch or German by descent?
    – user104
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 9:28
  • Her grandfather Graf Jacobus van Renen came from East Prussia, emigrating to the Cape in 1721 Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 20:45
  • I came across this post when researching our own family history. I am a Johnstone and we are related to Donald Campbell through his daughter Jane Wilhelmina Campbell who married James Gardiner Johnstone in 1817. Many of the generations subsequently had 'Campbell' as their middle name or were named Donald. I believe a portrait of Donald Campbell used to belong to our family (I may be wrong however) and hangs at Finchcocks in Goudhurst, Kent. I am sure if you contacted them they could let you know.
    – Lucy J
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 13:14

8 Answers 8


Source: the appendix of 'The Clan Campbell' by Major Sir Duncan Campbell, Vol IV, MacNiven & Wallace (Pub) 1916. pp397-401. Location: National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.

This book contains a letter from AH McLean to the editor of the Oban Times. McLean states that he conducted searches of the Admiralty records and that Donald was born on the island of Islay in 1752 and his parents were Archibald Campbell and Catherine Mclean. He quotes the Rev JG MacNeil's 'Guide to Islay' which mentions Donald's father being a postmaster and schoolmaster of Kilarrow and who died in 1786. Catherine McLean's parents are given as Neil McLean and Elizabeth MacNab.

The article continues to give a full account of Donald's navy career.

In addition the book contains follow-up information from the author about Henry Dundas Campbell and Donald's career. Interestingly the author (Duncan Campbell) states that parish baptismal records of Kildalton, Islay show that Donald was baptised om 31st January 1751 when the family lived at Lagavulin, Islay.

  • 2
    Please do not post questions in the answer field. You won't get an answer and the post may be deleted. Post a separate question.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 15:26
  • 1
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    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 18:11
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    – PolyGeo
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 22:01

The recent book "Tracing Your Naval Ancestors", by Simon Fowler (Pen & Sword, 2011) lists on p46-48 various biographical texts about RN officers, many of which are on-line at www.archive.org and Ancestry. It may be that some of these could provide a clue. Ancestry, e.g. has a database "Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, 1660-1815" imaged from the book "The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, 1660-1815" Vol. I-II. 1954[?]. However, this seems to give no more than the basic dates in his ranks (Commander 5 June 1793, Captain 26 Oct 1795, Rear Admiral 4 June 1814 - no date for Lieutenant).

Potentially more useful is a CD from 2003 "The Complete Navy List of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815" by Patrick Marione. The description suggest this contains biographical data. There is an index to this online at http://www.ageofnelson.org/NavyList/results.php?name=campbell

Both Donalds are in the index - ominously there is no birth date for yours. The book says that the Society of Genealogists has a copy and other large reference libraries may also have it.

On a different tactic, http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/SCT-ISLAY/2009-09/1252735710 shows that someone believes his father was "father: Donald Campbell listed as Major Donald Campbell on his Islay headstone" - I think that's the father was a major. And one possibility would then be to see if ScotlandsPeople has a will for the elder Donald. All getting very speculative but there is a testament for a Donald Campbell, "Colonel of Glensaddel" dated 22/6/1801 and another for a Donald Campbell, "of Glensaddel" (maybe the same person?) dated 1/11/1800. (dd/mm/yyyy format dates)

Unfortunately, the earlier one is a Testament Dative - ScotlandsPeople states

  • "A testament dative is comprised of three parts: an introductory clause, an inventory of the deceased’s possessions, and a confirmation clause. There is no will, but the court often named a close family member as executor. However, if the deceased died in debt, the court might appoint a creditor as executor instead. In the latter case, it is less likely that family names will be included".

The 2nd document is an Eik, which SP describes as "An addition or supplement to a deed".

So at risk of upsetting my ancestor's countrymen by using English terms, the 1st is an admon with inventory, not a will per se, the 2nd an amendment to the 1st. Whether any of these will mention the Admiral is totally unknown. Depends how desperate you're getting!

  • Thank you for your lengthy reply. Like you I have managed to trace his career. I shall certainly investigate the other links. His son - Henry Dundas Campbell was a Major (also an interesting person). I do have Donald's will - from the National Archive (also reference to him giving Nelson a bureau for his cabin on the Victory & it's still there!) - but no clue about his parents. One clue I am unsuccessfully following is that an executor was Sir Colin Campbell (1792-1863) whose mother was an Agnes Campbell. There must be a link otherwise why was he executor? Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 8:27

The Campbell clan is one of the more active in genealogy and some clan members take pride in figuring out who the famous Campbell were and how they tied in to the clan. You might try the genealogist at Clan Campbell of North America.


At the risk of further muddying the waters, “The Life and Services of Horatio, Viscount Nelson” by James Stanier and John M’Arthur gives the following details of the life of Donald Campbell:

Born 1764, the eldest son of Major Donald Campbell of Islay. Procured commission as Ensign in 74th Regiment of Highlanders at the age of 13 (!) and served as ensign and then lieutenant in the Revolutionary War for six years. At the end of the war he left the army and became a sailor, first on a merchantman in the West Indies and later as a mate with the East India Company.

In 1793 he was appointed a lieutenant in the Portuguese Royal Navy and rose rapidly through the ranks, serving in the Mediterranean and for two years in Brazil. Following his service here he suggested reforms to the Portuguese government which were much appreciated and also corresponded frequently with the British government concerning the political situation in Portugal. For this and other (secret) services a pension was settled on his wife. He was appointed rear-admiral of the Portuguese navy in 1805 and sent to the Mediterranean with instructions to cooperate with the British fleet. Bonaparte, through his ambassador, objected and Campbell was recalled. He died in Lisbon in March 1806 at the age of 42, “much lamented as a good man and an excellent officer”.

He left 2 children, one of whom, Anna Maria Campbell, married my second great grand uncle. Her daughter, Georgiana Miller wrote:

“My gt grandfather, Major Campbell fought at Culloden, India, and in the Low Countries Wars. My grandfather was in the Portuguese Navy and died at 42, Admiral of the Home Fleet. Highland gentry were long poor and entered foreign service. His widow and two daughters lived in Portugal or they would not have got the pension due to them. My mother being ill was ordered home for a change and she then married Mr. Miller of Monk Castle.”

The above account from Stanier and M’Arthur is consistent with the many references to Campbell found on the internet. As far as hard data is concerned, Ensign Donald Campbell is listed in the army list of the 74th Regiment of (Highland) Foot, America, enlisting in December 1777. His correspondence with the British cabinet is listed in the Chatham papers in the National Archives. Commodore Campbell is described in Thomas Lindley’s “Voyage to Brazil” published in 1808.

Campbell delivered his reports to the British government in 1803 and 1804, prior to returning to Lisbon. There is a record of the christening of Anna Maria Campbell born 22 September 1804 in London, parents Donald Campbell and Eliza Maria. The same parents are listed on Anna Maria’s death certificate in 1888 (Scotland’s People). Finally, in Burke’s Landed Gentry he appears as Anna Maria’s father “the late Admiral Campbell, Portuguese Navy, and Commander-in-chief of the home fleet in the Tagus”.

It appears that there are (at least) 3 Admirals Donald Campbell:

  1. Donald (Portuguese navy, described above) b.1764, probably Islay - d.1806 Lisbon.
  2. Donald (British navy) b. 1752 - d. 1819 aboard his ship the “Salisbury”, married Margarethe van Renen.
  3. Donald (British navy) b. 1788 - d. 1856, married Ann Irvin, then Isabella Campbell.

For information on the parents of Campbell #2, see:

Campbell, Duncan, ”The clan Campbell : from the Campbell collections”. Edinburgh: O. Schulze & Co., 1988. (available on ancestry.com)

These records contain a letter to the editor of “The Oban Times” (dated July 1916) showing that even a hundred years ago there was confusion over the Admirals Campbell. In clarification, the author states that the Donald Campbell born on Islay in 1752 was one of 5 children of Archibald Campbell and Catherine McLean. Catherine was the only daughter of Neil McLean and Elizabeth MacNab. This is followed by a summary of his subsequent naval career and a note from the editor providing extensive additional information on this, as well as a date for the parents marriage (6 November 1742).

Although no references are provided for the parentage, this should provide a good starting point for further searches.


My surname is van Reenen and this extract is from our family tree:

Margaretha Hendrina VAN RENEN. Dau. of Daniel VAN RENEN Burgher of Cape Town & Catharina Christina BECK. b. 3 Apr 1767. d. 16 Jan 1832 in Portsmouth. She m. Rear Admiral. Donald CAMPBELL, 18 Sep 1785 in Cape Town. b. 12 Feb 1752. d. 11 Nov 1819 in the Leeward Island, West Indies. Children: i. George Henry CAMPBELL; b. 8 May 1788. d. 1811. ii. Edward Hughes CAMPBELL; b. 30 Sep 1796. d. Nov 1797. iii. Henry Dundas CAMPBELL iv. Harriet Catherine CAMPBELL v. Jane Wilhelmina CAMPBELL

  1. Henry Dundas CAMPBELL. Son of Rear Admiral. Donald CAMPBELL & Margaretha Hendrina VAN RENEN. b. 8 Jul 1798. d. 1 Apr 1878. He m. Annie Maria DAVIS, 1827. Children: i. Donald Samuel CAMPBELL; b. Sep 1830. ii. Harriot Georgina CAMPBELL iii. Maria Jane CAMPBELL; b. 24 May 1832. iv. Frances Eliza CAMPBELL

  2. Harriet Catherine CAMPBELL. Dau. of Rear Admiral. Donald CAMPBELL & Margaretha Hendrina VAN RENEN. b. 20 Jul 1800. d. 31 Jul 1878. She m. Capt. Tunus Augus VANRENEN, son of Brig. Gen. Jacob VAN RENEN & Johanna Adriana BOGAARDT, 14 Oct 1819 in Midnapore, Bengal. b. 12 Aug 1793 in Chunar. d. 8 Oct 1836 in Punjab, India. He was given 2 years sick leave at the Cape from 07/01/1829 and he and his brother John Heyning, reached Table Bay in the Lord Amherst on the 19/03/1829. For the latter part of his leave they stayed at Mrs. van Schoor`s boarding house at 6 Strand Street. The brothers left again for Culcutta in Oct 1830. All his dau.s married Bengal Army men. Captain, Artillery. b. in Chunar on 2/08/1793. Cadet 1810. Admitted on 27/08/1811. Fire worker 20/08/1811. Lieut. 25/09/1817. Captain 28/09/1827. d. Meerut 07/10/1836. Bapt. Chunar 23/08/1793. Eldest son of Jacob Vanrenen, q.v. married Midnapore 14/10/1819, Harriot Catherine, his cousin-german, elder dau. of Adm. Donald Campbell, R.N. ( she died 31/07/1878, aged 78) Addiscombe cadet 1810. Services: Nepal War 1814-15; Lt. F. 2nd Coy. 2nd Bn., in 4th Div. Siege and capture of Hathras 1817; Lt. F. 3rd Coy. 2nd Bn. Third mahratta War; Lieut. 3rd Coy. 2nd Bn., detached with Rt. Div. from Agra Dec 1817. Adjt. & Qmr. 2nd Bn. 17/12/1822; do. 5th Bn. 22/07/1822 till 31/10/1827. Leave s.c. 2 years to Cape 07/01/1829. Tempy. charge of expense mag. at Dum-Dum 21/02-05/06/1835; actg. Comy. Ord. 06/05/1835; transfd to H.A. 05/06/1835. Will dated 25/08/1820. The name is usually given as Tuneus, but incorrectly so according to De la Fer

  3. Jane Wilhelmina CAMPBELL. Dau. of Rear Admiral. Donald CAMPBELL & Margaretha Hendrina VAN RENEN. b. 27 Jun 1802. d. 16 Jan 1890. She m. James Gardiner JOHNSTONE, son of William JOHNSTONE & Jean HUTCHISON, 28 Nov 1817. b. 25 Jan 1798. d. 6 Apr 1846

Unfortunately nothing further on the Campbells.


  • Just curious, did you research this yourself?
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 2:46
  • Thank you Iloma for taking the trouble to post this. I do have most of the information - gathered from hours in the India Office Records. On the Campbell side both Donald and Henry Dundas had notable careers. It is so frustrating not to be able to get further back! Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 10:51
  • My pleasure! To answer Luke's question: Nope, my 5th cousin, twice removed, Jacob Duckitt van Renen wrote his thesis on the Van Reenen Family and published it as a book: Van Reenen Van Renen Vanrenen 1722-1994 which we have acquired. I have aloso found a book called: "The genealogical impact on South African history of the Prussian settler Graf Jacob van Rhenen who arrived in the Cape in 1721" by John George, which contained a lot of the earlier family history. I'm currently adding it all to the My Heritage site for posterity! :) Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 11:57

It appears that Margaret Harriot Van Reenen was born in South Africa and has connections to nobility through her father Daniel Van Reenen (c. 13 May 1730, d. 22 May 1771).

They have entries in the Community Tree British Isles. Peerage, Baronetage, and Landed Gentry families with extended lineage maintained by Family Search.

However, FS seem to know as little about Donald as you do!

I am intrigued by the Portugese connection. When did he serve in that navy? Before or after reaching Flag rank in the RN? Is it possible that he achieved "distinction" in Portugal because of his marriage?

If you are a fan of the Hornblower stories (C. S. Forester) you might consider the possibility that in the 1780s Donald was a disaffected Captain on half-pay stuck in a far-flung outpost of Empire and hawking his services to whoever would pay.

  • Yes, the van Renen history is very interesting.Donald Campbell was with the Portuguese navy in command of the Tritao at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797 (after he had attained the rank of Captain) when he reputedly helped Nelson's ship from being fired upon by the Spanish. He is mentioned in Roger Knight's book - The Pursuit of Victory, The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson. I haven't read Hornblower - I should do. Your suggestion of Donald as a disaffected Captain is very plausible. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 21:01

Donald’s son, Henry Dundas, in a document of 1847, recorded that his father was ‘of Letham House, East Lothian’. This is near the town of Haddington, Scotland. Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine of 1817 records the marriage of Jane Wilhelmina ‘youngest daughter of Admiral Campbell of Letham, Haddington.’

Donald’s eldest son, George Henry, was born on the Smeaton Estate near Haddington, East Lothian in May 1788. George Buchan-Hepburn, laird of Smeaton, was a witness. George’s father was John Buchan of Letham. George was appointed judge of the High Court of the Admiralty in 1790 and given a baronet in 1815. Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville was a close friend.

I have not been able to find the link between Donald Campbell, Letham and George Buchan that might help to solve the mystery of Donald's parentage.

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    Simon, welcome to G&FH StackExchange. Your answer will be even more helpful if you can identify the 'document of 1847' and the sources for George Henry.
    – user104
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 16:49
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    It would indeed be helpful if the 'document of 1847' were identified. The link between Campbell & George Buchan Hepburn would seem to be that Sir George married the aunt ( Margaretha Hendrina Beck) of Campbell's wife (Margaretha Hendrina van Renen). Presumably Campbell, Buchan Hepburn & Henry Dundas were all friends? Which would be why Campbell named his 3rd son Henry Dundas Campbell. But none of this identifies Donald's parentage sadly. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 13:10
  • The 1847 document for Henry Dundas Campbell, referring to his father as 'late of Letham House, East Lothian', was the Admission Paper enlisting Henry as a freeman of the city of London (available on Ancestry). A portrait of Donald as a child. probably with his mother, was sold in 2016 and can be seen on 'The Saleroom' website. Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 22:06
  • Do you have a link to that portrait that you could edit into your answer?
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 23:48

Denise Sanford. I found a newspaper article from Glasgow Weekly Mail 1864 which has a story about your Admiral Donald Campbell and his Islay roots.

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