Decaying Highland estate of former slave trader captured by photographer

It was home to some of Scotland’s wealthiest lairds who forged their fortune largely in the sugar cane plantations of Jamaica.

It was home to some of Scotland’s wealthiest lairds who forged their fortune largely in the sugar cane plantations of Jamaica.

Built in an extreme mid-19th Century show of riches, Poltalloch House at Kilmartin, Argyll, has now almost completely decayed.

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The roof was removed in 1957 by the 18th Laird of Poltalloch as the house became too big to manage with the family seat moving to Duntrune Castle on Loch Crinan.

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Is this Scotland’s most interesting abandoned building

Since the, nature has taken over at the Kilmartin pile which cost some £100,000 to build when the project started in 1849 - around £10m in today’s values.

Recently, the decline of Poltalloch has been captured by Sacramento-based photographer and artist Skyler Brown, who visited the property earlier this year.

His remarkable set of photographs document the abandonment of Poltalloch and illustrate how trees have now taken root in the rooms of the grand mansion once filled with riches, people and parties.

The house was built under the direction of Neill, 3rd laird of Poltalloch, who chose landscaped grounds at Calton Mor for the project.

The property was to mark the success of the family’s operations abroad, in particular Jamaica.

According to an earlier paper by historian Professor Allan MacInness, the family’s commercial success was founded partly on their commodity trading in sugar, rum, cotton, cattle and slaves.

They were also to heavily profit from advancing credit and mortgages on land to other planters which allowed the family to expand into Tobago, Antigua and even as far as Honduras in Central America, Prof McInness added.

A cattle station in south Australia followed.

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At home, the building of Poltalloch began shortly after Niall, the 3rd laird of Poltalloch, ordered the eviction of tenants at Arichonan, a farming settlement, which led to a riot as residents tried to defend their homes and livestock.

Up to 100 people pelted sheriff’s officers and the Malcolm factors with sticks and stones during the uprising in 1848 although the eviction eventually went ahead as police were called in.

The Malcolms were strand of all the powerful Clan Campbell with the family asserting their influence through a series of land purchases at home and abroad.

Prof MacInness, in his paper Commercial Landlordism and Clearance in the Scottish Highlands, said Poltalloch had both a commercial and social purpose.

He added: “It provided office accommodation, hospitality for business clients and a managerial focus for power-brokers operating on a multi-national scale.”

A massive fire at Poltalloch in 1902 led the roof to fall in at the mansion with the losses considerable. As the fire, which likely started in a chimney flue on the ground floor, spread throughout the building, servants worked to save valuable pieces of furniture and items from the library.

A collection of rare and extinct birds was among items destroyed, according to newspaper reports.

In 1949, it was announced that part of the mansion was to become a 40-room youth hostel.

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Today, the present laird, Robin Malcolm, lives at Duntrune Castle, Kilmartin, a sixteenth-century keep which was formerly a Campbell stronghold.

In 2004, he said he believed the house was beyond restoration,

Today, Poltalloch sits on the Buildings at Risk register with experts judging it to be in a critical condition.

For more photographs of Poltalloch, visit


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