The Macleans of Torloisk were founded in the early 16th Century by Allan-nan-sop (“Allan of the Straws”), who was the second son of Lachlan Maclean of Duart (then spelt Dowart) ; chief of Clan Maclean. After a successful career as a pirate (!) he settled at Torloisk and built the original Torloisk Castle, the ruins of which are in the garden.
The early days were turbulent times and many a Maclean died fighting for the common cause of the time – normally a feud with the Macdonalds (the traditional rivals), or fighting for the Stuart dynasty. Allan Maclean (the 7th Maclean of Torloisk’s brother) made a career out of battle by joining the King’s army and raising his own battalion to fight in the American Wars.
Lachlan Maclean built the original Georgian part of today’s house in the 1770s, with money he had made from the kelp industry in the 18th Century. Kelp was used as fertilizer and smelted to make iodine. The house was a charming, white coloured, well proportioned house (Wilmena de Normann’s water colour painting of it is in the library). It remained so for almost 100 years until Lord William Compton inherited. Lord William’s elder brother Charles, later Marquess of Northampton, by Deed of Devolution had passed Torloisk to him to abide by, Lachlan Maclean’s wishes, that Torloisk should not be the minor property of a large and important English family – Charles having inherited all the Northampton property and titles. Sadly Charles was to die childless (in 1877) so William did indeed become Marquess of Northampton (albeit late in life). William was a naval officer by profession and rose to the rank of Admiral.
In 1844 he married Lizzie Eliot and it was William and Lizzie who set about changing Torloisk into the house (and estate) we now see. They had not always been so “charmed” by Mull but their eventual enchantment was so complete that they altered the old Georgian house and built many of the crofts and cottages on the estate for the estate workers. They also built the roads to link the community.
The first alterations came in 1850, with the addition of the kitchen, which at the time was considered to be the finest kitchen on Mull ! Then came the conservatory in 1851 and the Victorian wing in 1860. A home for old women was built (Normann’s Rest – now called Normann’s Rue) and two farm houses and there were many croft improvements. And for the main house they commissioned an Edinburgh architect to turn the drawing room into the dining room and add a large drawing room with staircase hall and rooms over and under. In 1862 they added a block at the opposite end – beyond the kitchen.
At the same time William built valets rooms and a drying room over the outbuildings at the back. And in 1880 he built, in “The Square” the farm stables, the henhouse, the bullhouse and the cartshed. Finally in 1882 his final building works included houses for McKinchen, McDougall and Grinson (the gardener) and for McColl (the miller and carpenter) and he converted the old schoolhouse at Fanmore into a house for Hector McColl. The schoolmaster’s old house he had already converted into a house for Donald McColl.
It was thus the William Comptons who created the Torloisk we know and love now and who helped so greatly the local community life and the welfare of the people living on the Torloisk Estate at the time.