"BUTESHIRE. The Islands of Bute, Arran, Great and Little Cumbray (or Cumbrae), Holy Isle, Pladda, and Inch-Marnoch, compose this shire, which comprises 225 square miles of land, or 143,997 acres. Though far separated from the properly denominated Western Islands, those of Bute statistically constitute a portion of the Hebrides. ... The climate of Buteshire is eminently salubrious - neither mists nor noxious fogs, so prevalent in the east of Scotland, infest it; snow rarely lies on the hills, and the only qualification to its general genial character is a liability to severe and sudden rains. ... The number of inhabited houses in the shire is 2,433; the parliamentary constituency for 1876-7 being 1,195. According to the returns presented to Government in 1871 the population of the shire was 16,996."

[From Slater's Directory of Scotland, with Topographical and Postal Information, Volume II, 1878]

"BUTESHIRE, insular county in Firth of Clyde. It comprises the islands of Bute, Arran, Big Cumbray, Little Cumbray, Holy Isle, Inchmarnock, and Pladda, and has an area of 225 square miles. Real property in 1880-81, £115,991. Pop. in 1871, 16,997; in 1881, 17,666. The only towns are Rothesay and Millport, and the only village with more than 500 inhabitants is Port Bannatyne. The county, inclusive of Rothesay burgh, sends one member to Parliament."

[From The Gazetteer of Scotland, by Rev. John Wilson, 1882.]


Bute Towns and Parishes

For Bute townships unconnected to parishes, see the list of Miscellaneous places mentioned in the 1868 gazetteer.

For Bute places mentioned in the 1868 gazetteer, see Where is it in Bute?

Note that some parishes in Bute are also partly in other counties.


Archives & Libraries

Information on national archives and links to lists of local archives and libraries can be found on our Scotland Archives and Libraries page.



General advice on census records and indexes can be found on our Scotland Census page.

FreeCen for Bute has an index to the 1841 census for the county, and some 1851 records, and welcomes more transcribers for this project providing free access to 19th century census indexes.


Church Records

For information on records for a particular parish, please see that parish's page (where available). General advice on parish registers throughout Scotland can be found on our Scotland Church Records page.


Civil Registration

Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths began in Scotland on 1st January 1855. For details of these records and indexes to them, see our GRO tutorial and our Scotland Civil Registration page.

Registration Districts for the County of Bute at various times include Cumbrae, Cumbraes, Isle of Arran, Isle of Bute, Kilbride, Kilmory (including Shiskine and Lochranza), Lamlash, Lochranza, North Bute and Rothesay. The earliest Registration District is Rothesay, 1691. The National Records of Scotland provides a registration district guide containing lists in alphabetical and numerical order of all registration districts in Scotland with the dates during which each was operative.


Court Records

Records of testaments, inventories etc. are held at the National Records of Scotland.



See also the entry for Buteshire in the National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland, 1868.

The transcription of the section for Bute from Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, 1896.

Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, Samuel Lewis - 1851

ARRAN, an island, in the county of Bute; comprising the parishes of Kilbride and Kilmory, and containing 6241 inhabitants. This island, called Glotta Astuarium by the Romans, is situated in the Firth of Clyde, between the coast of Ayrshire, which is on the east, distant about thirteen miles, and Cantyre, in Argyllshire, lying to the west, and distant about six miles. It is of an oval form, indented by bays, and extending thirty miles in length, and fifteen in its greatest breadth. The surface throughout is rugged and mountainous, and intersected with mossy glens, whence streams, flowing from the heights, make their course to the sea. Arran is highly interesting to the geologist, on account of its presenting, within a narrow space, an epitome of the whole geological structure of Scotland; while its pathless glens and picturesque hills commend it equally to visiters in general. There are several safe and commodious harbours, of which that of Lamlash, on the east side, will afford good anchorage to several hundred vessels; and the Cock of Arran, on the northern extremity, is a well-known landmark. The higher parts of the island are rocky and sterile, and generally covered with fern and heath; but in the valleys, and in the vicinity of the lakes, which are five in number, the soil is moderately fertile, though not well cultivated. Coal and limestone are said to exist; freestone, ironstone, and marble are abundant, and jasper has been found on Goat-Fell, a hill above 3000 feet in height. There are several cairns, some remains of Druidical edifices, ruins of ancient fortresses, and some natural caves remarkable for their great extent; and various places exhibit marks of volcanic fire. Arran is the property of the Duke of Hamilton, and gives the title of Earl to his grace. See Kilbride, and Kilmory.

BUTE-ISLE-OF, an island, in the county of Bute; comprising the parishes of North Bute, Kingarth, and Rothesay, and containing 8078 inhabitants. It is in the Firth of Clyde, and separated from the district of Cowal (of Argyll), by a narrow channel. Its length is eighteen, and its breadth between four and five, miles. The northern parts are rocky and barren, but the southern extremity is more fertile, well cultivated and inclosed, and in some places finely wooded; and it is said that no part of Scotland has made more rapid progress in agriculture than this island, within the last twenty or thirty years. The climate is remarkably mild, especially in winter and spring, and during these seasons the isle is much resorted to by invalids. The coast is rocky, but is indented with several safe harbours, in which a number of small craft are fitted out for the herring-fishery, which is the principal occupation of the male inhabitants; the chief port is Rothesay. The annual value of real property in the island is £17,777. Bute contains several remains of antiquity; in particular, near Rothesay are the ruins of an ancient castle, with a fort, barracks, and drawbridge, once a residence of the kings of Scotland. There are some Danish towers, and fragments of fortifications on some of the hill-tops.

BUTE-NORTH, a parish (new), taken out of the parish of Rothesay, in the isle and county of Bute, 1½ mile (N. W.) from Rothesay; containing, with the island of Inch-Marnock and village of Port-Bannatyne, 1091 inhabitants. This parish, which comprises about half the island of Bute, owes its origin to the erection and endowment in 1835, by the late Marquess of Bute, of an elegant church for the accommodation of the inhabitants in the northern portion of the parish of Rothesay. The district was disjoined from Rothesay, and erected into a separate parish, in June 1844, by a decree of the court of teinds, and plantation of kirks, under the name of North Bute. The church is pleasantly situated in a valley between Kames bay on the east, and Etterick bay on the west; and the erection and endowment, and the building of the manse, with other expenses attendant on the completion of the marquess's design, were estimated at £8000. The stipend of the minister is £150, with an allowance of £12 in lieu of glebe, and £10 for communion elements. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship, with a school, at Port-Bannatyne; and a parochial school is situated, rather inconveniently, at Etterick, and supported by a salary from the marquess's family, and by the fees. See Port-Bannatyne.

BUTESHIRE, a county, on the western coast of Scotland, consisting of the isles of Bute, Arran, Inch-Marnock, and Great and Little Cumbray, in the Firth of Clyde; separated on the north from Argyllshire by the straits called the Kyles of Bute, and on the west, from the peninsula of Cantyre, by Kilbrannan Sound. It lies between 5.5° 26' and 55° 56' (N. Lat.), and 4° 54' and 5° 23' (W. Long.), and comprises an area of about 257 square miles, or 164,480 acres; 3067 inhabited houses, and ninety-seven uninhabited; with a population of 15,740, of whom 7155 are males, and 8585 females. The island of Bute, at a very early period, became the property of Sir John Stuart, a son of Robert II.; it was confirmed to him by his brother, Robert HI., and is still the property of his descendants, the Marquesses of Bute. That of Arran was granted by James III. to Sir James Hamilton, whose descendant, the Earl of Arran, was regent of Scotland during the minority of Mary, Queen of Scots; and it now is the property of the Duke of Hamilton. The civil business of the county is transacted at the royal burgh of Rothesay, which is the only town; and under the act of the 2nd of William IV., the county returns a member to the imperial parliament. The surface is various. The island of Bute, in the central part, is diversified with hills affording excellent pasturage, and with valleys of rich arable land in excellent cultivation. Arran is rugged and mountainous, interspersed with glens of moss, through which several streams, descending from the heights, flow into the sea. The highest of the mountains in Arran is Goat-Fell, which has an elevation of 3500 feet above the sea; and from its summit is an extensive view embracing England, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. In both islands there are numerous lakes; and the coasts are indented with fine bays, the chief of which in Bute are, Kilchattan, Rothesay, and Kames, on the east; and Dungoil, Stravannan, Scalpsie, St.

CUMBRAY-GREAT, an island and parish, in the county of Bute, 2 miles (W.) from Largs; including the villages of Millport and Newton, and containing in summer about 1400, and in winter about 1000, inhabitants. Its name is derived from a Gaelic term signifying a bold or steep coast rising abruptly from the sea, and this description corresponds with the natural appearance of the island, which presents a steep and precipitous coast all round. The isle is supposed formerly to have been in the possession of the Norwegians, concerning whose occupancy, however, no particulars are known. They are said to have been dispossessed of the territory after many successive encounters with the Scots, by the decisive battle of Largs, when they were completely routed and driven from the coast. A cathedral once stood here, which was dedicated to St. Columba, but no remains of it are now visible. The island was formerly distributed into a number of small baronies, the owners of the principal of which were the families of Hunter, Stuart, and Montgomerie. The barony of Kames, belonging to the Hunters, has given name to one of the finest bays in the island, and on this property, also, stood the village of Kames, some vestiges of which may still be traced. Ballykellet, which appears to have been the most considerable of all the baronies, belonged to the Montgomeries, who possessed the patronage of the parish, and part of whose mansion-house was until lately standing, having in it a stone with the family arms sculptured. The island is of very irregular figure, extending about three miles and a half in length, from north-east to south-west, and about two miles in breadth: its circumference is ten miles, comprehending an area of 5120 acres.

CUMBRAY-LITTLE, an island, in the county of Bute, ecclesiastically annexed to the parish of West Kilbride, in the county of Ayr, and containing 8 inhabitants. This island is situated in the Firth of Clyde, between the island of Bute and the promontory of Portincross, from each of which it is distant aboot two miles and a half. Little Cumbray anciently formed part of the domains of the Stuart family, ancestors of the kings of that line; and, on the erection of the principality of Scotland, by Robert III, in 1404, in favour of his son, was included within its limits. It was for many years retained as a royal preserve, and in 1515 was conferred upon Hew, Earl of Eglinton, whose descendants are its present proprietors. The island is composed entirely of trap-rock, resting on the sandstone formation of the opposite coast; it is about a mile long and half a mile in breadth, and has an elevation of 600 feet above the sea. The surface comprises about 700 acres; but with the exception of a few potato-gardens, it does not appear to have been cultivated. There are a few ash-trees growing near the south-east extremity, but it is otherwise perfectly destitute of wood, and the rocky pasture only affords food for a few sheep and young cattle; the island is, indeed, chiefly a rabbit-warren at present, and about 500 dozens of rabbits are taken annually on the average, and sent for the supply of the neighbouring markets. Nearly in the centre is a circular tower, thirty feet in height, once appropriated as a lighthouse, and still forming a very conspicuous object from all parts of the channel; it has long been neglected, and a lighthouse has been built upon the edge of a precipice overhanging the sea, on the west side of the island.



Bute Sons and Daughters describes itself:  "Set up by Bute Enterprises, a local community based organisation, the Sons & Daughters project aims to develop Bute's genealogy strands, not only in terms of family histories but also our local heritage. Within these pages we have compiled some interesting articles, facts and anecdotes  gathered from various sources on the island, including members of Bute's population."

Bute Sons & Daughters
The Isle Of Bute Discovery Centre,
Victoria Street
PA20 0AH
Western Isles

Phone: 0141 416 3655


Historical Geography

The island of Little Cumbrae at one time formed part of the parish of West Kilbride in Ayrshire.


Military Records

  • Rolls of Honour and War Memorials (monuments) are one good resource for family historians, but need to be addressed with some caution - it should not be assumed that they are either complete or accurate. Memorials (and Rolls of Honour) were created at the local parish level after asking the local inhabitants whose names should appear. Thus:

    - Some names may have been omitted, for a variety of reasons.
    - Some names may appear on more than one memorial.
    - Some names may be misspelled, or given names transposed.
    - Some people may be listed as killed in action, but were not.
    - Some people may be listed who were not in the service at all.
    - Some people may have been confused with others of a similar name.

    - A Roll of Honour may sometimes list the names of all who served, not just those who died.
    - Some of the original records may have been incorrect, for a variety of reasons.
    - Some (more recent) research may be incorrect.


Family history societies covering Bute include:



For a social and economic record of the parishes of Buteshire, together with masses of statistical material, see Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland, which was compiled in the 1790s. Follow-up works to this were the New Statistical Account (also known as the Second Statistical Account) which was prepared in the 1830s and 1840s; and more recently the Third Statistical Account which has been prepared since the Second World War.

Thanks to a joint venture between the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh the First and Second Statistical Accounts can now be accessed on-line by selecting the following link: The Statistical Accounts of Scotland, 1791-1799 and 1845.

These records give a fascinating glimpse into our ancestors' daily lives. The local Church of Scotland ministers were asked to describe their parishes, for example, what the land was like; what crops were grown; what the predominant language spoken in the parish was; the health of the parishioners etc. Please bear in mind that some ministers had better descriptive powers than others. Nevertheless, you will learn a great deal about their lives. There are no individual names mentioned unless they were major landowners. So this is not a document to search for names.