There are several Kerr badges. The one most commonly seen shows the crest of
In 1320, Robert the Bruce, by Charter under the Great Seal, gave to Fergus de Ardrossane his lands of Ardrossane; "cum tenandriis terrarum Willielmi de Potteconill, Richard de Bodyill, Laurencii de Mora, Gilberti de Cunyngburgh, Wilhielmi Ker, et Richardi de
Kelcou.." That the holdings of William Kerre, assigned by this charter, was the Crown of paramount superiority of the lands of Kersland, there is no doubt. The charters of the lands in the present day, the "20 merk land of Kersland", though situated in the parish of Dalry, are said to be "within the Barony of Ardrossane". Prior to this Charter, the lands of Kersland were held by the Kerrs as the immediate vassals of the Crown.
This change in the tenure of the lands has made it more difficult to trace the descent of the family, as the renewals of the investiture do not appear in the public records; and the private titles of the estate are supposed to be lost. No positive notice of the Ker family is to be found for the next two hundred years. But during that period, no other family appears to have been in possession of the Kersland property. A local tradition suggests a reason for this temporary oblivion, that two sons of Kersland were found guilty of, or at least, concerned in the slaughter of a Laird of the Blair [an estate South of Dalry]. The tradition suggests that they at first took refuge in England, but afterwards settled on the Border. One of these sons
is said to have been Ralph Kerr, who was founder of the Kerrs of Ferniehirst; while the other is stated to have been the founder of Kerrs of Cessford.
The founder of the Kersland family thus seems to have belonged to the body of Anglo-Norman adventurers, who, for two centuries, from the Conquest, flocked across the Tweed to push their fortunes in Scotland. The kindred adventurers who made Ireland their scene of struggle were kept in dependence upon the Crown of England by the confirmed stability of the Norman dynasty. But those who threw themselves into Scotland, soon cast off their allegiance to the English monarch, identified themselves with the national contest for independence inspired by William Wallace, the Guardian of Scotland, and insensibly supplanted the native nobles. They supplied a civilisation and government of their own to their adopted country, and thus considered themselves the moral and intellectual ancestors of the Scots.
Tradition assigns a very early period indeed, as that of the advent of the Kers into Scotland, but authentic records seem only to carry back to the origin of the family, as a "family" to the beginning of the thirteenth century. At that time, however, it would appear to have been represented by a man of some note; he was selected to attest a contract betwixt a neighbouring powerful baron and an adjoining burgh, in his probably native county of Ayr, where his descendants afterwards flourished and decayed. The family of Ker of Kersland "is generally understood to have been, in order of time, the first of distinction of the name in Scotland".
The Border Kerrs
William Kerr founded the Kersland branch in Ayrshire and from there his descendant Ralph Kerr acquired lands in Teviotdale, at Kersheugh on Jedwater about 1330. Ralph’s younger brother John was granted land at Auldtounburn and then Cessford in Roxburghshire. From John’s family grew the two great Kerr names in the Borders - the Kerrs of Cessford, the family of the Duke of Roxburghe, and the Kerrs of Ferniehurst, now represented by the Marquis of Lothian. In 1451 Andrew Kerr of Cessford received a charter to the barony of Old Roxburgh, and in 1457 he was appointed warden of the marches. The family were confirmed in the barony and castle of Cessford by a charter of 1493. Sir Andrew Kerr of Ferniehurst received a royal charter to the barony of Oxnam, and was appointed warden of the middle marches in 1502. Mark Kerr, grandson of Sir Andrew Kerr of Cessford, had his lands of Newbattle and Presongrange erected into the barony of Newbattle by a charter of 1591, and in 1606 he was created Earl of Lothian. This title failed when his son died in 1624 without male issue. Sir Andrew Kerr of the Ferniehurst line was created Lord Jedburgh in 1621. The third peerage to come to the family was the earldom of Ancram, which was bestowed upon Sir Robert Kerr who was descended from a younger son of Sir Andrew Kerr of Ferniehurst. To add to the plethora of honours showered on the family, Sir William Kerr, son of the Earl of Ancram, was granted a new earldom of Lothian in 1631. His son, Robert, who was advanced to the rank of Marquess, also succeeded to the earldom of Ancram.
The 1st Marquess was Lord Justice General of Scotland. He had five sons and five daughters.One of these, Lord Mark Kerr, was a distinguished professional soldier and is reputed to have had a high sense of personal honour and a quick temper. He fought several duels throughout his military career but rose ultimately to the rank of general, and was appointed governor of Edinburgh Castle in 1745. Robert Kerr, one of the sons of the 3rd Marquess, has the dubious distinction of being the only person of high rank killed on the Hanoverian side at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. His elder brother, later the 4th Marquess, commanded three squadrons of cavalry at Culloden and survived to serve under the Duke of Cumberland in France in 1758. Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Walter Talbot Kerr, a younger son of the 7th Marquess, was a naval lord at the Admiralty from 1899 to 1904.
Ferniehurst Castle still belongs to the chiefs, although the seat is the great mansion house at Monteviot.
The Kerrs of Cessford and Ferniehurst were amongst the great "riding clans" of the Scottish Borders, being second only to the Scott family in the Middle March in the 14th century.
The Kerrs were strongest in Liddesdale and East Teviotdale. The Scottish Middle Marches were considered to contain as choice a collection of ruffians as ever were seen in one section of the Borders. Here were the Kerrs, both of Cessford and of Ferniehurst, and the Scotts in one of the most beautiful and dreaded valleys in Europe. The Middle March frontier was wide, desolate and criss-crossed by the secret ways of the border reivers (raiders), through the mosses and bogs and twisting passes of Cheviot, the 'high craggy hills' above Teviotdale, and the bleak Northumberland valleys. This was "hot trod" country – the home of the "moss-trooper" and the origin of 'blackmail'. These Kerrs were notoriously left-handed, building the stair-cases in their peel towers anti-clockwise.
The Kerrs were, with the possible exception of the Scotts, the leading tribe of the Scottish Middle March, which they frequently ruled as Wardens. However, no family was more active in reiving. The chief branches, Cessford and Ferniehurst, were continuing rivals with feuds of one sort or another continuing for the best part of three centuries. Notables included Robert Kerr of Cessford (circa 1590); Thomas Kerr of Ferniehurst; and Sir Andrew (Dand) Kerr of Ferniehurst. The Kerrs, apart from differences with other clans, were sometimes at feud with each other; the branches of Cessford and Ferniehurst were frequently rivals for Wardenship of the Scottish Middle March, and were in and out of office during the sixteenth century.
The Kers were one of the most prominent families in the Scottish Middle March, in particular, their rivals were the Scotts, with whom they had a longstanding feud, ultimately resolved by intermarriage.
It was written of them c.1600 >Irritable and capricious by nature, the Kers seem to have been blood-thirsty and arrogant even above their fellows. Whether their leaders were bidding against each other for the wardenship of the Middle March, feuding with their neighbours, or crossing the border to fire the ‘towns’ of Northumberland, they remained an enigma which neither government succeeded in solving. At one moment they would be loyal, charming servants of their king: the next they would be unpredictable bandits.
Thomas Musgrave wrote to Lord Burghley, on the Anglo-Scottish borderers, 1583 "They are a people, that will be Scottishe when they will, and Englishe at their pleasure."
19th Century Distribution in Carrick
Many of the Kerr's in the Clydeside and Carrick counties undoubtedly moved there from other parts of the Lowlands to follow the attractions of industrial growth in the 18th and 19th centuries: spinning and weaving in mills rather than the long established traditional cottage industries; the rapid growth of coal mining, iron mining and steel making; the ship-building and associated industries which utilised that steel; the early petro-chemical industry, based on kerosene extracted from the shale deposits in Renfrew.
Kerr Name in Australia
The 1882 arrival of William, Robert and George jnr. in Rockhampton was not the first ‘Kerr’ on Australian soil. There does not appear to have been any ‘Kerr’ convicts in the 1st and 2nd fleets but in the 3rd fleet, convict number 957 John Kerr, sentenced in Kent to 7 years transportation, arrived in New South Wales 1791 was the first of the name to land in Australia. No less than 14 Kerr convicts had arrived by 1802 including Samuel Kerr, Soap Boiler, sentenced 1797 at Armagh to Life for unlawful wounding of a soldier. He sailed from Cork Ireland 24-8-1799 on the ‘Minerva’ arrived in NSW 11-1-1800 (140 days). He was one of the 165 male and 26 female convicts on board the vessel. A check of Irish Government archives on Kerr’s taking a compulsory holiday in Australia from Ireland alone in the 1800’s listed no less than 40 between 1836 and 1852. Sentenced from 7 years to life for crimes ranging from larceny, burglary, felony, horse stealing, receiving stolen goods, vagrancy, sheep stealing, robbery, wilful murder and unlawful wounding. Free settlers started to arrive in the Australian colonies from as early as 1793 and it is a fair assumption that amongst the many emigrants from Scotland there would have been members of the Kerr clan. Families of Kerr’s can be found established in all states, pioneer Births, Deaths & Marriage records for NSW 1788 to 1888 show no less than 1,186 Kerr’s the first being in 1831, Vic. 1837 to 1888, 1,913 Kerr’s the first being in 1841, South Aust. 1842 to 1906, 291 Kerr’s the first in 1846, West Aust. 1841 to 1905, 153 Kerr’s the first in 1856, Qld index the earliest Kerr birth was a William born to Mary Kerr 11-2-1860.
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