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Origins of the Chisholms in Scotland
The name Chisholm is said to be derived from a Norman French word “chese” meaning “to choose” and the Saxon word “holm” meaning “meadow” as in “The chosen meadow” .

Through marriage, a Robert Chisholm inherited Erchless Castle near Inverness in the early 15th century.  This was to be the Chisholm clan seat for the next five hundred years.  The various chiefs of the clan were known as “the Chisholm.”  The lands in their possession at this time were Strathglass and Ard and they later came into the estate of Comar, making them proprietors of a large part of Ross-shire.  Their history shows many land skirmishes with neighboring clan families.  Erchless Castle and Comar Lodge, which clan chief Roderick Chisholm had built in 1740, still stand.

Meanwhile, another Chisholm branch had settled in Perthshire.   They were, in the sixteenth century, Bishops of Dunblane and close to the kings of Scotland at that time.  However in 1592, Sir James Chisholm was denounced for his Catholic leanings as “a treason against the true religion” and he had to leave for France.

The Gaelic form of Chisholm is Siosal and collectively the Highland Chisholms are known as An Siosalach Glaiseach, to distinguish them from the Lowland Chisholms.

In the seventeenth century a number of Highland chiefs became Protestant.  The Chisholms, however, remained staunch Catholics. Thus it was no surprise that Roderick Chisholm led his clan in support of the Catholic “Old Pretender” in 1715 and Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.

Eighty of his men fought in the 1745 campaign under their white linen banner and their motto “feros ferio” (I am fierce with the fierce).  Thirty of them, including Roderick’s own son, were killed at Culloden.  After the defeat, Bonnie Prince Charlie entrusted his life to eight of his followers, three of whom were Chisholms, during his subsequent escape.  

The Clearances
Although the Chisholms did continue as a landed family in their heartland until the end of the 19th century, it was the beginning of the end of the clan as a social force in Scotland.  Waves of emigration followed, starting with this defeat and continuing with the Highland clearances in which the clan chiefs participated. Mary Chisholm, a daughter of the Chisholm, campaigned against the clearances, but to no avail. In 1801, William Chisholm, the twenty-fourth chief of the clan, burned his family’s supporters out of their homes in order to clear the way for Cheviot sheep.  Nearly 50 percent of the clan tenants were evicted.

After William’s death, his wife and son continued with the evictions.  Between 1801 and 1809, over 10,000 Strathglass clansmen were evicted or emigrated.  It was said that only one tenant on the Chisholm lands was left. Some Chisholms did remain.  A number of the descendants of evicted tenants were allowed to settle in nearby estates.  

The Chisholms were not only to be found in the Highlands.  A Lowland name continued from the early family roots in Roxburgh – often as Chisholme rather than Chisholm – in the Scottish border country.

The Chisholmes were a prominent family who intrigued with other local chieftains in border skirmishes and cattle-raiding for many centuries.  However, Chisholme fortunes took a dive in the seventeenth century because of their support for the Jacobite cause and a number of financial setbacks that they then encountered.  This resulted in them having to sell their family seat in the Borthwick valley, Chisholme House

A Chisholme family from Selkirk, William and then James, became plantation owners in Jamaica.  Their profits from the Greenriver sugar plantation enabled William Chisholme to return to Scotland in the early nineteenth century and re-acquire Chisholme House. The house, which still stands, stayed with this family for a further sixty years.

Border life could be hard and, by the 18th century, many Chisholms had migrated north to Edinburgh and its environs.

The Chisholms also migrated to England. Their presence was very much limited to the northern counties closest to Scotland.  Chisholms could be found in the Glendale area of Northumberland (where many were small farmers) and in border towns such as Berwick and Alnwick.  There were also a number of Chisholms in Durham, where many became miners.



Our family connection to the name comes through my maternal grandmother, Hazel Annie Chisholm, who was born in Rockhampton, Queensland. Her family tree created in Ancestry.Com follows:

HA Chisholm

Family tree from for Hazel Annie Chisholm