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RANKIN, COUN DOULY (Condulli) (Conduiligh MacRaing), army and militia officer, politician, justice of the peace, and officeholder; b. c. 1774 at Breachacha Castle, Isle of Coll, Scotland, third son of Neil Rankin and Catherine Maclean; m. first 4 Sept. 1804 Flora Morison on Coll, and they had five children; m. secondly 16 Feb. 1818 Margaret Maclaine on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, and they had seven children; d. 4 Feb. 1852 in Charlottetown.

For centuries the Rankins (Clann Duiligh) were hereditary pipers for the Macleans of Duart and conducted a college of piping on Mull. Neil Rankin, the last in this tradition, married a cousin of Alexander Maclean of Coll and became the resident piper at Breachacha Castle. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, in separate accounts of their week-long visit there in 1773, comment enthusiastically on his piping. Condulli (later written as Coun Douly) Rankin was trained to succeed his father as piper but instead followed the six Maclean of Coll brothers into the army. In April 1802 Janet, daughter of Alexander Maclean of Coll, married George Vere Hobart, who shortly became lieutenant governor of Grenada. Rankin accompanied the couple’s retinue to the West Indies. However, Hobart died of yellow fever at Grenada on 5 Nov. 1802, and Rankin was responsible for escorting home both the widow and the daughter born to her on the return voyage.

On 8 July 1804, shortly before his marriage, Rankin was appointed a temporary lieutenant in the New Brunswick Fencibles. One of four regiments raised in 1803 for the defence of British North America, the corps was authorized to recruit in Scotland, and Rankin under two superior but unilingual officers was engaged in this service in the Highlands. His effectiveness as a bilingual officer was clear in the fact that most of the 34 men and 65 family members who reached Fredericton in September 1805 were Gaelic-speaking. This contingent pushed the Fencibles over its qualifying complement and, with the subsequent inspection report being approved, the regiment was placed on the army establishment. The Fencibles continued to recruit aggressively and Rankin, after arriving on 14 July 1806 in Prince Edward Island, there enlisted an additional 72 men by 1808. At its own request, the corps was transformed in September 1810 into a regiment of the line, the 104th Foot, making it eligible for imperial service. Rankin was appointed ensign in the 104th on 21 June 1810 and on 2 Nov. 1811 was promoted lieutenant.

In the 1806 House of Assembly elections, Coun Douly Rankin was the most recent immigrant among the five newcomers endorsed as candidates by the Loyal Electors; the others were James Bardin Palmer*, Angus Macaulay*, James Bagnall, and Alexander MacDonell. The Electors, determined to wrest power from the “old party” that dominated Island politics [see Charles Stewart*], were highly successful in the 1806 contest: all the candidates bearing their endorsement were victorious. Although Rankin was not a prominent figure in any of the four sessions of the eighth assembly, he was one of three Highlanders in the house, the others being Macaulay and MacDonell, and clearly served the interests of both his ethnic and his military constituencies. As a justice of the peace, he lost a degree of public confidence in March 1811 when charges were made, and then dropped, regarding his marrying a young couple without authority. In January 1812 he served the interests of the Loyal Electors by taking evidence in Gaelic from a Highlander who had seen Chief Justice Cæsar Colclough* beating a servant and getting drunk in public.

After the onset of the War of 1812, Rankin for a time was an overseer with the Royal Engineers in New Brunswick but soon returned to Prince Edward Island. In February 1813, when all but the Charlottetown and Sydney, N.S., companies of the 104th Foot had departed for Lower Canada, another fencible corps was authorized for New Brunswick under Lieutenant-General John Coffin*. Recruiting for a captaincy in the new fencibles, Rankin encountered difficulty in obtaining men. As an officer in a regiment of the line, he was suspected of recruiting for active service and, to add to his problems, competition for new recruits had become intense since the 104th had already absorbed nearly all of the men available. A clash with John McGregor, also recruiting on the Island for a lieutenancy in Coffin’s fencibles, led to McGregor’s being cashiered, but the quarrel tarnished Rankin’s reputation with his superiors. On 20 April 1814, five days after the death of his wife, Rankin had to leave his four small children in Charlottetown when he was compelled to take his incomplete complement of recruits to Fort Cumberland (near Sackville, N.B.). Failing to qualify for his captaincy, he turned over his recruits but later claimed that Coffin neglected to reimburse him for his expenses. Coffin maintained that Rankin refused him access to his accounts. As a result, on 13 July 1815 he was superseded in promotion in the 104th Foot. On 4 April 1816 he was exchanged to the 8th Foot and placed on half pay.

Returning to Scotland, Rankin remarried and lived in Kengharair (near Dervaig) on Mull until 1820 when he took a group of Coll emigrants to Prince Edward Island. Serving first as high sheriff of the Island, he then became deputy receiver general of quitrents. In January 1823, with Deputy Sheriff Cecil Wray Townshend, he was the agent in the countryside through whom Lieutenant Governor Charles Douglass Smith attempted to enforce payment of quitrent arrears. The ensuing controversy led to Smith’s recall. By 1829 Rankin had moved his family to a farm at Point Prim on the Selkirk estate [see Thomas Douglas*]. Succeeding Macaulay as major in the 4th (Highland) Battalion of Prince Edward Island Militia on 18 July 1829, he commanded 700 men, each “a downright Highlander by father and mother.” In 1831 he went to Britain to petition the War Office to appoint sub-inspectors of militia for the Island. He and Ambrose Lane received commissions in this office but Lane, the senior officer, received the only salary. Rankin continued to petition both the Island and the British governments for a salary on the basis of the fact that many of his men did not understand English and were anxious that he should be remunerated as he was “the only Highland Officer of any Rank in this Province.”

In the 1834 election Rankin stood among the land reform candidates of William Cooper*’s Escheat party. Losing narrowly to William Douse*, land agent for the 6th Earl of Selkirk, he contested the result. The assembly investigated irregularities at the polls, including violent clashes at Pinette between Rankin’s and Douse’s supporters, but found them irrevelant to the validity of the contest. On 14 April 1836 Rankin presided at a Belfast meeting that passed resolutions supporting a court of escheat and the exclusion of land agents from the assembly. Douse responded by advertising the sale of Rankin’s lease and rent arrearages. In spite of the fact that Selkirk’s tenants had better terms and conditions than they would have had under most other proprietors, discontent was rampant. It was expressly directed against the land agent. On 3 September Douse wrote in anger to the Royal Gazette about letters in the press that assailed his character. The Belfast district continued to send Rankin as a delegate to various meetings then being held in Kings and Queens counties.

In the fall of 1837, after Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy published a circular letter advocating proprietorial leniency towards tenants, Rankin participated in a meeting at Belfast where the letter was purportedly translated into Gaelic. Douse contended that the letter was distorted by Rankin and before long not only claimed that rent collection was impossible but also expressed concern for his personal safety. Rushing to Government House on 10 November, he accused Rankin of sedition, arguing that “if it were not for him things would be quiet and orderly in the settlement.” Scepticism on the part of officials about Douse’s credibility and a letter from the Reverend John MacLennan of Belfast protected Rankin from efforts to have the War Office delete his name from the half-pay list. Later, in March 1838, Douse’s attempt to evict rent-withholders was met with an assemblage of people armed with pitchforks and bludgeons. Douse requested an armed force but Colonial Secretary Lord Glenelg declared government intervention premature. By 1839, however, Selkirk’s attorneys were successful in having Rankin removed from his Point Prim farm.

Living in Charlottetown in his later years, Rankin played a prominent part in the militia and in the Highland Society of Prince Edward Island, of which he was president in 1846 and again in 1851. But it was in the 1830s, as spokesman for an immigrant tenantry otherwise silenced by a language barrier, that he had had his finest hours. His earlier life had involved struggle and contradiction. Heir to a rich Highland tradition, he was none the less part of the obsolete tacksman class and, like others of his class, became a typical promoter of emigration. The difficulties of his life in the army and during his early Island years were partly the result of his forceful personality. However, they educated him for the drastic antagonisms that he and his people and their Prince Edward Island compatriots encountered in the struggles for land reform in the 1830s.

Kenneth A. MacKinnon

GRO (Edinburgh), Coll, reg. of births and baptisms, 23 July 1776; reg. of marriages, 4 Sept. 1804; Kilninian and Kilmore, reg. of marriages, 16 Feb. 1818. PAC, MG 11, [CO 226] Prince Edward Island A, 21: 95, 103–5; 23: 59; MG 19, E1, ser.1, 73: 19226–27, 19252, 19272, 19276–77; 74: 19340–57 (transcripts); RG 8, I (C ser.), 719: 50–53, 64–68, 110–17, 123–24, 127–28, 130–31, 161–66, 170–72; 1024: 91–112; 1025: 17–18, 122; 1203 1/2E: 55; 1226: 7, 9, 16, 42–43, 53. PAPEI, Acc. 2524/20; Acc. 2702; Acc. 2716/1–2; Acc. 2825/53–54. P.E.I., Dept. of Health, Division of Vital Statistics (Charlottetown), Records of births, marriages, and deaths for the Rankin family (transcripts at P.E.I. Museum). Private arch., Niel Morison (Tobermory, Scot.), Corr. and geneal. records. PRO, CO 101/39, Dent to Hobart, 10 Nov. 1802; 226/28: 240–47; 226/37: 132–33, 137–38, 156; 226/54: 293, 637–41, 648–51; 226/55: 168–80, 277–92; 226/56: 307; 226/57: 160; WO 1/548 (copy in PAPEI, Acc. 3002). SRO, CH2/70/1/29, 31, 35, 101. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, Johnson’s journey to the western islands of Scotland, and Boswell’s journal of a tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., ed. R. W. Chapman (London, 1924). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 1831–34. Acadian Recorder, 28 May 1814. Colonial Herald, and Prince Edward Island Advertiser (Charlottetown), 17 March 1838; 2 May, 12 Sept. 1840; 6 April 1844. Islander, 6 Feb. 1852. Prince Edward Island Gazette, 13 Sept. 1823, 21 July 1829. Prince Edward Island Times (Charlottetown), 23 April 1836. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 9, 23 Dec. 1834; 3, 10, 17, 24 Feb. 1835; 26 April, 3, 20 Sept. 1836; 10 Oct., 5 Dec. 1837; 23 Jan. 1838; 12 Feb. 1839; 9 Feb. 1852. Weekly Recorder of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), 9 Feb., 27 March, 31 Aug. 1811. G.B., WO, Army list, 1805–17. J. M. Bumsted, The people’s clearance: highland emigration to British North America, 1770–1815 (Edinburgh and Winnipeg, 1982). A. M. Sinclair, The Clan Gillean (Charlottetown, 1899). W. A. Squires, The 104th Regiment of Foot (the New Brunswick Regiment), 1803–1817 (Fredericton, 1962). Henry Whyte, The Rankins: pipers to the MacLeans of Duart, and later to the MacLeans of Coll (Glasgow, 1907). J. M. Bumsted, “The Loyal Electors of Prince Edward Island,” Island Magazine (Charlottetown), no.8 (1980): 8–14. N. R. Morrison, “Clann Duiligh: Piobairean Chloinn Ghill-Eathain,” Gaelic Soc. of Inverness, Trans. (Inverness, Scot.), 37 (1934–36): 59–79. G. F. G. Stanley, “The New Brunswick Fencibles,” Canadian Defence Quarterly (Ottawa), 16 (1938–39): 39–53.

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Cite This Article

Kenneth A. MacKinnon, “RANKIN, COUN DOULY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rankin_coun_douly_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rankin_coun_douly_8E.html
Author of Article:   Kenneth A. MacKinnon
Title of Article:   RANKIN, COUN DOULY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   June 16, 2024