Within the walls of the ruins old Killearn Kirk sits a stone commemorating
four generations of the Bontein Family.
The stone is pegged against the south wall, the inscription listing only male members of the family.
The inscription reads:
In memory of Lieutenant-Colonel
Sir JAMES BONTEIN, Younger of Balglass
Born 1749, died 1819
And of his sons
EDWARD BONTEIN, Captain 92nd Highlanders
Born 1785, died 1819
And JOHN PITT BONTEIN, Captain 1st Life Guards
Born 1788, died 1859
And of his grandsons
JOHN BONTEIN, Colonel H.M. Bengal Army
Born 1809, died 1878
And JAMES BONTEIN, Gentleman Usher to Queen
Born 1821, died 1884
And of his son
JAMES SHELLEY BONTEIN
Sometime of Glencruitten, Argyll
Born 11th November 1859, died 31st October 1921
Whose ashes are interred below
Rather than start ‘at the beginning’, this time, this story will start at the last person listed
on the inscription and work backwards in time as much as possible.
The last name to be inscribed on the gravestone is that of James Shelly Bontein
Sometime of Glencruitten, Argyll
Born 11th November 1859, Died 31st October 1921
James was born on November 16th 1859, eldest child and only son of James Bontein,
Gentleman Usher and Clerk of the Robes to Queen Victoria and Katherine Cecelia Shelley
He had one sister, Eva Louisa Bontein, born 1861
His birth was registered in
in the Jan/Feb/March quarter of 1860 Chelsea
(Date of birth on the gravestone as 11th November 1859)
The family can be found living at
97 Onslow Square, Kensington,
Chelsea, London on the 1871 Census
with their Great-Grandmother
Details as follows:
Frances Shelley, Head, Widow, age 83, Dowager Lady Shelley, Landowner,
James Bontein, Grand-Daughter’s Husband, age 50, Retired from the War Office, born
Katherine Bontein, Grand-Daughter, age 30, born
James S. Bontein, Great Grandson, age 11, Scholar, born
Eva L. Bontein, Great Grand-Daughter, age 10, Scholar, born
Eva Louise Bontein married Col. Hon. John Schomberg Trefusis on July 19th 1883.
(She died August 20th 1949)
James married widow Emilie Josephine Stanley, nee Edwards in
in December 1889 London
The couple were to have no children.
The Electoral Registers list some places of residence as follows:
1921 – 5
, Chelsea &
In one online article, he has the letters F.S.A., after his name, indicating that he was a
Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
(A Society pursuing the study of antiquities and history of
He was educated to
College, Wiltshire, England
Commanded his Regiment (WW1) 1915-16
Adjutant Haddingtonshire Vol. Corps 1917-18
Served on the Staff of the General Officer, Forth Garrison 1918-1919
Was a Member of the Royal Company of Archers (King’s Body Guard for
Justice of the Peace for Argyllshire
Major James Shelley Bontein of Glencruitten in the uniform of the Royal Company of Archers
Glencruitten Golf Course formed part of the estate owned by James Shelley Bontein
and during WW1 was on the brink of being returned to agricultural land was retained as a rest
and recuperation facility for service personnel based in nearby Oban,
the Club House having been commissioned in 1907.
Glencruitten Club House
James was a Director of The Straits Mortgage and Trust Company Limited (formed in 1909)
from 1909 until his death in 1921. His name appears frequently in their online publication
‘A History of Scottish Mortgage, A Centenary Retrospective’, see:
James Shelley Bontein’s Death Certificate verifies his date of death, that he was 61 years old
and was a retired Major of the Lothian & Border Horse Yeomanry.
He was the son of James Bontein, Gentleman Usher to the late Queen
and Catherine (or Katherine Cecelia) Shelley.
There is no mention of a wife on the certificate, so the informant, Butler Allan McGill may not have
known that his employer was married.
‘If’ this house is ‘the’ Gatehouse in which James died,
then it’s value at the beginning of 2013 was ‘offers over’ £1.1 million pounds.
The whereabouts of wife Emilie Josephine is unknown.
Quoting from James Shelley Bontein’s Will, he says:
“I direct my Trustees to have my remains cremated and in order to prevent the possibility of
any mistake arising as to whether I am dead or not, I direct my Trustees before my body is
placed in the coffin, to employ a competent surgeon to sever one of my vital organs and to obtain
a certificate from him to the effect that he has done so and that it is an absolute impossibility that
I could be in life: I also express the wish, while leaving the question of my place of burial open,
that my name should be added to the family Memorial Stone which stands against the wall
inside the old ruined Church at Killearn, Stirlingshire, under the name of my Father, James Bontein:
And I request my Trustees to arrange accordingly if practible and I suggest the following inscription:
“And of the Latter’s only son,
James Shelley Bontein of Glencruitten, Argyllshire, born 1859 Died …”
James left around forty thousand pounds.
A Death Notice appears in an English Newspaper in 1945 and reports that Emilie Josephine Bontein,
widow of Major Shelley Bontein died at Folkstone on 1st November 1945 aged 97.
The parents of James Shelley Bontein were:
James Bontein, born 22nd March 1822, Dorset or
Gentleman Usher and Clerk of the Robes to Queen
Son of John Pitt Bontein of Balglass and Loiusa Phillipa Ball*
Died 16th October 1884 (age 63) at St James’ Palace,
Katherine Cecelia Shelley, born c1837, died 1902
Daughter of Adolphus Edward Shelley and Amelia Hinchcliffe
(Katherine subsequently married Major General Francis Edward Drewe in 1885)
James Bontein Senior was appointed Groom of the Privy Chamber on 8th January 1874
(Source: Household of Queen
, List of
*As well as son James born in 1822, John Pitt Bontein and Louisa Phillipa Ball
had an additional 3 (known) children:
John Pitt Bontein, born 27th September 1817, Christened 9th October 1817,
John Pitt Bontein, born 10 November 1818, Christened 27th March 1819,
Mary Trant Bontein, born 9th December 1826, Christened 21st November 1827,
The remaining ancestors inscribed on the stone are a challenge for another day as many
births/baptisms/marriages and death dates do not seem to correspond with dates listed
on searcheable databases.
Below is a miniature portrait of Lady Bontein, wife of Sir James Bontein of Balglass,
thought to be c1800.
Whatever the connection, or if there is indeed a direct connection with the Kirk or the