Of the Shiness branch of the Mathesons, so named from their having held that place as a mortgage for several centuries, there are several notices in Sir Robert Gordon’s History of the Earldom of Sutherland, who mentions the family as chief of the name, in 1616.
Of this family was Colonel George Matheson, who accompanied Sir Donald Mackay of Farr, afterwards Lord Reay, into the service of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, and obtained a grant of the family coat of arms from CHARLES I, in 1639.
In the last century the family was represented by
NIEL MATHESON (1700-75), having had an only son,
DUNCAN MATHESON, who died young, in 1746, from wounds received in a skirmish connected with the rebellion of 1745.
He married Elizabeth Mackay, of Mowdil.
His widow married secondly, Dr Archibald Campbell, with whom she emigrated in 1772 to America, and had a numerous progeny. Her youngest son, George Washington Campbell, was finance minister of the United States in 1813, and in 1818 was appointed ambassador extraordinary to the court of St Petersburg.Duncan Matheson had an only son,
CAPTAIN DONALD MATHESON (1746-1810), who married Catherine, eldest daughter of the Rev Thomas Mackay, minister of Lairg, by whom he had three sons and six daughters.
His second son,
SIR JAMES NICOLAS SUTHERLAND MATHESON, BARONET (1796-1878), of Achany and the Lews, married, in 1843, Mary Jane, fourth daughter of M H Perceval, of Quebec, without issue, when the baronetcy became extinct.
It was built ca 1847-57 as a country house for Sir James Matheson, who had bought the whole island for £500,000 (about £54 million today) a few years previously with his fortune from the Chinese Opium trade.
It was designed by the Glasgow architect Charles Wilson.
On Sir James's decease in 1878 the estate fell to his widow, Mary, and subsequently to his nephew Donald and grand-nephew Colonel Duncan Matheson.
For financial reasons the Lewis estate and the Castle were put on the market in 1917.
In 1918, the Lewis estate, including the castle, was bought by industrialist Lord Leverhulme from the Matheson family.
He gifted the castle to the people of Stornoway parish in 1923.
During the 2nd World War the Castle was taken over as accommodation for air and ground crew of 700 Naval Air Squadron, who operated a detachment of six Supermarine Walrus aircraft from a slipway at Cuddy Point in the Grounds. The base was referred to as HMS Mentor.After the war, the Castle was also used for accommodation for students of Lews Castle College in the 1950s.
Today the building is owned by the local council and is protected as a category A listed building.
Lews Castle was awarded £4.6 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2011, to enable it to be converted into a bilingual museum and cultural centre.
First published in January, 2014.