Turnbull


Select Turnbull Surname Genealogy

This Scottish surname started out as a nickname, for a man thought to have been strong enough to turn back a charging bull.  Turnbull tradition has it that it was a name bestowed by Robert the Bruce on the clan leader for this act of bravery.   The Turnbulls were a Border clan and Turnbulls were to be found on both the Scottish and English sides of the border.

Trimble, Trumble, and Trumbull are all possible variants of Turnbull.

Select Turnbull Resources on The Internet

Select Turnbull Ancestry

Scotland.  The Turnbull clan is thought to have descended from the Rule family of Roxburghshire on the Scottish borders, named after the Rule river in Hobkirk parish.  The first recording of the name was in 1315 when William Turneball was awarded lands at Philiphaugh.  A Turnbull later lost his life against the English in humiliating fashion at Halidon Hill.

These Turnbulls became a notorious Border reiver clan from their base at Bedrule castle.  History records that the Turnbulls could easily put 500 reivers into the saddle on one of their forays.  In 1513, Lord Dacre led an English army through the Rule valley for an assault on the reivers.  But George Turnbull quickly rallied 700 Turnbulls, Kerrs, Douglases, and Scotts and defeated the invaders in the battle of Sclaterford.  In 1545 the English destroyed the Turnbulls' main fortress, Bedrule castle, in retaliation.

History also recorded territorial land disputes between the Turnbulls and their neighbors the Stewarts.  John Turnbull held the Minto lands along the Teviot river in 1390.   The land then reverted to the Stewarts.  But the Turnbulls then came to be predominant from about 1530 onwards. 

When the crowns of Scotland and England became one under James VI of Scotland in 1603, many members of Border clans like the Turnbulls were dispersed to northern England, elsewhere in Scotland, and to Ireland.
By the time of the 1891 Census, the Turnbull numbers in Scotland were down to 20 percent in the Borders and there were more Turnbulls in England than in Scotland.

England.  The border between Scotland and England was porous and many
Turnbull families would move into the Cheviot Hills and the northern lands of Northumberland, depending on the politics of the day.  One family line in Northumberland traces itself back to Mark Turnbull who was born in Chester-le-Street in 1616.

Those who became "English" often changed from their Presbyterian roots to Church of England.  For example, John Turnbull was born at Roddam in 1789 in the Anglican parish of Ilderton, but was baptized in the nearby Presbyterian church at Branton.

Adam Turnbull, a keelman, was recorded as dying in Newcastle in 1744 at the mighty age of 112.  He had married four times, the last when he was over 100 years old.  It was said that he could walk twelve miles a day until within three years of his death.  Joe Turnbull was the first piper of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick castle.  There is a picture of him, painted in 1756, playing his pipes at the castle.

Turnbulls began to move south for work reasons in the early 1800's, to Tyneside and later to the Durham coalfields.  Many Turnbulls became coal miners.   Joseph Robinson's 2007 book Tommy Turnbull - A Miner's Life described the life of one such miner.


Ireland.  In Ireland the Turnbulls settled in county Donegal under the name of Rule, in Antrim under the name of Trimble, and in the rest of Ulster under the name of Turnbull.

Canada. 
Thomas Turnbull and his family arrived in Pictou county, Nova Scotia in 1776 as part of an early Scottish settlement.  Little was known about the family as they had been picked up in the Isle of Man as “fugitives from Scotland.”  These Turnbulls settled in McClennan’s Brook. 

Another Turnbull family was based in Digby, Nova Scotia.  Their story was recounted in John F. Turnbull’s 1960 book The History of the Turnbull Family of  Digby.

AmericaThe Turnbull family of Charleston, South Carolina, who owned numerous plantations in Mississippi in the antebellum period, were descendants of the Scottish doctor Andrew Turnbull who had led a failed attempt to establish a British colony in Florida.

The Turnbull numbers have been fewer in America than in Canada.  One set of Turnbulls settled in America near Canada, Thomas Turnbull and his family arriving at Rossie on the St. Lawrence in upstate New York in the 1830's.  Trumbulls from Northumberland, possibly at one time Turnbulls, were a noted Connecticut family.  Some Scottish Turnbulls in Virginia became Trumbles when they settled in Texas in the 1850's.

Australia.  John and Ann Turnbull arrived from Scotland with other Presbyterians on the Coromandel in 1802.  They settled at Ebenezer along the Hawkesbury river in NSW.  The Turnbulls' sandstone home, completed in 1810, still stands.  They have a large number of descendants living in Australia today, including the Liberal politician Malcolm Turnbull.  The family story was related in Dorothy and Roy Turnbull's 2002 book Turnbulls on the Coromandel.

Select Turnbull Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:


Select Turnbull Names

William Turneball
, a contemporary of Robert the Bruce, was the first to bear the Turnbull name.
William Turnbull from Bedrule became Bishop of Glasgow in 1448 and later founded Glasgow University.
George Turnbull was called the first railway engineer of India, having laid the first line there between Calcutta and Delhi in the 1850's.
Stephen Turnbull is a best-selling author who writes about medieval Japan and its people.

Select Turnbulls Today
  • 21,000 in the UK (most numerous in Durham)
  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

Click here for reader feedback
Click here for return to front page