The Macdonald family have a long association with Skye and the Outer Islands. Viewfield was built by Lord Macdonald, probably as the residence for his ‘chamberlain’ or factor, a position taken by Dr Alexander Macleod (known as ‘An Dotair Bhan’) in the early 19th century. An Dotair Bhan (Gaelic for ‘the fair doctor’) was a grandson of Donald Macleod of Bernera, known as ‘The Old Trojan’, who in turn was a grandson of Rory Mor, 13th Chief of the Macleods of Dunvegan. In the middle of the 19th century the Viewfield family were known in Skye as part of the ‘Bernera tribe’ after the Old Trojan who latterly lived at Unish on the point of Waternish. He, notwithstanding his exploits at the battle of Falkirk, married three times, and had 29 children in all.
Alexander Macleod’s son-in-law, Harry Macdonald, was a Writer to the Signet and a man of some enterprise. He was the son of the cobbler in Dingwall and as a young man is reputed to have walked the 100 miles to Skye in search of work. He took up employment with ‘An Dotair Bhan’ (his portrait hangs to the left of the oriel window in the dining room) and subsequently married his employer’s daughter, Johanna. He took on the lease of Viewfield in 1846 and founded the legal firm of Macdonald and Fraser in Portree.
Harry Macdonald Snr had four sons who reached majority. Alexander continued the legal firm of Macdonald and Fraser and became the first bank agent in Skye for the National bank, now the Royal bank of Scotland (Macdonald and Fraser’s original building still houses the Royal bank of Scotland). He also took over the Factorship of the Macdonald Estate – the third generation to do so. Thomas became a Surgeon General in the Indian Army. Harry Jnr and John both prospered in India planting indigo for the empire’s textile industry; vegetable dyes being a lucrative business in the second half of the 19th century.
Harry and John both retired young having made considerable fortunes and returned to Portree to set up rival establishments. Freehold land was virtually unobtainable in Skye a hundred years ago. Apart from a handful of small estates, the whole of Skye belonged to either Macleod of Dunvegan or Lord Macdonald. Portree belonged to Lord Macdonald and was at that time little more than a hamlet centred on the harbour.
Harry took over the lease of Viewfield assigned to him by his father’s trustees in 1885. John took on the larger establishment of Portree House, also on lease. Harry promptly embarked on an ambitious building programme. Viewfield was at that time a fairly modest house; the original Georgian part is identified by the small-paned windows. It had a fine upstairs drawing room with windows on three sides facing south, east and west. The old drawing room fireplace was recently discovered under the flight of stairs connecting the old house to the Victorian additions. The house was not as big as Portree House, so perhaps apart from fraternal rivalry he also intended to make provision for the further increase of the ‘Bernera Tribe.’