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Alexander McNab

Alexander McNab


One of driving forces for this website is the amount of false information about the circumstances and timeline of the McNab Family. John Liddle McNab and Gavin McNab were big personalities. Because of this, there is much documented about them both. They were big fish in a small pond in Ukiah and also in the San Francisco Bay Area. Both their stars ascended once they relocated to San Francisco from Ukiah. Gavin represented Fatty Arbuckle when he was famously on trial for murdering a young woman at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. They were both great orators, which is an advantage being a lawyer. They went on to become politicians. Gavin was a U.S. District Attorney.

Myths of Alexander McNab

Here is the story of Alexander McNab perpetuated for the last twenty years that we have all read. I encourage you to compare, contrast, and critically think about what you learn on this website to what you have previously read and make up your own mind.

Alexander was a farmer. Alexander had a sheep ranch in Scotland. Alexander lived in the Grampian Hills of Scotland. Because of ill health, he emigrated to the U.S. and moved to Mendocino County. His previous neighbor in Scotland, also a sheep man, was Bruce McInsey. Bruce was instrumental in providing dogs for breeding and Alexander, as well as other family members, returned to Scotland, namely the Grampian Hills, to obtain more dogs from Bruce. There were also Basque sheepherders in Mendocino County whose dogs were used by Alexander to breed with his Scotch Collies. Alexander is the man in the pen and ink drawing in Lulu McNab’s story, The Collie in Mendocino. Lulu McNab was a small girl, the daughter of Alexander McNab.  There were no other dog breeds, like Kelpies, used in the McNab breeding program.

Myths of Alexander McNab

Happily, I can share with you for the first time a photo of Alexander and Susan McNab on the McNab Ranch or Lima Ranch in the Sanel Valley. 


It is a first for McNab devotees to see photos of Alexander and Susan as well as the other McNab family members that I have shared on my website. At last we get a visual of the man that started this beloved dog breed.


Census documents list Alexander's father as "farmer." Alexander became a pattern cutter in Glasgow. As he would so many times in his life, his efforts were successful. He eventually became proprietor of his own pattern cutting house.

Alexander McNab in Scotland

Alexander McNab was born in Rothesay, Bute, Scotland about 1820. I use “about” because throughout census documents, several date ranges are documented: 1819, 1820, 1821. As well, his name was sometimes spelled “MacNab.” He is documented working as a “pattern cutter” in his early youth and eventually having his own business in that field. When Alexander was approximately 20 years old, the world of photography changed with the invention of the daguerreotype. In 1839, the daguerreotype was the first commercially successful photographic process (1839-1860) in the history of photography. Named after the inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, each daguerreotype is a unique image on a silvered copper plate.


In the 1850s, McNab opens his first photography studio in Glasgow. His work can be see in the links below.  McNab is not featured in any of the photos.


McNab became and remains, one of the best and well-known photographers using the daguerreotype process in the world.  He also became a pioneer famous for photographic enlargement. The dates of McNab’s reign as one of the premier photographers can be deceiving. From research, it seems he had his photography business at 08 West Nile Street from the 1850s but sold it in 1867. In 1867, he was already residing in Mendocino County, California. 08 Nile Street continued to operate under the same name under various owners. In 1872 the address of the premises was changed to No. 96 and that was the address until at least 1877. By 1881 the address was 92 West Nile Street. In 1898, “Alexander MacNab” (residing in Mendocino, California) was operating at 92 West Nile Street, at Victoria Studio Bridgeton both in Glasgow, and also at Uddingston. One can surmise from the studios retaining his name, that it was done so because of his fame and to lend advantage to the business. McNab used a variety of the Scottish ethnic renditions of his last name going back and forth between McNab and MacNab. As previously stated, Alexander had three photography studios in Glasgow. One is documented as a printing business in Ravelston Cottage, Uddingston, one a photography studio, Nile Street. McNab was founding Vice President of the Glasgow Photographic Association. His photography is documented in special collections in the University of Glasgow. He became famous and was widely known as a “Photographic Enlarger.” The fact that he employed 30 people in these three businesses is a testament to his success as both a business man and an artist. At that time in California, most were seeking their fortunes mining gold; while McNab’s success afforded him the ability to emigrate and buy land in Largo, Sanel Valley, Mendocino County, California. 

Evidence-Based History of Alexader McNab

(Click to Expand)


McNab Photography

Isabella Strathern McNab 1823 - 1849


The McNab Family Bible records Alexander’s first marriage and his first wife’s birth and death dates: “Isabella Strathern 8-6-44 Born 7-14-23, died 2-18-49.”  His children with Isabella were Sarah and Alexander.


It is unknown what caused Isabella Strathern’s death in 1849. Isabella’s demise may be related to the 1848-1849 Cholera Epidemic in Glasgow. Here is a resource for further reading.

Susan Park McNab

Alexander McNab marries Susan Park in Glasgow.  McNab and Susan, with his two children Sarah and Alexander, live in Glasgow as McNab establishes his career and fortune as a world-renowned photographer.  McNab had five of his six children with Susan in Glasgow.

Emigration to California

McNab was still Vice-President of the Glasgow Photographic Association in 1863. 


The McNab Ranch diary, kept by Arthur V. McNab, has an entry in the very back as follows “Alexander McNab purchased ranch October 31, 1866, $5750.  Died April 7, 1901, 82 years, on the Lima Ranch. Here is a sample from the Ranch Diary for January 1, 1882 by Arthur V. McNab.

McNab emigrated first to California. 


His wife, Susan, followed about a year later, by way of New York and Panama, bringing their seven children.  His first two children, with Isabelle Strathern McNab, and their five children together.  His son and namesake, Alexander Jr., was around 18 years old and lived with the Long family in Largo.  One of Alexander’s daughters, Sara, would marry a Long.  They are both buried on the Ranch.


Below is the Manifest for the sailing ship the Columbia that Mrs. McNab sailed with the children as well as a typed transcription: