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10 Oct 2023

Curtain goes up on Osgood Mackenzie

Three people stand outside a white-walled cafe, which has a stencilled decoration saying: Come tickle your tastebuds. Two tall men, both wearing glasses, stand either side of a shorter woman. All are smiling at the camera.
Writer Rob Mackean (left), local researcher and family law specialist Majella O’Neill, and Arkle Theatre Company’s Michael Mulligan (right)
An exciting new play portraying the life and loves of Inverewe Garden’s colourful creator is coming to the National Trust for Scotland property.

Osgood Mackenzie (1842–1922), the third son of Sir Francis Mackenzie of Gairloch, spent over 40 years developing the now world-famous garden on the shores of Loch Ewe, part of the estate which he bought as a young man of just 20. But while his plantsmanship has been widely documented, little has been written of his somewhat turbulent personal life, until playwright Rob Mackean read Osgood’s memoirs A Hundred Years in the Highlands.

The Curious Case of Osgood Mackenzie has been written and directed by Rob Mackean, and marks the first time that the famous horticulturalist’s personal life has been put under the spotlight. Presented by Edinburgh-based Arkle Theatre Company, the play will be staged at Inverewe Garden’s Osgood Café on Saturday 4 November with two performances: the first at 11am and the second at 2.30pm.

The production embraces a radio play format to tell the story. It ran to critical acclaim for several nights at the 2023 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Inverewe date will now give Highland audiences the chance to catch it closer to home.

Rob has visited the area around Inverewe for more than 30 years and now lives there. He explained: ‘While it is an interesting read, it is told very much from his perspective, so left me with the feeling that there was more to find out.

‘Some of the missing pieces of the jigsaw appeared with the publication of Pauline Butler’s book Eighty Years in the Highlands, which is sold from Inverewe Garden Visitor Centre. Osgood didn’t mention in A Hundred Years that he was married, although later editions were edited and revised by his daughter Mairi so clearly he had been.’

A smiling young woman holds two books about Osgood Mackenzie. She is standing next to a wooden sculpture of Osgood's head, which is displayed on a shelf in a visitor centre.
Inverewe team member Esther with the Osgood books in the visitor centre

In fact, Osgood married Minna Moss, the wealthy daughter of an English baronet, in 1877 and they had a child, Mairi. But the marriage broke down and court battles followed over access to and custody of Mairi. A divorce trial and challenges to his wife’s will all suggest a much more complex life than that described in Osgood’s book.

Solicitor Majella O’Neill, a family law expert of over 30 years who lives near Inverewe Estate, has seen the play. Her interest in Minna followed a visit to Inverewe several years ago, and she has since spent many long hours studying the divorce trial papers. Majella says: ‘Osgood’s attempts to divorce Minna and later, following her death in 1909, to challenge her last will and testament, raised many an eyebrow, including mine!

‘Was this just a case of a young English socialite marrying an older Highland gentleman, with dislocated expectations of a charmed life? Or was it a domineering husband with an interfering mother who orchestrated the marriage for purely fiscal reasons, then sought to airbrush his wife out of the picture?’

“This wonderful performance should leave you – as it did me – wanting to know more!”
Majella O’Neill

Are you curious to find out more? Join us for these performances of The Curious Case of Osgood Mackenzie. Tickets are priced at £10.

Book your ticket now

And as with all good stories, there is a twist to the tale.

The Trust, along with Majella, has so far been unable to trace a single photograph, painting or likeness of Minna Mackenzie, despite long searches and great effort.

It is felt it would be right and fitting for her image to sit alongside her husband and daughter in the hallway of Inverewe House, the former family home in the midst of the gardens and which is now a living museum. Majella says: ‘Minna has a voice in this production and one day we will find a face to put in that picture frame.’

If you know of any photographs, portraits or further information about Minna, please get in touch with us at

A black and white photo of a grand house with a turret set among a young garden in a wider moorland landscape. Mountains and a loch can be seen in the distance.
Archive image of Inverewe House