Thomas Burnett, 1st Laird of Kemnay, was the second son of James Burnet of Craigmyle. He married Margaret, only child of John Pearson of Edinburgh. He purchased the estate of Kemnay in Aberdeenshire from Sir George Nicholson in 1688. He did not live long to enjoy his new purchase as he died in February 1689, three months after the death of his wife.
Their elder son Thomas (1656-1729) succeeded to the estate. He studied at the University of Leyden and was admitted to the Scottish Bar. After his succession to the estate Thomas employed a factor to run his affairs for him so he could continue his travels in Europe. In 1713 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Brickenden of Inkpen, Berks, England. Their son George (1714-1780) was to become the third Burnett Laird of Kemnay.
George became the first of the improving Lairds of Kemnay and by 1759 he had some 130 acres laid out with woodland and enclosed fields. It was in his time that the avenue was planted and much of what became known as the wilderness was planted. He married Helen, daughter of Sir Alexander Burnet of Leys in 1734.
Alexander Burnett (1735-1802), their son, was for several years Secretary to Sir Andrew Mitchell of Thainstone who was Minister to the Court of Berlin. Following Mitchell’s death, he was Chargé d’Affaires for two years. He returned home in 1772 and settled in Aberdeen. On the death of his father in 1780, he continued the work of development on the estate. In 1781 he married Christian, daughter of John Leslie, professor of Greek at Aberdeen and of Christian, daughter and heiress of Hugh Fraser of Powis. They had 6 children (one of whom died as an infant), including John (1786-1847) the 5th Laird, who married Mary, daughter of Dr. Charles Stuart of Dunearn, Fife. Following Alexander’s death in 1802 his widow carried on much of the management of the estate. She continued to live at Kemnay until John’s marriage on 1814.
John continued the improvements at Kemnay, utilising the services of John Smith, the first City Architect of Aberdeen. He had 8 children, including Alexander George, 6th Laird of Kemnay (1815-1908) and George (1822-1890) who was to become Lord Lyon King of Arms.
It was during Alexander George Burnett’s tenure as Laird of Kemnay that much of the agricultural changes took place on the estate. In 1849 he married Letitia Amelia, daughter of William Kendall and by her had four children including John Alexander, the 7th Laird. Letitia Amelia died in 1855 and he married Anna-Maria Pledge in 1877 by whom he had another four children. Anna-Maria died in 1885 and then he married Emily Julia Burch in 1893.
John A. Burnett married Charlotte Susan, daughter of Arthur Forbes Gordon of Rayne, succeeding to the estate at age 56. Unfortunately, John A. had received no formal training on estate management and having no real income, he had to borrow considerably to live. It was during his tenure in the 1920s that much of the estate was sold off. He and his wife had six children, including Arthur Moubray, 8th Laird (1872– 1948).
Arthur Moubray Burnett worked in the Merchant Marine from 1895 until 1906/7 and then went to India where he remained until the outbreak of World War I, when he joined the Calcutta Scottish, serving with them in East Africa. He married Muriel, the widow of his friend Seymour Langham in 1921. His elder daughter Susan Letitia was born in October 1922 and his younger daughter Jean Muriel Moubray was born in 1926.
Susan Letitia served with the WRNS during World War II. She met and married Fredrick J. Milton who was serving with the South African Air Force. After the war they farmed in South Africa. Susan’s mother died in 1963 and in 1964 she returned to Kemnay.