When researching Sir William Burrell’s (SWB) business and political activity I also became interested in his family origins, particularly his paternal ancestry. A few years ago I read Richard Mark’s book on Burrell, Portrait of a Collector, in which he writes that one of Burrell’s ancestors, the nephew of his great great grandfather was the first governor of Hong Kong. As it turns out this individual, George Burrell, had nothing to do with Hong Kong, the first governor being Sir Henry Pottinger in 1843. However, he was in China as a soldier, that caught my interest, and was the cause of my research into Burrell’s family.
The name Burrell is ubiquitous in the borders particularly in the county of Northumberland. Place names associated with SWB’s branch of the family include Alnwick, Bassington, Longhoughton and Eglingham, where his great great grandfather George Burrell was born in 1730. He had a brother John, born in 1733, who had a son George, the soldier who served in China.
John and George’s father was George Burrell of Bassington, and both were born in Eglingham.
The Soldier in China
Before I detail SWB’s ancestry from his great great grandfather George, I’m going to indulge in a slight diversion to look at John’s soldier son George.
George Burrell was born to John and his wife Barbara Peareth in Longhoughton in 1777. He was the second son of four, one of his brothers, John the youngest, also became a soldier with the 60th Regiment of Foot. He was killed in 1832 leading his regiment at the siege of Porto during the Portuguese civil war.
Describing George Burrell as a “soldier in China” does him an injustice. He had a successful, varied and distinguished army career serving for circa fifty years, finally attaining the rank of Lieutenant General.
His career began in 1797 when he joined the 15th Regiment of Foot as an ensign. He was promoted to lieutenant in the same year and by 1805 commanded a company as captain serving in the West Indies. In 1807 he became a major in the 90th Light Infantry, serving in Guadeloupe in 1810 and in Canada during the latter part of the war of 1812-1814 between the United States and Great Britain. He arrived in Upper Canada in May 1814 and was Commandant of Fort Niagara in the United States, which had been captured in December 1813, from November 1814 until May 1815. From there he was posted to the Netherlands and then France where the Napoleonic Wars were coming to an end, Waterloo having occurred a few weeks earlier. He eventually returned to England in 1816.
Between 1820 and 1840 he went firstly to the Greek Island of Paxos where he was military and civil commander for five years. In 1832 he was in back in England, this time with the 18th Royal Irish regiment, with which regiment he went to Ceylon in 1836 and was commandant at Colombo and Trincomalee. He rose steadily in the ranks during this period being promoted colonel in 1830 and then brevet major general in 1837.
Then came his service in China, arriving there in May 1840 during the first Opium War between Britain and China. In July of that year the Chinese authorities of the island of Chusan (Zhoushan), around eight hundred miles north of Hong Kong, were told to surrender the island to British Naval and Land forces, the latter led by Burrell, or the island would be taken by force. The Chinese leaders refused, and the island was duly taken by the British with surprisingly few casualties on both sides.
Burrell was then appointed Governor of Chusan, a post he held until February 1841, when the island was handed back to China as a result of a treaty being signed. The treaty however did not last long which resulted in Burrell leading his forces on a successful attack on Canton a few weeks later , , following which he was appointed a Companion of the Bath (C.B.). He remained in China until July 1842, which was his last tour of active service. He was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1851 and appointed Colonel of the 39th Regiment in 1852.
He married twice and had four children with his second wife, including two sons who both joined the military. He died on the 4th January 1853.
Note: The British Flag flew over Chusan about 6 months before it did over Hong Kong.
SWB’s Paternal Ancestry
Great great Grandfather George Burrell married Eleanor Whitehead at Eglingham in June 1766. They had eight children, five boys and three girls born between 1767 and 1785. According to Marks he died in 1815, which I have not been able to confirm from any other source.
Great Grandfather George Burrell.
The eldest boy was yet another George born in 1767. He was a tea merchant in Alnwick  and married Elizabeth Harrison there in 1795. I’ve not been able to ascertain how many children they but they certainly had two boys, George and John, baptised at Alnwick on the same day in 1801. Who was the eldest is not clear however George was SWB’s grandfather. Great grandfather George died in the 1st quarter of 1853; the death being registered in Alnwick.
Whilst searching the English and Scottish censuses of 1841 and 1851 for his family I came across unexpected entries for both Scottish censuses for a George Burrell. The entry for the individual concerned recorded that he was age 84 in 1851 and born in Egringham, Northumberland. There is no such place name in Northumberland, it therefore has to be Eglingham or Edlingham. As indicated above great grandfather George was born in Eglingham in 1767. He is described as a widower and having been a grocer and spirit dealer, perhaps not much far removed from being a tea merchant and Marks refers to him at one point as being a grocer.
His residence is also interesting. He is described as an inmate of the William Simpson Asylum in St. Ninians parish, Stirlingshire. Is this SWB’s great grandfather? The evidence is fairly strong that he is, especially when it is taken into account that his son George had been resident in Scotland from at least 1824 as I’ll show. Being a widower did he come to Scotland to be near his son?
He also had a brother Nicholas born in 1769. He married Mary Veitch in 1804, the daughter of Glasgow merchant Alexander Veitch, the marriage taking place in Leith. Mary’s father had died in 1797 at Newington near Edinburgh leaving his widow Lilias Nimmo and two unmarried daughters, Mary being the oldest, born in 1761.
These incursions into Scotland by great grandfather George, his son George and his brother Nicholas were the first of SWB’s immediate family. Why son George and Nicholas left Northumberland seems to have been in search of opportunities to improve their lives.
Grandfather George Burrell.
Grandfather George came to Scotland some time before 1824 quite possibly to join with his uncle Nicholas. In 1824, in Leith, he married Elizabeth Hastie, the daughter of mason Robert Hastie. He was listed as living in Leith and working as a clerk, Marks suggesting he was in some way involved in the eastern end of the Forth and Clyde canal. There is however no reliable source that confirms that.
Just over a year later in September 1825 daughter Barbara was borne in Leith. Elizabeth however died shortly after, whether in actual childbirth or at a later time has not been established despite various search data being used.
Sometime after Barbara’s birth George moved to Glasgow, still working as a clerk, which is where he married Janet Houston in 1831. She was born in 1809, the daughter of William Houston, a carpet manufacturer and his wife Rebecca Barr.
They had eleven children as follows, two of whom did not live to adulthood.
- William, b. 23rd January 1832. SWB’s father.
- Henry, b. 9th October 1833.
- Rebecca, b. 7th September 1835. Date of death not discovered, not recorded in 1841 census.
- George, b. 19th May 1838.
- Elizabeth Harrison, b. 17th May 1840.
- Rebecca, 20th June 1842.
- Alexander Houston, b. 8th December 1844. Date of death not discovered, not recorded in 1851 census.
- Janet, b. 7th January 1847.
- Margaret, b. 9th February 1849.
- Jane, b. 5th May 1853.
- Alexander Houston, b. 4th May 1856.
George continued to be described as a clerk in census returns, family birth records and in the 1855 valuation roll when the family resided at 21 Garscube Road in Glasgow. This was the family home address from at least 1841.
It’s worth noting at this stage that George’s daughter Barbara by his first wife lived with the Burrell family at least until 1861. She married Robert Pattie, master mariner in 1872 and died in 1914.
In 1856 George began his involvement with shipping in his own name when he set up as a shipping agent on the Forth and Clyde canal. At the time of his son Alexander’s birth in May 1856 he was described as a shipbroker’s clerk, still living at Garscube road, However he made his first appearance in the GPO directory of 1856/57, published post June in 1856, as a shipping and forwarding agent, located at Grangemouth and Alloa Wharf, Port Dundas. The family had also moved to a new address at 72 New City Road, no more than a twenty minute walk to his place of business.
By the following year Burrell & Son had been established with both George and son William listed in the GPO directory. (William has been entered as Walter but it is undoubtedly William as his home address is given as 3 Scotia Street, Glasgow where his son George was born in November 1857, more of which later.
Interestingly six years previously William had appeared in the 1851 census, age 19, lodging with a John McGregor in the vicinity of Camelon. McGregor was listed as a lock keeper (there are three Forth and Clyde canal locks near Camelon) and William was described as a shipping agent. Was William therefore the prime mover that took his father into shipping a few years later or were they both in the employ of a company doing business on the canal in 1851, George as a clerk and William as an agent? Clearly it can’t be proved one way or another but undoubtedly at least one member of the Burrell family was involved in shipping through the canal as early as 1851.
Burrell & Son prospered, expanding from canal operations only to include international shipping and the building of puffers at their yard at Hamiltonhill from 1873, with George and son William running the business. Other partnerships were also established over the next few years by William; Burrell & McLaren (Thomas McLaren) in 1867 and Burrell & Haig in 1875. Haig was his sister Elizabeth’s husband having married him in 1866, his occupation given as English teacher. There was a familial connection however with the canal in that his father was a lock keeper on the Forth and Clyde canal in the parish of New Kilpatrick. The McLaren partnership was relatively short lived, ending in 1873 however that with David Haig lasted until 1905.
What part, if any, did George’s other sons play in the company? His second eldest son Henry, described as a carver in 1851, subsequently became involved with shipping, probably with his father’s company although that has not been clearly established. In 1861 he was boarding with a Mrs Gray in Falkirk and described as a shipping clerk. Was he therefore at the other end of the canal looking after the company’s interests? It would certainly seem so as from around 1865 he was living in Grangemouth, had an office adjacent to his house, and was described as a shipbroker.
He lived there, in North Harbour Street, for the rest of his life, variously being described as a shipbroker or shipping agent. He married Helen Morrison circa 1871, there being no children of the marriage. He died in Grangemouth during October 1902. In his will he left over £4100, his wife Helen being his executrix and sole beneficiary. Two interesting items from his will were that he owned shares in the shipping company Faerdar of Christiana (Oslo’s previous name) in Norway and in Burrell and Haig. Henry’s wife Helen died in 1912 at their home in North Harbour Street.
In 1861 the third son George was working with Burrell & Son as a shipping clerk. For whatever reason that did last very long as I next came across him in Australia in 1869 when he married Fanny North. It seems they had only one child, Janet, born in 1877 in Bungarree, Victoria. Unfortunately, she died at six months in 1878.
George returned to Glasgow with his wife sometime after 1881 (not included in the census for that year) and set up G. Burrell & Co., ships stores merchants in 1886. His home address was given in the directory as 13 Afton Crescent, Glasgow which was where his brother Alexander lived, whom he took into partnership in 1887.
He continued in that business, mainly located in West Street until circa 1912/13 the business’s last appearance in the GPO directory for Glasgow. In 1890 he moved from Afton Crescent to Cumbernauld finally settling in Luggiebank, Cumbernauld two years later, which is where he died in 1918. His wife Fanny continued to live there until her death in 1923.
The youngest son Alexander Houston had a limited connection with the shipping business compared to his three brothers. At the age of twenty two in 1878 he set up Burrell & Macmaster, Ship Brokers and Commission Agents in York Street. That did not last long as the following year he was operating from premises in Ann Street on his own. In 1880 he joined Neil Smith & Co., Ship Stores Merchants at 48 York Street, eventually taking over the business in partnership with John Chamberlain, another employee of Smiths, in 1882. This turned out to be yet another short lived venture which ended in 1885.
His situation however certainly improved when he joined with his brother George in 1887. I’m not sure if he was in partnership with George but the company operated until 1913, Alexander being involved until 1899.
Throughout his time with George he continued to live at 13 Afton Crescent, however by 1901 he was living with his widowed half-sister Barbara Pattie at Brooklynn Villa in Luggiebank, still being described as a Ships Stores Merchant and employer.
He died, unmarried, in 1908 whilst visiting the Manse house in Stow where his sister Margaret and her husband, a Church of Scotland minister, the Rev. William Workman lived.
Only one other daughter of George senior and Janet Houston married. That was Janet, who married Andrew Hunter, another Church of Scotland minister, in 1874.
Father William Burrell.
George senior retired in 1873 leaving SWB’s father William in sole charge of the company’s operations. He died in 1881 at Dunkeld Place, Byres Road, Partick. His wife Janet died at 13 Afton Crescent, son Alexander’s home, in 1897.
Under William’s control Burrell & Son continued to expand becoming one of the most important shipping companies in Glasgow with a large number of ships in full ownership and a significant number in which they had shares. In due course he was to be aided and abetted in the business by his sons SWB and George.
He had married Isabella Guthrie in December 1856, just about co-incident with the creation of Burrell & Son. She was the daughter of Adam Guthrie, a coal agent, and Elizabeth Duncan who had died in January 1855.
William and Isabella had nine children as follows:
- George, b. 19th December 1857 at 3 Scotia Street, Glasgow. He and his brothers Adam and SWB attended school in St Andrews in 1871 after which he joined Burrell & Son during the following year. Subsequently he became a forwarding agent with the company. He married Anne Jane McKaig in 1883 and they had five children.
- William Burrell, b. 1885 at Ravenswood, Langbank. He died in 1914 as the result of a boating accident on Loch Ewe whilst serving with the Royal Navy.
- Thomas McKaig Burrell, b.1887 at Ravenswood, Langbank. At Perth he married Muriel Margaret Wylie, daughter of Robert Wylie Hill, landed proprietor, in 1919. He was a ship broker. He died at Perth in 1961, his wife Muriel the following year.
- Gladys Helen Hillcoat Burrell, b. 1888 at Ravenswood, Langbank. She married William Barr Knox in 1914 at Paisley Abbey. He was a thread manufacturer working for his father Bryce Muir Knox at Kilbirnie. The company W & J Knox, net and yarn manufacturers, currently located in Kilbirnie, is a direct descendant of the original company. Gladys died in 1920 at her father’s house Gleniffer Lodge of a stroke/brain tumour.
- Isabella Guthrie Burrell, b. 1890 at Ravenswood, Langbank. No other information has been established.
- Gordon George Burrell, b. 1895 at Ravenswood, Langbank. He served in the RNVR from 1917 to 1918 and shortly afterwards in 1919 married Brenda Agnes Bibby, the daughter of merchant and ship owner Herbert Kirkman Bibby, at St. Martin’s, London. From around 1930 he and his wife lived in Ayrshire, he being described as a ship owner. He died in 1949 at Auchendrane near Ayr, his occupation recorded as farmer. Brenda died in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 1959.
George and Anne moved to Gleniffer Lodge in 1896, where they lived for the rest of their lives. George died in 1927 whilst visiting County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Anne at home in 1932.
Please see my post “The Other Burrell Brothers” for a fuller report on George’s family life and his involvement with Burrell & Son.
- Adam Guthrie, b. 4th June 1859 at 3 Scotia Street. Adam started out working in the family firm but changed direction very quickly and graduated from Glasgow University in 1892 with degrees in medicine and surgery.
He married Clarissa or Clara Jane Scott in 1886 in Ireland. They emigrated to Wyoming the year after he graduated, with their three children: George Guthrie b. 1887, Isabella Mary Houston b. 1888 and Robert Alexander b. 1889.
They did not stay in the US for long, going initially to South Africa and finally to New Zealand where a third son Adam Guthrie was born in 1899. Adam practised as a doctor in Dunedin for some time and then moved to Canterbury in 1905 where another son Roderick Scott was born near the end of that year.
- SWB, 9th July 1861 at 3 Scotia Street. He joined Burrell & Son in 1876 and was to see the firm through to its closure in 1939. He married his sister in law Constance Mary Lockhart Mitchell in 1901, daughter of deceased timber merchant James Lockhart Mitchell and his wife Marion Nisbet Miller . They had one child, Marion Mitchell, born in 1902. In later life she changed her first name to Sylvia. Why she made the change is not particularly clear however it may have something to do with what I understand to be a poor relationship with her mother(she was unable to have any more children after Marion was born) and the fact that her father interfered in her relationships with potential suitors, being concerned that they were simply after her (his) money. She was apparently engaged on three separate occasions, the last of which was to the Honourable Patrick Balfour, son and heir of the second Lord Kinross.
Their engagement was announced in the Scotsman and elsewhere on the 10th February 1931, followed on the 23rd February with the announcement that the marriage would take place at St. George’s, Hanover Square, London on the 17th March at 2.15pm. However on the 5th March the following rather terse Scotsman notice stated that “The marriage arranged between the Honourable Patrick Balfour and Miss Marion Burrell will not take place”.
Her father had made the announcement without telling Marion as he was concerned about Patrick’s growing gambling debts and, perhaps more importantly, the discovery that Balfour was homosexual. Regardless of the reasons it was a heartless decision leaving Marion very unhappy. She died unmarried in 1992. SWB died in 1958 leaving in his will just under £760,000 having previously donated his collection of art to Glasgow. Constance died in 1961.
See posts: “The Other Burrell Brothers”, “Sir William Burrell’s Nearly Gift to London” and “Sir William Burrell, Glasgow Corporation Councillor”.
- Elizabeth Duncan, b. 13th August 1863 at 30 Willowbank Street, Glasgow. She married Thomas Steward Lapraik, marine engineer, at her family home, 4 Devonshire Gardens, Kelvinside on the 26th He was the son of ship owner and merchant John Steward Lapraik of South Kensington, London. They had one daughter Isabell Clare born in 1892 in Derby. They lived in England for all of their married life, Thomas dying in 1926. Elizabeth was still alive in 1939 living in Ilfracombe, Devon.
- Henry, b. 1st April 1866 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace, Bowling. He worked for the family firm for a period of time from 1885 until 1897 before setting up on his own in Robertson Street in Glasgow. He had several successful patents dealing with ship design and subsequently set up the Straight Back Steamship Company. He never married and lived with his parents then his mother only until 1913. He died in 1924 at a tuberculosis sanatorium in Banchory. See “The Other Burrell Brothers”
- Janet Houston, b. 15th June 1868 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace. She married Charles John Cleland, stationer, employed in his father’s paper manufacturing company, in 1888. They had three daughters, Isabella Guthrie, born in 1889, Jean, born in 1890, and Jessie Muriel, born in 1893, all born at Bonville House, Maryhill. Isabella served during WW1 in the Voluntary Aid Detachment of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). She married Walter Percy Reed Webster, tea planter, in 1927. He was the son of John Webster, a retired District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Jean never married and died in 1932 at Bonville House. As it turned out Isabella was not the only daughter to marry someone with an Irish connection. Jessie Muriel married Sir Richard Dawson Bates in 1920. He was an Ulster politician who was in the forefront of opposition to Irish Home Rule. They had one son, John Dawson Bates, born in Belfast in 1921. Sir Richard was appointed as Minister of Home Affairs when Northern Ireland was formed in 1922. He set up a committee of enquiry to reorganize the police force which in due course recommended a single force for the province one third of which was to be Catholic. Bates however was virulently anti-Catholic and later on in 1922 allowed members of the newly formed RUC to join the Orange Lodge. Previously the Royal Irish Constabulary were prohibited from joining such organisations. This effectively ensured Catholic officers in the RUC would be minimised. During his tenure, the political decisions he took were always hardline and based on his belief of Protestant supremacy. He left office in 1943 having being made a baronet in 1937. He died in Somerset in 1949. Jessie also died in Somerset in 1972. See “Sir William Burrell, Glasgow Corporation Councillor” post for more on Charles John Cleland.
- Helen Grey, b. 24th September 1869 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace. Died at Largs on the 3rd October 1875 of tubercular meningitis.
- Isabella Duncan, b. 8th January 1872 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace. She died unmarried in 1951.
- Mary Guthrie, b. 26th December 1874 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace. She married James Alexander Ralston Mitchell, timber broker, several months before SWB married his sister, in 1901. They had five children.
- Isabella Duncan, b.1902 at 8 Belhaven Crescent, Kelvinside. She married Joseph Murray Hoult in 1923. He was described as a landed proprietor from Lincolnshire, the son of ship owner Joseph Hoult and his wife Julia Murray. They had three children, two boys and a girl between 1927 and 1931, the first two being born at Caistor in Lincolnshire, the third being born in Dreghorn, Ayr. Joseph Murray Hoult served in the Royal Artillery in the 3rd Welsh Brigade in 1911 as a second lieutenant, transferring to the Royal Artillery in 1913. He remained with the regiment throughout WW1 going to France in August 1914 and attaining the rank of Major by the war’s end. In 1944, he was appointed as a sheriff of Lincolnshire, and in 1946, as Lieutenant Colonel he became the High Sheriff of Lincolnshire. He died in South Africa in 1948. Isabella died in Malaga in 1979.
- Marion Elenore Bonthron, b.1904 at 8 Belhaven Crescent. She married Charles Glen MacAndrew (his second wife) in 1941. He was MP for Bute and Northern Ayrshire and had previously been MP for Kilmarnock and Partick. He held various positions in the House of Commons being a deputy Speaker of the House and Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee from 1951 to 1959 when he retired. He was knighted in 1935 and became a Baron on his retiral. They had one daughter, Mary Margaret Hastings, born in 1942. Charles died in 1979, Marion in 1994.
- James Merrick Ralston, b.1906 at 8 Belhaven Crescent. Information about James has been hard to come by. He was a timber merchant or broker as evidenced by journeys he made to Burma and the US. He joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery at some point and in 1945, with the rank of temporary major, was awarded the Military Cross. He died, unmarried, at Stirling in 1983.
- Ruth Mary Beryl, b.1910 at 8 Belhaven Crescent. She married chartered accountant Alexander Irving Mackenzie in 1938. He was the son of Dr. Charles Mackenzie and his wife Margaret Wilson. As for her brother James information has been hard to come by. She had at least one daughter however, Mona, who along with her mother gave evidence at a Parliamentary Commission hearing which was looking at Glasgow City Council’s proposals to send some of the Burrell Collection abroad. Ruth died at Ayr in 2011.
- William Burrell Alan, b.1913 at 8 Belhaven Crescent. He died at Kelso in 1989.
As can be seen from the addresses where their children were born William and Isabella’s standard of living improved as William Burrell & Son progressed. Starting from a tenement flat in Scotia Street in Glasgow, by 1874 they were living in Bowling at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace, eventually to “Elmbank” in Manse Road in Bowling, a large detached villa.
Burrell & Son continued to prosper with William and in particular sons George and SWB running the business. However, that was not to continue in the way they probably expected it to. In 1885 William, at the relatively young age of 53, died at Elmbank from an enlarged liver. In his will he left £39,711 his executors and trustees being his wife Isabella, sons SWB and George. Henry declined to be a trustee, Adam was not mentioned in this context, his legacy also being less than that of his brothers. Thereafter SWB and George jointly ran the business until 1927 when George died, SWB afterwards until 1939 when it ceased to trade.
By 1891 William Burrell’s widow Isabella was resident at 4 Devonshire Gardens where initially she lived with SWB and daughters Isabella and Mary. Henry also lived there from circa 1901. She died at Crieff in 1912.
The prosperity that Burrell & Son brought to the family was astonishing not just in monetary terms but in the society in which the family moved. That ranged from a visit to Hutton Castle from royalty, to the London social scene of the 1920s/30s with dances being arranged by titled ladies for SWB’s daughter and her presentation at court, SWB’s knighthood, and the various descendant marriages which I’ve tried to detail above.
One negative is that SWB’s ambition to move in that society made him over-protective of his daughter Marion, leaving him in my view, insensitive to her feelings.
 Marks, Richard (1983). Burrell, A Portrait of a Collector. Glasgow: Richard Drew. p. 27.
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*His middle name had become Fitzgeorge.
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