The Dreghorn Family.

Figure 1. Dragon Bob. Mitchell Library, GC 941.435 GOR

A few years ago I came across an individual named Robert Dreghorn (3rd of that name) who was very wealthy, facially scarred by smallpox and who liked to follow young women. His nickname was ‘Dragon Bob’, no doubt as a consequence of his scarring, and he lived from 1748 to 1804.

Recently I was clearing out some old research paperwork and came across notes I wrote about him which have prompted me to do a bit more digging into his family, where his wealth came from, what he did, if anything, professionally, and so on. Did he or his family benefit Glasgow in anyway being the question I’m trying to answer.

Dragon Bob’s grandfather was Robert Dreghorn(1st), a wright in Glasgow, born around 1679.[1] In 1703 he married Margaret Dickie, daughter of deceased fellow wright Robert Dickie and his wife Isobel Anderson.[2],[3]

It appears that grandfather Robert had wide business interests in addition to his trade as a wright and sometime plumber, the Dreghorn family being involved in timber and lead as merchants. He also invested in the coalfields at Govan and Camlachie,[4] having bought Easter Camlachie in 1731 from Walter Corbet of Tollcross.[5] He was a member of the Trades House in Glasgow and was Wrights Deacon in 1724, 1725, 1728, 1731, 1735 and 1740.[6] He was also a Burgess and Guild Brother of the city.[7]

He and Margaret had six children all born in Glasgow:

  • Allan, b. August 1704.[8] He was initially a wright like his father however he had wide ranging commercial interests which included trading in timber and lead and was a major partner in the Smithfield Iron Company.[9] This particular company which was founded in 1732 had strong trading links with the American colonies, where the partners had extensive possessions.[10] In Tom Devine’s book ‘The Tobacco Lords’ Allan is listed as a tobacco merchant with which company is not clear although it seems probable that he was in partnership with Peter Murdoch in Murdoch, Dreghorn & Co.[11] In 1741 however he and brother Robert (2nd) with three others, one of whom was Matthew Bogle, his wife’s half-brother, decided to use the ship ‘Boyd’ for a single journey to Virginia after which the vessel would be sold. This was despite the fact that ‘they had a settled factor in the colonies to purchase tobacco in advance … and drawing bills on the partners in Glasgow.[12] In 1750 a partnership was formed consisting of Allan, William McDowall, Robert and Colin Dunlop, Andrew Buchanan of Drumpellier and Alexander Houston to establish what became known as the Ship Bank (Dunlop, Houston & Co.).[13] It was located in the Bridgegate close to the then Merchants House. A man of many talents he is also known as an architect. Between 1737 and 1756 he is credited with designing and perhaps building the Town Hall, which later became the Tontine Hotel, and St Andrew’s Church in St Andrew’s Square, just off the Saltmarket, the design of the church being based on St. Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, London. By 1752 he had also designed and built his house, Dreghorn Mansion, in what was then called Great Clyde Street.[14] Around that time using the joiners from his own woodyard he also had built the first private carriage to be seen in Glasgow in which he used to travel about town. Prior to the building of Dreghorn Mansion, in 1749, he had purchased the estate of Ruchill from the Peadie family.[15] Clearly all his commercial activity and partnerships, not least of which was tobacco trading, gave Allan Dreghorn significant financial benefit which allowed him to become an important businessman in Glasgow at a time when the tobacco lords were in their pomp. In 1755, along with others he granted power of attorney to William Cuningham and John Stewart who were merchants on Rappahannock River in Virginia. [16] He also undertook several civic duties. He became a Burgess and Guild brother of Glasgow in 1737 through his father [17] and in 1741 was a Glasgow Bailie.[18] A unique civic duty occurred in 1745 when he, and five others were commissioned by Glasgow to deal with Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army. The commissioners were charged with the following task: ‘Whereas the City of Glasgow is in danger of being attacked by a force which they are in no Condition to resist and the inhabitants and their Trade may be exposed to many inconveniences. These are therefor Beseeching you Andrew Aiton Andrew Buchanan Lawrence Dinwoodie and Richard Oswald merchants in Glasgow Allan Dreghorn wright and James Smith weaver in Glasgow. In case any such force shall approach the city and require to be Lodged therein That you meet with the Leaders of the said force and make the best terms you possibly can for saving the City and its Trade and Inhabitants.’ Hay, the Prince’s quartermaster levied the city at £15,000, in the event the commissioners were able to reduce that to £5,000 cash plus £500 in goods.[19]Allan married Elizabeth (Betty/Bessie) Bogle, daughter of Robert Bogle and Jean Carlyle in 1737,[20] The Bogles were a well-established merchant family involved in a variety of businesses including the tobacco trade.[21] There were two main branches of the family, Daldowie and Shettleston, Robert being a member of the latter. Allan and Betty had no children which resulted in his nephew Dragon Bob, son of his brother Robert (2nd), inheriting his estate [22] when he died in 1764 at Ruchill.[23] His wife was provided for, and he also bequeathed £21 sterling to the Merchants house of Glasgow.[24] Elizabeth died at Ruchill in 1767.[25]                                                                                             
  • Robert, (2nd) b. April 1706.[26] He was a wright, who like his brother was involved in a number of business activities, the main one seemingly being the Virginia tobacco trade. As mentioned above he was involved with brother Allan in the ‘Boyd’ venture, is described as a tobacco merchant by Tom Devine and was a partner in James Brown & Co, tobacco merchants.[27] It also seems probable that, like his brother, he was involved with Murdoch, Dreghorn & Co. He was a ship owner, owning two in 1735, the ‘Margaret’ and the ‘Graham’.[28] In 1737 he became a Burgess and Guild Brother of Glasgow.[29] Like many of his contemporaries, and his brother, his wealth enabled him to buy landed property which he duly did in 1752 with the purchase of the Blochairn estate from the Spreull family for £976 sterling.[30] He married Isabella Bryson around 1747 and they had three children as follows: Robert (Dragon Bob), born in 1748,[31] Elizabeth, born 1751[32] and Margaret, born 1755.[33]  There seems to have been a fourth child, a daughter born in c.1858[34] called Marion. I can find no evidence of her birth however there is a death notice in the Caledonian Mercury of 3rd June 1815 announcing her death at Ruchill, describing her as the daughter of the deceased Robert Dreghorn of Blochairn.[35] Robert died in 1760,[36] Dragon Bob being his heir and executor along with his mother Isabella and others. He bequeathed £10 sterling to the poor of the Merchants House. [37] One interesting detail of his inventory was that he was owed a fifth share of just over £690 for goods sent to a William Cathcart of Jamaica.[38]
  • Margaret, b. July 1708.[39] Married shipmaster James Scot from Greenock in 1735.[40] They had nine children.[41]
  • Isabel, b. March 1711.[42]
  • John, b. October 1712.[43]
  • Katrin, b. July 1714,[44] d. December 1716.[45]

Robert (1st) died in June 1742 [46] leaving to the poor of the Merchants House in Glasgow £100 Scots (£8 6s 8d Sterling).[47] Margaret died in 1756.[48]

Dragon Bob matriculated at Glasgow University in 1761 at the age of thirteen.[49] By that time he was already the putative owner of his father’s estate, including Blochairn. Four years later in 1764 he inherited his uncle Allan’s estate including Ruchill, thereby becoming an extremely rich individual. At one point his annual income was said to be £8,000,[50] personal and heritable estate being valued at £70,000,[51] in today’s terms worth £14.5m and £127m respectively.[52]

His physical appearance had suffered badly from smallpox. His nose was flattened and to one side and he had lost an eye. Some of the pock marks on his cheeks were ‘as large as threepenny pieces’.[53]

I have not been able to ascertain whether he played a part in any of the partnerships and activities of his father and uncle, as most accounts of his life deal with his looks and eccentric behaviour. The tobacco trade with Virginia was still going reasonably well as the family company Dreghorn, Murdoch & Co. imported 574 hogsheads of tobacco in 1773 and 502 hogsheads in 1774. The company his father had been a partner of, James Brown & Co., had over the two years imported just under 1,100 hogsheads, although I’m not sure if he had any continuing interest in that company. To put that into some perspective however it’s worth pointing out that Glassford, Spiers and Cunningham collectively imported over 14,000 hogsheads in each of these years.[54],[55]

Bob appears to have maintained at least an interest in the tobacco trade as he would join with other tobacco merchants at the Tontine Hotel, whether that was an active interest is not clear. Generally he seems to have been a man of few friends. He did not participate in social events such as concert and dances, perhaps as a result of his disfigurement, nor does he come across as someone with an intellectual bent. In his early years he rode his horse in town and was a member of the Glasgow Hunt. That gradually reduced to riding to Ruchill occasionally from Dreghorn mansion, with a manservant accompanying him.

Walking in the Trongate and Argyll Street became almost his sole preoccupation. He would be dressed in a fairly long coat, have a black ribbon bow in his hair pigtail and carry a cane. However his walks and his associated peculiar behavioural traits caused him some notoriety particularly when it came to following young women. Today, probably, it would be described as stalking.

When he came across a young female servant during his walks who caught his eye, he would immediately start to follow her. That continued until either the young woman moved indoors or more often than not another young woman would get his attention and he would immediately start to follow her; this process being carried out for several hours and during every daily walk, sometimes he would speak to the young woman being followed.

There seems to have been nothing sinister in this, with his walks being well known and the source of some amusement for other passers-by. To some extent it appears that the young women being followed felt complimented by his attention. He also had the habit of leaving a conversation with acquaintances abruptly and whistling.

Despite his fortune he was rather a miserly individual, keeping tight control of his finances. In 1773 Glasgow’s wealthier citizens were assessed to allow money to be provided for the poor of the city. He initially paid what was due by him but after twenty years of doing so in 1793 he objected to the amount asked of him, £19, and refused to pay. The subsequent litigation took four years to conclude with Bob losing and being ordered to pay the required amounts and the expenses of the legal action.[56]

There is also the story told of how on one occasion when hosting a dinner the wine ran out and he was encouraged to get some more from his wine cellar. He was unable to rise from his chair and one of his guests offered to go in his stead to get more wine, it seems he had previously been Bob’s butler, as he knew the way. Bob gave that short shrift by saying that he did not trust him and that he knew the road to the cellar ‘o’er weel’. Bob’s solution was to have his ex-butler carry him to the cell to collect more wine and return to the table again carrying him and the wine, which is what happened.[57]

Dragon Bob comes across as a not particularly happy individual, with very few friends, mean with his money and with very odd behavioural habits. Unsurprisingly he never married and died in 1804, apparently by committing suicide[58] although the registration document simply says, ‘sudden death’.[59]

His fortune went initially to his oldest sister Elizabeth who was unmarried. When she died in 1824[60] it went to the four daughters of her sister Margaret, who I believe predeceased her, and James Dennistoun of Colgrain whom she married in 1785.[61] Niece Isabella Bryson, who married Gabriel Hamilton Dundas fell heir to Ruchill, her sister Mary Lyon, who married Sir William Baillie, to Blochairn.[62]

Figure 2. St Andrews Church in the Square.Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Did the Dreghorn family benefit Glasgow? Like other people in the tobacco trade, they did, but at a cost in human misery in the American plantations. Allan Dreghorn is not exempt from that however he did design St Andrew’s in the Square, a beautiful building inside and out and described as the most important and impressive 18th century church in Scotland. It has been category ‘A’ listed by Historic Environment Scotland since 1966.[63]

I suppose it could also be said that Dragon Bob, benefited Glasgow in that he amused its citizens by his eccentric behaviour.

[1] Ewing, Archibald Orr. (1866). View of the Merchants House of Glasgow. Glasgow: Bell and Bain. p. 583.

[2] Anderson, James R., ed. (1925). The Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow 1573-1750.Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society. p. 255.

[3] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 24 May 1674. DICKIE, Margaret. 644/1 60 51.

[4] Smith, John Guthrie and Mitchell, John Oswald. (1878) The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry. 2nd. ed.  Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. LXXXVI. Ruchill.

[5] Senex et al (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol 2. Glasgow: David Robertson. p. 522.

[6] The Trades House Digital Library. Incorporation of Wrights in Glasgow Past Deacons.

[7] Anderson, op. cit. p. 255.

[8] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 3 August 1704. DREGHORN, Allan. 644/1 80 247.

[9] Dictionary of Scottish Architects.

[10] Devine, T. M. and Jackson, Gordon., eds. (1995) Glasgow, Beginnings to 1830. Vol. 2. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 206.

[11] Devine, T.M. (1990) The Tobacco Lords. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 180.

[12] Devine, op. cit. p. 57.

[13] Senex et al, op. cit. Vol 1. p. 470-472.

[14] Dictionary of Scottish Architects.

[15] Smith, John Guthrie and Mitchell, John Oswald. (1878) The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry. 2nd. ed.  Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. LXXXVI. Ruchill

[16] Spotsylvania County records, 1721-1800. DREGHORN, Allan. 1755.

[17] Anderson, op. cit. p. 425.

[18] (1886) The Regality Club. Vol. 1, part 1. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. p.62.

[19] Smith, John Guthrie and Mitchell, John Oswald, op. cit.  LXXVI. Mount Vernon.

[20] Marriages. Scotland. Glasgow. 20 November 1737. DREGHORN, Allan and BOGLE, Elizabeth. 644/1 250 64.

[21] Devine, op. cit.  p. various.

[22] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 27 May 1766. DREGHORN, Allan. Testament Dative and Inventory. Glasgow Commissary Court. CC9/7/65.

[23] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. 24 October 1764. DREGHORN, Allan. 644/1 500 80.

[24] Ewing, op. cit.  p. 588.

[25] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 23 January 1769. DREGHORN, Bessie. 644/1 500 165.

[26] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 21 April 1706. DREGHORN, Robert. 644/1 80 335.

[27] Devine, op. cit.  p. 57, 178, 188.

[28] Gibson, John. (1777). ‘The History of Glasgow’. Glasgow: John Gibson. p. 210,211.

[29] Anderson, op. cit. p. 425.

[30] (1886) The Regality Club. Vol. 1, part 1. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. p.56.

[31] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 29 November 1748. DREGHORN, Robert. 644/1 120 172.

[32] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 18 December 1751. DREGHORN, Elizabeth. 644/1 121 22.

[33] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 5 November 1755. DREGHORN, Margaret. 644/1 121 163.

[34] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Barony. 30 May 1815. DREGHORN, Marrion. 622/  70 497.

[35] Death Announcement. (1815) Caledonian Mercury. 3 June 1815. DREGHORN, Marion. p. 3.

[36] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 12 December 1760. DREGHORN, Robert. 644/1 500 17.

[37] Ewing, op. cit.  p. 587.

[38] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 25 February 1765. DREGHORN, Robert. Testament Testamentar and Inventory. Glasgow Commissary Court. CC9/7/65.

[39] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 18 July 1708. DREGHORN, Margaret. 644/1 90 36.

[40] Marriages. (OPR) Scotland. 18 January 1735. SCOT, James and DREGHORN, Margaret. 564/3 40 56.

[41] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 1735-1747. DREGHORN.

[42] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 14 March 1711. DREGHORN, Isobel. 644/1 90 107. 5 October 171

[43] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 5 October 1712. DREGHORN, John. 644/1 90 159.

[44] Births. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 15 July 1714. DREGHORN, Katrin. 644/1 90 217.

[45] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 14 December 1716. DREGHORN, Katrin. 644/1 450 272.

[46] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 28 June 1742. DREGHORN, Robert. 644/1 470 40.

[47] Ewing, op. cit. p. 583.

[48] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 12 September 1756. DICKIE, Margaret. 644/1 470 226.

[49] Addison, W. Innes. (1913). The Matriculation Albums of Glasgow University, from 1728 to 1858. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. p. 65.

[50] Cowan, James. (1951). From Glasgow’s Treasure Chest. Glasgow: Craig Wilson. p. 182.

[51] Senex et al, op. cit. Vol 2. p. 470-472.

[52] Measuring Worth (2021)

[53] Senex et al, op. cit. Vol 2. p. 332.

[54] Cleland, James. (1820). The Rise and Progress of the City of Glasgow. Glasgow: James Brash and Co. p. 90.,+Murdoch+%26+C

[55] Pagan, James. (1847). Sketch of the History of Glasgow. Glasgow: Robert Stuart and Co. pp. 80,81.,+Murdoch+%26+Co

[56] Senex et al, op. cit. Vol 2. pp. 332-339.

[57] Alison, Robert. (1892). The Anecdotage of Glasgow. Glasgow: Thomson D. Morison. pp. 147,148.

[58] Senex et al, op. cit. Vol 2. p. 334.

[59] Deaths. (OPR) Scotland. Glasgow. 20 November 1804. DREGHORN, Robert. 644/1 520 107.

[60] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 7 December 1824. DREGHORN, Elizabeth. SC36/48/19.

[61] Marriages. (OPR). Scotland. Glasgow: 16 October 1785. DENNISTOUN, James and DREGHORN, Margaret. 644/1 260 359.

[62] (1886) The Regality Club. Vol. 1, part 1. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons. p.64.

[63] Historical Environment Scotland. St Andrew’s Parish Church

Author: harmonyrowbc

Ex aero engineer with a life long passion for Glasgow History

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