Note: There are many different spellings of Speirs. These include Speers, Spears, Spiers and Speirs.
In my John Glassford post Part 1 I referred to William Cunningham, Alexander Spiers and John Glassford as the most prominent of the Glasgow Tobacco Lords. As with Glassford, the purpose of this post is to comment on Speir’s family background, his business activities and partnerships. Without the use of slave labour however it is clear that none of these individuals, and others, would have been as successful as they were and, perhaps, Glasgow’s financial pre-eminence in the tobacco trade and the concomitant development of local industry would not have occurred. This I believe would have inhibited the city’s commercial growth and progression in the 19th century as a significant amount of ‘slave delivered’ funding would not have been available.
Again, I refer those with an interest in Glasgow’s involvement with slavery to the writings of Stephen Mullen, Tom Devine and others.
Alexander Speirs’ parents were John Speers, an Edinburgh merchant and burgess of the N.W. (Tolbooth) parish in Edinburgh and Isobell Twedie, the daughter of John Twedie an ex Lord Provost of Peebles (1703-1707). They married in 1708 and had eight children, three sons and five girls, Alexander being the fourth child and second son, born and baptized in September 1714. John became a burgess of Edinburgh in 1705, his third son James in 1743. The eldest son John died in 1726 at the age of fourteen from drowning.
What Alexander did as a young adult has not been ascertained however in 1740 at the age of twenty six he travelled to Virginia. I’m not clear why he went there at that time however it possibly could have been as a factor/associate of a tobacco company, which is what a number of young men did then, particularly if they were of the merchant class.
Whatever the reason he became involved with the Cary (Carey) family plantations in Virginia, eventually marrying Sarah Cary the youngest daughter of Henry Cary jnr. of Ampthill in Chesterfield County, and his second wife Anne Edwards. Henry Cary’s main occupation was as a contract builder. His buildings include the President’s House and the Brafferton Building of William and Mary College, both still existing, and Ampthill House, the family home built in 1732. In 1929 the house was dismantled and rebuild in Richmond where it remains.
Additionally, he owned a large acreage of land, slaves, cattle, horses etc, the land and the slaves most likely used for the cultivation of tobacco, in which Spiers was to become involved, in due course. In 1860 the Virginia census showed that the population of Chesterfield county consisted of ten thousand and eighteen whites, and eight thousand three hundred and fifty five slaves, suggesting an ‘industrial’ level of slaves working in the fields. It’s worth remembering the UK had abolished slavery in 1833.
Alexander married Sarah (born in 1729) in 1741 although other sources say it was in 1748 or 1746. At the time of her marriage she had two live siblings, Archibald, born in 1721 and Judith, born in 1726. Judith married David Bell in 1744 who along with Archibald and Spiers’ brother James, ran Alexander’s tobacco interests in Chesterfield subsequent to his return to Scotland, more of which shortly.
Note: Henry Cary jnr. had three children with his first wife all of whom died before they reached their majority. He had four children with Anne Edwards, the first of whom died as an infant. He married for a third time in 1741, Elizabeth Brickenhead, the marriage producing no children.
Henry Cary jnr. died circa 1749. His will dated 1748, naming Archibald as his executor, detailed a number of bequests as follows:
to his wife Elizabeth, essentially liferent of property, slaves and money
to his daughter Judith and her husband, three thousand acres of land on Hatchers Creek in Albemarle, including livestock, buildings, slaves etc.
to his son in law Alexander Speirs, three thousand acres of land on Willis Creek, “currently in his possession” also the plantation slaves, cattle, horses etc., “including a negro wench named Sarah and a negro girl named Nell”.
to his son Archibald , the residue of his estate both real and personal.
It’s clear from the above that Speirs was working the land bequeathed to him for a period of time, probably from the time of his marriage at least.
When Cary’s third wife Elizabeth died in her will dated 1751 she left bequests to Mrs Judith Bell and Mrs Alexander Speirs.
Alexander and Sarah came to Glasgow around 1750 shortly after her father died. As perhaps expected he began to be involved in the civic life of the city. In 1750 subscriptions were being raised to erect an episcopal church in Glasgow. In due course the church became known as St Andrews by the Green. The original subscribers and directors of the project included a number of well known merchants of the city to which, in September 1751, Alexander Speirs was added. His personal life however was to change in June the following year, his wife Sarah unfortunately dying; the marriage having produced no children.
Despite his personal loss Speirs continued to develop and expand his tobacco interests. In April 1754 a co-partnery was established between Archibald Buchanan, Alexander Spiers, John Bowman, Hugh Brown, Thomas Hopkirk, Alexander Mackie and James Clark, all tobacco merchants, the latter two located in Virginia. The partnership was pre-dated to July of 1753. It was to last for seven years, the capital in the company amounting to £16,200, with borrowing and profit taking rules established for the first three years. Item three of the partnering conditions stated that it was also agreed that no one partner could act separately until April 1756.
There was one exception however to that condition. Item ten allowed Speirs to continue to operate his Chesterfield plantation in the way he had done before the partnership was signed. He would be able to trade his crops as he saw fit, transport them as he required, all managed in Virginia by his brother James, his brother-in-law Archibald Cary and his sister-in-law Mrs Judith Bell.
He had become a burgess and guild brother of Glasgow in 1753, ,and was a merchant councillor, being elected Glasgow Treasurer in 1755. This was followed by his election as a Bailie in 1757 and again in 1762.
He also remarried, this time to Mary Buchanan in 1755.
His return from Virginia and his second marriage was the start of a new and highly successful period of his life, leading to him becoming one of the richest merchants of his time. Part 2 will look at his family life, the growth of his business and his partnerships, his new wife’s family and the part they played in his commercial success, and his property purchases.
Note: Charles Rennie Cowie and his son John always in Bold.
In 1964 the widow of East India merchant John Cowie, Mrs. Elizabeth Janet Cowie, donated to the National Library of Scotland (NLS) in Edinburgh and the Mitchell library in Glasgow a collection of rare books, historical manuscripts and letters, included in which are rare editions of Robert Burns poems, first editions of Milton, Galt, and Scott, and a large number of letters of Burns and others. It consists of several hundred items and is an astonishingly eclectic accumulation of material covering over six hundred years. The NLS was to get that material which was of national importance, the Mitchell the rest, the decision making process being undertaken by personnel from both libraries, Mrs. Cowie and her lawyer. Eventually the NLS collection consisted of manuscripts of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and the poet Allan Ramsay.
The individual who had collected all this material was not John Cowie however, it was his father Charles Rennie Cowie, also an East India merchant, who had bequeathed it to his wife Grizel on his death in 1922. In his will the collection was identified as of National and Historic Interest, thereby excluding it from his estate for tax purposes, and valued at £4083. Today, at that valuation, the joint collections would be worth around £2 million. Grizel died seven years later with the collection eventually going to John.
Who was Charles Rennie Cowie, what was his and his wife’s family background? By what means did he fund his purchases? One other question which seems unlikely to be answered by this research is from whom did he make his purchases?
The Cowie family originated in Stirlingshire, most likely in the parish of Larbert. JohnCowie’s great grandfather was forester James Cowie who was married to Margaret McAlpine. It’s not clear when they married however John’s grandfather, also John, was born in 1817, the fifth of eight children all born in Larbert. They lived in Carronhall village to the east of Larbert, James dying there in 1843. Margaret remained in Carronhall until circa 1863 when she moved to Grahamston to live in a house owned by her son John. She died there at the age of eighty seven in 1870.
John married Margaret Rennie in 1839, she also being born in Larbert the daughter of iron founder John Rennie and his wife Mary Alexander. It’s not clear what his occupation was at the time of his marriage however by 1841 he was a grocer in Grahamston in the parish of Falkirk, an occupation he followed for most of his working life. He and Margaret had twelve children between 1840 and 1862, seven sons and five daughters, the relevant offspring to this research being Charles RennieCowie and three of his brothers, James, Archibald and Thomas, and his sister Jessie.
John and Margaret lived in Grahamston until at least 1872 however by 1881 they had moved to Mavis Villa, Riddrie, which is where he died in 1882. Margaret lived a further twelve years, dying in Hyde Park, Blantyre in 1895. Interestingly in the 1891 census she was resident in Rutherglen, living on a private income, with her son James, another East India merchant, and two grandchildren John and Mary, both born in Rangoon, the children, as I’ll show, of her son Charles Rennie Cowie.
Charles was born on the 24th October 1851 and baptized in July the following year. His initial education was at a local school. He then attended Anderson’s College in George Street in Glasgow studying chemistry under Frederick Penny. Penny was a Londoner who had studied chemistry under Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution and in 1839 had been appointed Chair of Chemistry at the College, a position he held until his death in 1869. He also was involved in testing the water quality from Loch Katrine to establish if it was suitable for Glasgow’s water supply and gave expert testimony in a number of criminal trials involving poisons including that of the infamous Dr. Pritchard who had murdered his wife and mother in law.
When Charles left College is not certain, nor is it clear what his qualification was, but he must have left around 1870 as by 1871 he was employed as chemist at the Uphall Oil Works in Linlithgow, living in lodgings at Crossgreen Farm in Uphall. In due course he became manager of the facility which was just a few miles from James ‘Paraffin’ Young’s refinery in Bathgate. In 1873, being described as ‘gent’ he was appointed ensign in the 5th Linlithgowshire Rifle Volunteers.
He did not remain in Uphall very much longer as around 1874 he travelled to Rangoon eventually becoming manager of the Rangoon Oil Company the precursor of Burmah Oil, this being his occupation when he married Grizel or Grace Purdie in 1878, more of whom shortly.
Between 1876 and 1878 he registered two patents in Rangoon, one dealing with the use of rice husks as furnace fuel in rice mills, the other about improving the efficiency of steam furnace combustion. The first patent at least halved the cost of milling rice with the added benefit of the burnt rice husks proving to be an effective deodorizer used to cover all kinds of refuse dumps. His invention not only found use in Burma but also in Thailand and French Indo-China. He also registered a third patent with a colleague in 1881, again dealing with furnace efficiency.
He remained manager of the oil works until circa 1878/79 at which time he founded in Rangoon the trading company Charles R Cowie & Co., trading in almost any commodity that was required by customers in British India and elsewhere. That was the beginning of Charles, his brothers James, Archibald and Thomas, and his eventual sons, becoming East India merchants
His wife Grizel was the daughter of Thomas Purdie, farmer, and Margaret Storrie,  her birth being commemorated by her parents having a christening mug made by Bo’ness Potteries.
The family originated in West Calder where Grizel’s grandfather Andrew Purdie farmed at West Mains which is where he died in 1863 age ninety five. In 1837 whilst Andrew was the tenant of the farm a servant girl Elizabeth Brown was charged with child murder or concealment of a pregnancy. She confessed and was sentenced to ten months imprisonment. The court records make no mention of the male involvement only that Elizabeth’s address was c/o Andrew Purdie, West Mains Farm. 
Thomas Purdie farmed at Forkneuk, Uphall from around 1855 which makes it likely that Charles and Grizel met before he went to Rangoon, the farms being in close proximity to each other. They married at Forkneuk on the 17th December 1878, the beginning of a married life that for the first twelve or so years saw them travelling frequently between Rangoon and Glasgow.
Their first born child was John, the ostensible donor of the Cowie Collection. He was born in Rangoon in October 1880 and baptized there in July 1881. They had a further nine children between 1882 and 1903 as follows:
Mary Storrie, born 1882 at Rangoon and baptized there.
Margaret Rennie, born 1884 at Portobello, baptized in Rangoon later that year.
Gracie Purdie, born and baptized at Rangoon in 1886.
Thomas Purdie, born at Woodend House, Partick in 1893.
Charles Rennie, born at Woodend House, Partick in 1895.
Gladys Dorothy, born at Woodend House, Partick in 1903.
Whilst Charles ran his company in Rangoon his brother James in 1880 was working for Jas. L. McClure & Co., merchants and agents for a number of companies dealing in iron and steel products. Two years later he established his own agency company, James Cowie & Co., representing a number of similar companies from England and Scotland.
In the following year Cowie Brothers & Co. were formed located at the same address, 59 St. Vincent Street, as James’ company. No other brother seemed to be involved at that point however it does appear that simply was a matter of timing as within the next twelve months brother Archibald joined the company.Charles was home in Glasgow that year (1884), not associated with either of the family businesses but with merchants Russell, Macfarlane & Co., a situation that occurred every time he came home from Rangoon until circa 1891 when he came home to Glasgow for good. He had lived at various address on each return home finally settling at Woodend House, Partick sometime after 1891, his wife Grizel being recorded as the owner. His Rangoon company however still operated in his name as before directed by Rangoon partners and his sons.
The two Glasgow Companies continued to operate for another ten years, latterly from 196 St Vincent Street, with Charles continuing to be associated with Russell, Macfarlane and Co. until 1893 when he formally joined Cowie Brothers & Co. It’s clear brother James was seriously ill at that time as he died the following year of cirrhosis of the kidneys which he had suffered from for at least six months. James’ company ceased trading in 1897/98, the last year it appeared in the Glasgow directory. Cowie Brothers & Co continued for several years afterwards with brother Thomas joining the company in 1905, remaining involved until 1911. Subsequent to that date the Cowies involved in the company were the three sons of Charles, namely John, Thomas and his namesake Charles. The company was still listed in the Glasgow Directory in 1975.
Charles senior’s company in Rangoon also continued to operate at least until the late 1930s, with his three sons all involved to varying degrees, travelling back and forth to Rangoon as required. The last journey from Rangoon I have established is that of son Charles Rennie Cowie and his wife Norah on the M.V. Oxfordshire during April/May 1939. However he is listed as a lieutenant in the Rangoon Battalion of the Burmese Auxiliary Force in 1940, having been a member of the force since 1938. He continued to be listed through 1941 as such although it seems he was promoted captain in April 1941. Exactly where he was located during this time has not been established although I have come across of photograph of him and fellow officers, along with their honorary colonel, Sir Alexander Cochrane, in Burma (Rangoon?) in 1940. Lieutenant C. R. Cowie is seated at the extreme right hand side.
Brother Thomas Purdie Cowie married in Rangoon in 1921. In the Thacker’s Commercial Directory of 1925, the company was located at 6 Merchants Street and described as machinery importers, mill furnishers and mill stores, engineers and contractors, electrical stores, insurance agents, importers and exporters, and as agents for the Dollar Steamship Line. There were no Cowies listed as Rangoon partners although Thomas was listed as an assistant in the company. He returned to British India in 1945, this time to Bombay, as the Director of Stores for the Indian Red Cross.
As stated previously, the Cowie companies traded any commodity that had a buyer. Their sales included cutlery, steam engines, pottery, biscuits and bricks. Where they could they labelled or marked the items with their company name.
Their involvement with bricks came about when Charles senior’s sister Jessie married coalmaster Mark Hurll in 1888. At the time of his marriage his brother Peter was a fireclay brick manufacturer in Glenboig. About three years later Mark set up with his brother as a brick manufacturer, amongst other similar products, forming P & M Hurll, with works in Maryhill, Garscsadden as well as Glenboig. This led to the Cowie brothers trading the bricks and applying their name to each individual product.
Their involvement with biscuits in terms of their trademark however was not as successful. In 1896 at the Court of Session they applied for an interdict against biscuit manufacturers George Herbert, a supplier of Cowies, to stop them using what they claimed to be the Cowie trademark, an image of the Glasgow Municipal Building, on biscuits sold by Herberts on their own behalf in Rangoon.
Charles Rennie Cowie and brother Archibald gave evidence essentially saying that Cowies had traded biscuits to Rangoon since 1889, with that trademark. The defendant had also been trading in Rangoon but had begun to use a similar image of the Municipal Building on biscuits he sold directly there thereby confusing potential native purchasers. After a very longwinded obtuse argument involving images of temples and mosques, the judgement went against Cowies and the interdict was refused, the judges essentially declining to accept Rangoon natives would be confused.
It will be pretty obvious by now that the money Charles senior earned through his business ventures as an East India Merchant was the means by which he created his collection. When he died in 1922 his estate was valued at £144,507, current worth somewhere between £7million and £70million.
The NLS collection is listed on the library website as contained within MSS 15951 – 15975 and consists of manuscripts relating to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and the poet Allan Ramsay. The manuscripts include an autobiographical letter written by Burns to Dr. John Moore in 1787 in which the poet writes retrospectively of his life to date (MS 15952), and a series of thirteen manuscripts relating to the seven volume collection ‘The Works of Robert Burns’ edited by W Scott Douglas, 1877-1879 (MSS 15955-67). Also included are proofs of ‘The History of Scotland’, 1829-1830, by Sir Walter Scott (MS15969), the final version of ‘The Gentle Shepherd’ by Allan Ramsay, 1724-1725 (MS15972), and letters of Sir Walter Scott to Robert Southey and others (MS15971).,
The Cowie collection at the Mitchell is somewhat different. Although it also contains a lot of Burns material, it has an exceptional range of other manuscripts, books, including first editions, and letters from an extremely wide range of individuals including royalty. As far as I’m aware there are no digitalised records of the collection however there are two catalogues which contain a full list of the items donated. They are ‘The John Cowie Collection-Catalogue’ and ‘The John Cowie Collection-Autograph Albums. Index 1 to 4’.
The following will give some idea of the range of topics and material that the Mitchell holds.
Statutes of Edward I and II. MSS dated 1274.
Rerum Scoticarum Historia. Edinburgh: A. Arbuthnot 1582. Author George Buchanan.
Quintus Curtius. Venice 1494. De Rebus Gestis Alexandri Magni.
John Milton – Paradise Regained. 1st Edition 1671.
Carolus Gustavus, King of Sweden. Last will and Testament – 1660.
Aesop Fables by Sir Roger L’Estrange. 1692/1699.
The Rosebery Burns Club, Glasgow. Its origins and Growth 1906.
Charles Edward Stuart – Order signed by him to raise the Mackintoshes – 1746
Letter of Leopold I, King of the Belgians 1850.
Paul, Emperor of Russia letter to Baron Dimsdale 1778.
Bassendyne Bible 1576
C.F. Brotchie. History of Govan 1905
Eikon Basilike. The Pourtraicture of his sacred Majestie in his solitudes and sufferings. 1648. (Charles I).
Acts of Parliament – 1711.
Royal Navy Accounts of Cruisers and Home- Convoys – 1704.
George I Document headed 15/4/1724
M.W. Turner R.A. lecture ticket dated 1818.
William Wilberforce various letters 1819 – 1825
Louis XVI. Order for lieutenant to command the corvette ‘La Poulette’ – 1781.
Last will and testament of Carolus Gustavus King of Sweden – 1660.
Allan Ramsay The Ever Green, a collection of poems – 1724.
Sir Walter Scott. Guy Mannering, Edinburgh 1815
An account of the taking of the late Duke of Monmouth. Samuel Keble 1685.
Giuseppe Garibaldi – letter to Rear Admiral Mundy. 1860.
James III letter to Cardinal Gotti, Bologna. 1729.
James Boswell. The journal of a tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson. London:1785.
The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer 4th John Kyngston 1561.
His enthusiasm for Robert Burns went beyond collecting books and manuscripts. He contributed significantly to the purchase and restoration of buildings associated with the poet.
Burns’ house in Castle Street (previously Back Causeway), Mauchline, where he and Jean Armour lived was put up for sale at the beginning of 1915 by its then owner, a Miss Miller. The Glasgow and District Burns Clubs Association were interested in purchasing it and sent a delegation to examine the premises, which included Cowie as president of the Partick Burns Club.
It was decided to buy the property despite it being in the need of repair. It’s not clear what the total costs involved were however Cowie donated the required funds to purchase and repair the house. The building once restored was formally opened to the public on the 28th August 1915. In addition to the museum created, provision was made in the other rooms of the property to accommodate deserving elderly people. At the end of the ceremony Mrs Cowie was presented with a silver key to mark the occasion and her husband’s generous gift.
Following on from that in 1916 Charles funded the purchase of the property adjoining the Burns house which had been once owned by Dr. John MacKenzie who had apparently attended Burns’ father at the end of his life. Little work was done during the war but by 1919 the premises were fully restored allowing the museum to expand and to provide accommodation for additional elderly people. His final act of generosity in this respect was for the purchase of Nanse Tinnocok’s Tavern across the road from the other two properties. It was formally opened after repair on the 24th May 1924 by Mrs. Cowie, Charles having died in 1922.
Charles Rennie Cowie died at Woodend House, Partick on the 18th November 1922, cause of death given as chronic nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys). In his lifetime he had been a very successful chemist, inventor and merchant, amassing a fortune from his trading activities which allowed him to indulge his interests in Burns, and collecting.
His obituary in the Glasgow Herald makes reference to his professional life and to his collecting, describing him as a an ‘ardent admirer of the national poet’ and ‘keenly interested in the history of Scotland’. It also adds that he was prominent in temperance circles, an elder in Dowanhill U.F. Church and a member of several General Assembly committees.
He was President of the Abstainers Union and had been a director of the Scottish Temperance League, also supporting these organisations and others financially, and had purchased the old Partick Academy gifting it to the Western branch of the Y.M.C.A. He had also endowed one of the beds in the Arran War Memorial Hospital, an island he visited annually on holiday. He was a J.P., vice president of the Hillhead Liberal Association, had been a member of the Govan School Board, and was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. (F.S.A.). 
In his obituary in The Straits Times of 16 December it was stated that every rice eater owed the cheapness of his meal to the ‘unobtrusive chemist from Scotland’. He was also described as a ‘public spirited and charitable citizen’.
John and his mother Grizel were named as executors and trustees of Charles’ estate. Grizel inherited all the household items including his collection and other artefacts and there were also a number of bequests to his church and the temperance organisations he had been involved with. The residue was then to be split half to Grizel, and the other half equally divided between his ten children.
John married Elizabeth Janet Ramsay in 1908. She was the daughter of Robert Ramsay, postmaster and Jane Brown. As far as I can tell he and Elizabeth had one child, Elizabeth Jean Ramsay born in 1915. She married provision merchant John Turner Massey in 1938.
Grizel died in 1929 leaving the collection to John. He died on the 10th March 1963 of a heart attack.
 Testamentary Records. Scotland. 24 April 1923. Cowie, Charles Rennie. General Settlement. Glasgow Sheriff Court. SC36/51/198 and SC36/48/340. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
This post tells the story of how the Glassford family painting by Archibald McLauchlan came into the possession of John Duncan and hence to Glasgow Museums. Of necessity there is some repetition of my earlier Glassford posts which hopefully will not be too off-putting.
In November 1950 a Mr. John Duncan M.B.E., of Cairnhouse, Wigtown, donated to Glasgow Museums an oil painting of the Glasgow Tobacco Lord John Glassford and his family. How did it come about that a farmer, born in the small parish of Menmuir, Angus in 1897, had in his possession that particular painting which was begun around 1765 and completed sometime after Glassford married his third wife in December 1768?
As it turns out it was not by purchase but by direct descent through the Glassford family to him. These notes will tell the story of the painting’s journey to John Duncan and also comment on the people it portrays.
Firstly, it may be useful to relate some of the history of John Glassford and his marriages.
His first marriage was to Anne Coats whom he married in 1743.  Her father Archibald Coats, a Glasgow merchant, along with Bailie George Carmichael, was taken hostage in 1745 by Bonnie Prince Charlie to ensure the terms he enforced on Glasgow were implemented. These demands included “six thowsand shirt cloath coats, twelve thowsand linnen shirts, six thowsand pairs of shoes and the like number of pairs of tartan hose and blue bonnets.”
John and Anne had five children, all but one dying in infancy. Daughter Jean, born in 1746, was to become a ‘staging post’ for the painting’s journey. Anne died a few weeks after giving birth to her fifth child in 1751.
Less than a year later in 1752 Glassford married Ann Nisbet the daughter of Sir John Nisbet of Dean. They had six children, born between 1754 and 1764, all of whom, with the exception of the fifth child John, survived into adulthood. Ann Nisbet died in April 1766 from child bed fever.
In 1768 there were two Glassford family marriages. The first was that of daughter Jean who married James Gordon on the 18th August. This marriage was key to the painting getting to John Duncan.
The second was when Glassford married his third wife Lady Margaret McKenzie, daughter of the Earl of Cromarty, on the 7th December. There were three children of this marriage, born between 1770 and 1773. Unfortunately, just over five weeks after the third child Euphemia was born, Lady Margaret died on the 29th March.
It’s worth noting at this time that between 1745 and 1767 Glassford had bought three significant properties. The first was Whitehill House purchased c. 1745 and sold in 1759, the second was Shawfield Mansion bought the following year for 1700 guineas from William McDowall, and finally the Dougalston Estate, purchased from the Grahame family in 1767.
In common with the two other major tobacco traders Alexander Speirs and William Cunninghame, Glassford was fabulously wealthy during this time. However, that was not to last, particularly as far as Glassford was concerned.
By the early 1770’s the general tobacco trade was not in the best financial health. The business model was such that debt (money owed by the planters to the traders) had grown significantly, resulting in potential working capital and cash flow problems in the longer term. When the War of Independence broke out in 1775 it signalled the end of the trade as it had been. As the war progressed the French market collapsed due to French sympathies lying with the revolutionaries, import volumes dropped and debts were not being paid as settlers probably saw a way out of their debt issues.
What of Glassford’s fortune? His difficulties began before the commencement of the war. He was by nature a gambler both in business and in gaming. In particular a number of disastrous business speculations between 1774 and 1778 fundamentally laid the foundations for the loss of his fortune. He believed the war was essentially an English conflict which should have not involved Scotland. He sided with the revolutionaries, unlike his peers, even to the point of refusing to sell ships to the government to aid the war effort, leaving them berthed in Port Glasgow Harbour. This at a time when he was already in deep financial trouble and could have done with the funds that these sales would have brought.
As 1783 approached Glassford’s financial affairs continued to be problematic and he was in poor health. On the 6th August he created a tailzie (entail) of his Dougalston estate in favour of his son Henry and his heirs thus protecting it from his creditors. On the 14th August he established a trust covering the rest of his property, real and personal, the purpose of which was the winding up of his financial affairs and to further protect the entailed Dougalston estate.
Glassford died on the 27th August 1783, cause of death was given as ’growth in stomach.’ He was buried in the Ramshorn Churchyard, where also lies several members of his family. It took a further ten years to sort out his finances, his personal debt amounting to £93,140. Today that sum would equate to somewhere between £11million and £1.1 billion, dependant on the measure used.
On his father’s death Henry, who was the only surviving son of Glassford and Ann Nisbet, succeeded to Dougalston. He was an advocate, was Rector of Glasgow University from 1805 until 1807 and was MP for Dunbartonshire from 1806 to 1810. He never married and when he died in 1819 his half-brother James, son of Lady Margaret and John Glassford, succeeded him.
James’ succession to Dougalston was not without some difficulty. Henry had amassed significant debt during his life and in 1823 the terms of the tailzie was challenged in the Court of Session, the pursuers claiming the Dougalston estate was liable for these debts. In the event the pursuers lost, two of the five judges finding for the defender, one for the pursuers, and the two others excusing themselves as “they had an interest”!
James was also an advocate and legal writer. Despite marrying twice, he died in 1845  without any offspring. He was the last of John Glassford’s sons which meant that in accordance with the tailzie his daughter Jean Gordon would succeed. However, she had died in 1785, which meant that her eldest surviving son, James Gordon, would inherit. A further condition of the tailzie was that the surname Glassford should be adopted by any heir, should that be necessary. James Gordon therefore legally became James Gordon Glassford. By this means the painting began its journey to John Duncan.
James Gordon Glassford died two years later to be succeeded by his brother Henry Gordon, who, as required, adopted the surname Glassford. He married Clementina Napier in 1831 and had five children, the eldest being James Glassford Gordon, born in 1832. He inherited Dougalston on his father’s death in 1860 and became known as James Glassford Gordon Glassford. As far as I can tell he was the last Glassford owner of Dougalston.
James married Margaret Thomson Bain, the daughter of a banker, in 1861. There was no information found about them in the UK census of 1871 however in 1881 they were living at Over Rankeillour House in Monimail, Fife with ten children. This census also recorded that three of the children (two girls and a boy) had been born in Otago, New Zealand between 1868 and 1872, James being described as a Runholder (lessee of a sheep run) there. This explained their absence from Scotland in 1871.
In 1891 a similar picture emerged with another two daughters now living with the family, one had been born in New Zealand in 1879, the other born in Australia in 1865. Margaret was a widow by then, James having died in 1881. One other crucial piece of information was also evident. Staying with them at 35 Coats Gardens, Edinburgh was a 24 year old visitor by the name of James Duncan.
My first thoughts were along the lines of, which daughter did he marry? Well he did marry one of the daughters, as it turned out it was not one who had been recorded in either of the 1881 or 1891 censuses.
He married Margaret Edith Gordon Glassford in St Giles, Edinburgh on the 12th June 1894. He was a farmer age 26, the son of a doctor, she was the daughter of James and Margaret, age 29, living at 35 Coats Gardens.
Margaret Edith was born in 1864 in New South Wales, Australia. When she returned to the UK is not clear however in 1881 she was living with her aunt Christian’s family in Kent. Christian was the sister of her mother Margaret Bain.
By 1901 James and Margaret were living in Balfour, Menmuir where James farmed. They had two children, daughter Margaret age five and son John age three, who in due course would inherit the Glassford family painting. He was born on the 29th April 1897 at Menmuir and He married Nancy Marion Robertson in 1943. They had one child James born in 1944 whilst they were living at Uckfield in Sussex.
John was awarded an M.B.E. I believe in 1943. I’m not entirely sure that this date is correct, but it is the best fit for him for the years 1940 to 1955. If this is indeed him, and I believe it is, then he was a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1940, service number 03227. In 1942 he was a Flight Lieutenant and had been with the Administrative and Special Duties Branch before being released from active service.
He subsequently farmed at Cairnhouse in Wigtown and according to the present owner Mr. Colin Craig he remained there until c.1955 when Mr. Craig’s parents took the farm over. Mr Craig also related that John’s son James had died in tragic circumstances and that his wife Nancy and her daughter in law had visited the farm in the 1970s.
In generational terms John was John Glassford’s great, great, great grandson. It’s likely therefore he inherited the painting on his mother’s death in September 1950, her father James previously having inherited it along with Dougalston. On the 23 November he gifted it to Glasgow, which was the end of its journey within the Glassford family.
He died in the Royal Northern Infirmary in Inverness on the 13th August 1966, his normal home address being Allt-A-Bhruais, Spean Bridge.
The Family Portrait
The Glassford family portrait, as might be expected, demonstrates how wealthy John had become with the fine clothing on display and the room’s furnishings, which was within Shawfield Mansion. Much has recently been written about it particularly around the time (2007) when conservation work on the painting was being undertaken at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
The painting contains the surviving children from his first two marriages and his third wife Lady Margaret McKenzie. The conservation work led by conservator Polly Smith established that his second wife Ann Nisbet had originally been included but had been painted out following her death in 1766, suggesting that it was in progress prior to that date or possibly had been completed. Lady Margaret would have been added subsequent to their marriage in 1768, probably early in 1769.
Another figure was also established behind John Glassford’s chair, that of a negro manservant. It had been believed previously that he had been painted out to avoid any family connection to slavery, however it seems that the figure simply faded over time.
I believe the children in the painting to be Jean at the rear to the right of her father, the middle row left to right being Rebecca, Christian, Anne, Catherine and on Lady Margaret’s lap Henry, and standing at the front, John.
Who was the negro servant and by what means did he come to Glassford’s household? Perhaps the answer lies in the following extracts from Frederick County, Maryland Land Records and the Maryland Genealogical Society Records.
Robert Peter or Peters was a Scottish tobacco factor working for John Glassford and Company in Maryland. He began in Bladensburgh circa 1746, moving to Georgetown in 1755. (In 1790 he became the first mayor of Georgetown). He was also John Glassford & Company’s attorney in Maryland. On the 27th September 1756, he bought a negro boy named Jim for 4,000 lbs of tobacco and £2 5s. For this purchase he is recorded as Glassford’s attorney. I think it probable therefore that this purchase was made in the name of the company. Why else record that it was made by the attorney of John Glassford?
Robert Peter bought other slaves but those records I have seen clearly state that the purchases were on his own or his family’s behalf, and they never involved a single slave purchase.
Was ‘Jim’ purchased for Glassford personally? Is he the manservant in the painting? In truth who knows but intriguing none the less.
The Tobacco Lords, Tom Devine, 1975, John Donald Ltd Edinburgh.
Scotland’s Empire 1600 – 1815, Tom Devine, 2003, Penguin Group.
Studies in Scottish Business History, Ed. Peter Payne, 1967, Frank Case & Co. (Reprint from the William and Mary Quarterly entitled ‘The Rise of Glasgow in the Chesapeake Tobacco Trade 1707-1775)
Glasgow Past and Present-3 Volumes – 1884, David Robertson and Co.
 Goodfellow, G. L. M. “Colin Campbell’s Shawfield Mansion in Glasgow.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 23, no. 3, 1964, pp. 123–128. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/988232.
 Devine, T. M. (1990) The Tobacco Lords. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 181.
 Castle, Colin M. (1989). John Glassford of Dougalston. Milngavie and Bearsden Historical Society. p. 22,23 and Oakley, Charles A. (1975). The Second City. Glasgow: Blackie. p. 7,8.
 Shaw, Patrick and Dunlop, Alexander. (1834) Cases Decided in the Court of Session 1822-1824. Vol II. Edinburgh: Thomas Clark.pp. 431 to 433.https://books.google.co.uk
 Maryland State Archives. Maryland Indexes, (Chancery Papers, Index), 1788-1790, MSA S 1432. 1790/12/013990: Robert Peter vs. William Deakins, Jr., Bernard O’Neal, Edward Burgess, Richard Thompson, John Peters, and Thomas Beall. MO. Contract to serve as securities. Accession No: 17,898-3990. MSA S512-4108 1/36
As is the tradition, when Sir Hector McNeill retired as Lord Provost of Glasgow in 1949 he had his portrait painted by the artist David Shanks Ewart. On its completion he gifted the portrait to Glasgow museums in 1950.
His paternal ancestry came from fairly humble, rural beginnings. His grandparents were Archibald McNeill, the son of farm servant John McNeill and his wife Flora McDonald, and Flora McNeill, both of Campbeltown. They married there in April 1840, he was a labourer, and she was the daughter, age 24, of shoemaker Archibald McNeill and his wife Jean McIntyre. They lived all their lives in Campbeltown at various addresses, latterly in Queen Street where Flora died in 1883 . Archibald also died there in 1895, age 78, his occupation being given as a distillery maltster.
He had been a labourer until circa 1848 at which time he is recorded as being a maltster. His job was to create malt by wetting barley on the floor of the malthouse, turning it over for several days to allow the barley to germinate and then drying it out. When that process was complete the malt would then be passed on to the distiller to make alcohol from the sugars that were produced. Campbeltown in the 19th century was a major fishing port for herring and was a significant producer of whisky. It’s therefore probable he worked in one of the many distilleries there. In the early 1800’s there were over thirty, by 1885 there were twenty one, producing two million gallons of spirits per annum. From farm labourer to a maltster in a thriving industry would have meant a significant improvement in the family’s situation. There are now only three distilleries in Campbeltown; Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle.
Between 1840 and 1855 Archibald and Flora had seven children, the first a daughter Catherine was born seven months after they married, Sir Hector’s father, yet another Archibald, was the seventh, and third boy, born on the 28th October 1855. They had two other sons after 1855, Duncan, born c. 1859 and James born c. 1864.
In the 1871 census son Archibald is recorded as a scholar, age fifteen, which is perhaps surprising in that the majority of young men at that age would have been in employment unless from a well to do family. However, it may have been his father’s wish to have his children educated as well as possible, especially as he was illiterate at the time of Archibald’s birth in 1855. Where he was schooled has not been established however it may have been at Campbeltown Grammar School which was founded in 1686.
Ten years later Archibald is still living with his parents, in Queen Street, as are brothers Hector and James. His occupation is given as a clerk, Hector is a tailor and James is a pupil teacher.
He married Margaret Burns in 1884 by which time he was living in Glasgow at 396 Argyle Street, working as a mercantile clerk. Margaret, who was a milliner and lived at the same address, was age 29 and the daughter of Robert Burns, farmer, and Catherine McPhail, both deceased.
Like his paternal ancestry Sir Hector’s maternal forebears were farming folk. That however is as much as I have been able to establish directly about his maternal ancestry. His mother’s birth date has also proved elusive however there is one possibility which would also add more information about his maternal ancestry.
According to the 1901 census she was born in Kilmaronock in Dunbartonshire. Her age at the time of her marriage to Archibald would mean she was born circa 1854. A search either side of 1855 produced only one result and that is for a Margaret Burns born illegitimately to Robert Burns of Little Finnery and Catherine (no surname) on the 26th July 1851. She was a servant to an Andrew Paton.
Little Finnery was a farm in the parish of Kilmaronock, adjacent to which was another also referred to as Little Finnery. In the 1851 census Little Finnery was occupied by widow Mrs. R. Burns, her forename being Margaret, and her two sons, James and Robert who was age 22. It’s clear the family worked the farm, which extended to 50 acres, as they employed a number of ‘outdoor servants’ to assist them. The adjacent farm was of 40 acres and occupied by Andrew Paton and his family. He employed agricultural labourers and servants amongst whom was servant Catherine McPhail, age 20, born in Islay. Strong circumstantial evidence I would say that these are Sir Hector’s maternal grandparents.
Mrs Burns was 60 years old when her granddaughter Margaret was born in 1851 and remained at Little Finnery at least until 1857 by which time she was joined as occupier by a William Burns. There is no reference to either son. In 1861 there is a Mrs Margaret Burns, age 70 living in the village of Gartocharn, Kilmaronock with her granddaughter, also Margaret, age 9, further evidence that seems to support the contention above.
Regarding Robert and Catherine no other evidence as to whether they got married, their whereabouts or deaths have been established. It’s more than likely for that time period, she would be deemed the ‘guilty’ party and perhaps had to leave the locality.
Archibald, shipping clerk, and Margaret continued to live in Glasgow and by 1901 were living at 70 Carrick Street, Back Yard with son (Sir) Hector age 9 and James, Archibald’s brother. They also had a boarder, Annie Cooper who was a book folder.
In that census and in 1911 Hector is said to have been born in Motherwell his age in each case indicating he was born in 1892. Unexpectedly I have not been able to confirm that directly. There were no Hector McNeills born in Motherwell between 1888 and 1894 despite varying the spelling of the surname. Searching the whole of Lanarkshire produced two possibles, one was the son of a master mariner, the other was the son of a Clyde Trust labourer. The parents in each case had different forenames.
In 1908 Hector’s mother Margaret, died in the Western infirmary of a cerebral haemorrhage, she was 54 years old. At that time the family still lived in Carrick Street at number 77, however by 1911 father and son had moved to 9 Buchanan Court in Lauriston in Glasgow where Archibald continued working as a commercial clerk and Hector was employed as an ‘iron turner’ in the engineering industry.
Working in engineering with its strong involvement with the trade union movement of the day Hector would have got involved with the unions and the Labour party fairly early on in his working career. His ‘point of entry’ would likely have been as a local shop steward which led to a progression through the ranks of union and party. By 1924 he was President of the Glasgow Trades and Labour Council and also chairman of the Central Division Labour Party.
In the 1923 General Election the Labour party decided to support the communist candidate for Kelvingrove constituency, Aiken Ferguson. McNeil was chosen by the party as their contact point with the communists, and again in 1924 when there was a by election at Kelvingrove, Ferguson standing again as a candidate. This occurred at a time when there was some talk of the communist and labour parties joining together which never happened, the support for Ferguson in 1924 being lukewarm because of what was considered to be his and others radical views.
Later that year the municipal elections were held in Glasgow and McNeill was chosen as the socialist candidate for the 14th (Anderston) Ward. His opponent, described as Moderate, was painter and decorator Edward Guest who had been a member of the council for 16 years. On a 63% turnout of the electorate of 12,585 McNeill won with a majority of 388. 
The first meeting of the new council was held on the 7th November and McNeill was duly appointed to five committees, including Gas Supply and Water. He was also proposed as a governor of the Victoria Hospital but lost by four votes despite being supported by Bailie Mary Barbour, renowned for her leadership of the women of Govan in the rent strikes of 1915, Pat Dollan, future Lord Provost of Glasgow whose wife Agnes had been involved with Barbour during the rent strikes, and his two fellow councillors for Anderston.
He was re-elected in 1927, with a similar majority, served in the same committees as previously and in 1929 became depute water bailie in addition to joining the General Finance and Streets, Sewers and Buildings committees.
His political career however stalled in the 1930 municipal elections when he lost his council seat. There were three candidates on this occasion representing the Moderate Party, Labour, (McNeill) and the Independent Labour Party (I.L.P.), the Moderate candidate Jonathan Harvey winning by 1285 votes. No doubt the left wing vote was split because of the two socialist candidates however the Moderate majority was greater than the vote for the I.L.P. candidate by 165 votes.
During his first tenure as a councillor Hector’s father had died in 1926 and in 1927 he had married Grace Stephen Robertson, a milliner of Skelmorlie, age 35, Hector was described as an insurance agent living at 9 Alexandra Street. The marriage was by declaration in front of witnesses authorised by warrant issued by the Sheriff Substitute of Lanarkshire on the same day. Her father was a retired wholesale grocer, her mother, Grace Simpson Stephen had died in 1914 at the age of 59.
There were two sons of the marriage, Ramsay, born in 1929 and Hector John, born in 1934.
McNeill did not stand again for the council until 1932 when he was one of the labour candidates for the newly created Ward 38 (Yoker and Knightswood) with an electorate of 16,109. Each ward has three councillors, with one retiring for re-election each year. As ward 38 was new the election was for three council seats instead of the usual one.
There were eight candidates, three Socialist or Labour, three Moderate Party, and two I.L.P. Those elected were E. Rosslyn Mitchell (Soc.) – 4813 votes, Hector McNeill (Soc.) – 3077 votes and Elphinstone Dalglish (Mod.) – 2775.
Rosslyn Mitchell had been a councillor for Springburn and also stood for parliamentary election in 1910 and 1922. In the 1924 General Election he stood as the Labour candidate for Paisley and beat the sitting member Herbert Asquith the ex-Liberal Prime Minister by 2,200 votes. He declined to stand again for parliament in 1929 citing business and personal difficulties. He died in 1965.
Elphinstone Maitland Dalglish was a grocer, described as a wholesale egg merchant in the Town Council lists. He died in 1942. He had a very famous policeman son, of exactly the same name, who as Detective Superintendant was initially in charge of the investigation into the ‘Bible John’ murders in Glasgow which were never solved. He finished his police career as Deputy Chief Constable of Glasgow and then Strathclyde. He died in 1988.
For the following twelve years or so McNeill served on a variety of committees which typically included municipal transport, parks, the Kelvin Hall, streets sewers and building, and health. He was also a Justice of the Peace from 1932.
He became a Baillie in November 1933 remaining so for three years, and in 1941 he joined the General Finance committee as city treasurer, his tenure in that role again being three years.
His business address during his time as a council member from 1932 was given as 218 West Regent Street, his home address being initially Clarion Crescent in Knightswood. In 1942 he moved to Larchfield Avenue, Newton Mearns where lived for the rest of his life.
On the 9th November 1945 he was elected Lord Provost of Glasgow, beating his opponent for the office, James Grey, by 65 votes to 42. As was normal for the time he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of the City of Glasgow in December 1945 and was knighted in June 1946.
As well as his duties as Lord Provost he became involved with a number of other governmental organisations.
These included; in 1946 he was appointed to the Scottish Advisory Council for Civil Aviation by British European Airways (BEA) with the approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and in 1947 he was nominated by the Minister of Transport to serve on the board of David MacBrayne, Ltd., primarily to monitor a contract between the government and the company to provide shipping services to the Western Highlands and Islands,
He was also a member at various times of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive of the Ministry of Transport, the Clyde Navigation Trust and the Scottish Tourist Board.
Other organisations he was a director of were the Economic Insurance Company which he joined the board of in 1949 and SMT Sales and Service Co. Ltd. (Motor Engineers).
He died in 1952, age 60, in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, his occupation given as company director. His memorial Service was held in Glasgow Cathedral, the service conducted by Rev. Dr. Nevile Davidson. An address was given by former Secretary of State Tom Johnston who described him as a middle of the road traveller. A man of high ideals who laboured all his life to promote social ownership and cooperation between all his countrymen, and who had earned the respect of opponents and colleagues alike. At the time of his death he was the Chairman of the Glenrothes Development Corporation.
The Trades House of Glasgow recorded his death in their minutes and noted that there was a deep loss sustained by the community through his death.
His wife Grace died in 1954, age 62, from chronic bronchitis.
 Bonavia, Michael R. (1987) The Nationalisation of British Transport: The Early History of the British Transport Commission 1948-1953. New York: Palgrave McMillan. p. 177. https://books.google.co.uk
This post was meant to be about another beneficent Glasgow clergyman, the Rev. James Oswald, however as I researched his family it became clear that the broader family history was perhaps more interesting. His brother was Richard Oswald, who became a merchant in London and also helped establish the treaty between the United States and Great Britain which ended the American War of Independence.
However, by no stretch of the imagination can Richard Oswald be described as a benefactor of Glasgow. As I hope to show he married into a rich family which brought him property in the Caribbean and the American colonies, included in which were plantations which used African slave labour. He dealt in sugar, tobacco and other commodities and helped provision the British army during the Austrian War of Succession and the Seven Years War. He was also responsible for the shipment of around 13,000 African slaves from Bance/Bunce Island, in the Sierra Leone river estuary, to the British colonies in America and the Caribbean.
The major part of this post will therefore depart from my usual objective of discussing benefactors of Glasgow. Why? I’m not really sure. Richard Oswald had lots of skills and business acumen, however it was all underpinned by his activity as a major slave trader. I suppose therefore I’m reacting to his significant part in the slave trade which involved him setting up a ‘slave trading post’ off the West African coast. Hopefully, therefore, these notes will help, even in a small way, dispel the myth that trading in African slavery was predominately an English activity, carried out from English ports, and that we Scots were above doing anything like that. It has become clear in recent years that Scots were at the heart of the machinery that made slave trading work and profitable. They were also responsible for some of the most appalling treatment of their ‘cargo’ as ‘it’ was shipped across the Atlantic.
In 1795 Robert Burns wrote “ A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, a sentiment that Oswald appears not to have shared. As it happens Burns also wrote a poem about Oswald’s wife Mary Ramsey, but more of that later.
The brothers’ great grandfather was James Oswald* of Kirkwall, Orkney. He had a son, also James, who at some point crossed over to Wick in Caithness where he became a bailie of the town. What his occupation was has not been established. He married Barbara Coghill and had two sons, James and George who both became clergymen, each marrying daughters of Richard Murray of Pennyland.
*Lots of James Oswalds in this story!
James was born in 1654 and attended King’s College Aberdeen graduating as M.A. in 1674. Initially he was a session clerk and teacher in Thurso, however that was to change when he was admitted to the ministry in the parish of Watten in Caithness, an Episcopalian charge, in 1683. He remained at Watten until his death in 1698. He married Mary Murray in the year he became minister there and had two sons, Richard, born in 1697 and Alexander, born in 1694, and two daughters. Both sons became very successful merchants in Glasgow. In 1751 they purchased the Scotstoun estate from the Crawford family and by 1759 they jointly owned Balshagray. Notably they were also influential in their cousin Richard, son of George Oswald and the main subject of this post, becoming a merchant, he serving an apprenticeship with them.
George was born in 1664 and graduated M.A. from Edinburgh University in 1692. He became minister of Dunnet parish church, also in Caithness, in 1697, his charge being a Presbyterian one. He married his sister-in-law Margaret Murray and had five children of whom two were boys; James, (the beneficent clergyman) and Richard (the slave trader). He died in 1725. One unusual episode he had to deal with during his ministry occurred in 1699 when two parishioners were accused of witchcraft. Having sought advice from the Presbytery he was advised to confront the accused with witnesses and report back. Nothing seems to have come of it as there is no further record of it in the Presbytery Records. This case also appears to have been the last recorded incident of witchcraft in Caithness.
James Oswald – the Beneficent Clergyman.
George’s eldest son James was born in 1703. His early education is unclear with a suggestion that he attended King’s College, Aberdeen. It seems he did attend the divinity class given by William Hamilton at Edinburgh University in 1723. For how long and to what extent is not known.
He must however have attained a reasonable divinity education as when his father died the Caithness presbytery began the process of George succeeding his father at Dunnet in March 1726, ending with his ordination in August of the same year.
He remained at Dunnet, preaching in English and Gaelic, until December 1750 at which time he transferred to the parish at Methven in Perthshire. His move there was not without some difficulty. He was proposed by the parish patron for the position in 1748 however the Perth presbytery was against the appointment, not necessarily on a personal basis but because they were against patronage and would have preferred the parish lay elders to have decided their next incumbent. It took two years and various rebukes from the church hierarchy, including civil charges of intimidation, before a General Assembly committee ‘made it happen’. This led to a number of the congregation seceding from the church.
From about that time, and for the rest of his life, he began to write about the church, its purpose, methodology and potential for schism, gaining a reputation as an ‘ecclesiastical politician’. His first publication was in 1753 relating to church authority and obedience however it was in the mid-1760s that he began to make his name as an author. In that decade he was an unsuccessful candidate for the chair of ecclesiastical history at Glasgow University, in 1765 he wrote ‘Scripture Catechism, for the Use ofFamilies’ and a year later he wrote perhaps his most important work ‘An Appeal toCommon Sense in Behalf of Religion’, which was well received at home and abroad, and went to a second edition in 1768 and a second volume in 1772.
During this period, he became moderator of the General Assembly in 1765  and was awarded the degree D.D. by Glasgow University in the same year.
He married Elizabeth Murray of Clairdon in 1728 and had eight children, five of whom were boys. Two of the sons, George and Alexander, became noted merchants in Glasgow, George inheriting the Scotstoun estate circa 1766 from his second cousins Richard and Alexander who both died without issue, brother Alexander buying the Shieldhall estate in 1781. It’s also perhaps worth mentioning that brother Alexander had a son, another James born in 1779, who, like his father, was a merchant and became one of two MPs for Glasgow in 1832, following the Reform Act of that year. His statue is in the north east corner of George Square in line with the Cenotaph; Oswald Street in the city centre is named after him.
Elizabeth died in 1746, not long after the youngest son Andrew was born in 1745. In 1749 James married Margaret Dunbar, there being no children of this second marriage.
He continued at Methven until 1783 at which time he left his charge to go and live with his son George at Scotstoun. He had continued to write, having more time to do so from the early 1770s due to ill health resulting in his pastoral duties being carried out by others. For most of his life he and his brother Richard had exchanged letters, some of which dealt with his writings, particularly concerning a follow up to ‘Appeal’. His brother also helped him financially at Methven when his stipend was reduced as a result of the patron and one other heritor being in financial difficulties.
He died in 1793 and left £100 to the Glasgow Society for the Sons of Clergymen (still in existence and now known as the Glasgow Society for the Sons and Daughters of Clergymen), and a similar amount to its Edinburgh counterpart. He also donated £20 to the Glasgow Merchants House. Small amounts it would seem but in today’s terms these sums equate to somewhere between £25,000 and £2.4 million.
Richard Oswald – Merchant, Diplomat, Slave Trader.
James’ brother Richard was born circa 1705. Where he began his education is not known however around 1725, shortly after his father died, he became apprenticed to his cousins Richard and Alexander who, as previously stated, were successful merchants in Glasgow trading in tobacco, sugar and wine. He became their factor in the British colonies in America and the Caribbean travelling as required to satisfy the needs of the business, supplying planters and collecting payment and chasing debts. On his return to Glasgow in 1741 he became a partner in his cousins’ company.
During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) Oswald had made large profits, presumably for his cousins’ company and himself, resulting in him moving to Philpot Lane in London in 1746 where he continued to deal in tobacco and sugar and eventually, horses and slaves. Between 1756 and 1758, helped by a family member who was on the government Treasury board, and other influential London based Scottish merchants, he began provisioning the British army with bread, wagons and so on, which led to him supplying the army in Germany with bread during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). His contracts and commissions during this war netted him a remarkable £125,000, worth £18 million to £2 billion today.
His business activity had clearly grown in size and scope between these two wars. He was making lots of money but where did his working capital come from? No doubt some of it would come from the usual sources of the day and his profits, however two events during this period I believe, significantly changed the level of capital he was able to apply to his business.
Firstly, he began shipping African slaves to the American and Caribbean colonies around 1748 and then he married an extremely rich heiress in 1750.
Looking at his marriage first; he married Mary Ramsay in St Martins in the Fields, London on the 17th November 1750. She was the daughter of Alexander Ramsay of Jamaica and Jean Ferguson, whom he had met in Jamaica whilst working for his cousins. Alexander was an extremely wealthy plantation and hence slave owner living in Kingston. He had died in 1738, his will being probated in Jamaica in that year and referring to him owning one hundred and one slaves, fifty one adult males and fifty adult females, all valued at £3727. Mary as an only child inherited her father’s estate on his death which included properties in the West Indies and the Americas. Through his wife therefore Oswald had access to a significant fortune. As it turned out there were no children of their marriage.
By the time of his marriage he had already got involved in the trading of slaves. In 1748 he and other London based Scottish merchants, the partnership being known as Grant, Sargent and Oswald, purchased Bance Island from the Royal African Company of England which had built a fort there around 1672.
The fort was rebuilt, and the infrastructure put in place to obtain slaves from the mainland. They did not venture into the interior themselves but imported guns, alcohol, and cloth which they exchanged with local chieftains for native captives they brought to the island, these captives resulting from local ‘induced’ wars.
Oswald was the lead partner in the venture whose main customers were the rice planters of Charlestown, South Carolina. By 1756 he had established a close business and personal relationship with Henry Laurens, a very rich rice planter and slave dealer there. From Bance island the slave ships would carry around three hundred slaves per ship plus ivory and camwood. Laurens sold the slaves locally and from his commission on the sale, would purchase rice to send to London along with the ivory and camwood. By this process both men increased their wealth exponentially.,  Between 1748 and 1784 around thirteen thousand men, women and children were shipped from Bance Island to the Americas.
However, the American War of Independence was to change the relationship between Oswald and Laurens, both becoming active participants in ending it.
In the meantime, following the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 Oswald began putting by now his vast fortune to more use by acquiring land for both business and personal use. He purchased four plantations in the Caribbean amounting to 1,566 acres, and 30,000 acres of land in Florida. Over the next twenty years he also purchased the Auchincruive estate in Ayrshire (7,000 acres) and the similarly sized Cavens estate in Kirkcudbright and Dumfriesshire. His main residence became Auchincruive House which was built in 1767 to a design provided to the previous owner James Murray by Robert Adam.
His business activities however began to suffer following the rebellion of the British colonists in America which resulted in the American War of Independence beginning in 1775. As a direct consequence he reduced his overseas activities and also divested himself of his property in Virginia and Florida. He always had been to some extent politically active, but not in any formal way, simply through friends in Whitehall. The war changed that as he began writing papers on a variety of subjects, including military, using his business background and experience of the Colonies and their businessmen to inform his writing. One particular memorandum written in 1781 was entitled ‘The Folly of Invading Virginia, The Strategic Importance of Portsmouth and the need for Civil Control of the Military’ from which we may be able to assume where his sympathies lay.
It was at this time that his friendship with Henry Laurens came to the forefront of settling the Independence War. Laurens had become President of the Continental Congress (the provisional government of the rebellious colonies) during the war and had then been appointed American envoy to Holland. On his way there c.1780/81 he was captured by the British Navy, imprisoned in the Tower of London and charged with high treason. In 1781 Oswald paid bail of £50,000 to release him from the Tower, Laurens remaining in London until he was exchanged for the British Commander in America, c.1782.
Probably because of his American contacts, in April 1782 Oswald was appointed by the Prime Minister Lord Shelburne as his diplomatic agent to ‘treat for peace’ with the American delegation in Paris which consisted of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay and subsequently Henry Laurens. Oswald was the main negotiator for the British side but was considered by some to be too lenient towards the Americans and too ready to concede issues. However, by November 1782 a provisional treaty was agreed and signed by the four Americans and Oswald. The formal treaty (Treaty of Paris) was signed on the 3rd September 1783, being essentially the same as the provisional one signed the year before.
“At least in part, United States Independence was negotiated between a British slave trader and his agent for rice growing slaves in South Carolina”
Oswald returned to London, sharing his time between his town house at 9 Great George Street and Auchincruive, relinquishing the management of his business to other family members.
A year after the treaty was signed he died at Auchincruive on the 6th November 1784. His wife had life rent of the estate until her death in 1788 at which time his nephew George Oswald of Scotstoun was left one part of it, the other going to Richard Oswald’s great-nephew Richard Alexander Oswald.
Richard and Mary were buried in the Oswald vault at St. Quivox parish church, however she had died in her London home and it was the last part of her journey home to Ayrshire that prompted Robert Burns to write a poem about her which he called ‘Ode, Sacred to the Memory of Mrs. Oswald of Auchincruive’.
Some of the sentiments expressed in the poem came from Burn’s previous knowledge of Mary when he lived in her neighbourhood where her tenants and servants detested her with a passion. However, it was the arrival of her funeral cortege at Sanquhar inn, depriving him of lodgings there for the night thereby forcing him to ride on a further twelve miles on a tiring horse, himself fatigued and the weather stormy and snowing, which pushed him to write a scathing account of her life. The lines below illustrate his feelings about her as he wrote the poem after his arduous journey.
‘Laden with unhonoured years
Noosing with care a bursting purse
Baited with Many a deadly cure.’
‘Pity’s flood there never rose
See these hands, ne’er stretch to save
Hands that took but never gave
Keeper of Mammon’s iron chest
Lo, there she goes, unpitied and unblest
She goes, but not to realms of everlasting rest!’
The rest of the poem suggests she is destined for hell, along with her husband.
When slavery was abolished in Britain in 1833, Richard Alexander Oswald, the grandson of James Oswald, the beneficent clergyman, was awarded compensation of £5,645 18s 6d for the loss of the 297 slaves he owned jointly with his wife in Jamaica.
Today this would be worth somewhere between £500k and £27.5m.
In October 1950 Mrs. Helen Percy presented to Glasgow Museums a portrait of her mother by the artist John Graham Gilbert.
Her mother was Elizabeth Bannatyne, wife of Glasgow merchant John Jarvie who was heavily involved in trade with China and the Far East during the middle of the 19th Century.
This report looks at both their family backgrounds and how he became a ‘foreign merchant’ particularly in Singapore, but not always successfully as we will see.
John Jarvie’s grandfather was William Jarvie, a coal master of Pollokshaws. He married Agnes McGie in 1754 and they had at least four children, three girls and one boy. They were all baptised on the same day in 1762 in the parish of Eastwood, their birth dates ranging from 1755 to 1762.
William was a coal master at a time in Scotland when essentially miners were no better than slaves and were legally tied to mines (bondsmen) by an Act of Parliament (1606), unless their master agreed to release them. Another Act in 1672 authorised “coal masters, salt masters and others, who had manufactories in this kingdom to seize upon any vagabonds or beggars wherever they can find them, and to put them to work.”  This state of affairs continued until the beginning of the 19th Century. For more on the history of coal mining in Scotland the Scottish Mining Website (http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/index.html) is an excellent source of information.
Whilst his main occupation is given as coal master he also farmed at various locations within Sir John Maxwell’s Pollok estate, including at Clogholes farm, PolIocktoun and Northwoodside. His will, he died c.1767, details the value of equipment and crops at each of these locations and others, and also includes the value of tools, equipment and instruments associated with his coal works at Napiershall. When household goods, furniture and so on are included his estate was valued at £334 2s., his wife Agnes being his named executrix.
His son Robert was born in July 1758 at Shaws. His initial schooling has not been established, the only certainty being that he did not attend the University as the matriculation or graduation records do not include his name. It’s probable he worked for his father at some stage but again nothing has been found to indicate what he did in the early part of his life.
He eventually became a merchant in Glasgow however his first appearance in the Post Office Directories does not occur until 1806 where he is described as a merchant with James Hamilton, Sen. and Co., his home address being given as Charlotte Lane, which is where he lived until 1815. He remained with that company for the rest of his active life, eventually becoming a partner in the business and others. He was also a director of the Chamber of Commerce from 1829 until 1833.
He married in 1814 Jane Milligan, the daughter of William Milligan, merchant, and Jean Ure of Fareneze Printfield, Neilston. They had seven children, five sons and two girls. The family home was at Maxwellton Place from 1815 until 1824, at which time they moved to 19 Carlton Place.
Robert died at home on the 28th April 1843. At the time of his death his movable estate was valued at £8378 9s 3d, equivalent to £800,000 today by simple RPI changes, in terms of economic power it equates to several millions of pounds.
However, that does not tell the whole story of his wealth. In 1830 he set up a Trust Disposition and Settlement which dealt with his heritable estate in Glasgow plus what is described as his ‘stock in trade’ including his ‘share of same’ from other co-partneries with which he was involved. Included was property/ground bounded by the west of Robertson Street and the Broomielaw, subjects in Queen Street, property in Carlton Place and other properties and ground.
Eleven trustees were named whose function was to manage the trust to support his wife and children and if need be, their children. There are three codicils to the deed the last of which in 1836 names his eldest son William as a trustee.
Four of the five sons, William, Robert, James and John , more of whom later, all matriculated at the University between 1829 and 1837, and all became merchants in due course. There is no evidence to suggest the youngest son Alexander became a merchant or attended the University, however there was a bit of a mystery about his whereabouts after 1856 which led to a petition for him to be presumed dead.
In 1885 his sister Agnes, the widow of Isaac Buchanan, resident in Hamilton, Canada, sought to have Alexander presumed dead in accordance with the 1881 Presumption of Life Limitation Scotland Act. In her submission to the Lords of Council and Session she stated that her brother had sailed from New York to Melbourne, Australia in 1856 and had not been heard of since. She also stated that he was unmarried at that time.
Deposited in a bank account in his name were his share of his father’s estate which was finally settled in 1865, plus other bequests and interest accrued amounting to £1644, all of which had remained untouched since the account had been set up.
Judgement was given in her favour and Alexander was presumed to have died on or about the 23rd February 1864. Why that date is not made clear however a reasonable guess would be that since he was presumed to have died before his father’s estate was settled then his share would automatically go to his siblings, otherwise it should go to any heirs (children) he may have had which would have entailed a difficult search for proof.
In the event with Alexander being declared dead Agnes, as the only surviving sibling, was confirmed as executrix and sole beneficiary of his estate in January 1886.
When I tried to find out if he did die in Australia only one possibility arose in that an Alexander Jarvie died in Wellington, New South Wales in 1902. The data from the NSW web site is sparse but intriguingly the first names of the parents quoted in the document were Robert and Jane. Pure coincidence or could this have been the long lost brother?
The other brothers stories are also somewhat interesting. The oldest, William, started on his own account as a commission agent in 1839 in Robertson Street. By 1846 he was a partner in Rainey, Jarvie and Co. and by 1848 he was declared bankrupt and had his assets sequestrated. He never appears in the Post Office Directories again.
Very little is known about James except he died in 1867 at Lismore, Argyllshire. The registration document describes him as a merchant, no other source has been found to confirm that, and that he died of ‘excessive drinking’.
A little more is known about Robert. He undoubtedly was a merchant but it’s not obvious with whom in Glasgow. The most likely is Buchanan, Hamilton and Co. as in 1860 a partnership was established in Shanghai between Buchanans, Robert Jarvie and William Thorburn, which was styled Jarvie, Thorburn and Co. This partnership lasted until Robert’s death in Shanghai in 1866.
John Jarvie, the second youngest of the brothers was born in 1822. He matriculated at the University in 1837 and by 1842 he was in Singapore donating 20 Spanish dollars for raising a spire and tower for St. Andrew’s Church there!
He was essentially to remain there for the next eighteen years, travelling around the Far East as required by business. In 1848 he was acting as an agent for the Glasgow firm of Hamilton, Gray and Co.; in 1852 he became a partner of the company in Singapore and also of Buchanan, Hamilton and Co. in Glasgow. During that period, he travelled to and from Hong Kong,Siam, India, and Australia. His travels continued to these destinations and others until he returned home circa 1860.
In 1854 he was appointed Consul for Denmark in Singapore, an appointment he fulfilled well on behalf of that country. In 1858 he travelled to Siam accredited to the Royal Court there by King Frederich VII of Denmark. His task was to negotiate a treaty with the ‘first and second kings’ of Siam and their ‘magnates’. As he was well known to all of the personnel involved he had no difficulty in concluding a treaty of friendship and commerce along the same lines as other countries had done before.
He played his part in Singapore civic life serving on several grand jurys between 1849 and 1854. In 1853 he served on a jury whose calendar comprised of eighteen cases including two murders. In November 1850 he was elected Master of the local Masonic lodge from the position of Senior Warden.
In 1859 in recognition of his service to Denmark he was created a Chevalier of the Royal Order of Danebrog by the King of Denmark.
He returned to Glasgow in 1860 and married Elizabeth Bannatyne in November of that year. She was the daughter of Andrew Bannatyne, writer, and Margaret Millar.
Her paternal grandfather was Dugald Bannatyne a prominent citizen of Glasgow in the early part of the 19th century. He was a stocking weaver who was influential in the development of George Square around 1800. He formed, along with Robert Smith Jr and John Thomson, the Glasgow Building Company. He was able to attract English capital to what was a speculative venture through Thomson’s brother in law, an English stocking weaver called Johnston. By 1804 the Square had buildings on each side which were being described as ‘elegant, particularly on the north (side).’
He was appointed Post Master General in 1806 and was secretary to the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce from 1809 to 1830. In 1817 he was a member of a committee of the Glasgow Merchants House charged with bringing about the building of a new Merchants Hall. Dugald’s wife was Agnes Stirling who was a descendant of the Stirling family of Drumpellier.
John and Elizabeth had 11 children, six boys and five girls. Sadly, with two exceptions they all died before they were forty five years old, the exceptions being Helen the donor of the painting and her sister Agnes. Two died as infants, four as teenagers, two of whom, Andrew and Robert, died from pneumonia within 8 days of each other in 1878. The other five all married, more of which later.
John continued in partnership with Buchanan, Hamilton and Co. and others this time based in Glasgow, the family living at 13 Park Circus. Unfortunately this situation did not last for very long. In 1865 the funds of all the partnerships he was involved with and those of the individual partners were sequestrated. The companies involved were Buchanan, Hamilton and Co., Jarvie, Thorburn and Co., and Hamilton, Gray and Co., the partners being Walter Buchanan, William Hamilton, John Jarvie and George Henderson. The process of dealing with creditors lasted until 1876.
John however around 1866/67 had already formed another partnership with George Henderson apparently unaffected by the sequestration problems they both faced. They were known as Jarvie, Henderson and Co, in Glasgow  and J. Jarvie and Co. in Shanghai. However, this was another venture which ended up in failure, the funds of the companies and those of the partners being sequestrated on the 2nd June 1873.
There is no evidence that he formed any other partnerships following that with George Henderson, as from 1874 on his entries in the Post Office Directories simply state that he is a merchant.
He died intestate in 1879 at 9 Lyndoch Crescent, the family home since 1866. When he died his occupation was recorded as wine agent. The value of his estate was eventually given as £642 5s 7d. John’s wife Elizabeth died in Bournemouth in 1924. Her estate was valued at £9690 16s, probate being granted to her daughters Agnes Bannatyne and Elizabeth Helen Percy.
The five surviving children of John and Elizabeth were George Garden Nicol, Norman Alexander, Helen (Elizabeth Helen), Agnes and Susan Evelyn.
George married Sarah Elizabeth Tuffin at St Peter’s Limehouse in 1900. He was 29 years old; Sarah was 22. At the time of his marriage his occupation was given as mariner. They had a son in 1903, George Norman who died a few months after his birth, George’s occupation this time given as ‘independent’. Not much more has been established about him except that he died on the 10th May 1907, age 36 at the Deddington Arms, a beer house in Poplar, Middlesex. He left estate valued at £30. He seems to have been the landlord of the establishment as two years later his wife was still at the same address.
Norman spent some of his life in the military. In 1895 he was given a commission as a second lieutenant in the 3rd/4th battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. As a lieutenant he acted as aide de camp to Colonel Thackery, his battalion commander, when the Duke of Connaught, son of Queen Victoria and the battalion’s honorary chief, visited the battalion in June 1899.
He eventually attained the rank of temporary captain and was an Instructor of Musketry when he was seconded to a line battalion in South Africa early in 1900 at the start of the second Boer War.
It seemed his military career was progressing satisfactorily however it came to an abrupt end a few months later whilst he was in South Africa. In the London Gazette of the 1st May 1900 it was announced that Captain N.A. Jarvie was to be appointed second lieutenant. I have not been able to ascertain what caused this demotion but worse was to follow. About seven weeks later his new appointment was cancelled to be followed by his dismissal from the army in November, the official Gazette notice stating that he was ‘removed from the army, Her Majesty having no further occasion for his service’.
Norman married Edith Nora Ferguson in Huntingdon in 1903. By the 1911 census they were living in a private apartment in Llandudno with no family; Norman’s occupation was given as actor working on his own account. You can’t help but get the impression that he had led a rather nondescript life since his dismissal from the army.
However, there are two postscripts to his army life. In 1905 there was a further entry in the London Gazette about him which stated that the paragraph about his removal from the army in the November 1900 issue was to be substituted by one that simply said that Captain (temporary) N.A. Jarvie has retired from the Military.
The other is that three weeks after Great Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th August 1914 Norman enlisted as a private with King Edward’s Horse at the age of 41. He did not see any active service as he died on the 13th December of that year at a hospital in Hounslow, cause of death not stated but seemingly from an accident or an illness. The army documentation which records his enlistment and his death also records that his estate was not entitled to any war gratuity as he had not served for six months. His estate was valued at £11.
Agnes married chartered accountant John Allan Bannatyne in 1894. He was the son of her mother’s brother John Miller Bannatyne, that is, they were first cousins. He was a partner in Bannatyne, Bannatyne and Guthrie when the company was founded in 1892 but after 1902 he is no longer mentioned in the directory and the company name has changed to Bannatyne and Guthrie. What he did subsequently is unknown. They had a son Ninian John, born in 1896, who was killed in action in France in 1917. John died intestate in Sierra Madre, California in 1909, leaving £688 2s 7d, probate granted to Agnes twenty years after his death. She died in Durban, South Africa in 1949.
Susan Evelyn married Duncan Forbes Robertson Aikman in 1903 in Westminster, London. He was a member of the Robertson Aikman family of Ross House and New Parks House Leicester. His father was Hugh Henry Robertson Aikman whose brother Frederick Robertson Aikman won a V.C. during the Indian Mutiny in 1858. The marriage was childless and did not last very long as Susan died at the age of 32 in 1908. He died in 1920.
Helen, the donor of the painting was born in 1868. She married Edward Josceline Percy in 1907 in London. He was the son of Hugh Josceline Percy who descended from Hugh Percy, the 1st Duke of Northumberland (great grandfather), via the 1st Earl Beverly (grandfather),and the Rev. Hugh Percy, Bishop of Rochester and then Carlisle, his father. Edward died in 1931, probate granted to Helen, his estate being valued at £7898. She died in 1954. There were no children of the marriage.
In the Necropolis in Glasgow the family lair has fifteen family names inscribed on its headstone starting with Robert Jarvie and his wife Jane Milligan. They are followed by John Jarvie and his wife Elizabeth Bannatyne and all of their children. Not all of them are buried their however, the exceptions being George Garden Nicol Jarvie and Susan Evelyn Jarvie.
When it’s considered that Robert Jarvie left a very significant fortune when he died in 1843 it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that none of the adult sons took advantage of the start in business that gave them. In fact, the family fortune went in reverse due their combined lack of the business acumen shown by their father.
On a sadder note, despite having eleven children there are no direct descendants of John Jarvie and Elizabeth Bannatyne.
 Testamentary Records. Scotland. 8 May 1925. JARVIE, Elizabeth. National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936. 1925, p. J10. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Marriages (SR) England. Limehouse, Tower Hamlets. 30 July 1900. JARVIE, George Garden Nicol and TUFFIN, Sarah Elizabeth. England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Births (SR) England. Poplar, St Stephen, Tower Hamlets. 10 May 1903. JARVIE, George Norman. London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1917. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 18 July 1907. JARVIE, George Garden Nicol. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1907, p. 325. Collection: England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Marriages (SR) England. Huntingdon. 1st Qtr. 1903. JARVIE, Norman Alexander and FERGUSON, Edith Nora. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915. Vol. 3b, p. 630. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 14 June 1916. JARVIE, Norman Alexander. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1916, p. 285. Collection. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. Scotland. 26 November 1929. BANNATYNE, John Allan. National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936. 1929, p. B15. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 30 June 1950. BANNATYNE, Agnes Marion. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1950, p. 317. Collection. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Marriages. (SR) England. London. 1st Qtr. 1903. AIKMAN, Duncan Forbes Robertson and JARVIE, Susan Evelyn. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes, 1837-1915. Vol. 1a, p. 768. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Marriages. (SR) England. London. 1st Qtr. 1907. PERCY, Edward Josceline and JARVIE, Elizabeth Helen. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes, 1837-1915. Vol. 1a, p. 868. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 8 August 1931. PERCY, Edward Josceline. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1931, p. 679. Collection. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 11 April 1954. PERCY, Helen Elizabeth. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1954, p. 377. Collection. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
The Inverclyde Bequest Fund was established over one hundred and ten years ago. Its aim was to distribute annually the income of the fund to merchant seamen charities and aged and infirm seamen, specifically in the following manner:
Seamen and seamen charities in Scotland – 2/5 share
Seamen and seamen charities in Liverpool and Manchester – 1/5 share
Seamen and seamen charities in Belfast – 1/5 share
Seamen and seamen charities in New York and Boston – 1/5 share.
The bequest was made by the second Baron Inverclyde, George Arbuthnot Burns. The Burns family had long been associated with merchant shipping, the family firm being G and J Burns, established by the second Baron’s grandfather. They were also involved with the founding of the Cunard line and had a family connection to David Macbrayne, a co-founder of what eventually became Caledonian Macbrayne or Calmac as they are currently known.
The Burns Family
The Burns family can be traced back, at least, to Doctor John Burn of the school at Airth, who married Jennet Young on the 4th March 1741.[i] They had one child, a son John, who was born on the 19th February 1744.[ii]
John matriculated at Glasgow University in 1766[iii] and four years later became assistant minister to the Rev. Laurence Hill of Barony Church. On Hill’s death in 1773 he was chosen as his successor being ordained there on the 26th May 1774.[iv] He was awarded an D.D. degree by Aberdeen University in 1808[v] and remained minister at Barony until his death in 1839.[vi]
He married Elizabeth Stevenson in January 1775 and in due course they had nine children, seven sons and two girls (both named Elizabeth).[vii] Another source claims ten children, a third daughter also called Elizabeth being born in 1788 [viii] This last daughter’s birth however I have not been able to confirm. Four sons survived into adulthood, all of whom had distinguished careers. The last born Elizabeth reached adulthood and married David Macbrayne, more of which later.
It’s the youngest son George and his descendants that are of interest to this research however the other three sons are worthy of comment.
John Burns, the eldest child was born in 1775.[ix] In due course he was to become the first Regius Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University. He began his career in medicine when licensed by the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, becoming an apothecary and surgeon’s clerk at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1792.[x] In 1796 he became a member of the Faculty[xi] and in 1797 he began giving private lectures on anatomy, surgery and midwifery from rooms in Virginia Street. In 1799 he became Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at the newly established Anderson College’s medical school in addition to continuing his private classes.[xii] He was joined by his brother Allan in these classes who at the age of sixteen, was directing the use of the dissecting rooms involved with the anatomy lectures.[xiii]
He remained in that position until 1815 when he became Regius Professor, nominated for the position by the University Chancellor the Duke of Montrose. The University conferred on him the degrees of C.M. (surgery) and M.D. in 1817 and 1828 respectively. He remained in the Regius Chair and continued with his private work for the rest of his life although his anatomy activity had to cease as he had become involved in a body snatching controversy.[xiv] He wrote a number of medical text books perhaps the most well known being ‘Principles of Midwifery’, published in 1809, [xv] and in 1830 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (F.R.S.).[xvi]
He married Isabella Duncan in 1801 and they had four children, Isabella dying shortly after the birth of the fourth child Allan.[xvii]
He died on the 18th June 1850 when the paddle steamer the ‘Orion’ sank off Portpatrick on its way to Glasgow from Liverpool.[xviii] Ironically the ship belonged to G & J Burns Ltd, the shipping company established and owned by his brothers George and James.[xix]
Allan Burns, the fourth child was born in 1781[xx]. He was also the second boy to be called Allan although with a slightly different spelling. His career paralleled John’s to some extent in that he became a renowned anatomist and medical writer. He apparently began his medical career working with his brother from the age of fourteen. As indicated above he joined with his him in his private lectures and in due course took on the anatomy classes from him when he was prevented by the city authorities from carrying out anatomical activity (the body snatching issue).
In 1804 he went to London intending to join the Army Medical Service and in December of that year he obtained the necessary qualification for membership of the Royal College of Surgeons in London. However, he did not pursue his military objective but went instead to St Petersburg on the recommendation of a Dr Creighton, to set up an ‘English plan’ hospital at the request of Empress Catherine. After an initial trial period of six months he returned to Glasgow put of by the pomposity and barbarism of Russian culture.[xxi]
He re-joined his brother John in his lectures and it was during this period he took on the anatomy classes following his brother’s ‘grave robbing’ problems. Like John he wrote a number of medical text books and between them the brothers created a large collection of mummified body parts which in the fullness of time ended up in the University of Maryland.[xxii]
Unfortunately, he was not to enjoy a long life practising his medical skills. He died unmarried age thirty two, on the 29th June 1813.[xxiii]
James Burns was the eighth child born in 1789.[xxiv] Commerce and shipping, not medicine, along with his brother George, was to be his professional occupation. Initially they set up as general merchants in Glasgow in 1818.[xxv] By 1824 the business was located in Miller street, as general merchants at number 49, and as agents for Liverpool Traders at number 45, employing David Hutcheson there, whom we will meet again. At number 39 were the Liverpool Shipping offices, the brothers listed as agents. At the Liverpool end of this enterprisee the agents and owners of the business were Mathie and Theakstone, the partnership owning six sailing vessels, the Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Mersey and the Java.[xxvi]
He and brother George continued to expand their shipping interests, adding Northern Ireland destinations to their routes. In many respects they were like the Burrell brothers George and William although the prime mover in the Burns’ shipping business was George whilst James remained more of a merchant. By 1839 they had met Samuel Cunard which subsequently led to the formation of the Cunard Line in 1840. There is much to explore re the Burns brother’s shipping businesses which I’ll continue with when discussing George Burns.
Around 1839 James purchased the estate of Kilmahew in Dunbartonshire having previously bought the neighbouring estate of Bloomhill. As he got older he became more interested in estate improvement eventually retiring from business to devote his time to that activity.[xxvii]
He married Margaret Smith in 1825[xxviii] but the marriage was short lived as she died in 1830 of consumption[xxix]. His second wife was Margaret Shortridge whom he married in 1835[xxx], both marriages being performed by his father John. They had one child John William Burns born in 1837.[xxxi] Margaret Shortridge also pre deceased him dying in 1860[xxxii], James died at Kilmahew Castle in 1871.[xxxiii]
The grandfather of George Arbuthnot Burns, was born in the Barony parish on the 10th December 1795.[xxxiv] His schooling began privately with a Mr. Angus as his tutor in grammar, simultaneously attending a writing school, tutored by a Mr. Stevenson. Following this preparatory education, he then attended the Grammar School (which became the High School of Glasgow) leaving there, after circa seven years, in 1812.[xxxv]
His first employment was with the New Lanark Cotton Spinning Company which had been started by David Dale in 1784. His role in the main seems to have been as messenger to various banks including Robert Carrick’s Ship Bank. During this time, he also involved himself with ‘recreational’ studies, attending lectures on chemistry at Glasgow University.[xxxvi]
In 1816 his father John was admitted a Guild Brother and Burgess of Glasgow, George becoming a Burgess on the same day through his father.[xxxvii]
He left New Lanark in 1818 and for a short while worked unpaid as a clerk for Andrew Grant and Co. before joining with his brother James later that year to establish their general merchants business. George was the more vigorous and commercially minded of the brothers and travelled all over the UK, including Northern Ireland, in pursuit of business. These travels resulted in him meeting a number of individuals who in due course would result in the nature of the brother’s business activity moving towards shipping.[xxxviii]
One such individual was Hugh Matthie who along with Theakstone, as previously mentioned, ran six sailing vessels between Glasgow and Liverpool. Mathie and Theakstone’s agents in Glasgow had been John and Alexander Kidd. However, during 1824 both of these gentlemen died leaving Matthie looking for a new agency . George Burns pursued this opportunity with Matthie which led to G. and J. Burns becoming Matthie’s Glasgow agents. It was during this time that David Hutcheson, an employee of the Kidd brothers, joined the Burns company having been recommended by Matthie. Not long afterwards Theakstone decided to retire and George Burns bought his share of the six sailing vessels thereby gaining a 50% ownership of his first shipping line. Thereafter James generally ran the merchants business under the name J. and G. Burns whilst George ran the shipping business under G. and J. Burns.[xxxix]
George very early on was keen to use steamships rather than sailing smacks and it was shortly after his partnership with Matthie was established that they began their routes to Northern Ireland, initially to Belfast in 1824 then to Londonderry and Larne using wooden paddle steamers. The first was the 100hp, 296 ton ’Fingal’ which went into service in 1824, followed by the ‘Eclipse’, the ‘Belfast’ and the ‘Rapid’ in 1825.[xl]
He was also determined to employ steam ships on the other routes that G. and J. Burns had an interest in, either as agents or owners. To that end he devised a plan to use steam ships on the Glasgow to Liverpool route which was at that time serviced by a fleet of eighteen sailing smacks. Fundamentally his plan was to remove as many of these smacks as possible from the route replacing them with steam ships.
As indicated previously he owned six of these vessels along with Matthie, competitors James and Thomas Martin were agents for a company also owning six. After some haggling and persuasion, the Burns, Mattie, Martin ‘consortium’ won the day and became joint owners of the twelve smacks which they then sold off. A partnership was set up with the company being known in Liverpool as ‘Matthie and Martin’ and in Glasgow as ‘G. and J. Burns and J. Martin’.[xli]
The first steamship of the new company was the ‘Glasgow’ a 280 ton,100 hp wooden paddle steamer whose maiden voyage to Liverpool was on the 13th March 1829. It was followed very quickly by two other wooden paddle steamers, the ‘Ailsa Craig’ similar in size and power, and in 1830 by the larger ’Liverpool’ whose tonnage was 397 ton and was powered by a 150hp engine.[xlii]
Other routes which G. and J. Burns were involved with all eventually were serviced by steamers, including the Glasgow and Highland (1832) all paddle with one exception the ‘Loch Fine’ in 1847 which was screw driven, the Glasgow and Firth of Clyde (1846) all paddle, and the Mediterranean /Le Havre (1853) all screw driven.[xliii]
In 1851 the Highland shipping activity was taken over by David Hutcheson, their employee from the early days, and his brother Alexander. They were joined by the Burns’ nephew David Macbrayne,[xliv] the son of their sister Elizabeth and David Macbrayne who had married in 1810.[xlv] So began the journey to the Caledonia Macbrayne shipping line.
In the midst of this George’s greatest venture was to occur, namely his involvement with the founding of the Cunard Line. Before I deal with that it is perhaps appropriate at this juncture to say something about his family life.
On the 10th June 1822 he married Jane Cleland in the Barony Church, the ceremony being performed by his father[xlvi]. Jane was the daughter of James Cleland, the Superintendent of Public Works in Glasgow. Cleland was a well known chronicler of Glasgow inhabitants, including censuses of Glasgow in 1819, 1821 and 1831, and associated statistics[xlvii] and is responsible for the current layout of Glasgow Green which was established between 1816 and 1826.[xlviii] There is also a tenement building opposite the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall called the Cleland Testimonial which was designed by David Hamilton and built in 1836 by public subscription in recognition of his service to the city. Cleland lived in the building until he died in 1840.[xlix]
George and Jane had seven children, three boys and four girls, only three of whom survived into adulthood. They were, his heir John, and father of George Arbuthot Burns, who was born on the 1st July 1829,[l] James who was born on the 28th of July 1832[li] and their first born Margaret who was born on the 10th August 1824.[lii] Margaret died relatively young in 1854 having been married for five years, leaving her husband and three young children.[liii]
The Cunard Line
In 1838 the Admiralty were interested in establishing a steamship mail service between Britain, Canada and the United States. To that end invitations to tender to provide that service were sent to a number of shipping organisations, including G and J Burns. It seems that initially George was disinclined to get involved in this Atlantic activity however that was to change.[liv]
Samuel Cunard, a Nova Scotian born in 1788, became aware of the desire to set up a steamship based mail service across the Atlantic and decided to apply . He travelled to Britain early in 1839 and by the 11th of February had submitted his tender to the Admiralty.
The essence of his tender was as follows:
“To provide steamboats of not less than 300hp to convey mail between Halifax (Nova Scotia) and England plus steamboats of not less than 150hp to distribute the mail locally.”
His tender also stated his ships would be ready by the 1st May 1840 and that the cost to the Admiralty of running the service was to be £55,000 per annum, the contract to run for ten years.
He then met the Scottish ship builder Robert Napier and agreed a contract with him, signed on the 18th March, for three ships, each of 960 tons and 375hp, to cost £32,000 per ship.
The Admiralty response was positive and the contract with them was signed on the 4th May 1839. It was to be for seven years, with two sailings per month beginning on the 4th June 1840, and each vessel would carry a naval officer. In addition, each ship should be ready at any time to carry four naval officers and ten ratings.
Whilst the contract negotiations had been going on Napier had come to the conclusion that for the service to be carried out all year round and in all weather conditions, larger and more powerful ships would be required, without which the venture would fail. When Cunard indicated that he had no more capital to invest Napier offered to put him in touch with other merchants who might support the venture.
One such individual was James Donaldson of the City of Glasgow Steam Packet Company which had merged with G. and J. Burns around 1830. The company had been set up by Donaldson and David MacIver to compete with Burns on a number of his routes but had not been particularly successful. The terms of the merger were that Burns would have three fifths of the revenue generated by the new company and control of the business, Donaldson and MacIver two fifths.
A meeting between Donaldson, Cunard, Burns and MacIver was held on the 10th May to discuss the possibility of additional capital being secured, with MacIver expressing his opposition. The next morning a further meeting took place, less Donaldson, during which agreement in principle seems to have been achieved. However, Burns stated the project was so large that other investors would be needed to raise the required capital and that would take time, he thought around a month.
In the event it took four days to raise the money and a contract was drawn up with Burns and MacIver having a half share in the mail contract and in the steam ships for an investment of £270,000. The name of the new business was the ’British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company’, the precursor to the Cunard Line. A co-partnery, called ‘The Glasgow Proprietary in the British and North American Steam Packets’ was also established between Burns, MacIver and the eighteen other investors that had helped provide the funds. The Admiralty also agreed to increase what they would pay for the service to £60,000 per annum.[lv]
Four wooden paddle steamers were then built as per the Napier specification, each around 1200 tons and 440hp, the first of which was the ‘Britannia’ to be followed by the ‘Acadia’ the ‘Caledonia’ and the ‘Columbia’.[lvi]
The ‘Britannia’ was built by Robert Duncan of Port Glasgow and was launched on the 5th February 1840. She made her maiden voyage on the 4th July arriving in Boston on the 19th, her entry into service late by about a month.[lvii] The build of the other ships was also behind plan, the second of which being delivered late autumn, the third in November, with the fourth in January of the following year.
Consequentially further discussions with the Admiralty led to an agreement that the twice monthly sailings would be delayed until the autumn and that during the winter months there would only be one sailing per month, each sailing lost reducing the company’s fee by £1,000.[lviii]
As the business developed and grew Cunard based himself in London, Burns in Glasgow, commuting to London and Liverpool as required, and MacIver in Liverpool. The original shareholders in the Burns/MacIver co-partnery were gradually bought out until the business was fully in the hands of the families of Cunard, Burns, and MacIver, each holding one third of the shares. In 1845 David MacIver died, his share going to his brother Charles, whose sons in due course followed him. In 1865 Sir Samuel Cunard died, having been created a baronet in 1859,[lix] and was succeeded by his son Edward, to be followed in 1869 by his brother William.
Burns however, was to live a very long life. He retired in 1858, his son John taking on his role in the business, and sharing his father’s holding in Cunard with his brother James.[lx] This was after a period of intense competition, from about 1850, on the Atlantic route from the Collins Line, an American company. Despite some early setbacks the British company eventually prevailed, Collins finally going out of business in 1858.[lxi]
On his retirement Burns bought the estate of Wemyss Bay on the south side of the Firth of Clyde. He built Wemyss House as the family home, the architect being James Salmon of Glasgow.[lxii]
Throughout his life he was a pious man, perhaps unsurprising as he was a son of the manse. What is unexpected is that in 1838 he became an Episcopalian, essentially a member of the Church of England, particularly drawn to the evangelicals of that church. He was to remain so for the rest of his life as was his wife Jane.[lxiii] From their earliest days as Episcopalians they were active and supportive of their local congregation and minister and that was to continue when they moved to the Wemyss estate.
Jane died on the 1st July 1877 at Wemyss House. She was 83.[lxiv] Almost from the day she died George determined to build an Episcopal church in memory of his wife. He engaged the architect John Burnet to design it and two years later it was complete. It was built in the Gothic style using local red sandstone, its first service, conducted by the Rev. John W. Bardsley of Liverpool, being held on the 15th June 1879[lxv]
George was made a baronet in June 1889[lxvi] and died the following year on the 2nd June, his son John succeeding to the baronetcy and the Wemyss estate. Throughout his life he was a vigorous man, a thinker, interested in doing things differently, and deeply religious. It’s therefore sad to note the cause of his death was given as ‘senile debility’ and that his death was registered by his head gardener.[lxvii]
John Burns/Sir John Burns/1st Baron Inverclyde.
John Burns matriculated at Glasgow University in 1845, age 16.[lxviii] There is no record of him graduating, one source however has it that he took the general arts degree.[lxix] He subsequently joined the family business around 1850[lxx] and by 1858 he had taken on his father’s role in the business when he retired in that year.
By 1865 the policy making and planning essentially was in the hands of John and Charles MacIver. The Civil War in America had ended in that year and the Atlantic passenger trade particularly with immigrants, which had suffered greatly during the war, began to recover. As it did, so did the competition.[lxxi]
Burns and MacIver over the next few years took various steps to counter this, essentially by restructuring their business to make better use of their shipping assets and capital, particularly when it came to purchasing bigger and more modern ships made of iron then steel and screw driven.[lxxii]
In 1855 the British and Foreign Steam Navigation Company was formed servicing Mediterranean and Levant ports. Previously ships on these routes did so under the informal banner of Burns and MacIver however it was recognised that to ensure the best use of capital, maintain and improve profitability, and to ensure funds were properly allocated for the purchase of new ships, a more formal structure was required.
In 1866 further changes to company structure took place with the joining together of the British and Foreign Steam Navigation Company and the original 1840 company of Burns, Cunard and MacIver, the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The new structure operated as the British and North American Steam Packet Company, the shareholders being John Burns, James Burns his brother, Charles MacIver, Sir Edward Cunard and his brother William, each family having one third of the shares.[lxxiii] In addition the Burns family continued to run their own shipping company G. and J. Burns.
In the midst of all this activity John married Emily Arbuthnot in 1860.[lxxiv] She was the daughter of George Clerk Arbuthnot and his first wife Agnes Rait. John and Emily had five children, two boys who in due course were heavily involved in the family shipping businesses, and three girls. The eldest boy was George Arbuthnot Burns born in 1861[lxxv], who was the eventual donor of the Inverclyde bequest, his brother was James Cleland Burns born in 1864.[lxxvi]
The business restructuring continued into the 1870’s culminating in 1878 with the creation of the Cunard Steam Ship Company Ltd., the company share value being £2 million, in today’s terms somewhere between £200 million and £3.6 billion[lxxvii], of which the Burns, Cunard and MacIver families took up £1,200,000. In 1880 the remaining shares were successfully offered for public subscription, following which John Burns became the first chairman of Cunard.[lxxviii]
John’s two sons started off in the family company and by the late 1880’s he was less involved in the daily operation of both the Cunard Line and the Burns company, with the deputy chairman of Cunard David Jardine taking on more of his chairman duties and son George running the Scottish and Irish mail services.[lxxix]
He led a full public life in addition to his business responsibilities. He was a Justice of the Peace in the county of Renfrew and honorary lieutenant in the RNVR.[lxxx] In 1890 he became a deputy lieutenant of the county of Renfrew[lxxxi] and in 1894 he became a deputy lieutenant of the county of the city of Glasgow.[lxxxii]
He was a keen yachtsman owning at least three: the ‘Matador’(1879), the ‘Jacamor’(1882) and the ‘Capercailzie’(1883), all iron hulls and screw driven.[lxxxiii] As might be expected he was a member of a number of yachting club’s including the Royal Yacht Squadron.
In 1878 he sailed to Reykjavik, Iceland on the yacht ‘Mastiff’ with his wife, his sons George Arbuthnot and James Cleland. On board were a number of guests including the author Anthony Trollope. On the passage out they went via the Faroes, returning via the Hebrides. A record of the trip was written by Trollope and Illustrated by Mrs Hugh Blackburn.[lxxxiv]
In keeping with his sailing enthusiasm and his role with the RNVR he played a significant part in the setting up a training ship scheme which was established on HMS Cumberland.
He was also something of a philanthropist in that he financially supported a number of charitable organisations including the Eastpark Children’s Home in Glasgow and the Training Home for Nurses, both being remembered in his will. He was an Episcopalian like his father and was fully supportive of his local church St Silas.[lxxxv]
In 1897, in Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Honours list he was conferred with a peerage and became Baron Inverclyde of Castle Wemyss.[lxxxvi]
He died at Castle Weymss on the 12th February 1901, cause of death recorded as exhaustion resulting from spinal sclerosis[lxxxvii]. Sadly, the next entry the registrar made was to record the death of John Burn’s wife Emily who died at home two days later on the 14th February, cause of death being cardiac failure.[lxxxviii]
He was succeeded by his eldest son George Arbuthnot Burns who became the second Baron Inverclyde and inherited the Wemyss estate.
George Arbuthnot Burns, 2nd Baron Inverclyde.
I have not been able to establish where George attended school nor is there any obvious evidence that he went to university. However, the Times of London states that he had a liberal education and that he had subsequently toured India, China and Australia[lxxxix] before staring work in the family business of G. & J. Burns along with his brother James. That may have been as early as 1880 however by 1882 they are both recorded in the Post Office directory for that year as being with the family firm[xc]. The two brothers had been left equal shares in G & J Burns in their father’s will however as time went on George’s focus seems to have been directed more towards Cunard whilst James essentially ran the family shipping business.
In 1886 George married Mary Fergusson, the daughter of Hickson Fergusson who was a yarn merchant.[xci] They married in St Mary’s Episcopal Church; she was 20 years old and he was described as a steamship shareholder.[xcii] Unfortunately, the marriage was childless.
His father had all but relinquished his role as Cunard chairman to David Jardine and when he died in 1901 Jardine was elected chairman along with George as his deputy.[xciii] He however did not stay as such for very long, deciding to retire in 1902, at which time George took on the role.[xciv]
His first AGM as Chairman was held on the 10th April 1902. It was not wholly an easy time for him as it took place during a period when Cunard’s business performance was questionable, resulting from low freight and passenger rates due to the competitive nature of the business. Whilst it was agreed to pay a dividend of 4% on the paid up capital a number of critical comments were made.
A Mr. Japp stated that the company was so badly run that the only remedy would be to dispose of it to a purchaser who would give shareholders the par value of the shares. A second shareholder, from Glasgow, said basically the same thing and encouraged the directors to put any purchase offers to the shareholders for their consideration. Another suggested that Lord Inverclyde should move to Liverpool from Glasgow as he could not see how “any business could be carried on with the pivot residing in Glasgow”[xcv]
Things however were to improve and by the time of the next AGM on the 8th April 1903 the chairman’s report, and leadership, was greeted on several occasions with cheers, apart from the same shareholder from Glasgow having a gripe about the cost of new ships.[xcvi] The Atlantic rates war, however, was to continue for some time.
Like his father, and indeed his brother James, he held a number of public and business appointments. He joined the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce in 1887[xcvii] and was also a member of the Merchants House of Glasgow for a number of years becoming Lord Dean of Guild in 1903 and 1904.[xcviii] In 1902 he was appointed a deputy lieutenant of the county of the city of Glasgow[xcix] and was a Justice of the Peace for the county. He also served as a director of the Clydesdale Bank and the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company.[c]
His charitable and religious activities were no less extensive. Like his father he was a firm Episcopalian, supporting his church both personally and financially. Included in his charitable activities were the Charity Organisation Society[ci] and the Y.M.C.A., of which he became honorary president.[cii]
He was also an enthusiastic yachtsman, sailing whenever possible his father’s yacht ‘Capercailzie’ which he had inherited. He was Commodore of the Royal Northern Yacht Squadron and a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.[ciii]
Unlike his direct ancestors George was not destined for a long life. In 1905 he had planned to sail his yacht to Stornoway with Lord Roseberry on board, who was to open the new municipal buildings there.[civ] However, in late August he contracted pleurisy and was unable to make the journey. (Lord Rosebery sailed on the Capercailzie and opened the buildings on the 7th September). It developed into pneumonia with other complications, which despite two operations, proved fatal.[cv]
He died at Castle Wemyss on the 8th October 1905, cause of death given as cardiac failure, pleurisy and phlebitis.[cvi]
He was laid to rest in the family vault in the church his grandfather George built at Wemyss Bay. In addition to close family members the large attendance at the service included, amongst others, peers of the realm, sailors and officers from the Cunard Line and G. & J. Burns, Members of Parliament, representatives from various charities, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, the staff from Castle Wemyss, and representatives from Cunard’s competition in the Atlantic trade, the White Star Line.[cvii]
As George had no children his brother James Cleland Burns became the 3rd Lord Inverclyde. His story however does not end there.
In his will dated 20th March 1901 he left his estate to his wife Mary. She subsequently discovered in his office in Jamaica Street a handbag belonging to her husband containing what looked like a second will dated the 9th November 1902 which left everything in trust to her, she being able to select the trustees. After her death the Glasgow Merchants House would become the beneficiaries of the estate, charged with creating a fund, to be known as the Inverclyde Bequest, and dispersing its annual income, as described in the opening paragraph of these notes, to seamen charities or institutions whose concerns were to support aged or infirm seamen or their families.
He defined seamen as all those who formed the crews of merchant ships, specifically stating that support should be given in particular to deserving seamen who had been in the service of Cunard and G. & J. Burns.
This document consisted of three separate sheets only one of which had been signed by her husband and initially there was doubts raised as to its legality. In the event Lady Inverclyde came to an agreement with the Merchants House whereby she would receive a single payment of £20,000 and the income from the trust for the rest of her life.[cviii]
This provided the means by which the second will could be made valid, with appropriate amendments to allow the above agreement to be implemented. To that end an application was made to the Secretary of State for Scotland for a Provisional Order to remove doubts about the validity of this second will and to give legal force to the changes agreed between the Merchants House and Lady Inverclyde.[cix] On the 4th August 1906 the required Act of Parliament, the Inverclyde Bequest Order Confirmation Act, 1906, was given Royal Assent.[cx]
Lady Inverclyde married again in 1910 to General Sir Archibald Hunter, K.C.B., D.S.O., Governor of Gibralter [cxi] She died in 1924,[cxii] following which, in 1926, the bequest started to operate. Committees in England, Ireland and the United States were established to administer their share of the fund, which at that time was valued at £183,147, whilst the Scottish allocation was managed by the directors of the Merchants House.[cxiii]
The fund dispersals in the early part of this century include the Scottish Nautical Welfare Society, Sir Gabriel Wood’s Mariners Home in Greenock, The Mission to Sea Farers in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Liverpool, Seafarer’s Friend Boston, The Northern Ireland Veteran Seamen’s Friend Belfast, and Seamen’s House Y.M.C.A. New York.[cxiv] In 2016 monies distributed were £50,848, the value of the fund standing at £1,634,372.[cxv]
The direct link between the Reverend John Burns of Barony church and the Lords Inverclyde ended in 1957 when the 4th Lord, John Alan Burns the son of the 3rd Lord, died without issue, the title becoming extinct.