A few years ago I came across an individual named Robert Dreghorn (3rd of that name) who was very wealthy, facially scarred by smallpox and who liked to follow young women. His nickname was ‘Dragon Bob’, no doubt as a consequence of his scarring, and he lived from 1748 to 1804.
Recently I was clearing out some old research paperwork and came across notes I wrote about him which have prompted me to do a bit more digging into his family, where his wealth came from, what he did, if anything, professionally, and so on. Did he or his family benefit Glasgow in anyway being the question I’m trying to answer.
Dragon Bob’s grandfather was Robert Dreghorn(1st), a wright in Glasgow, born around 1679. In 1703 he married Margaret Dickie, daughter of deceased fellow wright Robert Dickie and his wife Isobel Anderson.,
It appears that grandfather Robert had wide business interests in addition to his trade as a wright and sometime plumber, the Dreghorn family being involved in timber and lead as merchants. He also invested in the coalfields at Govan and Camlachie, having bought Easter Camlachie in 1731 from Walter Corbet of Tollcross. He was a member of the Trades House in Glasgow and was Wrights Deacon in 1724, 1725, 1728, 1731, 1735 and 1740. He was also a Burgess and Guild Brother of the city.
He and Margaret had six children all born in Glasgow:
Allan, b. August 1704. He was initially a wright like his father however he had wide ranging commercial interests which included trading in timber and lead and was a major partner in the Smithfield Iron Company. This particular company which was founded in 1732 had strong trading links with the American colonies, where the partners had extensive possessions. In Tom Devine’s book ‘The Tobacco Lords’ Allan is listed as a tobacco merchant with which company is not clear although it seems probable that he was in partnership with Peter Murdoch in Murdoch, Dreghorn & Co. In 1741 however he and brother Robert (2nd) with three others, one of whom was Matthew Bogle, his wife’s half-brother, decided to use the ship ‘Boyd’ for a single journey to Virginia after which the vessel would be sold. This was despite the fact that ‘they had a settled factor in the colonies to purchase tobacco in advance … and drawing bills on the partners in Glasgow.In 1750 a partnership was formed consisting of Allan, William McDowall, Robert and Colin Dunlop, Andrew Buchanan of Drumpellier and Alexander Houston to establish what became known as the Ship Bank (Dunlop, Houston & Co.). It was located in the Bridgegate close to the then Merchants House. A man of many talents he is also known as an architect. Between 1737 and 1756 he is credited with designing and perhaps building the Town Hall, which later became the Tontine Hotel, and St Andrew’s Church in St Andrew’s Square, just off the Saltmarket, the design of the church being based on St. Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, London. By 1752 he had also designed and built his house, Dreghorn Mansion, in what was then called Great Clyde Street. Around that time using the joiners from his own woodyard he also had built the first private carriage to be seen in Glasgow in which he used to travel about town. Prior to the building of Dreghorn Mansion, in 1749, he had purchased the estate of Ruchill from the Peadie family. Clearly all his commercial activity and partnerships, not least of which was tobacco trading, gave Allan Dreghorn significant financial benefit which allowed him to become an important businessman in Glasgow at a time when the tobacco lords were in their pomp. In 1755, along with others he granted power of attorney to William Cuningham and John Stewart who were merchants on Rappahannock River in Virginia.  He also undertook several civic duties. He became a Burgess and Guild brother of Glasgow in 1737 through his father  and in 1741 was a Glasgow Bailie. A unique civic duty occurred in 1745 when he, and five others were commissioned by Glasgow to deal with Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army. The commissioners were charged with the following task: ‘Whereas the City of Glasgow is in danger of being attacked by a force which they are in no Condition to resist and the inhabitants and their Trade may be exposed to many inconveniences. These are therefor Beseeching you Andrew Aiton Andrew Buchanan Lawrence Dinwoodie and Richard Oswald merchants in Glasgow Allan Dreghorn wright and James Smith weaver in Glasgow. In case any such force shall approach the city and require to be Lodged therein That you meet with the Leaders of the said force and make the best terms you possibly can for saving the City and its Trade and Inhabitants.’ Hay, the Prince’s quartermaster levied the city at £15,000, in the event the commissioners were able to reduce that to £5,000 cash plus £500 in goods.Allan married Elizabeth (Betty/Bessie) Bogle, daughter of Robert Bogle and Jean Carlyle in 1737, The Bogles were a well-established merchant family involved in a variety of businesses including the tobacco trade. There were two main branches of the family, Daldowie and Shettleston, Robert being a member of the latter. Allan and Betty had no children which resulted in his nephew Dragon Bob, son of his brother Robert (2nd), inheriting his estate  when he died in 1764 at Ruchill. His wife was provided for, and he also bequeathed £21 sterling to the Merchants house of Glasgow. Elizabeth died at Ruchill in 1767.
Robert, (2nd) b. April 1706. He was a wright, who like his brother was involved in a number of business activities, the main one seemingly being the Virginia tobacco trade. As mentioned above he was involved with brother Allan in the ‘Boyd’ venture, is described as a tobacco merchant by Tom Devine and was a partner in James Brown & Co, tobacco merchants. It also seems probable that, like his brother, he was involved with Murdoch, Dreghorn & Co. He was a ship owner, owning two in 1735, the ‘Margaret’ and the ‘Graham’. In 1737 he became a Burgess and Guild Brother of Glasgow. Like many of his contemporaries, and his brother, his wealth enabled him to buy landed property which he duly did in 1752 with the purchase of the Blochairn estate from the Spreull family for £976 sterling. He married Isabella Bryson around 1747 and they had three children as follows: Robert (Dragon Bob), born in 1748, Elizabeth, born 1751 and Margaret, born 1755. There seems to have been a fourth child, a daughter born in c.1858 called Marion. I can find no evidence of her birth however there is a death notice in the Caledonian Mercury of 3rd June 1815 announcing her death at Ruchill, describing her as the daughter of the deceased Robert Dreghorn of Blochairn. Robert died in 1760, Dragon Bob being his heir and executor along with his mother Isabella and others. He bequeathed £10 sterling to the poor of the Merchants House.  One interesting detail of his inventory was that he was owed a fifth share of just over £690 for goods sent to a William Cathcart of Jamaica.
Margaret, b. July 1708. Married shipmaster James Scot from Greenock in 1735. They had nine children.
Robert (1st) died in June 1742  leaving to the poor of the Merchants House in Glasgow £100 Scots (£8 6s 8d Sterling). Margaret died in 1756.
Dragon Bob matriculated at Glasgow University in 1761 at the age of thirteen. By that time he was already the putative owner of his father’s estate, including Blochairn. Four years later in 1764 he inherited his uncle Allan’s estate including Ruchill, thereby becoming an extremely rich individual. At one point his annual income was said to be £8,000, personal and heritable estate being valued at £70,000, in today’s terms worth £14.5m and £127m respectively.
His physical appearance had suffered badly from smallpox. His nose was flattened and to one side and he had lost an eye. Some of the pock marks on his cheeks were ‘as large as threepenny pieces’.
I have not been able to ascertain whether he played a part in any of the partnerships and activities of his father and uncle, as most accounts of his life deal with his looks and eccentric behaviour. The tobacco trade with Virginia was still going reasonably well as the family company Dreghorn, Murdoch & Co. imported 574 hogsheads of tobacco in 1773 and 502 hogsheads in 1774. The company his father had been a partner of, James Brown & Co., had over the two years imported just under 1,100 hogsheads, although I’m not sure if he had any continuing interest in that company. To put that into some perspective however it’s worth pointing out that Glassford, Spiers and Cunningham collectively imported over 14,000 hogsheads in each of these years.,
Bob appears to have maintained at least an interest in the tobacco trade as he would join with other tobacco merchants at the Tontine Hotel, whether that was an active interest is not clear. Generally he seems to have been a man of few friends. He did not participate in social events such as concert and dances, perhaps as a result of his disfigurement, nor does he come across as someone with an intellectual bent. In his early years he rode his horse in town and was a member of the Glasgow Hunt. That gradually reduced to riding to Ruchill occasionally from Dreghorn mansion, with a manservant accompanying him.
Walking in the Trongate and Argyll Street became almost his sole preoccupation. He would be dressed in a fairly long coat, have a black ribbon bow in his hair pigtail and carry a cane. However his walks and his associated peculiar behavioural traits caused him some notoriety particularly when it came to following young women. Today, probably, it would be described as stalking.
When he came across a young female servant during his walks who caught his eye, he would immediately start to follow her. That continued until either the young woman moved indoors or more often than not another young woman would get his attention and he would immediately start to follow her; this process being carried out for several hours and during every daily walk, sometimes he would speak to the young woman being followed.
There seems to have been nothing sinister in this, with his walks being well known and the source of some amusement for other passers-by. To some extent it appears that the young women being followed felt complimented by his attention. He also had the habit of leaving a conversation with acquaintances abruptly and whistling.
Despite his fortune he was rather a miserly individual, keeping tight control of his finances. In 1773 Glasgow’s wealthier citizens were assessed to allow money to be provided for the poor of the city. He initially paid what was due by him but after twenty years of doing so in 1793 he objected to the amount asked of him, £19, and refused to pay. The subsequent litigation took four years to conclude with Bob losing and being ordered to pay the required amounts and the expenses of the legal action.
There is also the story told of how on one occasion when hosting a dinner the wine ran out and he was encouraged to get some more from his wine cellar. He was unable to rise from his chair and one of his guests offered to go in his stead to get more wine, it seems he had previously been Bob’s butler, as he knew the way. Bob gave that short shrift by saying that he did not trust him and that he knew the road to the cellar ‘o’er weel’. Bob’s solution was to have his ex-butler carry him to the cell to collect more wine and return to the table again carrying him and the wine, which is what happened.
Dragon Bob comes across as a not particularly happy individual, with very few friends, mean with his money and with very odd behavioural habits. Unsurprisingly he never married and died in 1804, apparently by committing suicide although the registration document simply says, ‘sudden death’.
His fortune went initially to his oldest sister Elizabeth who was unmarried. When she died in 1824 it went to the four daughters of her sister Margaret, who I believe predeceased her, and James Dennistoun of Colgrain whom she married in 1785. Niece Isabella Bryson, who married Gabriel Hamilton Dundas fell heir to Ruchill, her sister Mary Lyon, who married Sir William Baillie, to Blochairn.
Did the Dreghorn family benefit Glasgow? Like other people in the tobacco trade, they did, but at a cost in human misery in the American plantations. Allan Dreghorn is not exempt from that however he did design St Andrew’s in the Square, a beautiful building inside and out and described as the most important and impressive 18th century church in Scotland. It has been category ‘A’ listed by Historic Environment Scotland since 1966.
I suppose it could also be said that Dragon Bob, benefited Glasgow in that he amused its citizens by his eccentric behaviour.
 Ewing, Archibald Orr. (1866). View of the Merchants House of Glasgow. Glasgow: Bell and Bain. p. 583.
To avoid confusion donor Cecilia Douglas will always be in bold.
In 1862 Mrs Cecilia Douglas (nee Douglas) bequeathed oil paintings and sculptures to the then Glasgow Corporation. The paintings, thirteen in total consisting of an old master, copies of old masters and other originals, initially were on display in the McClellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street. Currently they are located in the Glasgow Museum Resource Centre or on display in Kelvingrove Art Galleries.
She and her husband Gilbert represented two different branches of the Douglas family. Hers, according to one source, perhaps wishful thinking, descended from the Douglas Earls of Angus via the Douglas families of Cruixton and Stobbs, Gilbert’s from the Douglases of Mulderg in Ross-Shire. Her mother was a Buchanan, descending from the Buchanans of Leny, Gilbert’s mother was a Robertson, daughter of a farmer from Balcony (Balconie). Interestingly there is a line of descent chart which shows the Robertson family descending from Edward I of England and his wife, the daughter of the king of France. All pre-eminent families, particularly the Douglases and the Buchanans who were heavily involved in the West Indies in the 18th century, owning plantations and dealing in sugar and tobacco.
Gilbert’s paternal ancestry can be traced back to Hector Douglas, the first of Mulderg, who is mentioned in the 1644 Valuation Roll of the Sheriffdom of Inverness and Ross. He seems to have been the proprietor of the estate from around 1630.He died before 1653, his son Hector succeeding him being “retoured as heir of his father” (legally recognised). Son Hector had married Bessie Gray around 1630 producing at least three sons, however his time as owner of the estate was short lived as he died around 1657, to be succeeded by son Robert. Robert, his brother another Hector who succeeded him, both had no issue the estate passing on to a third brother, first name unfortunately not known. This brother was succeeded by his son Hector who was Gilbert’s great grandfather. Around 1718 the Douglases ceased to own Mulderg, Gilbert’s great grandfather’s eldest son (Hector!) being the last.
The second son was Robert  who married Catherine Munro in 1703. She was his second wife and they had three children one of whom was yet another Robert, a farmer in Balcony, who was Gilbert’s father. He married Janet Robertson, daughter of farmer Hugh Robertson also of Balcony, Gilbert being born in 1749. He was baptised in the parish church of Kiltearn in Ross-shire.
From 1378 to 1660 there were twelve Douglas Earls of Angus, the last one being William Douglas, who became the Marquis of Angus in 1633. No clear connection has been established between the Earls and Cecilia’s father John Douglas, a Glasgow merchant, however I believe his first traceable direct ancestor, and Cecilia’s paternal great great grandfather was Robert Douglas, an Edinburgh merchant who married Helen Hunter in 1665. According to the Douglas Archives website they had a son, Robert of Cruixton, who married Rachael McFarlane, who in turn had a son named William, John Douglas’s father. William was a merchant in Leith. He married Katherine Dunlop of Garnkirk and died in 1772.
John Douglas was born in Leith in 1727. He married Cecilia Buchanan in 1766, the daughter of George Buchanan, a maltman, burgess and guild brother of Glasgow. Her paternal ancestry can be traced back to Walter Buchanan of Leny in the 16th century, his grandson Andrew Buchanan of Gartacharn being her great grandfather. She shares this ancestry with Mary Buchanan, the wife of Alexander Speirs, who also was Andrew’s great granddaughter.
Andrew’s son George was a maltman in Glasgow, a member of the Trades House from 1674, where he held a number of positions. At various times he was also a Glasgow Bailie and Deacon Convener of the Trades House. He married twice, his second wife being Mary Maxwell, daughter of Glasgow merchant Gabriel Maxwell. They had ten children, seven sons and three daughters.
The eldest was also George, born in 1686 who followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a maltman in Glasgow. He was also Glasgow Burgh Treasurer at one point and became a Bailie in 1732. He married three times, his third wife Cecilia Forbes, whom he married in 1736, being the mother of Cecilia Buchanan who was born in 1740.
George’s younger brothers Andrew, Neil and Archibald, who was Alexander Speirs’ father in law, were heavily involved in the American tobacco trade becoming Glasgow’s largest tobacco importer by 1730.
The Family of John Douglas and Cecilia Buchanan
John and Cecilia had eleven children, all born in Glasgow, as follows:
William, b. October 1766. Matriculated at Glasgow University in 1778. Died before 1828, the Trust deed of Cecilia Douglas, written in 1828 refers to him as her late brother as she bequeathed to his daughter Rosina £250. As the name Rosina in the Scotlandspeople records for that time is rare there is some reasonably strong evidence, but not fully conclusive, that William was a ship’s captain, had married Rosina Service, daughter Rosina being born in 1811. She died in 1912, the widow of Peter Drew whom she married in 1854, her father being described as a master mariner.
John, b. May 1768. What happened to his twin George has not been established except that he matriculated at Glasgow University in 1780 and died young. John also matriculated at Glasgow and afterwards was significantly involved with the sugar trade in Demerara, (British Guiana, now Guyana) probably on his own initially but subsequently with his brothers through the family firm of J. T. and A. Douglas & Co. Probably/possibly his involvement in the trade was through Gilbert Douglas who owned plantations in the West Indies. He actually lived in Demerara around 1800 owning, with his brothers, at least three sugar plantations directly, plus others indirectly as mortgagees. Whilst there he fathered three children, two boys and a girl, with a free creole woman. The second son James, born in 1803, was to have an astonishing career considering his parents never married and his mother was of mixed European and black descent. He came to Scotland with his brother Alexander, possibly with their father, for his early schooling and in 1819 they both went to Canada to work in the fur trade for the North West Company. By 1821 James was working for the Hudson Bay Company. He married Amelia Connelly, who was half native Canadian, half white in 1827 and continued to rise through the Hudson Bay Company, eventually being transferred to British Columbia to run its operation there with a wide range of responsibilities. By 1851 he had been appointed governor of Vancouver Island. When it became officially a crown colony in 1859 he became the first governor of British Columbia, holding the two posts until his retirement in 1864 at which point he became a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. He died in 1877.
John returned to Glasgow before 1809, probably around 1806/07 as the first time the family firm of J. T. snd A. Douglas & Co., located at 51 Virginia Street, appeared in the Glasgow Post Office Directory was in the 1807 edition. He married Jessie Hamilton, the daughter of a Greenock merchant in 1809 and they had at least three children, one boy named for his father and two girls. I have the impression that he returned to Demerara at some point but there is no clear proof of that. He eventually moved to Edinburgh living at Moray Place where he died in 1840. His estate in Scotland was valued at just under £71,500, the majority of it in bank, railway and canal stock. Today that would be worth between £7m and £290m. His estate in England was valued at ‘under £20,000’, being finally settled in 1862, his brother Thomas being by that time the sole surviving executor, John’s wife Jessie having died in 1861 at Moray Place.
R0bert, b. 20 July 1770. Not mentioned in her 1828 Trust deed presumably having died before then.
Cecilia, b. 28 February 1772, more of whom and husband Gilbert to follow.
Neil, b. 24 February 1774. Matriculated at Glasgow University in 1786 then became a partner in Douglas and Brown, cotton spinners. Joined the Rifle Brigade in 1801 as a second lieutenant and had an extremely successful military career. By 1811 he had attained the rank of major and had fought with Sir John Moore in Portugal and Sweden. He was no desk soldier being wounded twice between 1810 (Busaco) and 1815 (Quatre Bas). In June of that year he had commanded his battalion at Waterloo. He continued to progress through the ranks becoming by the end of his career Lieutenant General of the 78th regiment in 1851. He was an aide de camp of William IV from 1825 to 1837 and from 1842 to 1847 was governor of Edinburgh Castle. He was awarded many honours being made a Commander of the Order of Maria Theresa in 1815 by the Austrian emperor, in 1831 he was knighted becoming a Knight-Companion of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, finally becoming a Knight Commander of the Bath. I’ve not been able to clearly identify when he was given this last honour but when he was appointed to Edinburgh Castle in 1842 he was described as a KCB. In 1816 he married Barbara Robertson, the daughter of George Robertson, a banker of Greenock. They had at least one son, Sir John Douglas, who like his father became a soldier. He fought in the Crimean War and was involved in dealing with the Indian Mutiny of 1857. He reached the rank of general in 1880. Sir Neil Douglas died in Brussels in 1853.
Thomas Dunlop, b. 1 February 1776. He began his business life as an apprentice hat maker with Thomas Buchanan (a relative of his mother?) in Glasgow and by 1801 had his own hat making business located between Brown Street and Carrick Street. Following the partnership with his brothers John and Archibald in 1807 he continued as a hat maker until 1816, the last year he appears in the Glasgow directory as such. From 1823 until 1857/58 he was described as an insurance broker. From 1807 until 1855 he continued to be a partner of J. T. and A. Douglas & Co., that being the last year the company appeared in the Glasgow directory . He married Rose Hunter of Greenock in May 1808, there being, apparently, no children of the marriage. He was a member of the Board of Green Cloth, a Glasgow whist and supper club from at least 1809 and in 1845 bought the Dunlop estate in Ayrshire, which was once owned by the Dunlop family his grandfather William Douglas had married into. He died in 1869 at Dunlop House, his wife Rosina pre- deceasing him. His inventory of assets totalled over £64,000 in Scotland and £176,000 in England, combined total being £241,600. Today this would equate to around £500m in terms of economic worth. In his trust settlement of 1867 he made several bequests to the families of his brothers, other family members, servants, farm hands and charitable institutions, however the most significant beneficiary was Thomas Dunlop Douglas Cunninghame Graham, who I believe was a nephew or great nephew, but not proven.
Archibald, b. 10 October 1778. Reliable information about Archibald has been difficult to get, however like his brothers he matriculated at Glasgow University in 1789. He clearly was a partner in the family business but rarely appeared in the Glasgow directory. There is an Archibald Douglas, stocking manufacturer, in the 1801 directory, becoming Archibald Douglas & Co, hosiers by 1807, thereafter no further entries. Similarly his personal life only becomes clear through his Trust settlement of 1860. In the Regality Club of Glasgow publications he is described as a merchant in 1811 and a member of Glasgow Golf Club in 1815. In addition to being a partner in J. T. and A. Douglas and Co. he was also a partner, with brother Neil, in Douglas, Brown and Co., cotton spinners. He purchased the estate of Glenfinnart in Argyllshire in 1845 where lived for the rest of his life. He died there in 1860 and it is in his Trust document that you get primary evidence that he married and had children. He married firstly Christina Riddell in 1810, then Harriet May in 1828, and finally Anna McNeill in 1838. There appears to be children only of the last marriage, namely John, a colonel and Assistant Adjutant General of Cavalry who was his executor and main beneficiary, and daughters Anna Glassford and Eleanor Louisa, who pre deceased him. His estate was valued at over £28,000.
James, b. 8 August 1779. Very little known about this brother except he seems to have lived and died in Demerara. The only evidence I have for that is that there is a reference to his death in the July-December 1853 issue of the Official Gazette for British Guiana concerning a share of the Good Hope plantation there being transferred to his brother Thomas Dunlop Douglas. In his sister Cecilia’s Trust deed of 1828 he is described as ‘of Demerara’ however it’s possible he may have returned to Glasgow on occasion as in his brother John’s will in 1840 he is described as a merchant in Glasgow. In his only entry in the Glasgow directory in 1850/51 he is described as a partner in the family company his house address given as 234 St Vincent Street. 
Colin, 25 November 1781. Matriculated at Glasgow University in 1793 and graduated M.D. in 1802. He is very likely to have died unmarried before 1828 as sister Cecilia does not mention him or any family of his in her Trust settlement of 1828
As Indicated previously John Douglas senior was a Glasgow merchant. Around 1775 he purchased from John Miller a plot of land in what became Miller Street. In the same year he and two other city merchants were charged by the Sheriff Depute of the County of Lanark, with ensuring that the Clyde from Dumbuck Ford to the Broomielaw had been deepened in accordance with the contract between Glasgow and a Mr. Goldburne, which was confirmed as seven feet at an ordinary neep tide!
What kind of merchant he was is not entirely clear as entries in the Glasgow directories don’t always specify. His first entry in the1783 John Tait directory simply says he was a merchant in Miller Street. However in the Jones directories in 1789 and 1790/91 the only John Douglas entry in each states he was a wine and rum merchant, located in Miller Street. Confusingly another source states he was the father of Sir Neil Douglas, which is correct, but then goes on to describe him as an insurance broker.
I have not been able to clearly identify when John Douglas died but it must have been after 1803, the date of his last entry in the Glasgow directory and before 1810, the date of his wife Cecilia’s death where she was described as the relict (widow) of merchant John Douglas.
J. T. and A. Douglas and Co.
The company lasted for just under fifty years, the final entry in the Glasgow directory being in 1854. Its main area of operation had been the sugar plantations it or the brothers owned in Demerara and Berbice in British Guiana. They had an involvement with at least six plantations Union, Better Hope, Enfield, Good Hope, Belmont and Windsor Forest either as owners or mortgagees which collectively had 1155 slaves. Additionally there were five more slaves presumably household for either John or James. When slavery was abolished they claimed compensation, eventually receiving as owners £41517 and a further £48874 from other owners which paid off the outstanding mortgage debt. The total of these sums, £90391, equate today to £392m in terms of economic power. That sum was in addition to the profits they made over the lifetime of the company, the majority of that time investing in human misery to their clear advantage. That misery erupted into a slave rebellion in Demerara in 1823 which was savagely put down by the military with hundreds of slaves killed, those who weren’t being sentenced to 1,000 lashes and hard labour.
Cecilia and Gilbert Douglas
Cecilia and Gilbert married in Glasgow on the 26th January 1794. There were no children of the marriage. As a farmer’s son Gilbert presumably spent his early working life on his father’s farm in Balcony, however there is not a great deal known about his subsequent business activities. At the time of his marriage he was described as a merchant in Glasgow but the usual sources to confirm that such as the city directories, the Merchants House and the Scottish Record Society records of burgesses etc, contain no reference to him. Nor is there any record of matriculating/graduating from the University. What is known is that at the time of his death he owned a cotton plantation called Fairfield in Demerara and a sugar plantation called Mount Pleasant, on the island of St. Vincent, where he had lived for a period. How and when he acquired them has not been discovered.
In 1800 he bought the Douglas Park estate from Major-General John Hamilton of Orbiston, following which he engaged architect Robert Burn to build a mansion on the site of the old Orbiston House based on plans apparently prepared in 1795. He also bought the estate of Boggs from Hamilton a year later. He and Cecilia lived there for the rest of their lives.
He died in 1807 at Douglas Park, his deed of settlement in St. Vincent naming Cecilia and her brothers as trustees of his estate. She specifically was bequeathed half shares in the two plantations as well as life rent of the Douglas Park and Boggs estates.
As it turned out the plantations had debts which Cecilia paid off by continuing to sell the Demerara produce for a time and eventually her half share in the plantation itself.
The remainder of Cecilia’s life does not reflect that of a typical Victorian lady. She travelled to Italy and lived there for an extended period, she purchased the estate of Orbiston, adjacent to her own and renamed the whole estate and house Orbiston, and she had a number of significant industrial and financial investments which included the Forth and Clyde Canal (£3536), the Bank of England (£7977) and various railway stocks (over £9700). She also retained her half share in the ownership of the St. Vincent plantation which had 231 slaves. When slavery was abolished in 1834 she claimed compensation and in 1836 was duly awarded £3014. She collected art in many different formats, paintings, sculptures, furniture and so on, the collection in due course being donated to Glasgow.
In December 1860 she came into the ownership of the Tontine building in Glasgow. The Tontine scheme in 1781 financed the reconstruction of the old Tontine Hotel creating what became known as the Tontine Building. Individual shares were purchased at £50 per share, there being a total of one hundred and seven shares sold. Two shares were bought in young Cecilia’s name one of which was by her grandfather William Douglas, the other by Glasgow merchant Alexander McCaul. The objective of the scheme, apart from having a grand civic building, was that the last living share holder would have ownership of it. That turned out to be Cecilia,although it was a close run thing as she was the oldest of four survivors in February of that year.
She died at home in 1862 in her ninety first year, essentially from old age. She left a personal estate valued at just over £40,365. In accordance with her Trust deed her bequests included family and a number of charities and organisations, and individual members of her domestic staff. In accordance with her husband’s Trust deed the Orbiston estate was left to his grandnephew Robert Douglas.
She and her husband are commemorated by a plaque on the wall of St. Bride’s Collegiate Church in Bothwell inscribed as follows:
To the memory of Gilbert Douglas of Douglas Park Born 28th May 1749 Died 10th March 1807 and also of Cecilia Douglas of Orbiston his wife Born 28th Feby 1772 Died 25th July 1862
Before her death she funded a window in Glasgow Cathedral dedicated to her husband and her parents and siblings, which was completed in October 1862, part of it being shown below.
In 2013 articles about the paintings bequest to Glasgow appeared in the Herald newspaper, one entitled “The Paintings Sullied by Slavery”. It goes into detail about the Cecilia Douglas fortune being founded on slavery and asks the inevitable question about whether paintings with their financial provenance should ever go on show. A complex question with no easy answer. The following are two telling and moving extracts referring to the conditions on the Douglas plantation in St. Vincent.
“Slavery conditions on the Mount Pleasant estate on St. Vincent were brutal.Large gangs of slaves would spend much of the day digging holes for the sugar cane and constantly weeding the plantation, with women not spared such physical labour.”
“The slaves die off because they are being worked in very difficult conditions very hard with inadequate nutrition.” 
It’s clear that the fortunes of the family of Cecilia Douglas, both paternal and maternal, came about, either directly or indirectly through the exploitation of African slaves, the extracts above indicating what little regard they had for the enslaved people creating their fortunes.
Glasgow generally has come late to the idea that slavery underpinned the city’s commerce from around the Act of Union to the mid 1800’s. This was a major ‘self-denial’ that persisted well into the twentieth century, the following, which was printed in the Herald in 1883, being typical of the mindset that existed until fairly recently..
“The American War of Independence finished the latter (the tobacco lords), but the trading instinct of Glasgow was not to be denied, and prompted no doubt by its favourable situation for the purpose, the merchants of Glasgow embarked largely in the West India (West Indies) trade. The other great sugar ports were London, Bristol and Liverpool, and it is to Glasgow’s lasting honour that while Bristol and Liverpool were up to the elbows in the slave trade Glasgow kept out of it. The reproach can never be levelled at our city, as it was at Liverpool, that there was not a stone in her streets that were not cemented with the blood of a slave.”
 Devine, T. M. An Eighteenth Century Business Elite: Glasgow West India Merchants etc. In : The Scottish Historical Review Vol 57, No. 168. Part 1 April 1978. pp. 40-67. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/27301
 Testamentary Records. Scotland. 22 January 1861. DOUGLAS, Archibald. Trust Deed of Settlement and Inventory. Dunoon Sheriff Court. SC51/32/11. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
This is another post that in part differs, in two respects, from what I write about normally. Firstly it’s about a company which brought benefit to Glasgow although it clearly includes the people involved in its creation. Secondly, strictly speaking, for a significant part of its early life Fairfield’s was not in Glasgow, being located in the burgh of Govan until 1912, when the burgh and others were annexed by Act of Parliament to Glasgow.
Steam powered ship building began on the Clyde when Henry Bell had the ‘Comet’ built by John Wood & Co. in Port Glasgow. The engines were supplied by John Robertson, the boiler and smoke-stack by David Napier, both of Glasgow. It was launched in 1812 and despite initial difficulties operated successfully until 1820. However Bell was not the first to prove that steam powered ships were the future.
Bell had been keenly interested in steam propulsion since the early 1800s having presented to the Admiralty Lords in 1803 a plan which proposed steam powered warships. In the event it was rejected as having no value, the sole supporter of his scheme being Lord Nelson. He shared his ideas with Robert Fulton, an American, who built the ‘Clermont’ in 1807 which on its maiden run on the Hudson River and subsequently, proved the viability of steam powered ships.
The genesis of Fairfield’s began with Charles Randolph in 1834. He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1822 at the age of thirteen, subsequently serving an engineering apprenticeship with Robert Napier at Camlachie. He was trained by David Elder, the father of John Elder, the key individual in the process that ended with the creation of Fairfield’s. On completing his apprenticeship he worked in Manchester for a time with Ormerod’s and then Fairbairn and Lillie.
He returned to Glasgow in 1834 and set up, Randolph and Co. (Millwrights), with his cousin Richard Cunliffe. The company’s engineering reputation grew as did their business and around 1838 John Elliot, previously a manager with Fairbairn and Lillie, became a partner in the business, the company then trading as Randolph, Elliot and Co.
The company continued to trade as such until 1852 when John Elder became a partner, the business renaming as Randolph, Elder and Co., John Elliot having died in 1842.
John Elder was born in 1824, the second son of David Elder and his wife Grace Gilroy. At the time of John’s birth father David was the manager of Robert Napier’s engineering works at Camlachie having held the post since 1821. He had been born near Kinross and came from a long line of wrights who had lived and worked in Fife and was to a very large extent self-educated, through reading and the observation of existing engineering machinery.
In 1822 David designed and built Napier’s first marine engine which was fitted to the steamer ‘Leven’. The tools used in the manufacture of the engine were primitive, however not only was the engine successful in operation the manufacturing experience led him to design tooling for milling, turning and boring that was much more accurate, speeding up the production process and producing a better quality of component which in turn helped improve the efficiency of the engines being built. David Elder worked for Napier’s until his death in 1866, his marine engineering skills and knowledge producing marine engines that, for example, led to the success of the Cunard line’s early transatlantic operations.
John Elder attended the High School in Glasgow, followed by classes at the university. He then served a five year apprenticeship with Robert Napier, his training directed by his father. His first occupation as a journeyman was with Hick’s of Bolton-le-Moors in Lancashire following which he was a draughtsman with Great Grimsby Docks. In 1848 he returned to Napier’s as their drawing office manager and chief draughtsman during which period he assisted his father with the engines built for Cunard referenced above. He remained with Napier’s until he formed his partnership with Charles Randolph.
Elder’s skill in marine engineering was very quickly put to use with the partnership moving into that field, firstly with engines and then with shipbuilding. Initially around 1853 Elder was concerned with improving engine efficiency. He endeavoured to reduce friction between moving parts which would increase power generation and reduce fuel consumption. Along with the utilization of James Watt’s idea of steam jacketing to reduce heat loss from cylinders he developed what came to be known as the compound steam engine, compound in the sense that the engine consisted of high pressure and low pressure cylinders. In modern parlance the use of these engines was a game changer for sea travel. Originally steam engines consumed around four to five pounds of coal per horsepower per hour. Elder’s compound engines brought coal consumption down to around two and a half pounds per horsepower per hour, an almost fifty percent reduction in fuel costs thereby significantly improving the economics of this form of travel and allowing longer sea journeys to be undertaken. The first vessel built by Randolph and Elder fitted with the compound engine was the ‘Brandon’ in 1854.
In ‘Memoir of John Elder’ by Professor Rankine of Glasgow University there is a list of fourteen patents taken out by Elder and Randolph individually or jointly, which detail the actual changes in engine concept and design. It’s perhaps worth remembering at this point that both Elder and Randolph had served apprenticeships with Robert Napier and had undergone their training directed by David Elder.
In 1857 John Elder married Isabella Ure, the daughter of Alexander Ure, writer, and Mary Ross. There were no children of the marriage. This partnership between John and Isabella subsequently benefited the people of Govan not only in terms of employment but in their enlightened outlook as to how their workforce and families should be treated and supported, more of which later.
The company continued to focus on engine development and manufacture until 1858 when in addition to their engine business they started to build iron ships in Govan. Their yard, known as the ‘ Old Yard’, had been previously owned by shipbuilders Macarthur and Alexander who had started building ships there in 1840. Two years later in 1842 Robert Napier commenced building iron ships in the yard staying there until 1858 when they moved to new premises.
The success of the partnership in both shipbuilding and engineering inevitably led them to seek larger and perhaps more appropriate premises for all their activity. Thus in 1863 sixty acres of the Fairfield estate were purchased, an added attraction to the site being the right to form a dock on the riverside. Sometime in 1864 the partnership began operating from their new premises.
Elder at various times had read various engineering papers to the British Association at Leeds, Aberdeen and Oxford. In 1868 he presented a paper to the United Services Institute entitled ‘Circular Ships of War’ which proposed steam powered warships with circular hulls.
The co-partnership between Randolph and Elder lasted until 1868 when Randolph and his original partner, his cousin Cunliffe, retired. By that time, the company had c.4000 employees and between 1852 and 1868 had built one hundred and eleven marine engines, one hundred and six of which were for their own shipbuilding activity. Additionally they built a number of sailing ships and three large floating docks for Java, Saigon and Callao (Peru). Customers for ships and/or engines included the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War who had five blockade runners built, the British Admiralty, Cunard and the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, all of whose ships were built by the company. One particular achievement was the trial in 1865 for the British Admiralty using HMS Constance which demonstrated the significant superiority of the company’s latest, fully jacketed compound engine over the then standard design of marine engines. However it seems the Admiralty, at least initially, considered the compound engine to be too ‘novel’ for them to use in their ships. Shades of Bell’s experience in 1803.
When he retired Randolph had still retained an interest in Clyde shipping particularly challenging the plans of the Navigation Trust for further development of the Clyde which he felt were insufficient. As a trustee he played an important part in the construction of the Queen’s Dock at Stobcross.
He died in Glasgow in 1878 leaving £60,000 to Glasgow University to complete the Bute Hall. Its ante chamber and the south staircase were named in his honour.
Subsequent to Randolph’s retiral the company was simply referred to as ‘John Elder’. He continued to expand the business building a new engine works, a boiler shop, a floating dock and repair slipway. During 1869 Elder built fourteen steamships and three sailing ships, total tonnage amounting to 25,235, thus maintaining the business‘s reputation as the most successful shipbuilding and engineering business on the Clyde with a world-wide reputation. To give some perspective to these numbers the next best yard on the Clyde produced ships totalling 13,425 tons. In April 1869 his peers recognized his pre-eminence in the industry by electing him president of the Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders of Glasgow.
However at some time during the year Elder became seriously ill which initially caused him to go to Harrogate for the ‘benefit of its waters’. This provided no solution to the problem. He then travelled to London to get the best possible medical assistance. Unfortunately, this was to no avail as he died on the 17th September from liver disease. His body came back to Scotland and he was interred in the Glasgow Necropolis. Isabella was his executrix, his estate being valued at £188,000, and became the sole proprietor of the company.
She ran the company for around nine months before handing over the running of the business to a new partnership consisting of her brother John Francis Ure, John Jamieson and William Pearce.
From 1852 her brother John had worked for the Clyde Navigation Trust and was the thinking behind the creation of Mavis Bank Quay, the widening and deepening of sections of the river to accommodate the larger ships he foresaw, had designed a dredger for the work, and had planned the Finnieston Crane. His success with the Clyde improvements led to him being recruited in 1859 by the Tyne Conservancy Trust who were keen for the river Tyne to be improved in a similar manner. Again he was very successful. He removed the bars at the river mouth, removed shoals, widened and deepened the river as required and designed the Newcastle Swing Bridge which opened in 1876. He became senior partner in Isabella’s company in 1870, its name subsequently becoming John Elder and Co. in honour of her husband.
John Jamieson became the engineering partner having previously been general manager of the company, with William Pearce becoming the shipbuilding partner.
Pearce was born in Kent in 1833 and trained as a shipwright/naval architect at the Royal Navy Chatham Dockyard. Such was his ability in 1861 he supervised the building of HMS Achilles, the first iron clad warship to be built in a naval dockyard. He married in January of the same year Dinah Elizabeth Socoter (or Sowter). They had one son; William George Pearce born in Chatham in July 1861.
He moved to Glasgow in 1863 becoming Lloyd’s surveyor of ships built on the Clyde. Within the year he became general manager of Robert Napier’s, the role John Elder had prior to joining with Charles Randolph. He proved to be the most significant partner of the three taking the business forward both in terms of ship building and the associated engineering, ultimately leading to the creation of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company.
The new partnership had substantial markets to provide for and to grow. They did this by continuing to apply engineering innovation to their activity, and, in a sense, powerful advertising by claiming and proving their ships were ahead of the competition.
In 1874 A.C. Kirk of the company improved Elder’s compound engine further by developing the triple expansion engine which became the power source of choice for world shipping thereafter. Pearce also introduced a sense of competition between his ships and those of his competitors. He promoted the idea of the Blue Riband for transatlantic crossings, claiming his ships would complete the crossings quicker and would break all records, which they did. This led to a number of new orders from the likes of Cunard and Nord Deutscher Lloyd. Similarly the ships that were built for the cross channel route between Dover and Calais were guaranteed to cover the trip in one hour. The company also was concerned to grow its navy business, which they did as orders grew generally to counter the growth in the German navy fleet.
The partnership lasted until 1878 at which point Ure and Jamieson retired leaving Pearce in sole charge of the business. At that point John Elder & Co. occupied over seventy acres and employed around 5,000 workers. It was one of the most prominent ship builders in the world, building for the world’s largest shipping companies. Pearce was also a shareholder in some of these companies and was chairman of the Scottish Oriental Steamship Company and the Guion Steamship Company.
He had political ambitions and in April 1880 had stood as Conservative candidate for one of the three Glasgow seats. Although he polled over eleven thousand votes he came fourth in the list and was not elected. In May 1885 the Glasgow Herald reported that he was invited by the Lanarkshire Conservative Association to stand as their candidate for Govan in the parliamentary elections to be held later in the year. His response given on the 2nd July was to be pleased at the invitation but felt he could not accept it as Govan was essentially working class and he would have to have some evidence that his candidature would be acceptable to the working men of Govan before he did. It seems he was in demand to be a conservative candidate as on the 23rd July it was reported that the West Ham Association was going to ask him to be theirs. In the event the Herald reported on the 12th September that he formally accepted Govan’s invitation to stand in the election. Whether he got any of the assurances he referred to earlier is not clear.
The election took place on the 4th December, Pearce beating his Liberal opponent Bennet Burleigh by one hundred and fifty five votes. In July 1886 there was another election with Pearce winning Govan again this time with an increased majority of three hundred and sixty two.
The business had continued to be known as ‘John Elder & Co. however in 1886 Pearce converted it into a private limited liability company to be known as the ‘Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company’, the objective being to help ensure Navy work being placed in the yard, notwithstanding his new parliamentary position. Thus Fairfield’s was formally established.
Pearce’s time with Elder’s/Fairfield’s was very successful in terms of output, customer base, growth and innovation. The business’s reputation for excellence and the quality of its output was renowned throughout the shipping industry, with some shippers buying entire fleets from the company, one example being Nord Deutscher Lloyd’s Atlantic fleet.
During his eighteen years with the business over 450,000 tons of ships were built. He promoted the idea of a steamship capable of crossing the Atlantic in less than five days, a model of which was shown at the Glasgow Exhibition in 1888. Other notable achievements were the building of a 5,000 ton Atlantic liner in ninety eight working days, bringing the sea journeys to Australia and New Zealand to less than forty days with efficient, well designed ships, and for the military, building a dozen troop carriers, including a hospital ship, for use on the Nile at the end of the Sudan War, all built in less than thirty days. A number of modern warships were also built for the Royal Navy the last in Pearce’s time being HMS Marathon, launched in 1888.
An unusual commission was building the yacht Livadia for the Emperor of Russia to the design of a Russian Navy admiral which specified it to be capable of a specific speed. Despite it being described as an ungainly craft, which caused many shipbuilders to believe the specification could not be achieved, this objective was met.
Pearce also took part in the broader community activity being a Govan Burgh police commissioner; a captain in the 25th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteer Corp from 1874 to 1878, becoming an honorary colonel of the Second Volunteer Battalion Highland Light Infantry; Provincial Grand Master of Glasgow; Justice of the Peace, and Deputy Lieutenant of the county of Lanark. He provided the funds for the building of a lodge for Glasgow University in University Avenue, the material coming from the gateway of the Old College in High Street which was being demolished to make way for a railway goods yard. The lodge, named the Pearce Lodge, built between 1885 and 1888, includes a stone panel bearing the date 1658 and another with the initials CR2, following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
He also served in a number of Royal Commissions dealing with shipping.
One rather unsavoury event occurred on the 12th August 1885. Two days after Elder Park was opened on 29th June Mrs Elder had a visitor by the name of Francis. He was an inspector of customs in Glasgow and wished to discuss a private matter with her. She was unable to do so at that time and arranged to see him the next day. She did not know him but was aware of a Miss Francis whom William Pearce had mentioned to her about two years before. When Francis appeared he was clearly upset and told a story of improper relations between Pearce and his daughter. He also asked Mrs Elder to see his wife to discuss the issue. She declined indicating that it was not something she could get involved with. Mrs Francis however came anyway and asked her to intercede in the matter and to persuade her husband not to assault Pearce which apparently he had intended to do at the opening of the park. Consequentially Mrs Elder did see Mr Francis again who reluctantly agreed not pursue Pearce.
That however was not the end of the matter. On the 11th August a letter arrived from Mrs Francis asking if she could see Mrs Elder in her London hotel. In the event Mrs Elder was unwell, had not travelled to London and therefore sent her card to Mrs Francis.
On the following day Pearce was assaulted by Francis who called him a scoundrel and seducer. The assault was reported in the Pall Mall Gazette initially without naming the individuals involved merely describing them as a customs official and a royal commissioner, Pearce had just been appointed to a commission on trade. The next day’s Gazette contained a full account of the assault with interviews of Pearce and Francis included.
The rest of the story is rather convoluted but oddly enough, unjustly, Mrs Elder got the blame for it going public, her card sent to Mrs Francis being described as several letters in the press. This led to Pearce’s wife cutting the ties she had with Mrs Elder and her charity activity.
Pearce continued to plead his innocence, however he eventually told Mrs Elder that for a number of years previous he had being paying Mrs and Miss Francis sums of money amounting to £1200. He also told her that he was willing to pay Miss Francis £200 per year and £5000 on her marrying and asked her if she would negotiate such a settlement and pay the money in her name as he did not want his name connected with the payment. When asked why, if he was innocent, he wanted to do this, he repeated his innocence and essentially said he wanted to help the young woman involved. Mrs Elder declined. Miss Francis, who had sent Pearce a number of love letters since around 1883, eventually married, the whole issue quietly subsiding, or if you prefer, hushed up.
In July of 1887, in Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee honours list, he was made a baronet, becoming Sir William Pearce of Cardell, in Renfrewshire.
His time as a baronet unfortunately was not long. He died in the December of the following year in London of heart disease, general opinion being that his heart problems had been the result of the stresses and strains of his business and public lives. He was interred Gillingham, Kent and a memorial by architects Honeyman and Keppie erected in Craigton Cemetery, Govan. He left over £1million, his son William George succeeding to the title and becoming chairman of Fairfield’s. He married Caroline Eva Coote in 1905, but died without issue two years later at the age of forty six, the baronetcy ending with him.
In the early 1890’s Lady Pearce gifted to the people of Govan a piece of land at the gushet between Burleigh Street and Govan Road the plan being to erect a statue there of Pearce funded by public subscription. In due course the statue, standing three metres tall and sculpted by Edward Onslow Ford, was unveiled on the 6th October 1894 by Lord Kelvin in the presence of Lady Pearce, her son Sir William George Pearce and various other dignitaries. The statute was and probably still is, referred to as the ‘black man’ and I used to wonder why it was called that. I think I was in my teens before I realised it was dirt on the statue from years of domestic coal fires and industrial pollution.
Around 1892 the idea of a memorial building was being considered but was not proceeded with. However in 1901 began the build of what became the Pearce Institute in Govan Road, opposite his statue. This was a gift to the working people of Govan from Lady Pearce to commemorate her husband. The architect was Robert Rowand Anderson who in the early 1880s had designed Govan Old Parish Church and in 1892 the first proposed building.
It was opened in 1906 offering a number of facilities for the men, woman and children of Govan including clubs, reading rooms, a library, gymnasium and much more. It included a theatre called the McLeod Hall named after the minister of the Old Parish Church which had a stage and an organ which became much used for dances and other social gatherings.
On entering the Institute is the following greeting:
“ This is a House of Friendship. This is a House of Service. For Families. For Lonely Folk. For the people of Govan. For the Strangers of the World. Welcome.”
In summary Fairfield’s owed its existence to four individuals David Elder, son John, Charles Randolph and William Pearce. They had a lot in common in terms of their engineering and shipbuilding skills. Additionally they all had the foresight to see the opportunities for building steam powered ships on the Clyde. However there is one other common factor that should be mentioned and that is at one time or another they all worked for Robert Napier’s.
John and Isabell Elder also brought significant social improvement to the burgh, not only through employment but by various other means.
John had very good relations with his workforce and had great concern about their well-being physically, morally and intellectually. One of the first actions he undertook was the establishment of an accident fund to which he contributed monthly, the amount being equal to what his employees raised themselves. The combined annual sum was in the region of £1,000, worth today in simple RPI terms £100,000.
He had plans to build five schools for his worker’s children and also had well advanced plans for the building of houses for his workers. His untimely death prevented any of these ideas being carried out.
Isabella was like minded both in terms of the people of Govan and in particularly the education of women. Her charitable activities are almost too numerous to mention but listed below are some of the major ones.
The creation of the John Elder Chair of Naval Architecture at Glasgow University – 1883
Bursaries for working boys to study marine engineering at the University.
Purchased North Park house and presented it to Queen Margaret College for Women rent free – 1883.
Bought 37 acres of land opposite her husband’s shipyard and created Elder Park. The architect John Honeyman designed it, and it was opened by the Earl of Rosebery, future Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister – 1885.
She funded the establishment of a school and paid its running costs, for domestic economy aimed at young women who were taught to cook and run a household – 1885.
When Queen Margaret College opened a medical school she funded its running expenses – 1890. First female graduates were in 1894. A key condition of the funding was that the standard of teaching would be the same as that for men. When in 1899 she came to the view that the condition was not being met she withheld her financial support until it was.
Funded the build of the Elder Cottage Hospital in memory of her husband. It was intended as a maternity hospital but on opening it became a general hospital instead. The architect was Sir J.J. Burnett. – 1902.
Gifted the Elder Park library to the people of Govan. It was designed by Sir J.J. Burnet and opened by Andrew Carnegie. She gave £10,000 for the build of the library and the purchase of books, and £17,000 for its upkeep. One condition was attached, that being that the library was to be open on Sundays – 1903.
In her will she set up the Ure Elder Fund for Indigent Widows of Govan and Glasgow in memory of her brother and her husband – 1906. The fund continues to exist in a more modern style and is known as the Ure Elder Trust. She also established the David Elder lectures in Astronomy at the Glasgow Technical College, now part of Strathclyde University. The lectures are now given at the Glasgow Science Centre in partnership with the university.
Isabella was awarded an honorary LL.D by Glasgow University in 1901 as a recognition of all her activity and generosity associated with the education of women. She died in 1905 at her home in Claremont Terrace, her death being certified by Dr. Marion Gilchrist, Glasgow’s first woman graduate. She is interred with her husband in the Necropolis.
Elder Park has statues of Isabella and John both funded by public subscription. His was erected in 1888 and was sculpted by Sir J.E. Boehm, Isabella’s was erected in 1906 and was sculpted by Archibald Macfarlane Shannon.
The gifts of the park, library and hospitals were certainly in keeping with both Elder’s social conscience. It’s perhaps difficult to convey today what they meant to the people of Govan, however hopefully my own experiences will give some idea of how beneficial these gifts were.
As a child I went to the park, played in the sandy hole, and on the swings and roundabout. I paddled in the pond, the ‘parkie’ giving me a telling off, and on another occasion I fell in, thus making me a true Govanite. I also watched the model yacht men sail their yachts in the pond. I played hide and seek in the shrubs and bushes with my friends. When older I played tennis in the courts there and putting on the putting green. I was a junior member of the library and in due course became a senior member. Sometimes I did my school homework in the reference library. I also remember visiting my mum when she was a patient in the Elder Cottage Hospital.
Brotchie, T.C.F. The History of Govan. Govan, 1905.
McAlpine, Joan The Lady of Claremont. Glendaruel, 1997.
Rankine, William J.M. A Memoir of John Elder. Glasgow, 1883.
Dalglish, Chris and Driscoll, Stephen T. Historic Govan. Glasgow, 2009.
Murphy, William S. Captains of Industry. Glasgow, 1901.
This is another departure from normally writing about individuals who have benefited Glasgow in some way although some of our benefactors used dubious and unacceptable means to do so, the tobacco lords being a clear example of that through their exploitation of slavery in the American Colonies, and in some cases, the ownership of enslaved Africans.
Organisations also brought benefit to the city, one such being the Glasgow Art Club which was founded in 1867, the founding members being William Dennistoun, Duncan McLaurin, Robert Munro, William Young, James Leslie, Peter S. Buchanan, Robert McEwan, David Murray, Robert Tennant, Hugh Breckenridge and James Cowan although it is generally accepted that the key individual in the club’s formation was William Dennistoun.
My objective in this post is give some biographical notes on William Dennistoun and to relate some of the club’s history.
Dennistoun is a surname, the origins of which, can be traced back to the 11th century. More recent Dennistouns have included those of Colgrain, Dennistoun and Golfhill, Alexander Dennistoun of that ilk being the founder of the suburb of Glasgow named after him.
I initially believed that William Dennistoun belonged to the Colgrain branch, however that proved to be an uncertain, probably false trail and I have not been able subsequently to establish which branch of the family he belonged to.
However this much is known. His paternal grandfather, also William, married Agnes Baird in 1780. She was the daughter of James Baird of Cadder and Margaret Henderson of Cumbernauld. William and Agnes had seven children, Agnes, Mary, Janet, James, John, Christian, and the last born, Ebenezer, in 1798 in the Barony parish, was the father of William.
His maternal grandfather was William Burns born in 1781, the son of John Burns, a weaver from Kilsyth, and Isabel Muir, the daughter of agricultural labourer George Muir of Barony parish. William Burns married Mary Adam in 1808 and had eight children, four girls and four boys. The eldest girl and their second child Elizabeth, born in 1811, was William’s mother.
Ebenezer Dennistoun married twice, his first wife, in 1828, being Jean McNicol, Ebenezer’s occupation given as clerk. They had two children, a boy named William, born in 1829, and a girl named Jean Galbraith. Sometime after daughter Jean’s birth in 1831, his wife died, when has not been established. It also seems that daughter Jean died as an infant although again no date of death has been found. As for son William he died in 1837, cause of death being given as “water in head”.
Ebenezer married Elizabeth Burns in 1834, his occupation being given as wright. They had eight children, James, Elizabeth, William, the subject of this report who was born in 1839, Agnes Baird, an unnamed female child who was still born in 1842, Jean Burns, Mary and Janet. Three of the girls, Agnes, Mary and Janet all died between two and five years of age, Mary dying on the same day as her mother Elizabeth in June 1851, pulmonary tuberculosis and tabes mesenterica (a form of tuberculosis affecting lymph nodes) being the respective causes of death.
The family in 1841 consisting of Ebenezer, Elizabeth and children James, Elizabeth, William and two month old Agnes, were living in North Portland Street in Glasgow, Ebenezer still working as a wright. In 1851 he was an employer of three men and described as a wood merchant, his place of business being 29 Jackson Street. What caused the transition from employee to employer? Perhaps the answer lies with the previous business that was located at 29 Jackson Street, John Bannerman and Sons.
John Bannerman started out as a joiner in the High Street around 1803, brought his sons into the business circa 1821, subsequently identifying themselves as trunk and packing case makers located at 53 Candleriggs. In 1838 the business moved to 29 Jackson Street, describing itself as wrights and timber merchants, continuing however to carry out trunk making in the Candleriggs. It seems possible therefore that Ebenezer was employed by them as a wright at least from that date, or perhaps just before. What gives that credence is that Bannerman’s last entry in the Glasgow Directory was in 1848-49, the following year the directory entry at that address was for Ebenezer as a timber merchant.
This change, presumably improving the family’s financial situation, did not result in the family moving from North Portland Street. There were three additional girls in the family by 1851, Jean, Mary and Janet, however as related above daughter Agnes had died in infancy in 1843 age two. Sister Janet died in 1854 at the age of five. Ebenezer continued as a timber merchant until 1856, the last year he appeared in the Glasgow Directory. In the 1861 census his occupation was given as ‘shipping clerk’.
Ebenezer died in 1863 at his then home 49 Duke Street, cause of death given as phthisis (pulmonary tuberculosis), which is what his wife Elizabeth had died from. The family clearly had a disposition for this particular illness, one which in due course would also cause William serious difficulty and eventually shorten his life.
It has not been established where William attended school however he began to attend classes at the Mechanics Institute given by A.D. Robertson, subsequently going to the Glasgow School of Art in Ingram Street, which had started life in 1845 as the Glasgow Government School of Design. He and his friends had the benefit of being tutored by Robert Greenlees, an artist of exceptional skill in both watercolour and oil. Greenlees became head of the school in 1863 and was a founder member of the Royal Society of Watercolourists.
The origins of the Art Club lie in Dennistoun’s desire to join with his like-minded friends to discuss, compare and share artistic skills and knowledge. The first manifestation of this was the forming of the George Street Literary and Artists Association in 1853 with James Cowan who was just over a year older, then shortly afterwards, including Cowan’s cousin Robert Cowan and William Watson. The association lasted until 1857, its membership never exceeding the four original members. Shortly afterwards Dennistoun had to quit Glasgow due to health issues which plagued him for the rest of his life, moving to Old Kilpatrick.
Around 1858/1859, he became apprenticed to architect James Salmon, in the 1861 census being described as an architectural draughtsman. Looking at his later church paintings his architectural training is clearly evident by his clear and precise representation of the interiors of church buildings.
In due course some of Denniston’s circle of friends began to meet at his home in Old Kilpatrick to discuss and share their artistic experiences and to sketch, in particular James Cowan and William Young. These gatherings grew, with some being held in Mrs Black’s coffee house at 35 Candleriggs in Glasgow. These meetings were the catalyst for the eventual formation of the Art Club.
James Cowan’s son, also James and known as ‘Peter Prowler’ of the Glasgow Evening Citizen, wrote in 1936 about the Art Club and its creation. In his article he related the story of the genesis of the club, identifying the founders, his father being one but refraining from mentioning that fact. It also included an image of Dennistoun’s residence in Stark’s Land in Old Kilpatrick, and indicating the room in which the seeds of the club germinated.
Although a frequent visitor to Old Kilpatrick James Cowan managed to miss the two meetings the first of which discussed the setting up of the club, the second during which it was agreed to established it. Apparently they coincided with his courting nights with his lady friend Miss Catherine Boyd, whom he subsequently married. Those who were present however considered that Cowan, and David Murray, who had also missed the meetings, were present and deemed them founder members. At the last of these meetings Dennistoun became the first president of the club, William Young being chosen as the secretary and treasurer.
The first formal monthly meeting took place on the 30th November 1867, held in the Waverley Temperance Hotel at 185 Buchanan Street. The initial cost of membership was two shillings and sixpence which defrayed the costs of tea and cake and the expenses involved in setting up the club. For some time after monthly costs per member amounted to four and a half pence with the room costs being two shillings per meeting.
Initially the members of the club would contribute drawings to a portfolio which would be circulated and critiqued at the monthly meetings, apparently with some vigour and no holds barred. Their first entry into the Glasgow Post Office Directory stated that the club’s objective was ‘the study of art, which is promoted by the circulation monthly among its members of a book of original sketches, and by criticism thereon, and by conversations and readings of essays on subjects connected with art.’ As membership grew that activity became impractical and was discontinued after seven years, at which time in 1873 the club held its first annual exhibition of members work in McClure’s gallery in Gordon Street. In 1876 the directory entry now stated that the club’s objective was ‘the study and advancement of art in Glasgow and the West of Scotland’. This was to be achieved through life and sketching classes and an annual exhibition of works by its members.
The club’s second exhibition in 1874 was held in John Fisher’s gallery in Renfield Street and according to an article in the Glasgow Herald of the 1st December the one hundred and thirty one paintings on display generally were an improvement on the previous year, the writer stating that ‘there is, on the whole, abundant evidence of the fine feeling and skilful handling of the true artist’. However, in a rather odd article in the Herald a few weeks before, (17th October) the writer, whilst reviewing an art exhibition held by the Liverpool Art Club, bemoaned the fact that there was no similar club in Glasgow to hold such exhibitions!
In the 1875 exhibition Dennistoun’s painting ‘The Choir, Antwerp Cathedral’ was described as being ‘remarkable for delicate colouring and the skilful combination of the graceful lines and curves of the interior’.Again in 1876, the exhibition this time being held in Annan’s gallery in Sauchiehall Street, Dennistoun’s watercolour of ‘Duomo, Genoa’ (Genoa Cathedral) was described as excellent. The sale of paintings at this exhibition amounted to £1,900, equivalent to an income of £1.5m today.
What of Dennistoun’s personal life during this time. I’m not entirely sure when his sister Elizabeth joined him in Old Kilpatrick, probably after their father’s death in 1863, but certainly he, and most likely Elizabeth, was there in 1865, occupying part of a house owned by cabinet maker Alexander Stark. His aspirations of being an architect were clearly set aside because of his health problems, possibly around 1861/62. In the 1871 census he and his sister were still living there at 17 Mount Pleasant Place, his occupation given as a landscape artist.
Despite moving away from Glasgow’s industrial pollution he continued to suffer ill health which was causing concern and necessitated a move to a more forgiving climate. In 1872 he made a will naming Elizabeth as executor  and late in 1874 as they were about to leave Scotland for Italy, the Art Club members raised a testimonial of £100 for him. By 1875 he and Elizabeth were living in Capri at the Villa Frederico.
Between 1867 and 1876 the club meetings had been held in a variety of premises, the second and third of which were the Waverley Hotel and the Windsor Hotel, both located in Sauchiehall Street. In 1877 they then held their meetings in the Royal George Hotel in George Square. This peripatetic existence was not deemed satisfactory by the membership and in 1878/79 they were able to lease premises from the Scottish Heritable Securities Company at 62 Bothwell Circus, which became their permanent club house for the next seven years, after which they moved to 151 Bath Street in 1886.
What of William, and Elizabeth in Capri? It’s clear he continued to paint, and travel particularly within Italy, painting church buildings both interior and exterior, as demonstrated by watercolours from Rome, Sienna, Genoa and Venice. After some time in Capri he and Elizabeth moved to the Dorsoduro quarter of Venice where they lived at Casa Borghi, 1393 Zattere, (which appropriately translates as rafts in Italian) the promenade which runs along the north side of the Giudecca Canal.
Dennistoun was in good artistic company as that area of Venice in the 19th century attracted a number of artists. John Ruskin was there on several occasions, the first in 1835, the last ‘working’ visit being in1876 when he spent his time revising and updating his three volume history of the architecture of Venice, ‘The Stones of Venice’ which had been published between 1851 and 1853. John Singer Sargent the portrait painter, as he was then, was in Venice in 1881 where he met James Whistler who had been there since late 1879 working on his commission from the Fine Art Society of London to produce etchings of Venice.
Like Ruskin, Sargent visited Venice on several occasions. In circa 1882 he produced an oil painting of Venetian glass workers, in 1904 a watercolour of San Maria Salute, a so called plague church located in Zattere, and in 1907 he painted another watercolour of ships on the Giudecca Canal.
Whilst the Dennistouns were in Venice the Art Club continued to grow despite which, balancing it finances became more and more difficult. Various ideas had been and were proposed to remedy this, the most significant one and perhaps the most controversial, was the proposal to admit lay members. It had first been mooted in 1881 when it got short shrift from the members. As time went on however and the financial situation became more precarious the membership was at last persuaded to admit non artists to their number circa 1885/86. It was not unanimous however with a sizable minority firmly against the idea, the general committee vote being seventeen in favour with nine against. One key founder member who was against lay membership was Dennistoun’s long standing friend James Cowan. He had been its third president in 1870 and was again elected as such in 1878 and at various other times been treasurer or secretary. He generally acted as club manager throughout his period of membership and latterly, when lay membership was agreed, he became honorary treasurer.
Initially it was intended that no more than fifty lay members would be admitted. That did not last long with the number rising to one hundred and then one hundred and fifty. Clearly a very successful change for the club which along with the production of a Souvenir Book of Sketches brought significant financial stability.
Regarding the Sketch Book, it was published in 1881 and contained forty eight sketches which included contributions from six of the founding members, those missing being Dennistoun, James Leslie, Robert Tennant and Hugh Breckinridge.
An interesting aside perhaps is that the club could have had its first lady artist member as early as 1869 when Jemima Blackburn sent in a letter applying for membership. She had signed the letter ‘JB’ and the absence of any further information (gender?) led to the matter being deferred, although it was noted that the letter was ‘in a feminine hand’. She was the wife of Hugh Blackburn, professor of mathematics at Glasgow University and the daughter of James Wedderburn, one time Solicitor General of Scotland, who had died six months before Jemima was born. She was a noted wild-life artist, particularly of birds and had friendships with John Ruskin, Landseer and Beatrix Potter. She had exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848, had published her book of bird illustrations in 1868, a copy of which was presented to the Zoological Society of London. In other words a very talented artist who was recognised as such by her renowned male contemporaries. The club’s lack of response was to have disappointing consequences.
Two years after receiving her letter the club secretary replied asking her to give three examples of her work if she still wished to join the club. In the event she felt unable to do so at that time as she was not a frequent visitor to town and could not live up to membership obligations. The club’s lack of response was clearly to blame for this situation. Was this because it did not have a view of the broader artistic community and could not see beyond its own boundaries? Was there no member, all artists, who had ever heard of JB? Whatever the reason, it shows the club in a rather parochial light, however it was also in keeping with the male centric view of life that pervaded all organisations of the day, always assuming that they understood the applicant was a woman. A near miss, may very well have been the general view of the membership. One hundred years later in 1983 females were allowed to become members.
In 1886 another book of sketches by members, now numbering sixty four, entitled ‘The Glasgow Art Club Book,1885’, was produced, containing sixty two photo gravure images of the sketches taken by T & R Annan. Of the club’s founding members six of the seven who contributed to the 1881 volume did so again the non-contributor being Robert McEwan. The club’s stature continued to grow and in 1888 an album of watercolours by club members was presented by the Lord Provost of Glasgow Sir James King to the Prince and Princess of Wales when they opened the International Exhibition in the city on the 8th May of that year.
The years since the Dennistouns had moved to Italy had seen the club transform from what was essentially a rather inward looking sketching and art discussion group to one which had broadened its objectives, changed its demographic to include non-artists, gave annual exhibitions, the first two of which were held with Dennistoun still living in Old Kilpatrick. Generally it became more inclusive, apart from female membership, and looked beyond themselves to support and promote art in the wider community.
During this period of change for the club the Dennistouns continued to live in Venice with William producing paintings of Venetian scenes, probably of mainly ecclesiastical subjects, in which his training in architectural drawing would be well demonstrated.
Unfortunately, that was not to last. His health issues returned with a vengeance and after two months of illness William died on the 24th October 1884, ten years after he left Scotland. The Venetian Register of Daily Deaths recorded his death as follows; “Deceased twenty fourth October 1884, at twelve o’clock, Dorsoduro in the parish of San Trovaso, William Dennistoun – born Glasgow, age 45 years, of married parents, Protestant, professional artist, well to do, a bachelor, cause of death pulmonary tuberculosis, length of illness two months.”
William was buried on Isola San Michele, Venice’s cemetery island in the section reserved for Protestants and Evangelicals, Recinto Evangelico, which lies adjacent to those for Greek and Military burials. He is in good company in that Ezra Pound (poet), Stravinsky (composer), Brodsky (poet), Diaghilev (Ballet Russes) all, in a sense, lie beside him. There is one other more recent individual also buried there with no connection to the arts in any way. Some people might argue otherwise however. Football has often been described as ‘the beautiful game’, if so then Helenio Herrera the very successful Argentine manager of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and latterly Inter Milan is in appropriate company, being buried there in 1977.
William Dennistoun’s headstone, rather broken and bruised was still in place in 2013, being sketched then by artist club member Richard Norman after cleaning arranged by fellow member Donald Macaskill. An inventory of his estate was undertaken on behalf of his sister Elizabeth and presented to Archibald Robertson J.P. in Edinburgh Sheriff Court on the 29th December 1884 by Thomas Young of the Bank of Scotland. It was valued at just over £835, in today’s terms worth somewhere between £88,000 and £1.5m, dependant on what measure is applied. Elizabeth was the executrix and sole beneficiary.
What of his presumably best and longest friends James Cowan and William Young?
James was born in 1838  and married Catherine Boyd in 1872. Unlike some of his co-founders he did not pursue an artistic career but was a drysalter from around 1867 for most of his working life. His place of business was initially at 72 Virginia Street then at 17 Virginia Street in partnership with James Drysdale from 1873 until 1898. He had sketched and painted from a very early age particularly flowers and landscapes, continuing to do so for the rest of his life and exhibiting at the club’s annual displays. A number of his paintings generally found their way to friends. In later life he typically used a palette knife or spatula when painting in oil rather than a brush. He died in 1906, Catherine having pre-deceased him in 1883, age thirty, leaving him with five children, the oldest ten, the youngest three months.
William Young was born in the village of Catrine, Ayrshire in 1845. The family moved to Glasgow in 1857 when his father took up a position with the Royal Bank in Exchange Square. He attended school in the Gallowgate and then John Street. In 1862 he started work as a clerk before joining the Royal Bank in Exchange Square, becoming in due course a teller. He also pursued studies in art learning from Robert Greenlees and A.D. Robertson at the same time as Dennistoun. He became a professional artist around 1878, his particular interest being the painting of Scottish landscapes. In 1880 he became a member of the RSW where he exhibited his work from time to time. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy and the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts where, in 1894, he organised the Old Glasgow Exhibition. His other interests included Glasgow archaeology, photography and music. He died unmarried in 1916 at his home in Hillhead.
One other founder member worthy of a mention, although in a sense they all are, is David Murray. Some sources have him being born to shoemaker James Murray in January 1849, which I have been unable to verify exactly. In the 1851 census however he is listed, age two, as the son of shoemaker James, the family living in Thistle Street in the Gorbals.
In 1861 the family were living at Park Place in the parish of Govan, his father employing six men. David worked initially for two mercantile companies, at what is not clear, however in the 1871 census he is described as a book-keeper accountant. During this time he also attended the Glasgow School of Art night classes, studying under Robert Greenlees, in due course, in around 1875, becoming a full time artist his particular genre being landscapes. He was elected to the RSW in 1878 and became an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1881, moving to London the following year where he lived at 1 Langham Chambers in Portland Place for the rest of his life. He became an Associate of the RA in 1891 and a full member in 1905.
In 1916 he became president of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, a position he held until the end of his life. The following year he was knighted. In 1933 he exhibited six landscapes in the RA exhibition in May. That was to be his final public act as he died unmarried at Portland Place on the 14th November later that year and was interred at Putney Vale cemetery. His estate was valued at £58,815.
Elizabeth eventually returned to Scotland however at what date is not clear. There is an unmarried Elizabeth Dennistoun living on her own means at 108 North Hanover Street in Glasgow as recorded in the 1901 census, and again in the 1911 census. In both cases her age given indicates she was born c.1836/37 in Glasgow which matches Elizabeth’s birth date of the 11th March 1837, in Glasgow.
It’s circumstantial that this is William’s sister especially as she can’t be found in the Valuation Rolls for 1915 and 1920 at this address, nor can she be found at 17 Battlefield Gardens for those dates which is where she died in 1923.
It seems likely therefore that if the Elizabeth Dennistoun of North Hanover street was William’s sister she was lodging with someone, which appears to have been the case, her Trust Deed indicating that she was staying with a Mrs Marion Stewart at 17 Battlefield Gardens in 1916. Three codicils to the Deed dated 1918, 1922 and January 1923 confirm her continuing to live there until her death. Still circumstantial but perhaps moving from unlikely/maybe to becoming possible/probable.
She died on the 26th May 1923, cause of death recorded as senile debility. Her estate was valued at £2603, the main family beneficiary being her niece Agnes. Others were Mrs Stewart, her nephew Charles and her original executor William Davidson Main, who was left two paintings by her brother William: ‘Pisano’s Pulpit’, watercolour, and ‘Cathedral Interior’, oil, both of Sienna Cathedral.
Over time a number of Dennistoun ‘artefacts’ have been gifted to the club, including letters from Dennistoun to William Young presented to the club by Young, an album of thirty sketches by Dennistoun presented by Mr. Mitchell Smith, a volume of sketches by Dennistoun presented by Mr. Robert Wylie, and Dennistoun’s painting of Pisano’s Pulpit in Siena’s Cathedral presented by Mr. Anthony D. Brogan of the Glasgow Plate Glass Co.
Re the last named painting, was it the one that was bequeathed to Elizabeth’s executor William Davidson Main? If so how did come into Brogan’s possession? Questions which at the moment remain unanswered
There is another intriguing question to be considered with reference to this painting which is that it actually does not look like the pulpit in Sienna Cathedral. Was it simply misnamed at the time of its gift? I’m afraid it’s another question that remains unanswered.
The most obvious difference is that the photographed pulpit looks octagonal by comparison with that painted by Dennistoun. Regardless, it would be appropriate that all these gifts would have pride of place in the club today. Presumably, they have.
From Figure 4 the proprietor of the Waverly Temperance Hotel in Buchanan Street and those in London and Edinburgh is shown as R. Cranston. This was Robert Cranston, a cousin of Kate and Stuart Cranston’s father George. He was born in East Calder in 1815 and married Elizabeth Dalglish in 1838. He became an abstainer from alcohol after he and some friends decided to remain dry for three months, which they successfully did, deciding therafter to become heavily involved in the temperance movement. Interestingly his parents at one time kept the Bay Horse Inn in East Calder.
He and Elizabeth had two sons and two daughters, one son, Robert becoming the Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1903. Recognising his daughter Mary’s business acumen he gave her the Washington Temperance Hotel in Sauchiehall Street on her marriage to photographer George Mason. He also financed the start of Kate Cranston’s tearoom business in Glasgow.
 Testamentary Records. Scotland. 20 January 1934. MURRAY, Sir David. Collection: Scotland, National Probate Record Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936. p. 126. http://www.ancestry.co.uk
To avoid confusion donor Alexander will always be in bold.
In 1877 Alexander Dennistoun donated to Glasgow Museums the painting View of Glasgow and Cathedral by the Scottish painter John Adam Houstoun. However, this was not the only ‘gift’ he gave to Glasgow as in 1861 he began to create the suburb of Dennistoun in the east of the city.
Alexander’s father was James Dennistoun who along with his brother Alexander established J & A Dennistoun, cotton merchants. It’s not clear when the company was set up but when their father, yet another Alexander, died in 1789 his will describes them as merchants in Glasgow.
Their father was farmer Alexander Dennistoun of Newmills Farm, Campsie whose wife was Margaret Brown. James was their third child, baptised in 1759,  Alexander, the fourth, baptised in 1764 . Their siblings were Jean, Ann and George, the two girls being the first children of the family.
It is not clear where James or Alexander were educated, what is certain however is that neither matriculated nor graduated from Glasgow University.
There is some evidence to suggest that by 1787 James was a merchant manufacturer in Glasgow. Whilst there are three James Dennistouns listed in that year’s city directory it’s clear that the first two are father and son Dennistouns of Colgrain. By 1799 J & A Dennistoun was listed as manufactures in Brunswick Street, neither brother being separately listed.
J & A Dennistoun continued in business until circa 1876 by which time James and Alexander were both dead. Over its eighty odd years it moved premises on a number of occasions, but it centred mainly on various addresses in Montrose Street until 1839, thereafter in George Square until it ceased trading. More on the business in due course.
James married Mary Finlay, daughter of William Finlay of the Moss, Killearn in 1786. They had eight children, donor Alexander being the eldest boy, born in 1790.
His siblings were:
Elisabeth, born in 1787 in Glasgow. She married Glasgow merchant John Wood in 1807  and had five children between 1808 and 1817. One of her daughters Anna, born in 1812, married William Cross in 1835.  She was the mother of John Walter Cross who married the novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) in 1879 and subsequently wrote her biography after her death in 1880.
James, born in Barony parish in 1799. He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1813,  and married Marjory Gibson Gordon of Milrig. He died in June 1828 of consumption,  five days before his son James was born.
John, born in Glasgow in 1803, matriculated at Glasgow University in 1816. In due course he and his brother Alexander became the key players in the family business. He also had his own company, John Dennistoun & Co., cotton spinners, usually located at the same premises as J & A Dennistoun. He was elected as one of the two MPs for Glasgow in 1837, succeeding James Oswald. He remained an MP until 1847 when he lost his seat at the general election. He married Frances Anne Onslow, the daughter of Sir Henry Onslow at All Saints in Southampton in 1838. They had three children, all surviving into adulthood. At various times they lived in England and in Scotland, essentially as business and parliamentary life required. He died in 1870 at Rhu, Dumbarton. His estate was valued at over £130,000 with property in Scotland, England, Paris, Melbourne and New Orleans.
Mary Finlay died sometime around 1808 in Devon, unfortunately not confirmed by any primary source. James subsequently married widow Maria Ann Bennett in 1813. She had married John Cukit a merchant of Liverpool in 1802,  however he had died in 1809, the marriage apparently being childless.
James and Maria had three daughters all born in Glasgow as follows:
J & A Dennistoun flourished during this period, allowing James to purchase the estate of Goufhill, which later became known as Golfhill. The estate was part of the ecclesiastical lands of Wester Craigs which had come into the ownership of the Merchants House in 1650. Merchant John Anderson bought Golfhill from the House in 1756 his family trustees selling it to James Dennistoun in 1802. In the following year James had built Golfhill House, designed by architect David Hamilton.
How brother Alexander’s life was developing is not known as I’ve not been able to establish anything in that respect. As the business grew it had branches in Australia, France, England and the United States, the US being key to their cotton and manufacturing activities. I rather suspect therefore he moved to their New York premises at some point to manage that side of the business. The only evidence I have to support that contention is that an Alexander Dennistoun died there in 1846, the information given to, or by, a William Wood of Liverpool, where the company had offices. He also had a nephew of that name, the son of his sister Elisabeth and John Wood. Pure conjecture.
James became a member of the Glasgow Merchants House serving on various committees over a number of years and in 1806-07 became a bailie. He was a Burgess and Guild Brother (B and GB) of Glasgow although it’s not clear from what date. However, sons Alexander and John became the same in 1824 and 1845 respectively, by right of their father.
In 1809 he and sixteen others founded the Glasgow Banking Company, the last partnership bank to be formed in Glasgow. James was the lead and managing partner, having invested £50,000 in the venture amounting to one quarter of the capital raised. The bank’s original premises were located at 74 Ingram Street, moving to 12 Ingram Street in 1825.
In the meantime, the business was expanding from a cotton based one essentially trading with the US to one which was an export /import business serving worldwide markets. Subsidiary companies were set up in in various places including Dennistoun, Cross and Company, London (his niece Anna’s husband William Cross), Dennistoun, Wood and Company, New York (his brother-in-law John Wood and/or his nephew William Wood previously mentioned), A & J Dennistoun and Company, New Orleans and Dennistoun Brothers and Company, Melbourne.
His sons were all involved in the business, Alexander from c.1815 followed by James and then John, James’ involvement being cut short by his untimely death in 1828.
James retired from the family firm and the bank in 1829, continuing to live at Golfhill House until his death in October 1835. He left over £204,000 with various legacies to the children of his two marriages, his second wife Maria predeceasing him in February 1835. Currently that sum would equate to over £20 million in terms of purchasing power. By other measures it could worth just under £1bn. When his father Alexander died in 1789 his estate was valued at £29.
Like his brothers, James’ eldest son Alexander had matriculated at Glasgow University in 1803, attending William Richardson’s Humanitys class. In the following six years he studied Greek, Latin, Logic and Ethics. It’s not clear when he became active in the family business however by 1820 he was in New Orleans running the company’s cotton trade operation. Following his return to Britain he managed the company’s Liverpool branch for a time. It was during this period that he met Eleanor Jane Thomson, the daughter of John Thomson of Nassau, New Providence, then living in Liverpool. They married in St Anne’s in Liverpool in 1822, continuing to live there until his return to Glasgow around 1827 when he was first listed in the Post Office directory.
They had eight children, five sons and three daughters as follows:
James, born in Cathcart in 1823. Died circa 1838 from scarlet fever.
Robert, born in Cathcart in 1826. He joined the 11th Dragoons at the age of 14 and in 1847 he purchased his promotion from Cornet to Lieutenant  and transferred to the 6th Dragoons.  He seems to have left the army prior to 1851 as in that year’s census he is boarding in a hotel in Little Meolse, Chester being described as ‘late Lieutenant, army’. What he did subsequently has not been established however in 1867 he is recorded in the London Gazette as one of the partners in the multiple family partnerships as they were renewed, his father Alexander signing approval on his behalf. In a similar Gazette statement in 1870 he is not listed amongst the partners. It seems he never married as in his will, he died at Eastbourne in 1877, there is no mention of a wife or children. He left a number of legacies, one to a Lieutenant Colonel of the 54th Regiment, his estate being valued at just under £64,000 with assets in Scotland, England and Australia.
Alexander Horace, born in Scotland in 1827.  He matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1847 and graduated BA in 1852. In 1850 he was admitted to Lincolns Inn whilst still a student. What profession he followed after that, if any, is not clear however he gained an MA from Cambridge in 1872. At some point he joined the 1st Dumbartonshire Rifle Volunteers’, formed in 1860, as in 1870 he was promoted from Captain to Major. Further promotions followed in 1876 and 1892 when he became Lieutenant Colonel and finally Honorary Colonel.
He married Georgina Helena Oakeley, the daughter of Sir Charles Oakeley, in 1852 at St John the Baptist in Hillingdon. They had seven children, the first five of whom were girls born between 1855 and 1864. The first son and heir was Alexander Heldewier Oakeley who was born in 1867, to be followed by brother Charles Herbert Oakeley in 1870 in London, the only child not to be born in Scotland. Alexander joined the Black Watch and in 1891 had the rank of Captain. He went to France in 1916 and at the end of his military service had attained the rank of Major. Charles went to Eton and matriculated at Trinity in 1888.
In father Alexander’s Trust Settlement of 1866 son Alexander Horace was named as one of his father’s executors, with eldest son Robert not included in the list. It was clear however that once specific legacies had been paid, mainly to the daughters, then the estate residue would be shared equally between the brothers. A change was made in a codicil dated 1873 which essentially varied the daughters’ legacies but left the brothers’ inheritance as per 1866.
However, in 1874 a few months before he died Alexander, in a further codicil, essentially disinherited Robert by leaving him only 200 shares in the Union Bank of Scotland, the residue of the estate, both heritable and movable, being left to Alexander Horace. The estate inventory valued it at over £343,000. Why this change occurred is not known.
Alexander Horace died in 1893 whilst visiting Fort Augustus, his usual residence being Roselea, Row, Dumbartonshire.
Eleanor Mary was born in Havre de Grace, Normandy in 1829 and baptised later that year in Ingouville.Alexander at that time was running a branch of the family business in France, subsequently moving to Paris before returning home sometime before 1833. Eleanor married William Young Sellar, interim Professor of Humanity at Glasgow University in 1852. He was the son of Patrick Sellar of Sutherland and had a distinguished academic career. He matriculated at Baliol College Oxford in 1842, gained a BA in 1847, followed by a MA in 1850. He was a Fellow of Oriel College from 1848 to 1853. He subsequently held professorships at Glasgow, Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities. They had 6 children, 3 sons and 3 daughters between 1853 and 1865. Eleanor wrote a family history in 1907 called Recollections andImpressions dedicated to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, which I have referred to from time to time in this report. William died in 1890, Eleanor in 1918.
Walter Wood was born in Ingouville, Normandy in 1831 and baptised there in 1832. He died of consumption in 1847.
Elizabeth Anna was born in Scotland in 1833. She married insurance broker Seton Thomson, a maternal cousin, in 1862 and they had one son, Seton Murray Thomson born at Golfhill House in 1864. Seton senior had been born in the Bahamas and at the time of his marriage was living at Golfhill House. Elizabeth died intestate in London in 1885, her estate valued at just under £1,000. Seton died in 1918 at Linlithgow, his estate valued at £172,500, son Seton Murray being the major beneficiary.
Euphemia was born in Scotland circa 1835. She died in 1840. 
John Murray was born in Scotland circa 1837. He died in 1840. Both he and Euphemia would appear to have died from meningitis.
When Alexander and family returned from France in 1833 they lived at Germiston House. In January 1835 he was elected MP for Dunbartonshire, a position he held until 1837, having decided not to stand as a candidate for that year’s election. Despite not pursuing his political career Alexander remained a firm supporter of the Whig party as an advisor and benefactor. When his father James died in 1835, he and his family moved to Golfhill House where he lived for the rest of his life.
He and brother John continued to be involved with J & A Dennistoun and the various subsidiary companies with significant success. They also maintained their interest in the Glasgow Banking Company which in 1836 amalgamated with the Ship Bank. In 1843 the Union Bank of Scotland was formed when the Glasgow and Ship Bank joined with the Glasgow Union Bank. By 1847 however, as described above, four of his eight children had died before reaching adulthood. More tragedy was to follow with the death of his wife Eleanor from consumption in 1847, shortly after the death of his son Walter.
In 1857 a serious financial issue arose for Alexander and the family when the Borough Bank of Liverpool failed, the Dennistouns being major shareholders of the bank. The situation was exacerbated as the bank failure was coincident with the American financial crisis of the same year, the ‘Panic of 1857‘, which was caused by a declining international economy and the over expansion of the American economy. The effect on the business was that liabilities exceeded £3 milion resulting in the suspension of payment to creditors which would have ended in bankruptcy. Alexander, and John, dealt with it by asking their creditors for a period of grace to allow them to resolve the issue, which was agreed. Within a year confidence in the business was restored and the creditors paid their dues in full plus five per cent interest. The following few years took the business back to its pre-crisis financial condition. 
Before the financial problems of 1857 Alexander began to plan the founding of the suburb to Glasgow which would bear his name, Dennistoun. For some time he had been buying plots of land adjacent to Golfhill which included Craig Park, Whitehill, Meadow Park, Broom Park and parts of Wester Craigs. Some of these purchases came from merchant John Reid who had similar ideas but had died in 1851 before any significant action had been taken. In 1854 the architect James Salmon was commissioned by Alexander to design and produce a feuing plan for such a suburb.
By 1860 Alexander also owned Lagarie Villa on the Gareloch at Row (Rhu), sharing his time between there and Golfhill. Brother John also had a home in the parish called Armadale.
In 1861 the process of creating Dennistoun began however the eventual reality did not reflect the grand detail of Salmon’s design for a number of reasons. Nonetheless Dennistoun was eventually successfully established, much reduced from the original concept, with a mixed style of housing as opposed to the Garden Suburb with villas, cottages and terraces, aimed at the middle-class, envisaged by Alexander and James Salmon. The first street to be formed was Wester Craig street which ran from Duke Street northwards. It was on that street that the first house was built by James Dairon in 1861.
Also in 1861 the Glasgow Corporation acquired the Kennyhill estate and started to lay out what became Alexandra Park. Alexander donated five acres to the project which allowed the main entrance to the park to be from Alexandra Parade.
Alexander spent the rest of his life quietly at the Gareloch or Golfhill. He continued to be keenly interested in the development of Dennistoun and is said to have travelled round the district often to observe the changes made. His daughter Eleanor described him in her book as someone who had a great interest in finance and politics despite him having no formal business training and having eschewed a political career. He had a great interest in art and had a ‘very good collection, ancient and modern’  He was described by others as affable and courteous with a kindly disposition, and a willingness to help others when it was needed.
There is one possible sour note however. The University College London research on the Legacies of British Slavery identifies an Alexander Dennistoun who received £389 2s 4d compensation in 1837 for the release of 25 slaves from a plantation in the Bahamas. It states that it possibly could be Alexander Dennistoun of Golfhill but that it was not certain. It may be significant that his wife Eleanor was born in the Bahamas.
Alexander died on the 15th July 1874 at Lagarie, his son Alexander Horace, as described above, his heir.
 Testamentary Records. Scotland. 6 August 1789. DENISTON, Alexander. Hamilton and Campsie Commissary Court. CC10/5/12. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
 Births (SR) England. London, Westminster. 23 February 1870. DENNISTOUN, Charles Herbert Oakeley. City of Westminster Archives Centre; London, England; Westminster Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: STA/PR/4/21https://search.ancestry.co.uk
 Hart’s Annual Army List 1908. DENNISTOUN, Alexander Heldewier Oakeley, and Army Medal Office (Great Britain). WW 1 Medal Index Card. DENNISTOUN, Alexander Heldewier Oakeley. Collection: British Army WW 1 Medal Roll Index Cards, 1914-1920. https://search.ancestry.co.uk
John Oswald Mitchell is not a benefactor of Glasgow by my usual definitions. However, he did write about Glasgow and its eminent families, their business activities and their houses, his two main histories, both published by James Maclehose, being The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry (with John Guthrie Smith – 1878) and Old Glasgow Essays (1905), this last one being published posthumously. He also made significant contributions to other histories in particular to the Regality Club, series 1 to 3 books and Memoirs and Portraits of one HundredGlasgow Men. He also wrote a book about Burns entitled Burns and his Times (1897).
A good deal of his writing covers the period of Glasgow’s pre-eminence in the tobacco trade, the people involved, the fortunes they made and the grand houses they purchased. What is not discussed in anyway is the fundamental ‘commodity’ which made this wealth generation possible, enslaved Africans.
From before the abolition of slavery in 1833 and throughout the US civil war and afterwards there were a number of significant groups and organisations in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland strongly opposed to slavery. Despite that, the part that Glasgow and Scots in general played in the ownership and use of slave labour in Chesapeake and the Caribbean, and their key involvement in the machinery of slavery, was not properly acknowledged or understood and totally misrepresented. In 1883, almost twenty years after the US civil war had ended, the writer of an article about the history of the West India Association of Glasgow in the Glasgow Herald of June 1st wrote the following:
“The American War of Independence finished the latter (the tobacco lords), but the trading instinct of Glasgow was not to be denied, and, prompted no doubt by its favourable situation for the purpose, the merchants of Glasgow embarked largely in the West India (West Indies) trade. The other great sugar ports were London, Bristol and Liverpool, and it is to Glasgow’s lasting honour that while Bristol and Liverpool were up to the elbows in the slave trade Glasgow kept out of it. The reproach can never be levelled at our city, as it was at Liverpool, that there was not a stone in her streets that were not cemented with the blood of a slave.”
The view expressed by the writer persisted well into the twentieth century with little or no recognition of the major part that we Scots played in slavery. In 1937 Andrew Dewar Gibb wrote a history called “Scottish Empire”, purporting to relate Scottish involvement in the British Empire. Not only does he not refer to slavery there is no mention of any substance relating to the American or Caribbean colonies. The Darien expedition and the establishment of the Ulster ‘plantation’ however are covered.  Stephen Mullen captured the essence of our mindset on the subject in the title of his book on Glasgow and slavery, “It Wisnae Us”
But what of John Oswald Mitchell? Was his lack of any reference to slavery a conscious or unconscious omission, was he merely fitting in with the prevalent view of his day? It may seem difficult after nearly one hundred and forty years to fully establish what his reasons were however once his ancestry is understood it becomes clearer what his possible (probable?) motivation was.
He was born in 1826 to Andrew Mitchell and his wife Lilias Oswald. They married in 1814 and had six children, John being the youngest. Andrew was born in 1774, the son of Reverend Andrew Mitchell and his wife Janet Alice. He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1788 and graduated B.A. in 1794. He became a writer (lawyer) and was a Member of the Faculty of Procurators of Glasgow from 1797. He was also a partner in at least two law firms, Grahame & Mitchell and subsequently Mitchell, Henderson & Mitchell. He died in Glasgow in 1845.
Lilias Oswald was born in 1785 and it is within her family that the reason for any reluctance on John Oswald Mitchell’s part to write about slavery may lie.
She was the eighth of nine children born to Alexander Oswald and Margaret Dundas. Her brother, James, born in 1779, became one of Glasgow’s two M.P.s following the reform act of 1832. His statue is in the north east corner of George Square; Oswald Street in the city centre is named after him.
Alexander’s ancestry goes back to James Oswald of Caithness who married Margaret Coghill. They had two sons who became clergymen, one a Presbyterian, the other an Episcopalian.
The eldest James was born in 1654 and became minister in the parish of Watten in Caithness which was an Episcopalian charge. He married Mary Murray in 1683 and had two sons, Richard, born in 1687 and Alexander, born in 1694. They also had two daughters.
The sons became very successful merchants in Glasgow and were able to purchase the estates of Scotstoun in 1751 and Balshagray in 1759. They both died unmarried, Alexander in 1763, Richard in 1766 thus ending a direct male descendancy from the first James Oswald of Caithness.
The second son George was born in 1664 and became a minister in Dunnet parish in Caithness, this parish however being Presbyterian. He married his sister in law Margaret Murray and had five children including two sons, James, born in 1703 and Richard, born in 1705. It’s from these two boys that the journey to Lilias Oswald begins.
Like his father James became a minister and had a long line of descendants, more of whom in due course. Richard became a merchant working initially with his cousins Richard and Alexander as their factor in the American and Caribbean colonies where they traded in tobacco, sugar and wine. This was the Oswald’s family first contact with the use of slave labour. It’s not clear if the brothers Richard and Alexander had any ownership of slaves however their trading activities certainly benefited from it.
Such was the ‘apprenticeship’ served by cousin Richard who subsequently became a merchant in London. This was followed by marriage to Mary Ramsay whom he had met in Jamaica which gave him, via his heiress wife, ownership of plantations and slaves. He bought plantations in the Caribbean and Florida, and two large estates at home, Auchincruive in Ayrshire and Cavens in Kirkcudbright and Dumfriesshire. Two other notable events occurred, the first of which was the addition of slave trading from Sierra Leone to South Carolina to his business portfolio. The other was the leading role he played in the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris, which ended the hostilities between Britain and her erstwhile American colonies.
Unfortunately, Richard and his wife had no children which resulted in his wealth eventually ending up with his brother James’ descendants. He died in 1784,his wife in 1788.
James married Elizabeth Murray in 1728 and they had seven children, three girls and four boys. He was minister at Dunnet parish, succeeding his father, thereafter at Methven in Perthshire. He also wrote a number of religious papers and books and was awarded the degree D.D. by Glasgow University in 1765, the year he became moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. His wife Elizabeth died in 1746 and three years later he married Margaret Dunbar. There were no children of this second marriage and Margaret died in 1779. In 1783 he retired from the ministry, but not from his writings, and went to live with his son George at Scotstoun. He died there in 1793.
Two of James’ sons were merchants in Glasgow. George, born in 1735, was a partner in Oswald, Dennistoun & Co, tobacco importers and is described in The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry’ as “one of our old Virginia Dons”. He married Margaret Smith in 1764 and they had twelve children, his eldest son and heir being Richard Alexander Oswald, born in 1771. George inherited Scotstoun from his second cousins Richard and Alexander Oswald and also inherited part of his uncle Richard’s Auchincruive estate in 1784. He was rector of Glasgow University in 1797.
George died in 1819 his son Richard Alexander inheriting his estates bringing Auchincruive into single ownership again, he having been left part of the estate by his great uncle Richard when he died in 1784.
Richard Alexander married twice his second wife being widow Lilian Montgomery. His two marriages did not produce any living heirs and on his death in 1841 his estates passed to his uncle Alexander’s son James Oswald M.P.
In 1834 Richard and his wife were awarded £5445 18s 6d compensation for the freeing of 297 slaves in two plantations in Jamaica. That sum today would worth anywhere between £530k and £26m.
George’s brother Alexander (John Oswald Mitchell’s grandfather) was born circa 1738 and as stated previously was a Glasgow merchant. He married Margaret Dundas in 1774 and they had nine children, two of whom, James (the future M.P.) and Lilias (wife of Andrew Mitchell), have already been mentioned. He was a partner in the South Sugar House, became the owner of the Glasgow Ropeworks and invested in building ground. In 1781 he purchased the estate of Shield Hall.
In The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry he is said to have remained aloof from the leading business of the day, i.e. trading with the Caribbean colonies; “he refused them all: he would not, directly or indirectly, mix himself up with slavery.” He died at Shield Hall in 1813.
In summary, perhaps John Oswald Mitchell chose not to write about slavery as members of his mother’s family, but apparently not her father, had significantly benefited from it either by trading or in the compensation paid to them when it was abolished in 1833.
The key family members who benefited from the use of enslaved Africans and their relationship to his mother Lilian were:
Richard and Alexander, the sons of the Episcopalian minister James Oswald, her great grandfather George’s brother, who purchased Scotstoun and Balshagray estates from the proceeds of their American trading.
Her grandfather James Oswald, clergyman whose stipend was in part paid by his brother Richard from 1766 when his parish heritors were in financial difficulties.
Richard Oswald, the merchant, diplomat and slave trader, her grandfather James’ brother.
George Oswald, her father’s brother, who inherited Scotstoun et al from his second cousins Richard and Alexander and also Auchincruive from his uncle Richard the slaver etc. when Richard’s wife Mary Ramsay died.
Richard Alexander Oswald, her cousin, who inherited from his father George Oswald and also his great uncle Richard, the slave trader. He also was paid compensation along with his wife Lilian Montgomery, when slavery was abolished in 1833.
James Oswald MP, Lilian’s brother, who inherited Auchincruive from his cousin Richard Alexander Oswald.
The time period covered by the above is circa 1715, when brothers Richard and Alexander Oswald started to trade with the American colonies, to 1853 when MP James Oswald died.
For greater detail on the Oswald family and my sources please see my post “James and Richard Oswald – Beneficent Clergyman – Merchant, Diplomat and Slave Trader.”
Glasgow Herald. (1883) The West India Association of Glasgow. Glasgow Herald 1 June. p.9. https://www.nls.uk/
 Gibb, Andrew Dewar. (1937) Scottish Empire. London: Alexander Maclehose & Co.
 Mullen, Stephen. (2009) It Wisnae Us: The Truth About Glasgow and Slavery. Edinburgh: Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.
When researching Sir William Burrell’s (SWB) business and political activity I also became interested in his family origins, particularly his paternal ancestry. A few years ago I read Richard Mark’s book on Burrell, Portrait of a Collector, in which he writes that one of Burrell’s ancestors, the nephew of his great great grandfather was the first governor of Hong Kong. As it turns out this individual, George Burrell, had nothing to do with Hong Kong, the first governor being Sir Henry Pottinger in 1843. However, he was in China as a soldier, that caught my interest, and was the cause of my research into Burrell’s family.
The name Burrell is ubiquitous in the borders particularly in the county of Northumberland. Place names associated with SWB’s branch of the family include Alnwick, Bassington, Longhoughton and Eglingham, where his great great grandfather George Burrell was born in 1730. He had a brother John, born in 1733, who had a son George, the soldier who served in China.
John and George’s father was George Burrell of Bassington, and both were born in Eglingham.
The Soldier in China
Before I detail SWB’s ancestry from his great great grandfather George, I’m going to indulge in a slight diversion to look at John’s soldier son George.
George Burrell was born to John and his wife Barbara Peareth in Longhoughton in 1777. He was the second son of four, one of his brothers, John the youngest, also became a soldier with the 60th Regiment of Foot. He was killed in 1832 leading his regiment at the siege of Porto during the Portuguese civil war.
Describing George Burrell as a “soldier in China” does him an injustice. He had a successful, varied and distinguished army career serving for circa fifty years, finally attaining the rank of Lieutenant General.
His career began in 1797 when he joined the 15th Regiment of Foot as an ensign. He was promoted to lieutenant in the same year and by 1805 commanded a company as captain serving in the West Indies. In 1807 he became a major in the 90th Light Infantry, serving in Guadeloupe in 1810 and in Canada during the latter part of the war of 1812-1814 between the United States and Great Britain. He arrived in Upper Canada in May 1814 and was Commandant of Fort Niagara in the United States, which had been captured in December 1813, from November 1814 until May 1815. From there he was posted to the Netherlands and then France where the Napoleonic Wars were coming to an end, Waterloo having occurred a few weeks earlier. He eventually returned to England in 1816.
Between 1820 and 1840 he went firstly to the Greek Island of Paxos where he was military and civil commander for five years. In 1832 he was in back in England, this time with the 18th Royal Irish regiment, with which regiment he went to Ceylon in 1836 and was commandant at Colombo and Trincomalee. He rose steadily in the ranks during this period being promoted colonel in 1830 and then brevet major general in 1837.
Then came his service in China, arriving there in May 1840 during the first Opium War between Britain and China. In July of that year the Chinese authorities of the island of Chusan (Zhoushan), around eight hundred miles north of Hong Kong, were told to surrender the island to British Naval and Land forces, the latter led by Burrell, or the island would be taken by force. The Chinese leaders refused, and the island was duly taken by the British with surprisingly few casualties on both sides.
Burrell was then appointed Governor of Chusan, a post he held until February 1841, when the island was handed back to China as a result of a treaty being signed. The treaty however did not last long which resulted in Burrell leading his forces on a successful attack on Canton a few weeks later , , following which he was appointed a Companion of the Bath (C.B.). He remained in China until July 1842, which was his last tour of active service. He was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1851 and appointed Colonel of the 39th Regiment in 1852.
He married twice and had four children with his second wife, including two sons who both joined the military. He died on the 4th January 1853.
Note: The British Flag flew over Chusan about 6 months before it did over Hong Kong.
SWB’s Paternal Ancestry
Great great Grandfather George Burrell married Eleanor Whitehead at Eglingham in June 1766. They had eight children, five boys and three girls born between 1767 and 1785. According to Marks he died in 1815, which I have not been able to confirm from any other source.
Great Grandfather George Burrell.
The eldest boy was yet another George born in 1767. He was a tea merchant in Alnwick  and married Elizabeth Harrison there in 1795. I’ve not been able to ascertain how many children they but they certainly had two boys, George and John, baptised at Alnwick on the same day in 1801. Who was the eldest is not clear however George was SWB’s grandfather. Great grandfather George died in the 1st quarter of 1853; the death being registered in Alnwick.
Whilst searching the English and Scottish censuses of 1841 and 1851 for his family I came across unexpected entries for both Scottish censuses for a George Burrell. The entry for the individual concerned recorded that he was age 84 in 1851 and born in Egringham, Northumberland. There is no such place name in Northumberland, it therefore has to be Eglingham or Edlingham. As indicated above great grandfather George was born in Eglingham in 1767. He is described as a widower and having been a grocer and spirit dealer, perhaps not much far removed from being a tea merchant and Marks refers to him at one point as being a grocer.
His residence is also interesting. He is described as an inmate of the William Simpson Asylum in St. Ninians parish, Stirlingshire. Is this SWB’s great grandfather? The evidence is fairly strong that he is, especially when it is taken into account that his son George had been resident in Scotland from at least 1824 as I’ll show. Being a widower did he come to Scotland to be near his son?
He also had a brother Nicholas born in 1769. He married Mary Veitch in 1804, the daughter of Glasgow merchant Alexander Veitch, the marriage taking place in Leith. Mary’s father had died in 1797 at Newington near Edinburgh leaving his widow Lilias Nimmo and two unmarried daughters, Mary being the oldest, born in 1761.
These incursions into Scotland by great grandfather George, his son George and his brother Nicholas were the first of SWB’s immediate family. Why son George and Nicholas left Northumberland seems to have been in search of opportunities to improve their lives.
Grandfather George Burrell.
Grandfather George came to Scotland some time before 1824 quite possibly to join with his uncle Nicholas. In 1824, in Leith, he married Elizabeth Hastie, the daughter of mason Robert Hastie. He was listed as living in Leith and working as a clerk, Marks suggesting he was in some way involved in the eastern end of the Forth and Clyde canal. There is however no reliable source that confirms that.
Just over a year later in September 1825 daughter Barbara was borne in Leith. Elizabeth however died shortly after, whether in actual childbirth or at a later time has not been established despite various search data being used.
Sometime after Barbara’s birth George moved to Glasgow, still working as a clerk, which is where he married Janet Houston in 1831. She was born in 1809, the daughter of William Houston, a carpet manufacturer and his wife Rebecca Barr.
They had eleven children as follows, two of whom did not live to adulthood.
George continued to be described as a clerk in census returns, family birth records and in the 1855 valuation roll when the family resided at 21 Garscube Road in Glasgow. This was the family home address from at least 1841.
It’s worth noting at this stage that George’s daughter Barbara by his first wife lived with the Burrell family at least until 1861. She married Robert Pattie, master mariner in 1872 and died in 1914.
In 1856 George began his involvement with shipping in his own name when he set up as a shipping agent on the Forth and Clyde canal. At the time of his son Alexander’s birth in May 1856 he was described as a shipbroker’s clerk, still living at Garscube road, However he made his first appearance in the GPO directory of 1856/57, published post June in 1856, as a shipping and forwarding agent, located at Grangemouth and Alloa Wharf, Port Dundas. The family had also moved to a new address at 72 New City Road, no more than a twenty minute walk to his place of business.
By the following year Burrell & Son had been established with both George and son William listed in the GPO directory. (William has been entered as Walter but it is undoubtedly William as his home address is given as 3 Scotia Street, Glasgow where his son George was born in November 1857, more of which later.
Interestingly six years previously William had appeared in the 1851 census, age 19, lodging with a John McGregor in the vicinity of Camelon. McGregor was listed as a lock keeper (there are three Forth and Clyde canal locks near Camelon) and William was described as a shipping agent. Was William therefore the prime mover that took his father into shipping a few years later or were they both in the employ of a company doing business on the canal in 1851, George as a clerk and William as an agent? Clearly it can’t be proved one way or another but undoubtedly at least one member of the Burrell family was involved in shipping through the canal as early as 1851.
Burrell & Son prospered, expanding from canal operations only to include international shipping and the building of puffers at their yard at Hamiltonhill from 1873, with George and son William running the business. Other partnerships were also established over the next few years by William; Burrell & McLaren (Thomas McLaren) in 1867 and Burrell & Haig in 1875. Haig was his sister Elizabeth’s husband having married him in 1866, his occupation given as English teacher. There was a familial connection however with the canal in that his father was a lock keeper on the Forth and Clyde canal in the parish of New Kilpatrick. The McLaren partnership was relatively short lived, ending in 1873 however that with David Haig lasted until 1905.
What part, if any, did George’s other sons play in the company? His second eldest son Henry, described as a carver in 1851, subsequently became involved with shipping, probably with his father’s company although that has not been clearly established. In 1861 he was boarding with a Mrs Gray in Falkirk and described as a shipping clerk. Was he therefore at the other end of the canal looking after the company’s interests? It would certainly seem so as from around 1865 he was living in Grangemouth, had an office adjacent to his house, and was described as a shipbroker.
He lived there, in North Harbour Street, for the rest of his life, variously being described as a shipbroker or shipping agent. He married Helen Morrison circa 1871, there being no children of the marriage. He died in Grangemouth during October 1902. In his will he left over £4100, his wife Helen being his executrix and sole beneficiary. Two interesting items from his will were that he owned shares in the shipping company Faerdar of Christiana (Oslo’s previous name) in Norway and in Burrell and Haig. Henry’s wife Helen died in 1912 at their home in North Harbour Street.
In 1861 the third son George was working with Burrell & Son as a shipping clerk. For whatever reason that did last very long as I next came across him in Australia in 1869 when he married Fanny North. It seems they had only one child, Janet, born in 1877 in Bungarree, Victoria. Unfortunately, she died at six months in 1878.
George returned to Glasgow with his wife sometime after 1881 (not included in the census for that year) and set up G. Burrell & Co., ships stores merchants in 1886. His home address was given in the directory as 13 Afton Crescent, Glasgow which was where his brother Alexander lived, whom he took into partnership in 1887.
He continued in that business, mainly located in West Street until circa 1912/13 the business’s last appearance in the GPO directory for Glasgow. In 1890 he moved from Afton Crescent to Cumbernauld finally settling in Luggiebank, Cumbernauld two years later, which is where he died in 1918. His wife Fanny continued to live there until her death in 1923.
The youngest son Alexander Houston had a limited connection with the shipping business compared to his three brothers. At the age of twenty two in 1878 he set up Burrell & Macmaster, Ship Brokers and Commission Agents in York Street. That did not last long as the following year he was operating from premises in Ann Street on his own. In 1880 he joined Neil Smith & Co., Ship Stores Merchants at 48 York Street, eventually taking over the business in partnership with John Chamberlain, another employee of Smiths, in 1882. This turned out to be yet another short lived venture which ended in 1885.
His situation however certainly improved when he joined with his brother George in 1887. I’m not sure if he was in partnership with George but the company operated until 1913, Alexander being involved until 1899.
Throughout his time with George he continued to live at 13 Afton Crescent, however by 1901 he was living with his widowed half-sister Barbara Pattie at Brooklynn Villa in Luggiebank, still being described as a Ships Stores Merchant and employer.
He died, unmarried, in 1908 whilst visiting the Manse house in Stow where his sister Margaret and her husband, a Church of Scotland minister, the Rev. William Workman lived.
Only one other daughter of George senior and Janet Houston married. That was Janet, who married Andrew Hunter, another Church of Scotland minister, in 1874.
Father William Burrell.
George senior retired in 1873 leaving SWB’s father William in sole charge of the company’s operations. He died in 1881 at Dunkeld Place, Byres Road, Partick. His wife Janet died at 13 Afton Crescent, son Alexander’s home, in 1897.
Under William’s control Burrell & Son continued to expand becoming one of the most important shipping companies in Glasgow with a large number of ships in full ownership and a significant number in which they had shares. In due course he was to be aided and abetted in the business by his sons SWB and George.
He had married Isabella Guthrie in December 1856, just about co-incident with the creation of Burrell & Son. She was the daughter of Adam Guthrie, a coal agent, and Elizabeth Duncan who had died in January 1855.
William and Isabella had nine children as follows:
George, b. 19th December 1857 at 3 Scotia Street, Glasgow. He and his brothers Adam and SWB attended school in St Andrews in 1871 after which he joined Burrell & Son during the following year. Subsequently he became a forwarding agent with the company. He married Anne Jane McKaig in 1883 and they had five children.
William Burrell, b. 1885 at Ravenswood, Langbank. He died in 1914 as the result of a boating accident on Loch Ewe whilst serving with the Royal Navy.
Thomas McKaig Burrell, b.1887 at Ravenswood, Langbank. At Perth he married Muriel Margaret Wylie, daughter of Robert Wylie Hill, landed proprietor, in 1919. He was a ship broker. He died at Perth in 1961, his wife Muriel the following year.
Gladys Helen Hillcoat Burrell, b. 1888 at Ravenswood, Langbank. She married William Barr Knox in 1914 at Paisley Abbey. He was a thread manufacturer working for his father Bryce Muir Knox at Kilbirnie. The company W & J Knox, net and yarn manufacturers, currently located in Kilbirnie, is a direct descendant of the original company. Gladys died in 1920 at her father’s house Gleniffer Lodge of a stroke/brain tumour.
Isabella Guthrie Burrell, b. 1890 at Ravenswood, Langbank. No other information has been established.
Gordon George Burrell, b. 1895 at Ravenswood, Langbank. He served in the RNVR from 1917 to 1918 and shortly afterwards in 1919 married Brenda Agnes Bibby, the daughter of merchant and ship owner Herbert Kirkman Bibby, at St. Martin’s, London. From around 1930 he and his wife lived in Ayrshire, he being described as a ship owner. He died in 1949 at Auchendrane near Ayr, his occupation recorded as farmer. Brenda died in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 1959.
George and Anne moved to Gleniffer Lodge in 1896, where they lived for the rest of their lives. George died in 1927 whilst visiting County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Anne at home in 1932.
Please see my post “The Other Burrell Brothers” for a fuller report on George’s family life and his involvement with Burrell & Son.
Adam Guthrie, b. 4th June 1859 at 3 Scotia Street. Adam started out working in the family firm but changed direction very quickly and graduated from Glasgow University in 1892 with degrees in medicine and surgery.
He married Clarissa or Clara Jane Scott in 1886 in Ireland. They emigrated to Wyoming the year after he graduated, with their three children: George Guthrie b. 1887, Isabella Mary Houston b. 1888 and Robert Alexander b. 1889.
They did not stay in the US for long, going initially to South Africa and finally to New Zealand where a third son Adam Guthrie was born in 1899. Adam practised as a doctor in Dunedin for some time and then moved to Canterbury in 1905 where another son Roderick Scott was born near the end of that year.
Adam died rather suddenly in 1907, Clarissa in 1944, having married again in 1911. See “The Other Burrell Brothers” post.
SWB, 9th July 1861 at 3 Scotia Street. He joined Burrell & Son in 1876 and was to see the firm through to its closure in 1939. He married his sister in law Constance Mary Lockhart Mitchell in 1901, daughter of deceased timber merchant James Lockhart Mitchell and his wife Marion Nisbet Miller . They had one child, Marion Mitchell, born in 1902. In later life she changed her first name to Sylvia. Why she made the change is not particularly clear however it may have something to do with what I understand to be a poor relationship with her mother(she was unable to have any more children after Marion was born) and the fact that her father interfered in her relationships with potential suitors, being concerned that they were simply after her (his) money. She was apparently engaged on three separate occasions, the last of which was to the Honourable Patrick Balfour, son and heir of the second Lord Kinross.
Their engagement was announced in the Scotsman and elsewhere on the 10th February 1931, followed on the 23rd February with the announcement that the marriage would take place at St. George’s, Hanover Square, London on the 17th March at 2.15pm. However on the 5th March the following rather terse Scotsman notice stated that “The marriage arranged between the Honourable Patrick Balfour and Miss Marion Burrell will not take place”.
Her father had made the announcement without telling Marion as he was concerned about Patrick’s growing gambling debts and, perhaps more importantly, the discovery that Balfour was homosexual. Regardless of the reasons it was a heartless decision leaving Marion very unhappy. She died unmarried in 1992.SWB died in 1958 leaving in his will just under £760,000 having previously donated his collection of art to Glasgow. Constance died in 1961.
See posts: “The Other Burrell Brothers”, “Sir William Burrell’s Nearly Gift to London” and “Sir William Burrell, Glasgow Corporation Councillor”.
Elizabeth Duncan, b. 13th August 1863 at 30 Willowbank Street, Glasgow. She married Thomas Steward Lapraik, marine engineer, at her family home, 4 Devonshire Gardens, Kelvinside on the 26th He was the son of ship owner and merchant John Steward Lapraik of South Kensington, London. They had one daughter Isabell Clare born in 1892 in Derby. They lived in England for all of their married life, Thomas dying in 1926. Elizabeth was still alive in 1939 living in Ilfracombe, Devon.
Henry, b. 1st April 1866 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace, Bowling. He worked for the family firm for a period of time from 1885 until 1897 before setting up on his own in Robertson Street in Glasgow. He had several successful patents dealing with ship design and subsequently set up the Straight Back Steamship Company. He never married and lived with his parents then his mother only until 1913. He died in 1924 at a tuberculosis sanatorium in Banchory. See “The Other Burrell Brothers”
Janet Houston, b. 15th June 1868 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace. She married Charles John Cleland, stationer, employed in his father’s paper manufacturing company, in 1888. They had three daughters, Isabella Guthrie, born in 1889, Jean, born in 1890, and Jessie Muriel, born in 1893, all born at Bonville House, Maryhill. Isabella served during WW1 in the Voluntary Aid Detachment of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). She married Walter Percy Reed Webster, tea planter, in 1927. He was the son of John Webster, a retired District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Jean never married and died in 1932 at Bonville House. As it turned out Isabella was not the only daughter to marry someone with an Irish connection. Jessie Muriel married Sir Richard Dawson Bates in 1920. He was an Ulster politician who was in the forefront of opposition to Irish Home Rule. They had one son, John Dawson Bates, born in Belfast in 1921. Sir Richard was appointed as Minister of Home Affairs when Northern Ireland was formed in 1922. He set up a committee of enquiry to reorganize the police force which in due course recommended a single force for the province one third of which was to be Catholic. Bates however was virulently anti-Catholic and later on in 1922 allowed members of the newly formed RUC to join the Orange Lodge. Previously the Royal Irish Constabulary were prohibited from joining such organisations. This effectively ensured Catholic officers in the RUC would be minimised. During his tenure, the political decisions he took were always hardline and based on his belief of Protestant supremacy. He left office in 1943 having being made a baronet in 1937. He died in Somerset in 1949. Jessie also died in Somerset in 1972. See “Sir William Burrell, Glasgow Corporation Councillor” post for more on Charles John Cleland.
Helen Grey, b. 24th September 1869 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace. Died at Largs on the 3rd October 1875 of tubercular meningitis.
Isabella Duncan, b. 8th January 1872 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace. She died unmarried in 1951.
Mary Guthrie, b. 26th December 1874 at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace. She married James Alexander Ralston Mitchell, timber broker, several months before SWB married his sister, in 1901. They had five children.
Isabella Duncan, b.1902 at 8 Belhaven Crescent, Kelvinside. She married Joseph Murray Hoult in 1923. He was described as a landed proprietor from Lincolnshire, the son of ship owner Joseph Hoult and his wife Julia Murray. They had three children, two boys and a girl between 1927 and 1931, the first two being born at Caistor in Lincolnshire, the third being born in Dreghorn, Ayr. Joseph Murray Hoult served in the Royal Artillery in the 3rd Welsh Brigade in 1911 as a second lieutenant, transferring to the Royal Artillery in 1913. He remained with the regiment throughout WW1 going to France in August 1914 and attaining the rank of Major by the war’s end. In 1944, he was appointed as a sheriff of Lincolnshire, and in 1946, as Lieutenant Colonel he became the High Sheriff of Lincolnshire. He died in South Africa in 1948. Isabella died in Malaga in 1979.
Marion Elenore Bonthron, b.1904 at 8 Belhaven Crescent. She married Charles Glen MacAndrew (his second wife) in 1941. He was MP for Bute and Northern Ayrshire and had previously been MP for Kilmarnock and Partick. He held various positions in the House of Commons being a deputy Speaker of the House and Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee from 1951 to 1959 when he retired. He was knighted in 1935 and became a Baron on his retiral. They had one daughter, Mary Margaret Hastings, born in 1942. Charles died in 1979, Marion in 1994.
James Merrick Ralston, b.1906 at 8 Belhaven Crescent. Information about James has been hard to come by. He was a timber merchant or broker as evidenced by journeys he made to Burma and the US. He joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery at some point and in 1945, with the rank of temporary major, was awarded the Military Cross. He died, unmarried, at Stirling in 1983.
Ruth Mary Beryl, b.1910 at 8 Belhaven Crescent. She married chartered accountant Alexander Irving Mackenzie in 1938. He was the son of Dr. Charles Mackenzie and his wife Margaret Wilson. As for her brother James information has been hard to come by. She had at least one daughter however, Mona, who along with her mother gave evidence at a Parliamentary Commission hearing which was looking at Glasgow City Council’s proposals to send some of the Burrell Collection abroad. Ruth died at Ayr in 2011.
William Burrell Alan, b.1913 at 8 Belhaven Crescent. He died at Kelso in 1989.
James and Mary died at Perceton House, Ayrshire, he in 1952,she in 1964.
As can be seen from the addresses where their children were born William and Isabella’s standard of living improved as William Burrell & Son progressed. Starting from a tenement flat in Scotia Street in Glasgow, by 1874 they were living in Bowling at 2 Auchentorlie Terrace, eventually to “Elmbank” in Manse Road in Bowling, a large detached villa.
Burrell & Son continued to prosper with William and in particular sons George and SWB running the business. However, that was not to continue in the way they probably expected it to. In 1885 William, at the relatively young age of 53, died at Elmbank from an enlarged liver. In his will he left £39,711 his executors and trustees being his wife Isabella, sons SWB and George. Henry declined to be a trustee, Adam was not mentioned in this context, his legacy also being less than that of his brothers. Thereafter SWB and George jointly ran the business until 1927 when George died, SWB afterwards until 1939 when it ceased to trade.
By 1891 William Burrell’s widow Isabella was resident at 4 Devonshire Gardens where initially she lived with SWB and daughters Isabella and Mary. Henry also lived there from circa 1901. She died at Crieff in 1912.
The prosperity that Burrell & Son brought to the family was astonishing not just in monetary terms but in the society in which the family moved. That ranged from a visit to Hutton Castle from royalty, to the London social scene of the 1920s/30s with dances being arranged by titled ladies for SWB’s daughter and her presentation at court, SWB’s knighthood, and the various descendant marriages which I’ve tried to detail above.
One negative is that SWB’s ambition to move in that society made him over-protective of his daughter Marion, leaving him in my view, insensitive to her feelings.
 Marks, Richard (1983). Burrell, A Portrait of a Collector. Glasgow: Richard Drew. p. 27.
 Marriages. (PR) England. Eglingham, Northumberland. 2 June 1766. BURRELL, GEORGE and WHITEHEAD, Eleanor. Collection: England and Wales Marriages 1538-1988. Film Number 1068608. https://search.ancestry.co.uk/
 Baptisms. (PR) England. Eglingham, Northumberland. 15 September 1767. BURRELL, George. Collection: England and Wales, Christening Index, 1530-1980. https://search.ancestry.co.uk/
 Testamentary Records. England. 22 April 1949. HOULT, Joseph Murray. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. p.538. https://search.ancestry.co.uk/
 Testamentary Records. England. 1 August 1980. HOULT, Isabella Duncan Guthrie. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. p.4328. https://search.ancestry.co.uk/
 Passenger List for SS Transylvania departing Glasgow for New York. MITCHELL, James Merrick, Ralston. 26 January 1930 and Passenger List for SS Pegu departing Rangoon for London. James M R Mitchell. 12 April 1934. https://search.ancestry.co.uk/
Part 1 told of Speirs’ early life and his time in Virginia, his first marriage and his wife Sarah’s family and his early business career. It ended with his marriage to his second wife Mary Buchanan. This second part will look at his family life with Mary, her family, and the part they played in his commercial success, the growth of his business and his partnerships and his property purchases.
As told in Part 1 he married Mary Buchanan on the 2nd March 1755. She was the daughter of Archibald Buchanan a tobacco merchant (Archibald Buchanan & Co.), and one of his partners in the tobacco co-partnery established in 1754, that partnership eventually becoming known as Speirs, Bowman and Co. Her mother was Martha Murdoch the daughter of Peter Murdoch of Rosehill, a sugar merchant and Lord Provost of Glasgow from 1730 to 1732.
The Buchanan family had been prominent in Glasgow’s commercial activities for a considerable number of years. That activity included dealing in tobacco in the American colonies prior to the Union of Parliaments in 1707, up to which point Scotland was specifically excluded from doing so by various English Navigation Acts. Subsequently, when these restrictions were removed, they became, arguably, Glasgow’s most important and influential commercial family of the first half of eighteenth century.
The Buchanan Family
Mary Buchanan’s paternal ancestry can be traced back to the 16th century at least, her progenitor being Walter Buchanan of Lenny, her great, great, great, grandfather. He had two sons Andrew and Alexander, her paternal line coming through Alexander, then his son Andrew.
Andrew’s eldest son was known as Alexander Buchanan of Gartachairn (various spellings), which estate was feud to him in 1673 by Lord Napier, his father having a tack (mortgage) on the property in 1660.
Andrew’s second son George, Mary’s grandfather, moved to Glasgow where he was a maltman (brewer) and became a member of the Incorporation of Maltmen in 1674, one of the fourteen craft guilds within the Trades House of Glasgow. (Merchants joined the Merchants House, both organisations being formally constituted in 1605 when local government was being reformed.)
He became a burgess and guild brother in 1674 by right of his father in law, merchant Thomas Smith, whose daughter Issobell he married in July of the same year. He held the position of Visitor of the Maltmen in 1691, 1692 and 1694, the role being to ensure people in the trade were working within the craft’s rules in respect of prices, working practises, quality and market hours. Any ‘non-compliance’ he encountered he had the power to correct. He also supervised the training of apprentices and was involved in the Incorporation’s charitable activities which were aimed at the maintenance of elderly members and where required, the support of widows and children of deceased members. He became Glasgow Burgh treasurer in 1690 and was a Bailie from 1695 to 1705. He was also Deacon Convenor of the Trades House in 1706-1707.
There is also some evidence that George was a covenanter who in 1679 bore arms at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, the last major conflict of the Covenanter War. He was outlawed, apparently had a price on his head, but subsequent events (pardoned?) allowed him to move back into his more normal life.
His marriage to Issobell ended when she died, the date of her death not being established. A search for children of the marriage has also proved fruitless.
In July 1685 George married Mary Maxwell, the daughter of Glasgow merchant Gabriel Maxwell. They had ten children as follows:
George jnr, b. 3rd June 1686. Like his father he became a maltman, joining the craft guild in 1707 and in 1719, 1720 he was Visitor. He married three times, had several children, including three boys named George, two of whom clearly died young. He was a Glasgow Burgess and Guild Brother (1707) and was Glasgow Burgh Treasurer in 1726, and a Bailie from 1732 to 1738. He died in 1773, his daughter Cecilia by his third wife named as his executor.
Andrew, b. 29th January 1691. He was one of the first of the Buchanans to take full advantage of the American tobacco trade opening up to Scotland after 1707 subsequently owning property and plantations in Virginia. By the 1720s he and brothers Neil and Archibald were fully involved in the trade through their company Andrew Buchanan, Bros. & Co., becoming in 1730 Glasgow’s largest tobacco importer at over 500,000 lbs per annum and owning, in 1735, five ships, the Glasgow, Pr. William, Argyle, Buchanan and the Virginia Merchant. In 1737 Neil left the partnership and it became known as Andrew and Archibald Buchanan & Co. In 1749 Archibald also left to set up his own company with John Bowman and others, the original company becoming Andrew Buchanan, Son & Co. this time with brother George as a partner.
Andrew’s other business interests included the King Street sugar house in Glasgow, linen works, ropeworks and a sailcloth factory. He was also one of the founders of the Ship Bank in Glasgow in 1749 and was also responsible for Robert Carrick joining the bank as a clerk at the age of 14, his father the Rev. Robert Carrick being Andrew’s tutor as a student.
In 1716 Andrew became a Burgess and Guild Brother, in 1729-1730 was Dean of Guild and was Lord Provost of Glasgow, 1740 to 1742.
In 1745 during the Jacobite rebellion he and others on behalf of Glasgow resisted paying to the rebels the sum of £15,000, successfully getting it reduced to £5,500. Andrew was also pressed to pay a personal levy of £500, the plunder of his house being threatened. He refused essentially telling them to plunder away, which in the event did not occur.
He married twice firstly to Marion Montgomery in 1723 with whom he had two sons and four daughters. The sons James (b.1724) and George (b.1728) both became involved in the Virginia trade, James through Buchanan, Hastie & Co., George with Buchanan and Simson. James was also Lord Provost from 1768 to 1770 and again from 1774 to 1776. Andrew married his second wife Elizabeth Binning, the daughter of Edinburgh advocate Charles Binning, in 1744, Marion having died the previous year
Like most of his contemporaries he acquired property, his most significant probably being the Drumpellier estate which he bought in 1735, building Drumpellier House the following year. He also bought three tracts of land near the Shawfield Mansion between 1719 and 1740 in an area called the Long Croft. In 1753 this stretch of land became Virginia Street, named for the tobacco trade between Glasgow and Virginia. It’s likely when he bought the land he intended at some future date he would build a mansion house, however that task fell to his son George who built the Virginia Mansion which was subsequently purchased by Alexander Speirs.
George also purchased the estate of Mount Vernon (originally called Windy-edge) in 1756 .
Andrew Buchanan died in 1759, son James inheriting Drumpellier. The estate was sold to Andrew Stirling in 1777 following the collapse of James’ company. (see post Mrs Anne D. Houstoun of Johnstone Castle (1865-1950)).
Neill, b. 3rd May 1698. He married Anna Rae, daughter of George Rae a Glasgow merchant in 1719 and had a number of children, son George being the eldest born in 1721, the year he became a Burgess and Guild Brother of Glasgow. When he left the partnership with his brothers in 1737 he moved to London and set up as a tobacco merchant there. He also acted on behalf of his brothers in London as well as trading in Virginia on both a retail and wholesale basis. He also became MP in 1741 for the Glasgow burghs. His time in London did not last very long as he died there on the 14th February 1743. It seems to have taken a long time to settle his affairs as it took until 1753 to finalise the situation, in Edinburgh, based on a will written in 1741. At the time of his death two sons and five daughters, plus his wife Anna, were named as beneficiaries and/or executors. He had owned an estate in Hillington which passed to his brother Archibald.
His son George took over the business in partnership with his father’s clerk William Hamilton being known as George Buchanan & Co. in London, and Buchanan & Hamilton in Scotland and Virginia. The company however did not survive for very long. Francis Jerdone, their manager in Virginia had advised the purchase of large amounts of tobacco rather than the shipment of goods to the colony for sale there. His advice was ignored and in 1752 the company was made bankrupt by its creditors.
Archibald, b. 20th July 1701. Alexander Speirs’ father in law. As indicated earlier Archibald left the partnership with his brother Andrew in 1749 and set up a new partnership with John Bowman, Thomas Hopkirk, James Smellie and others to trade in tobacco from the James River plantation in Virginia. This was the company that Speirs formally became a partner of in 1754 (see Part 1), the partners being Archibald Buchanan, Spiers, John Bowman, Hugh Brown, Thomas Hopkirk, Alexander Mackie and James Clark, the partnership being pre-dated to July 1753. However, there is some evidence in the Virginia Deeds Book 1 (1749-1753) to support the idea that Speirs whilst in Virginia had been acting for the Buchanans, not necessarily solely on their behalf, since the 1730s and that he had become a partner of Archibald’s when he broke away from his brother in 1749. Regardless of when Speirs and Archibald joined forces what is in no doubt is the significant impact Speirs had on the company. The partnership became known as Buchanan, Speirs & Co, in the early 1750s and by 1760 had become Alexander Speirs & Co. In that year, the company imported 3,792 hogsheads of tobacco, all from Virginia, only bested by John Glassford who imported 1153 hogsheads more from Virginia and Maryland. Speirs’ total was 16% of all imports to the Clyde.
Note: One hogshead can vary based on the commodity being carried however it seems generally accepted that a tobacco hogshead equals 1,000 pound weight.
Archibald became a Burgess and Guild Brother in 1729 and in October 1739 was elected as a Bailie of Glasgow and a member of the burgh council. Like his brother Andrew he was also a founding partner of a bank, along with twenty five others in 1750, the bank being the Glasgow Arms Bank.
In 1728 he married Martha Murdoch, the daughter of an ex Lord Provost of Glasgow (1730-1732), Peter Murdoch and owner of the King Street sugar house that Andrew Buchanan had an interest in. They had seven children, four of whom grew into adulthood: Peter, b. 1735, George, b. 1737, Andrew, b. 1745 and daughter Mary, b. 1733, future wife of Alexander Speirs, the sons all being involved in the trade with Virginia or the Caribbean to some extent. Archibald Buchanan died in 1761, his estates of Auchentorlie, Hillington and Silverbank being inherited by his son Peter.
Mary, b. 29th March 1704. Married yet another George Buchanan, of Moss and Auchentoshan, in 1731.
In 1725 the four brothers formed the Buchanan Society whose aim was to support poor clan members, in particular to assist their young in education and apprenticeships. The society is still in existence and continues to award educational and hardship grants. The brothers membership numbers were George 1, Neill 11, Archibald 12 and Andrew 19.
The brothers’ father George senior, who also had very successful career as a maltman died in 1719, his wife Mary surviving him until 1741.
When Alexander married into the Buchanan family, knowingly or unknowingly, he was making an alliance with a family whose commercial experience was wider and greater than that of his own family, particularly in respect of the Chesapeake tobacco trade. His marriage with Sarah Cary had also joined him to a family whose tobacco interests were well established and who had been in the Americas for a considerable time. It’s not necessarily the case that his prime motive for these marriages was to further his career as a tobacco trader, however there is no denying that they were advantageous to him both from a business stand-point and also socially. It also should be said that his impact on the Buchanan’s business was very significant.
The timing of Speirs co-partnery with Buchanan, Bowman et al in 1754 could not have been bettered. The Buchanan brothers had been pre-eminent in the trade in the 1720s/30s however Speirs involvement with them coincided with an exponential growth in tobacco imports from around the 1750s to just before the War of Independence, tobacco imports in the early 1770s being ten times that achieved in the 1730s.
Speirs tobacco interests during that period, eventually manifested as three co- partneries, the major one being Speirs, Bowman & Co., the partners being Speirs, John Bowman, William French, Peter Murdoch, Andrew Buchanan (son of Speirs’ father in law Archibald) and John Robertson. The others were Speirs, French and Co. whose partners include Speirs, French, Bowman and John Crawford, and Patrick Colquohoun & Co. with Speirs as a partner.
The growth of the first two companies in a relatively short timescale, circa 10 to 12 years, was extraordinary. Speirs, Bowman capitalization in 1765 was £90,350, by 1776 it was £196,676, equivalent in today’s commodity or project terms of £2.8 billion. The Speirs, French numbers were less spectacular, and particularly flat for a number of years, however by 1779 they had a capitalization of £55,872 (£780m). In 1774 Speirs’ group imported 6,035 hogsheads of tobacco, around 15% of the total coming to the Clyde, with John Glassford’s companies, this time second best, importing 4506 hogsheads.
The wealth generated by his tobacco trading allowed Speirs to invest in a number of other Scottish business activities. In common with John Glassford he was involved in a wide range of enterprises, which included:
Bells Tannery, Wester Sugar House, Smithfield Iron Co, Port Glasgow Ropework, Pollockshaws Printfield Co, The Inkle Manufactory.
In more general terms his investments in 1770 totalling £131,437 were as follows:
Of all the tobacco lords he was the most prolific purchaser of land, between 1760 and 1782 acquiring estates in Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and Stirlingshire, his two key objectives being to create a single large estate (Elderslie) from adjoining smaller properties and to provide land specifically for members of his family to make them financially independent. During this period he also purchased George Buchanan’s Virginia Mansion in Virginia Street as his town residence.
The two main constituents of what became by Crown Charter the “Barony of Elderslie” were the estates of Kings Inch, bought in 1760 and Elderslie, bought in 1769. He subsequently built Elderslie House there, which took five years, it being completed in 1782.
Alexander and Mary had nine children, four sons and five daughters:
Martha, 2nd March 1756. She married a colleague of her father’s, George Crawford, her dowry being £5,000.
Archibald, 6th March 1758. Merchant in Glasgow, was Alexander’s heir, John having died in 1773 whilst a student at Glasgow University. He married Margaret Dundas, daughter of Lord Dundas in 1794. They had fourteen children, five sons and nine daughters. As a young man he was a lieutenant in the 3rd Dragoon Guards, 1781-1782 and in 1804 was a major in the Renfrew Yeomanry. In 1802 he was one of the founding partners in the Renfrewshire Bank based in Greenock as was his brother Peter. The bank failed in 1842, Archibald having resigned from the co-partnery in 1809. He also had political ambitions which, despite a number of attempts he failed to achieve until 1810, when he became M.P. for Renfrewshire, a position he held until 1818. He died in 1832 at Elderslie whilst dressing for a dinner to be held in his honour at Johnstone.
Alexander, circa 1759. Died in 1772, age thirteen, whilst a student at Glasgow University.
Peter, 15th May 1761. Merchant in Glasgow. Attended the Glasgow Grammar school following which he had seven years education/training in “languages, commercial skills, dancing. riding and fencing” on the Continent at a cost of £1,000. He married Martha Harriet Graham, the daughter of Robert Graham of Gartmore, in 1792. They had nine children, three sons and six daughters. One of the companies he was involved with was the Culcreuch Cotton Co. whose business was cotton spinning. It was so named after the estate left to him by his father, more of which later. It first appeared in the Post office directory in 1799 being listed at least until 1838. His eldest son Alexander Graham was listed with the company from 1827 to 1838, Peter’s last entry being in the directory for 1829, the year he died.
Just as Alexander’s fortune and the tobacco trade generally peaked an existential threat manifested itself in the form of the American War of Independence which began in 1775. It was to last until 1783 with the Americans freeing themselves from British rule, changing how the tobacco trade was conducted permanently.
Some individuals suffered badly from these changes, in particular John Glassford whose fortune did not really survive the war, although other issues played their part. (see John Glassford post Part 2).
So, how did Speirs fare? Like most of the tobacco importers on the Clyde, Speirs thought the war was a temporary inconvenience, but also an opportunity to make more money. The years 1773-1775 had been relatively poor in respect of the price achieved for tobacco per pound, in 1774 it was 1 3/4d., driven down by the main French purchaser, however the general feeling was that despite anticipated difficulties in procuring and importing tobacco, demand would cause the price to rise significantly. The threat of the closure of colonial ports in 1775 helped reinforce that view.
In the beginning he encouraged his factors to keep acquiring tobacco and selling goods, and not to chase debt to maintain the good will of the planters. Most of the stores that Speirs, Bowman had were located on the upper James River and they were able to increase their purchases from there by 598 hogsheads to 5,471 hogsheads in 1775, compared to 1774. This at a time when only four out 27 Scottish exporters from the James River increased their purchases, some of them experiencing 50% reductions.
Such was the credit situation for the Glasgow tobacco companies that there was no great pressure to sell their stock to clear debt owing to their creditors. In March 1776 John Glassford and two others sold their tobacco for 3 3/4 d. per lb. Speirs waited a few more weeks and achieved 4d per lb from the French. By August of that year prices had risen to 1s 6d per pound for the best quality and 8d for the lowest quality. Speirs had 2,000 hogsheads in store at that time these prices valuing it at somewhere between £4,000 and £10,000.
The profits accruing from these sales was put to good use by him as he continued to buy land, spending £85,338 between 1776 and 1783, the estates purchased included Yoker and Blawarthill, Culcreuch and Houston.
This situation however was not to last. Between 1778 and 1783 Speirs imported a total of 1284 hogsheads, one fifth of his previous annual imports from Virginia. Following a poor year in 1778 Speirs turned his attention to the Caribbean in 1779. He instructed a former factor of Speirs, Bowman in Virginia, Robert Burton, to go there and provided him with £10,000 to purchase tobacco, sugar, rum and coffee. By 1782 Burton had become a major merchant in the Caribbean, transaction funds totalling £50,000 per year.
So how did Speirs fare? Remarkably well considering. He understood risks, mitigating where he could, and identified and exploited opportunities effectively.
This success however did not prevent him from hoping that the war would end. In the year before he died he wrote to Leland Crosthwaite; “I would we could get peace with the Americans”.
About ten months after the war started Speirs had received a hand delivered letter dated the 16th February 1776 from his sister-in-law Judith Bell in Virginia. Its first lines are remarkable in that she comments on the Revolution and castigates the then Royal Governor of Virginia, John Murray the 4th Earl of Dunmore. In it she hopes that Alexander is “not among the herd that think us all rebels because we have been obliged to take up arms in our own defence” She added that “the king has not better subjects in Britain than the Americans, tho they will not willingly be made slaves they would still be dutiful subjects”.
The Earl of Dunmore in her view was a villainous and cruel individual and was the cause of the disturbances in the state and the resultant bloodshed. History has certainly painted him, correctly in my view, as one of the British villains of the Revolution. His rash approach in the three years before hostilities began, he had suspended the Virginia Assembly in 1772, 1773 and 1774, hardened the attitude of those colonists who had thoughts of independence.
He had also got involved in a successful war against the Shawnee Indians in 1774 which probably caused him to give scant regard to the growing antithesis towards him. The day after war was declared in 1775 he removed the store of gunpowder held in the public magazine at Williamsburg which resulted in an armed uprising. He also offered slaves their freedom if they fought on the British side.
The rest of her letter told him of family matters, her financial situation, which was not particularly good, and closed by wishing him and his wife and children well; “I pray God that they may be a comfort to you in your old age.”
Alexander Speirs died on the 14th December 1782. On the day of his death at Elderslie House a meeting was held by his Trust disponees (trustees responsible for the disposing/granting of property, real or personal, legally). They were:
Patrick Colquohoun, Glasgow Lord Provost
John and William Bowman, both ex Lord Provosts of Glasgow
Archibald and Peter Speirs, sons
George Crawford, son-in-law
Peter and Andrew Buchanan, merchants
John Robertson, merchant.
They opened Speirs’ repositories which contained two deeds of entail, one in favour of his eldest son Archibald, the other in favour of his second son Peter, plus a Trust disposition of his whole personal estate not included in the deeds of entail. The Trust was dated 23rd May 1782 and named the above individuals plus Mary Buchanan, his wife, and her brother George as trustees.
Archibald as the eldest son, got the estates in Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire, including Elderslie. Alexander also specified that the final payment for purchase of the Glenns estate and others in Stirlingshire should be made and that his son Peter should inherit, this being agreed with Archibald previously. The deceased specified that the workmen and labourers of the Renfrewshire land should be dismissed on 1st January 1783, thereafter the “upkeeping of the policy” would be Archibald’s responsibility, the Trust deed providing £200 for that purpose. He also specified that the factor of all the Speirs estates should be retained for the ensuing year to ensure the collection of rents.
His personal property was detailed which totalled £123,236 which included £46,510 due to him in the colonies of Virginia and Maryland, and £28,275 owed to him.
The Trust Settlement was dated 23 May 1782 and essentially laid out the entail details plus other bequests and requirements that the named trustees were required to act upon.
Archibald’s entail was dated the 9th December 1779 specifying the estates in Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire. Peter’s entail was dated 13th September 1780 and covered the estates in Stirlingshire including Culcreuch.
To his wife Mary he left £12,500 and she was given liferent of the estate of Yoker and Blawarthill and also of his dwelling house, office houses and pertinents at the head of Virginia Street, son Peter to inherit on her death or if she remarried.
His four youngest daughters were also bequeathed £2,500 each on marrying with their mother’s consent. Failing that they would only get the interest on that sum, the capital being given when both parents had died. He also specified which trustees would be tutors to them. His married daughter Martha was given £5,000.
He made other family bequests, £50 to his sister Helen and £50 to his sister-in-law Judith Bell should she survive him. If she did not then £500 would go to her brother Archibald Cary for her children, less any monies that Cary owed Speirs.
Other bequests included:
Merchants House of which he had been a member – £20.
Marine Society in Glasgow – £50.
Kirk Sessions of Fintry, Neilston and Fintry – £10 each
George Wilson’s Charity – £30
The English Chapel in Glasgow – £50.
This last bequest had conditions, namely that no one beneficiary would receive more than 10s. and that the Chapel had to account for their spend annually to Archibald. If they refused he had the right to take the money back.
Alexander’s wife Mary died on 24th December 1818; her estate mainly being left to her unmarried daughters, Helen, Mary and Joanna.
During April 1850 Helen and Joanna, Mary had died in 1849, through their nephew Captain Speirs of Culcreuch contacted the Dean of Guild of the Merchants House to advise him that it had been the desire of their mother Mrs Mary Speirs that the sum of £1,000 should be held by them for the House until it reached the sum of £2,000 whereupon it would be given over to help “decayed members of the Merchants House”. That sum being reached the sisters were now ready to hand the money over. The main terms of the donation were that the money would be paid on Whitsunday 1850, the interest on the capital to be shared among four needy members, or their widows or children, and that the donation was in perpetual remembrance of the sister’s father Alexander Speirs.
As far as I can tell Helen and Joanna were the last survivors of Alexander and Mary’s children, Helen dying in 1854 and Joanna in 1860.
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 however I suspect its true value currently would be a multiple of that. 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 1848. 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 a third Charles Rennie Cowie was to remain in Burma. John, the eldest son of Charles and Grizel married in 1908 Elizabeth Janet Ramsay. They had four children the eldest of whom was another Charles Rennie Cowie, born in Rangoon in 1911. He joined the Rangoon Battalion of the Burmese Auxiliary Force in 1938 and in 1940 is listed as a lieutenant in the Battalion. 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 a 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.
He stayed in Burma throughout the war, attaining the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel by its end.
John’s 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.
Grizel died in 1929 leaving the collection to John. He died on the 10th March 1963 of a heart attack.
Acknowledgement: My thanks to John D. Napper, grandson of John Cowie, for additional information on the Cowie family
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 is not clear, however there is some evidence to suggest he went to Virginia in the 1730s, more of which in Part 2. However in 1740 at the age of twenty six he did travel to Virginia. If he had gone to Virginia earlier it would have been as a factor/associate of a tobacco company, which is what a number of young men did then, and in his case, more than likely for the Buchanan family which again will be looked it Part 2.
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.