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 Denniston 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 and 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. He 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 £20m 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. 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 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 B.A. 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 M.A. 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 brother’s 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 B.A. in 1847, followed by a M.A. 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 M.P. 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 Andrew remained a firm supporter of the Whig party as an advisor and benefactor. When his father James died later that year 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 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 £3m, 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 identify 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. 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.
This post tells the story of how the Glassford family painting by Archibald McLauchlan came into the possession of John Duncan and hence to Glasgow Museums. Of necessity there is some repetition of my earlier Glassford posts which hopefully will not be too off-putting.
In November 1950 a Mr. John Duncan M.B.E., of Cairnhouse, Wigtown, donated to Glasgow Museums an oil painting of the Glasgow Tobacco Lord John Glassford and his family. How did it come about that a farmer, born in the small parish of Menmuir, Angus in 1897, had in his possession that particular painting which was begun around 1765 and completed sometime after Glassford married his third wife in December 1768?
As it turns out it was not by purchase but by direct descent through the Glassford family to him. These notes will tell the story of the painting’s journey to John Duncan and also comment on the people it portrays.
Firstly, it may be useful to relate some of the history of John Glassford and his marriages.
His first marriage was to Anne Coats whom he married in 1743.  Her father Archibald Coats, a Glasgow merchant, along with Bailie George Carmichael, was taken hostage in 1745 by Bonnie Prince Charlie to ensure the terms he enforced on Glasgow were implemented. These demands included “six thowsand shirt cloath coats, twelve thowsand linnen shirts, six thowsand pairs of shoes and the like number of pairs of tartan hose and blue bonnets.”
John and Anne had five children, all but one dying in infancy. Daughter Jean, born in 1746, was to become a ‘staging post’ for the painting’s journey. Anne died a few weeks after giving birth to her fifth child in 1751.
Less than a year later in 1752 Glassford married Ann Nisbet the daughter of Sir John Nisbet of Dean. They had six children, born between 1754 and 1764, all of whom, with the exception of the fifth child John, survived into adulthood. Ann Nisbet died in April 1766 from child bed fever.
In 1768 there were two Glassford family marriages. The first was that of daughter Jean who married James Gordon on the 18th August. This marriage was key to the painting getting to John Duncan.
The second was when Glassford married his third wife Lady Margaret McKenzie, daughter of the Earl of Cromarty, on the 7th December. There were three children of this marriage, born between 1770 and 1773. Unfortunately, just over five weeks after the third child Euphemia was born, Lady Margaret died on the 29th March.
It’s worth noting at this time that between 1745 and 1767 Glassford had bought three significant properties. The first was Whitehill House purchased c. 1745 and sold in 1759, the second was Shawfield Mansion bought the following year for 1700 guineas from William McDowall, and finally the Dougalston Estate, purchased from the Grahame family in 1767.
In common with the two other major tobacco traders Alexander Speirs and William Cunninghame, Glassford was fabulously wealthy during this time. However, that was not to last, particularly as far as Glassford was concerned.
By the early 1770’s the general tobacco trade was not in the best financial health. The business model was such that debt (money owed by the planters to the traders) had grown significantly, resulting in potential working capital and cash flow problems in the longer term. When the War of Independence broke out in 1775 it signalled the end of the trade as it had been. As the war progressed the French market collapsed due to French sympathies lying with the revolutionaries, import volumes dropped and debts were not being paid as settlers probably saw a way out of their debt issues.
What of Glassford’s fortune? His difficulties began before the commencement of the war. He was by nature a gambler both in business and in gaming. In particular a number of disastrous business speculations between 1774 and 1778 fundamentally laid the foundations for the loss of his fortune. He believed the war was essentially an English conflict which should have not involved Scotland. He sided with the revolutionaries, unlike his peers, even to the point of refusing to sell ships to the government to aid the war effort, leaving them berthed in Port Glasgow Harbour. This at a time when he was already in deep financial trouble and could have done with the funds that these sales would have brought.
As 1783 approached Glassford’s financial affairs continued to be problematic and he was in poor health. On the 6th August he created a tailzie (entail) of his Dougalston estate in favour of his son Henry and his heirs thus protecting it from his creditors. On the 14th August he established a trust covering the rest of his property, real and personal, the purpose of which was the winding up of his financial affairs and to further protect the entailed Dougalston estate.
Glassford died on the 27th August 1783, cause of death was given as ’growth in stomach.’ He was buried in the Ramshorn Churchyard, where also lies several members of his family. It took a further ten years to sort out his finances, his personal debt amounting to £93,140. Today that sum would equate to somewhere between £11million and £1.1 billion, dependant on the measure used.
On his father’s death Henry, who was the only surviving son of Glassford and Ann Nisbet, succeeded to Dougalston. He was an advocate, was Rector of Glasgow University from 1805 until 1807 and was MP for Dunbartonshire from 1806 to 1810. He never married and when he died in 1819 his half-brother James, son of Lady Margaret and John Glassford, succeeded him.
James’ succession to Dougalston was not without some difficulty. Henry had amassed significant debt during his life and in 1823 the terms of the tailzie was challenged in the Court of Session, the pursuers claiming the Dougalston estate was liable for these debts. In the event the pursuers lost, two of the five judges finding for the defender, one for the pursuers, and the two others excusing themselves as “they had an interest”!
James was also an advocate and legal writer. Despite marrying twice, he died in 1845  without any offspring. He was the last of John Glassford’s sons which meant that in accordance with the tailzie his daughter Jean Gordon would succeed. However, she had died in 1785, which meant that her eldest surviving son, James Gordon, would inherit. A further condition of the tailzie was that the surname Glassford should be adopted by any heir, should that be necessary. James Gordon therefore legally became James Gordon Glassford. By this means the painting began its journey to John Duncan.
James Gordon Glassford died two years later to be succeeded by his brother Henry Gordon, who, as required, adopted the surname Glassford. He married Clementina Napier in 1831 and had five children, the eldest being James Glassford Gordon, born in 1832. He inherited Dougalston on his father’s death in 1860 and became known as James Glassford Gordon Glassford. As far as I can tell he was the last Glassford owner of Dougalston.
James married Margaret Thomson Bain, the daughter of a banker, in 1861. There was no information found about them in the UK census of 1871 however in 1881 they were living at Over Rankeillour House in Monimail, Fife with ten children. This census also recorded that three of the children (two girls and a boy) had been born in Otago, New Zealand between 1868 and 1872, James being described as a Runholder (lessee of a sheep run) there. This explained their absence from Scotland in 1871.
In 1891 a similar picture emerged with another two daughters now living with the family, one had been born in New Zealand in 1879, the other born in Australia in 1865. Margaret was a widow by then, James having died in 1881. One other crucial piece of information was also evident. Staying with them at 35 Coats Gardens, Edinburgh was a 24 year old visitor by the name of James Duncan.
My first thoughts were along the lines of, which daughter did he marry? Well he did marry one of the daughters, as it turned out it was not one who had been recorded in either of the 1881 or 1891 censuses.
He married Margaret Edith Gordon Glassford in St Giles, Edinburgh on the 12th June 1894. He was a farmer age 26, the son of a doctor, she was the daughter of James and Margaret, age 29, living at 35 Coats Gardens.
Margaret Edith was born in 1864 in New South Wales, Australia. When she returned to the UK is not clear however in 1881 she was living with her aunt Christian’s family in Kent. Christian was the sister of her mother Margaret Bain.
By 1901 James and Margaret were living in Balfour, Menmuir where James farmed. They had two children, daughter Margaret age five and son John age three, who in due course would inherit the Glassford family painting. He was born on the 29th April 1897 at Menmuir and He married Nancy Marion Robertson in 1943. They had one child James born in 1944 whilst they were living at Uckfield in Sussex.
John was awarded an M.B.E. I believe in 1943. I’m not entirely sure that this date is correct, but it is the best fit for him for the years 1940 to 1955. If this is indeed him, and I believe it is, then he was a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1940, service number 03227. In 1942 he was a Flight Lieutenant and had been with the Administrative and Special Duties Branch before being released from active service.
He subsequently farmed at Cairnhouse in Wigtown and according to the present owner Mr. Colin Craig he remained there until c.1955 when Mr. Craig’s parents took the farm over. Mr Craig also related that John’s son James had died in tragic circumstances and that his wife Nancy and her daughter in law had visited the farm in the 1970s.
In generational terms John was John Glassford’s great, great, great grandson. It’s likely therefore he inherited the painting on his mother’s death in September 1950, her father James previously having inherited it along with Dougalston. On the 23 November he gifted it to Glasgow, which was the end of its journey within the Glassford family.
He died in the Royal Northern Infirmary in Inverness on the 13th August 1966, his normal home address being Allt-A-Bhruais, Spean Bridge.
The Family Portrait
The Glassford family portrait, as might be expected, demonstrates how wealthy John had become with the fine clothing on display and the room’s furnishings, which was within Shawfield Mansion. Much has recently been written about it particularly around the time (2007) when conservation work on the painting was being undertaken at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
The painting contains the surviving children from his first two marriages and his third wife Lady Margaret McKenzie. The conservation work led by conservator Polly Smith established that his second wife Ann Nisbet had originally been included but had been painted out following her death in 1766, suggesting that it was in progress prior to that date or possibly had been completed. Lady Margaret would have been added subsequent to their marriage in 1768, probably early in 1769.
Another figure was also established behind John Glassford’s chair, that of a negro manservant. It had been believed previously that he had been painted out to avoid any family connection to slavery, however it seems that the figure simply faded over time.
I believe the children in the painting to be Jean at the rear to the right of her father, the middle row left to right being Rebecca, Christian, Anne, Catherine and on Lady Margaret’s lap Henry, and standing at the front, John.
Who was the negro servant and by what means did he come to Glassford’s household? Perhaps the answer lies in the following extracts from Frederick County, Maryland Land Records and the Maryland Genealogical Society Records.
Robert Peter or Peters was a Scottish tobacco factor working for John Glassford and Company in Maryland. He began in Bladensburgh circa 1746, moving to Georgetown in 1755. (In 1790 he became the first mayor of Georgetown). He was also John Glassford & Company’s attorney in Maryland. On the 27th September 1756, he bought a negro boy named Jim for 4,000 lbs of tobacco and £2 5s. For this purchase he is recorded as Glassford’s attorney. I think it probable therefore that this purchase was made in the name of the company. Why else record that it was made by the attorney of John Glassford?
Robert Peter bought other slaves but those records I have seen clearly state that the purchases were on his own or his family’s behalf, and they never involved a single slave purchase.
Was ‘Jim’ purchased for Glassford personally? Is he the manservant in the painting? In truth who knows but intriguing none the less.
The Tobacco Lords, Tom Devine, 1975, John Donald Ltd Edinburgh.
Scotland’s Empire 1600 – 1815, Tom Devine, 2003, Penguin Group.
Studies in Scottish Business History, Ed. Peter Payne, 1967, Frank Case & Co. (Reprint from the William and Mary Quarterly entitled ‘The Rise of Glasgow in the Chesapeake Tobacco Trade 1707-1775)
Glasgow Past and Present-3 Volumes – 1884, David Robertson and Co.
As is the tradition, when Sir Hector McNeill retired as Lord Provost of Glasgow in 1949 he had his portrait painted by the artist David Shanks Ewart. On its completion he gifted the portrait to Glasgow museums in 1950.
His paternal ancestry came from fairly humble, rural beginnings. His grandparents were Archibald McNeill, the son of farm servant John McNeill and his wife Flora McDonald, and Flora McNeill, both of Campbeltown. They married there in April 1840, he was a labourer, and she was the daughter, age 24, of shoemaker Archibald McNeill and his wife Jean McIntyre. They lived all their lives in Campbeltown at various addresses, latterly in Queen Street where Flora died in 1883 . Archibald also died there in 1895, age 78, his occupation being given as a distillery maltster.
He had been a labourer until circa 1848 at which time he is recorded as being a maltster. His job was to create malt by wetting barley on the floor of the malthouse, turning it over for several days to allow the barley to germinate and then drying it out. When that process was complete the malt would then be passed on to the distiller to make alcohol from the sugars that were produced. Campbeltown in the 19th century was a major fishing port for herring and was a significant producer of whisky. It’s therefore probable he worked in one of the many distilleries there. In the early 1800’s there were over thirty, by 1885 there were twenty one, producing two million gallons of spirits per annum. From farm labourer to a maltster in a thriving industry would have meant a significant improvement in the family’s situation. There are now only three distilleries in Campbeltown; Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle.
Between 1840 and 1855 Archibald and Flora had seven children, the first a daughter Catherine was born seven months after they married, Sir Hector’s father, yet another Archibald, was the seventh, and third boy, born on the 28th October 1855. They had two other sons after 1855, Duncan, born c. 1859 and James born c. 1864.
In the 1871 census son Archibald is recorded as a scholar, age fifteen, which is perhaps surprising in that the majority of young men at that age would have been in employment unless from a well to do family. However, it may have been his father’s wish to have his children educated as well as possible, especially as he was illiterate at the time of Archibald’s birth in 1855. Where he was schooled has not been established however it may have been at Campbeltown Grammar School which was founded in 1686.
Ten years later Archibald is still living with his parents, in Queen Street, as are brothers Hector and James. His occupation is given as a clerk, Hector is a tailor and James is a pupil teacher.
He married Margaret Burns in 1884 by which time he was living in Glasgow at 396 Argyle Street, working as a mercantile clerk. Margaret, who was a milliner and lived at the same address, was age 29 and the daughter of Robert Burns, farmer, and Catherine McPhail, both deceased.
Like his paternal ancestry Sir Hector’s maternal forebears were farming folk. That however is as much as I have been able to establish directly about his maternal ancestry. His mother’s birth date has also proved elusive however there is one possibility which would also add more information about his maternal ancestry.
According to the 1901 census she was born in Kilmaronock in Dunbartonshire. Her age at the time of her marriage to Archibald would mean she was born circa 1854. A search either side of 1855 produced only one result and that is for a Margaret Burns born illegitimately to Robert Burns of Little Finnery and Catherine (no surname) on the 26th July 1851. She was a servant to an Andrew Paton.
Little Finnery was a farm in the parish of Kilmaronock, adjacent to which was another also referred to as Little Finnery. In the 1851 census Little Finnery was occupied by widow Mrs. R. Burns, her forename being Margaret, and her two sons, James and Robert who was age 22. It’s clear the family worked the farm, which extended to 50 acres, as they employed a number of ‘outdoor servants’ to assist them. The adjacent farm was of 40 acres and occupied by Andrew Paton and his family. He employed agricultural labourers and servants amongst whom was servant Catherine McPhail, age 20, born in Islay. Strong circumstantial evidence I would say that these are Sir Hector’s maternal grandparents.
Mrs Burns was 60 years old when her granddaughter Margaret was born in 1851 and remained at Little Finnery at least until 1857 by which time she was joined as occupier by a William Burns. There is no reference to either son. In 1861 there is a Mrs Margaret Burns, age 70 living in the village of Gartocharn, Kilmaronock with her granddaughter, also Margaret, age 9, further evidence that seems to support the contention above.
Regarding Robert and Catherine no other evidence as to whether they got married, their whereabouts or deaths have been established. It’s more than likely for that time period, she would be deemed the ‘guilty’ party and perhaps had to leave the locality.
Archibald, shipping clerk, and Margaret continued to live in Glasgow and by 1901 were living at 70 Carrick Street, Back Yard with son (Sir) Hector age 9 and James, Archibald’s brother. They also had a boarder, Annie Cooper who was a book folder.
In that census and in 1911 Hector is said to have been born in Motherwell his age in each case indicating he was born in 1892. Unexpectedly I have not been able to confirm that directly. There were no Hector McNeills born in Motherwell between 1888 and 1894 despite varying the spelling of the surname. Searching the whole of Lanarkshire produced two possibles, one was the son of a master mariner, the other was the son of a Clyde Trust labourer. The parents in each case had different forenames.
In 1908 Hector’s mother Margaret, died in the Western infirmary of a cerebral haemorrhage, she was 54 years old. At that time the family still lived in Carrick Street at number 77, however by 1911 father and son had moved to 9 Buchanan Court in Lauriston in Glasgow where Archibald continued working as a commercial clerk and Hector was employed as an ‘iron turner’ in the engineering industry.
Working in engineering with its strong involvement with the trade union movement of the day Hector would have got involved with the unions and the Labour party fairly early on in his working career. His ‘point of entry’ would likely have been as a local shop steward which led to a progression through the ranks of union and party. By 1924 he was President of the Glasgow Trades and Labour Council and also chairman of the Central Division Labour Party.
In the 1923 General Election the Labour party decided to support the communist candidate for Kelvingrove constituency, Aiken Ferguson. McNeil was chosen by the party as their contact point with the communists, and again in 1924 when there was a by election at Kelvingrove, Ferguson standing again as a candidate. This occurred at a time when there was some talk of the communist and labour parties joining together which never happened, the support for Ferguson in 1924 being lukewarm because of what was considered to be his and others radical views.
Later that year the municipal elections were held in Glasgow and McNeill was chosen as the socialist candidate for the 14th (Anderston) Ward. His opponent, described as Moderate, was painter and decorator Edward Guest who had been a member of the council for 16 years. On a 63% turnout of the electorate of 12,585 McNeill won with a majority of 388. 
The first meeting of the new council was held on the 7th November and McNeill was duly appointed to five committees, including Gas Supply and Water. He was also proposed as a governor of the Victoria Hospital but lost by four votes despite being supported by Bailie Mary Barbour, renowned for her leadership of the women of Govan in the rent strikes of 1915, Pat Dollan, future Lord Provost of Glasgow whose wife Agnes had been involved with Barbour during the rent strikes, and his two fellow councillors for Anderston.
He was re-elected in 1927, with a similar majority, served in the same committees as previously and in 1929 became depute water bailie in addition to joining the General Finance and Streets, Sewers and Buildings committees.
His political career however stalled in the 1930 municipal elections when he lost his council seat. There were three candidates on this occasion representing the Moderate Party, Labour, (McNeill) and the Independent Labour Party (I.L.P.), the Moderate candidate Jonathan Harvey winning by 1285 votes. No doubt the left wing vote was split because of the two socialist candidates however the Moderate majority was greater than the vote for the I.L.P. candidate by 165 votes.
During his first tenure as a councillor Hector’s father had died in 1926 and in 1927 he had married Grace Stephen Robertson, a milliner of Skelmorlie, age 35, Hector was described as an insurance agent living at 9 Alexandra Street. The marriage was by declaration in front of witnesses authorised by warrant issued by the Sheriff Substitute of Lanarkshire on the same day. Her father was a retired wholesale grocer, her mother, Grace Simpson Stephen had died in 1914 at the age of 59.
There were two sons of the marriage, Ramsay, born in 1929 and Hector John, born in 1934.
McNeill did not stand again for the council until 1932 when he was one of the labour candidates for the newly created Ward 38 (Yoker and Knightswood) with an electorate of 16,109. Each ward has three councillors, with one retiring for re-election each year. As ward 38 was new the election was for three council seats instead of the usual one.
There were eight candidates, three Socialist or Labour, three Moderate Party, and two I.L.P. Those elected were E. Rosslyn Mitchell (Soc.) – 4813 votes, Hector McNeill (Soc.) – 3077 votes and Elphinstone Dalglish (Mod.) – 2775.
Rosslyn Mitchell had been a councillor for Springburn and also stood for parliamentary election in 1910 and 1922. In the 1924 General Election he stood as the Labour candidate for Paisley and beat the sitting member Herbert Asquith the ex-Liberal Prime Minister by 2,200 votes. He declined to stand again for parliament in 1929 citing business and personal difficulties. He died in 1965.
Elphinstone Maitland Dalglish was a grocer, described as a wholesale egg merchant in the Town Council lists. He died in 1942. He had a very famous policeman son, of exactly the same name, who as Detective Superintendant was initially in charge of the investigation into the ‘Bible John’ murders in Glasgow which were never solved. He finished his police career as Deputy Chief Constable of Glasgow and then Strathclyde. He died in 1988.
For the following twelve years or so McNeill served on a variety of committees which typically included municipal transport, parks, the Kelvin Hall, streets sewers and building, and health. He was also a Justice of the Peace from 1932.
He became a Baillie in November 1933 remaining so for three years, and in 1941 he joined the General Finance committee as city treasurer, his tenure in that role again being three years.
His business address during his time as a council member from 1932 was given as 218 West Regent Street, his home address being initially Clarion Crescent in Knightswood. In 1942 he moved to Larchfield Avenue, Newton Mearns where lived for the rest of his life.
On the 9th November 1945 he was elected Lord Provost of Glasgow, beating his opponent for the office, James Grey, by 65 votes to 42. As was normal for the time he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of the City of Glasgow in December 1945 and was knighted in June 1946.
As well as his duties as Lord Provost he became involved with a number of other governmental organisations.
These included; in 1946 he was appointed to the Scottish Advisory Council for Civil Aviation by British European Airways (BEA) with the approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and in 1947 he was nominated by the Minister of Transport to serve on the board of David MacBrayne, Ltd., primarily to monitor a contract between the government and the company to provide shipping services to the Western Highlands and Islands,
He was also a member at various times of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive of the Ministry of Transport, the Clyde Navigation Trust and the Scottish Tourist Board.
Other organisations he was a director of were the Economic Insurance Company which he joined the board of in 1949 and SMT Sales and Service Co. Ltd. (Motor Engineers).
He died in 1952, age 60, in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, his occupation given as company director. His memorial Service was held in Glasgow Cathedral, the service conducted by Rev. Dr. Nevile Davidson. An address was given by former Secretary of State Tom Johnston who described him as a middle of the road traveller. A man of high ideals who laboured all his life to promote social ownership and cooperation between all his countrymen, and who had earned the respect of opponents and colleagues alike. At the time of his death he was the Chairman of the Glenrothes Development Corporation.
The Trades House of Glasgow recorded his death in their minutes and noted that there was a deep loss sustained by the community through his death.
His wife Grace died in 1954, age 62, from chronic bronchitis.
 Bonavia, Michael R. (1987) The Nationalisation of British Transport: The Early History of the British Transport Commission 1948-1953. New York: Palgrave McMillan. p. 177. https://books.google.co.uk
This post was meant to be about another beneficent Glasgow clergyman, the Rev. James Oswald, however as I researched his family it became clear that the broader family history was perhaps more interesting. His brother was Richard Oswald, who became a merchant in London and also helped establish the treaty between the United States and Great Britain which ended the American War of Independence.
However, by no stretch of the imagination can Richard Oswald be described as a benefactor of Glasgow. As I hope to show he married into a rich family which brought him property in the Caribbean and the American colonies, included in which were plantations which used African slave labour. He dealt in sugar, tobacco and other commodities and helped provision the British army during the Austrian War of Succession and the Seven Years War. He was also responsible for the shipment of around 13,000 African slaves from Bance/Bunce Island, in the Sierra Leone river estuary, to the British colonies in America and the Caribbean.
The major part of this post will therefore depart from my usual objective of discussing benefactors of Glasgow. Why? I’m not really sure. Richard Oswald had lots of skills and business acumen, however it was all underpinned by his activity as a major slave trader. I suppose therefore I’m reacting to his significant part in the slave trade which involved him setting up a ‘slave trading post’ off the West African coast. Hopefully, therefore, these notes will help, even in a small way, dispel the myth that trading in African slavery was predominately an English activity, carried out from English ports, and that we Scots were above doing anything like that. It has become clear in recent years that Scots were at the heart of the machinery that made slave trading work and profitable. They were also responsible for some of the most appalling treatment of their ‘cargo’ as ‘it’ was shipped across the Atlantic.
In 1795 Robert Burns wrote “ A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, a sentiment that Oswald appears not to have shared. As it happens Burns also wrote a poem about Oswald’s wife Mary Ramsey, but more of that later.
The brothers’ great grandfather was James Oswald* of Kirkwall, Orkney. He had a son, also James, who at some point crossed over to Wick in Caithness where he became a bailie of the town. What his occupation was has not been established. He married Barbara Coghill and had two sons, James and George who both became clergymen, each marrying daughters of Richard Murray of Pennyland.
*Lots of James Oswalds in this story!
James was born in 1654 and attended King’s College Aberdeen graduating as M.A. in 1674. Initially he was a session clerk and teacher in Thurso, however that was to change when he was admitted to the ministry in the parish of Watten in Caithness, an Episcopalian charge, in 1683. He remained at Watten until his death in 1698. He married Mary Murray in the year he became minister there and had two sons, Richard, born in 1687 and Alexander, born in 1694, and two daughters. Both sons became very successful merchants in Glasgow. In 1751 they purchased the Scotstoun estate from the Crawford family and by 1759 they jointly owned Balshagray. Notably they were also influential in their cousin Richard, son of George Oswald and the main subject of this post, becoming a merchant, he serving an apprenticeship with them.
George was born in 1664 and graduated M.A. from Edinburgh University in 1692. He became minister of Dunnet parish church, also in Caithness, in 1697, his charge being a Presbyterian one. He married his sister-in-law Margaret Murray and had five children of whom two were boys; James, (the beneficent clergyman) and Richard (the slave trader). He died in 1725. One unusual episode he had to deal with during his ministry occurred in 1699 when two parishioners were accused of witchcraft. Having sought advice from the Presbytery he was advised to confront the accused with witnesses and report back. Nothing seems to have come of it as there is no further record of it in the Presbytery Records. This case also appears to have been the last recorded incident of witchcraft in Caithness.
James Oswald – the Beneficent Clergyman.
George’s eldest son James was born in 1703. His early education is unclear with a suggestion that he attended King’s College, Aberdeen. It seems he did attend the divinity class given by William Hamilton at Edinburgh University in 1723. For how long and to what extent is not known.
He must however have attained a reasonable divinity education as when his father died the Caithness presbytery began the process of George succeeding his father at Dunnet in March 1726, ending with his ordination in August of the same year.
He remained at Dunnet, preaching in English and Gaelic, until December 1750 at which time he transferred to the parish at Methven in Perthshire. His move there was not without some difficulty. He was proposed by the parish patron for the position in 1748 however the Perth presbytery was against the appointment, not necessarily on a personal basis but because they were against patronage and would have preferred the parish lay elders to have decided their next incumbent. It took two years and various rebukes from the church hierarchy, including civil charges of intimidation, before a General Assembly committee ‘made it happen’. This led to a number of the congregation seceding from the church.
From about that time, and for the rest of his life, he began to write about the church, its purpose, methodology and potential for schism, gaining a reputation as an ‘ecclesiastical politician’. His first publication was in 1753 relating to church authority and obedience however it was in the mid-1760s that he began to make his name as an author. In that decade he was an unsuccessful candidate for the chair of ecclesiastical history at Glasgow University, in 1765 he wrote ‘Scripture Catechism, for the Use ofFamilies’ and a year later he wrote perhaps his most important work ‘An Appeal toCommon Sense in Behalf of Religion’, which was well received at home and abroad, and went to a second edition in 1768 and a second volume in 1772.
During this period, he became moderator of the General Assembly in 1765  and was awarded the degree D.D. by Glasgow University in the same year.
He married Elizabeth Murray of Clairdon in 1728 and had seven children, four of whom were boys. Two of the sons, George and Alexander, became noted merchants in Glasgow, George inheriting the Scotstoun estate circa 1766 from his second cousins Richard and Alexander who both died without issue, brother Alexander buying the Shieldhall estate in 1781. It’s also perhaps worth mentioning that brother Alexander had a son, another James born in 1779, who, like his father, was a merchant and became one of two MPs for Glasgow in 1832, following the Reform Act of that year. His statue is in the north east corner of George Square in line with the Cenotaph; Oswald Street in the city centre is named after him.
Elizabeth died in 1746, not long after the youngest son Andrew was born in 1745. In 1749 James married Margaret Dunbar, there being no children of this second marriage.
He continued at Methven until 1783 at which time he left his charge to go and live with his son George at Scotstoun. He had continued to write, having more time to do so from the early 1770s due to ill health resulting in his pastoral duties being carried out by others. For most of his life he and his brother Richard had exchanged letters, some of which dealt with his writings, particularly concerning a follow up to ‘Appeal’. His brother also helped him financially at Methven when his stipend was reduced as a result of the patron and one other heritor being in financial difficulties.
He died in 1793 and left £100 to the Glasgow Society for the Sons of Clergymen (still in existence and now known as the Glasgow Society for the Sons and Daughters of Clergymen), and a similar amount to its Edinburgh counterpart. He also donated £20 to the Glasgow Merchants House. Small amounts it would seem but in today’s terms these sums equate to somewhere between £25,000 and £2.4 million.
Richard Oswald – Merchant, Diplomat, Slave Trader.
James’ brother Richard was born circa 1705. Where he began his education is not known however around 1725, shortly after his father died, he became apprenticed to his cousins Richard and Alexander who, as previously stated, were successful merchants in Glasgow trading in tobacco, sugar and wine. He became their factor in the British colonies in America and the Caribbean travelling as required to satisfy the needs of the business, supplying planters and collecting payment and chasing debts. On his return to Glasgow in 1741 he became a partner in his cousins’ company.
During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) Oswald had made large profits, presumably for his cousins’ company and himself, resulting in him moving to Philpot Lane in London in 1746 where he continued to deal in tobacco and sugar and eventually, horses and slaves. Between 1756 and 1758, helped by a family member who was on the government Treasury board, and other influential London based Scottish merchants, he began provisioning the British army with bread, wagons and so on, which led to him supplying the army in Germany with bread during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). His contracts and commissions during this war netted him a remarkable £125,000, worth £18 million to £2 billion today.
His business activity had clearly grown in size and scope between these two wars. He was making lots of money but where did his working capital come from? No doubt some of it would come from the usual sources of the day and his profits, however two events during this period I believe, significantly changed the level of capital he was able to apply to his business.
Firstly, he began shipping African slaves to the American and Caribbean colonies around 1748 and then he married an extremely rich heiress in 1750.
Looking at his marriage first; he married Mary Ramsay in St Martins in the Fields, London on the 17th November 1750. She was the daughter of Alexander Ramsay of Jamaica and Jean Ferguson, whom he had met in Jamaica whilst working for his cousins. Alexander was an extremely wealthy plantation and hence slave owner living in Kingston. He had died in 1738, his will being probated in Jamaica in that year and referring to him owning one hundred and one slaves, fifty one adult males and fifty adult females, all valued at £3727. Mary as an only child inherited her father’s estate on his death which included properties in the West Indies and the Americas. Through his wife therefore Oswald had access to a significant fortune. As it turned out there were no children of their marriage.
By the time of his marriage he had already got involved in the trading of slaves. In 1748 he and other London based Scottish merchants, the partnership being known as Grant, Sargent and Oswald, purchased Bance Island from the Royal African Company of England which had built a fort there around 1672.
The fort was rebuilt, and the infrastructure put in place to obtain slaves from the mainland. They did not venture into the interior themselves but imported guns, alcohol, and cloth which they exchanged with local chieftains for native captives they brought to the island, these captives resulting from local ‘induced’ wars.
Oswald was the lead partner in the venture whose main customers were the rice planters of Charlestown, South Carolina. By 1756 he had established a close business and personal relationship with Henry Laurens, a very rich rice planter and slave dealer there. From Bance island the slave ships would carry around three hundred slaves per ship plus ivory and camwood. Laurens sold the slaves locally and from his commission on the sale, would purchase rice to send to London along with the ivory and camwood. By this process both men increased their wealth exponentially.,  Between 1748 and 1784 around thirteen thousand men, women and children were shipped from Bance Island to the Americas.
However, the American War of Independence was to change the relationship between Oswald and Laurens, both becoming active participants in ending it.
In the meantime, following the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 Oswald began putting by now his vast fortune to more use by acquiring land for both business and personal use. He purchased four plantations in the Caribbean amounting to 1,566 acres, and 30,000 acres of land in Florida. Over the next twenty years he also purchased the Auchincruive estate in Ayrshire (7,000 acres) and the similarly sized Cavens estate in Kirkcudbright and Dumfriesshire. His main residence became Auchincruive House which was built in 1767 to a design provided to the previous owner James Murray by Robert Adam.
His business activities however began to suffer following the rebellion of the British colonists in America which resulted in the American War of Independence beginning in 1775. As a direct consequence he reduced his overseas activities and also divested himself of his property in Virginia and Florida. He always had been to some extent politically active, but not in any formal way, simply through friends in Whitehall. The war changed that as he began writing papers on a variety of subjects, including military, using his business background and experience of the Colonies and their businessmen to inform his writing. One particular memorandum written in 1781 was entitled ‘The Folly of Invading Virginia, The Strategic Importance of Portsmouth and the need for Civil Control of the Military’ from which we may be able to assume where his sympathies lay.
It was at this time that his friendship with Henry Laurens came to the forefront of settling the Independence War. Laurens had become President of the Continental Congress (the provisional government of the rebellious colonies) during the war and had then been appointed American envoy to Holland. On his way there c.1780/81 he was captured by the British Navy, imprisoned in the Tower of London and charged with high treason. In 1781 Oswald paid bail of £50,000 to release him from the Tower, Laurens remaining in London until he was exchanged for the British Commander in America, c.1782.
Probably because of his American contacts, in April 1782 Oswald was appointed by the Prime Minister Lord Shelburne as his diplomatic agent to ‘treat for peace’ with the American delegation in Paris which consisted of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay and subsequently Henry Laurens. Oswald was the main negotiator for the British side but was considered by some to be too lenient towards the Americans and too ready to concede issues. However, by November 1782 a provisional treaty was agreed and signed by the four Americans and Oswald. The formal treaty (Treaty of Paris) was signed on the 3rd September 1783, being essentially the same as the provisional one signed the year before.
“At least in part, United States Independence was negotiated between a British slave trader and his agent for rice growing slaves in South Carolina”
Oswald returned to London, sharing his time between his town house at 9 Great George Street and Auchincruive, relinquishing the management of his business to other family members.
A year after the treaty was signed he died at Auchincruive on the 6th November 1784. His wife had life rent of the estate until her death in 1788 at which time his nephew George Oswald of Scotstoun was left one part of it, the other going to Richard Oswald’s great-nephew Richard Alexander Oswald.
Richard and Mary were buried in the Oswald vault at St. Quivox parish church, however she had died in her London home and it was the last part of her journey home to Ayrshire that prompted Robert Burns to write a poem about her which he called ‘Ode, Sacred to the Memory of Mrs. Oswald of Auchincruive’.
Some of the sentiments expressed in the poem came from Burn’s previous knowledge of Mary when he lived in her neighbourhood where her tenants and servants detested her with a passion. However, it was the arrival of her funeral cortege at Sanquhar inn, depriving him of lodgings there for the night thereby forcing him to ride on a further twelve miles on a tiring horse, himself fatigued and the weather stormy and snowing, which pushed him to write a scathing account of her life. The lines below illustrate his feelings about her as he wrote the poem after his arduous journey.
‘Laden with unhonoured years
Noosing with care a bursting purse
Baited with Many a deadly cure.’
‘Pity’s flood there never rose
See these hands, ne’er stretch to save
Hands that took but never gave
Keeper of Mammon’s iron chest
Lo, there she goes, unpitied and unblest
She goes, but not to realms of everlasting rest!’
The rest of the poem suggests she is destined for hell, along with her husband.
When slavery was abolished in Britain in 1833, Richard Alexander Oswald, the grandson of James Oswald, the beneficent clergyman, was awarded compensation of £5,645 18s 6d for the loss of the 297 slaves he owned jointly with his wife in Jamaica.
Today this would be worth somewhere between £500k and £27.5m.
In October 1950 Mrs. Helen Percy presented to Glasgow Museums a portrait of her mother by the artist John Graham Gilbert.
Her mother was Elizabeth Bannatyne, wife of Glasgow merchant John Jarvie who was heavily involved in trade with China and the Far East during the middle of the 19th Century.
This report looks at both their family backgrounds and how he became a ‘foreign merchant’ particularly in Singapore, but not always successfully as we will see.
John Jarvie’s grandfather was William Jarvie, a coal master of Pollokshaws. He married Agnes McGie in 1754 and they had at least four children, three girls and one boy. They were all baptised on the same day in 1762 in the parish of Eastwood, their birth dates ranging from 1755 to 1762.
William was a coal master at a time in Scotland when essentially miners were no better than slaves and were legally tied to mines (bondsmen) by an Act of Parliament (1606), unless their master agreed to release them. Another Act in 1672 authorised “coal masters, salt masters and others, who had manufactories in this kingdom to seize upon any vagabonds or beggars wherever they can find them, and to put them to work.”  This state of affairs continued until the beginning of the 19th Century. For more on the history of coal mining in Scotland the Scottish Mining Website (http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/index.html) is an excellent source of information.
Whilst his main occupation is given as coal master he also farmed at various locations within Sir John Maxwell’s Pollok estate, including at Clogholes farm, PolIocktoun and Northwoodside. His will, he died c.1767, details the value of equipment and crops at each of these locations and others, and also includes the value of tools, equipment and instruments associated with his coal works at Napiershall. When household goods, furniture and so on are included his estate was valued at £334 2s., his wife Agnes being his named executrix.
His son Robert was born in July 1758 at Shaws. His initial schooling has not been established, the only certainty being that he did not attend the University as the matriculation or graduation records do not include his name. It’s probable he worked for his father at some stage but again nothing has been found to indicate what he did in the early part of his life.
He eventually became a merchant in Glasgow however his first appearance in the Post Office Directories does not occur until 1806 where he is described as a merchant with James Hamilton, Sen. and Co., his home address being given as Charlotte Lane, which is where he lived until 1815. He remained with that company for the rest of his active life, eventually becoming a partner in the business and others. He was also a director of the Chamber of Commerce from 1829 until 1833.
He married in 1814 Jane Milligan, the daughter of William Milligan, merchant, and Jean Ure of Fareneze Printfield, Neilston. They had seven children, five sons and two girls. The family home was at Maxwellton Place from 1815 until 1824, at which time they moved to 19 Carlton Place.
Robert died at home on the 28th April 1843. At the time of his death his movable estate was valued at £8378 9s 3d, equivalent to £800,000 today by simple RPI changes, in terms of economic power it equates to several millions of pounds.
However, that does not tell the whole story of his wealth. In 1830 he set up a Trust Disposition and Settlement which dealt with his heritable estate in Glasgow plus what is described as his ‘stock in trade’ including his ‘share of same’ from other co-partneries with which he was involved. Included was property/ground bounded by the west of Robertson Street and the Broomielaw, subjects in Queen Street, property in Carlton Place and other properties and ground.
Eleven trustees were named whose function was to manage the trust to support his wife and children and if need be, their children. There are three codicils to the deed the last of which in 1836 names his eldest son William as a trustee.
Four of the five sons, William, Robert, James and John , more of whom later, all matriculated at the University between 1829 and 1837, and all became merchants in due course. There is no evidence to suggest the youngest son Alexander became a merchant or attended the University, however there was a bit of a mystery about his whereabouts after 1856 which led to a petition for him to be presumed dead.
In 1885 his sister Agnes, the widow of Isaac Buchanan, resident in Hamilton, Canada, sought to have Alexander presumed dead in accordance with the 1881 Presumption of Life Limitation Scotland Act. In her submission to the Lords of Council and Session she stated that her brother had sailed from New York to Melbourne, Australia in 1856 and had not been heard of since. She also stated that he was unmarried at that time.
Deposited in a bank account in his name was his share of his father’s estate which was finally settled in 1865, plus other bequests and interest accrued amounting to £1644, all of which had remained untouched since the account had been set up.
Judgement was given in her favour and Alexander was presumed to have died on or about the 23rd February 1864. Why that date is not made clear however a reasonable guess would be that since he was presumed to have died before his father’s estate was settled then his share would automatically go to his siblings, otherwise it should go to any heirs (children) he may have had which would have entailed a difficult search for proof.
In the event with Alexander being declared dead Agnes, as the only surviving sibling, was confirmed as executrix and sole beneficiary of his estate in January 1886.
When I tried to find out if he did die in Australia only one possibility arose in that an Alexander Jarvie died in Wellington, New South Wales in 1902. The data from the NSW web site is sparse but intriguingly the first names of the parents quoted in the document were Robert and Jane. Pure coincidence or could this have been the long lost brother?
The other brothers stories are also somewhat interesting. The oldest, William, started on his own account as a commission agent in 1839 in Robertson Street. By 1846 he was a partner in Rainey, Jarvie and Co. and by 1848 he was declared bankrupt and had his assets sequestrated. He never appears in the Post Office Directories again.
Very little is known about James except he died in 1867 at Lismore, Argyllshire. The registration document describes him as a merchant, no other source has been found to confirm that, and that he died of ‘excessive drinking’.
A little more is known about Robert. He undoubtedly was a merchant but it’s not obvious with whom in Glasgow. The most likely is Buchanan, Hamilton and Co. as in 1860 a partnership was established in Shanghai between Buchanans, Robert Jarvie and William Thorburn, which was styled Jarvie, Thorburn and Co. This partnership lasted until Robert’s death in Shanghai in 1866.
John Jarvie, the second youngest of the brothers was born in 1822. He matriculated at the University in 1837 and by 1842 he was in Singapore donating 20 Spanish dollars for raising a spire and tower for St. Andrew’s Church there!
He was essentially to remain there for the next eighteen years, travelling around the Far East as required by business. In 1848 he was acting as an agent for the Glasgow firm of Hamilton, Gray and Co.; in 1852 he became a partner of the company in Singapore and also of Buchanan, Hamilton and Co. in Glasgow. During that period, he travelled to and from Hong Kong,Siam, India, and Australia. His travels continued to these destinations and others until he returned home circa 1860.
In 1854 he was appointed Consul for Denmark in Singapore, an appointment he fulfilled well on behalf of that country. In 1858 he travelled to Siam accredited to the Royal Court there by King Frederich VII of Denmark. His task was to negotiate a treaty with the ‘first and second kings’ of Siam and their ‘magnates’. As he was well known to all of the personnel involved he had no difficulty in concluding a treaty of friendship and commerce along the same lines as other countries had done before.
He played his part in Singapore civic life serving on several grand jurys between 1849 and 1854. In 1853 he served on a jury whose calendar comprised of eighteen cases including two murders. In November 1850 he was elected Master of the local Masonic lodge from the position of Senior Warden.
In 1859 in recognition of his service to Denmark he was created a Chevalier of the Royal Order of Danebrog by the King of Denmark.
He returned to Glasgow in 1860 and married Elizabeth Bannatyne in November of that year. She was the daughter of Andrew Bannatyne, writer, and Margaret Millar.
Her paternal grandfather was Dugald Bannatyne a prominent citizen of Glasgow in the early part of the 19th century. He was a stocking weaver who was influential in the development of George Square around 1800. He formed, along with Robert Smith Jr and John Thomson, the Glasgow Building Company. He was able to attract English capital to what was a speculative venture through Thomson’s brother in law, an English stocking weaver called Johnston. By 1804 the Square had buildings on each side which were being described as ‘elegant, particularly on the north (side).’
He was appointed Post Master General in 1806 and was secretary to the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce from 1809 to 1830. In 1817 he was a member of a committee of the Glasgow Merchants House charged with bringing about the building of a new Merchants Hall. Dugald’s wife was Agnes Stirling who was a descendant of the Stirling family of Drumpellier.
John and Elizabeth had 11 children, six boys and five girls. Sadly, with two exceptions they all died before they were forty five years old, the exceptions being Helen the donor of the painting and her sister Agnes. Two died as infants, four as teenagers, two of whom, Andrew and Robert, died from pneumonia within 8 days of each other in 1878. The other five all married, more of which later.
John continued in partnership with Buchanan, Hamilton and Co. and others this time based in Glasgow, the family living at 13 Park Circus. Unfortunately this situation did not last for very long. In 1865 the funds of all the partnerships he was involved with and those of the individual partners were sequestrated. The companies involved were Buchanan, Hamilton and Co., Jarvie, Thorburn and Co., and Hamilton, Gray and Co., the partners being Walter Buchanan, William Hamilton, John Jarvie and George Henderson. The process of dealing with creditors lasted until 1876.
John however around 1866/67 had already formed another partnership with George Henderson apparently unaffected by the sequestration problems they both faced. They were known as Jarvie, Henderson and Co, in Glasgow  and J. Jarvie and Co. in Shanghai. However, this was another venture which ended up in failure, the funds of the companies and those of the partners being sequestrated on the 2nd June 1873.
There is no evidence that he formed any other partnerships following that with George Henderson, as from 1874 on his entries in the Post Office Directories simply state that he is a merchant.
He died intestate in 1879 at 9 Lyndoch Crescent, the family home since 1866. When he died his occupation was recorded as wine agent. The value of his estate was eventually given as £642 5s 7d. John’s wife Elizabeth died in Bournemouth in 1924. Her estate was valued at £9690 16s, probate being granted to her daughters Agnes Bannatyne and Elizabeth Helen Percy.
The five surviving children of John and Elizabeth were George Garden Nicol, Norman Alexander, Helen (Elizabeth Helen), Agnes and Susan Evelyn.
George married Sarah Elizabeth Tuffin at St Peter’s Limehouse in 1900. He was 29 years old; Sarah was 22. At the time of his marriage his occupation was given as mariner. They had a son in 1903, George Norman who died a few months after his birth, George’s occupation this time given as ‘independent’. Not much more has been established about him except that he died on the 10th May 1907, age 36 at the Deddington Arms, a beer house in Poplar, Middlesex. He left estate valued at £30. He seems to have been the landlord of the establishment as two years later his wife was still at the same address.
Norman spent some of his life in the military. In 1895 he was given a commission as a second lieutenant in the 3rd/4th battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. As a lieutenant he acted as aide de camp to Colonel Thackery, his battalion commander, when the Duke of Connaught, son of Queen Victoria and the battalion’s honorary chief, visited the battalion in June 1899.
He eventually attained the rank of temporary captain and was an Instructor of Musketry when he was seconded to a line battalion in South Africa early in 1900 at the start of the second Boer War.
It seemed his military career was progressing satisfactorily however it came to an abrupt end a few months later whilst he was in South Africa. In the London Gazette of the 1st May 1900 it was announced that Captain N.A. Jarvie was to be appointed second lieutenant. I have not been able to ascertain what caused this demotion but worse was to follow. About seven weeks later his new appointment was cancelled to be followed by his dismissal from the army in November, the official Gazette notice stating that he was ‘removed from the army, Her Majesty having no further occasion for his service’.
Norman married Edith Nora Ferguson in Huntingdon in 1903. By the 1911 census they were living in a private apartment in Llandudno with no family; Norman’s occupation was given as actor working on his own account. You can’t help but get the impression that he had led a rather nondescript life since his dismissal from the army.
However, there are two postscripts to his army life. In 1905 there was a further entry in the London Gazette about him which stated that the paragraph about his removal from the army in the November 1900 issue was to be substituted by one that simply said that Captain (temporary) N.A. Jarvie has retired from the Military.
The other is that three weeks after Great Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th August 1914 Norman enlisted as a private with King Edward’s Horse at the age of 41. He did not see any active service as he died on the 13th December of that year at a hospital in Hounslow, cause of death not stated but seemingly from an accident or an illness. The army documentation which records his enlistment and his death also records that his estate was not entitled to any war gratuity as he had not served for six months. His estate was valued at £11.
Agnes married chartered accountant John Allan Bannatyne in 1894. He was the son of her mother’s brother John Miller Bannatyne, that is, they were first cousins. He was a partner in Bannatyne, Bannatyne and Guthrie when the company was founded in 1892 but after 1902 he is no longer mentioned in the directory and the company name has changed to Bannatyne and Guthrie. What he did subsequently is unknown. They had a son Ninian John, born in 1896, who was killed in action in France in 1917. John died intestate in Sierra Madre, California in 1909, leaving £688 2s 7d, probate granted to Agnes twenty years after his death. She died in Durban, South Africa in 1949.
Susan Evelyn married Duncan Forbes Robertson Aikman in 1903 in Westminster, London. He was a member of the Robertson Aikman family of Ross House and New Parks House Leicester. His father was Hugh Henry Robertson Aikman whose brother Frederick Robertson Aikman won a V.C. during the Indian Mutiny in 1858. The marriage was childless and did not last very long as Susan died at the age of 32 in 1908. He died in 1920.
Helen, the donor of the painting was born in 1868. She married Edward Josceline Percy in 1907 in London. He was the son of Hugh Josceline Percy who descended from Hugh Percy, the 1st Duke of Northumberland (great grandfather), via the 1st Earl Beverly (grandfather),and the Rev. Hugh Percy, Bishop of Rochester and then Carlisle, his father. Edward died in 1931, probate granted to Helen, his estate being valued at £7898. She died in 1954. There were no children of the marriage.
In the Necropolis in Glasgow the family lair has fifteen family names inscribed on its headstone starting with Robert Jarvie and his wife Jane Milligan. They are followed by John Jarvie and his wife Elizabeth Bannatyne and all of their children. Not all of them are buried their however, the exceptions being George Garden Nicol Jarvie and Susan Evelyn Jarvie.
When it’s considered that Robert Jarvie left a very significant fortune when he died in 1843 it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that none of the adult sons took advantage of the start in business that gave them. In fact, the family fortune went in reverse due their combined lack of the business acumen shown by their father.
On a sadder note, despite having eleven children there are no direct descendants of John Jarvie and Elizabeth Bannatyne.
 Testamentary Records. Scotland. 8 May 1925. JARVIE, Elizabeth. National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936. 1925, p. J10. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Marriages (SR) England. Limehouse, Tower Hamlets. 30 July 1900. JARVIE, George Garden Nicol and TUFFIN, Sarah Elizabeth. England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Births (SR) England. Poplar, St Stephen, Tower Hamlets. 10 May 1903. JARVIE, George Norman. London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1917. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 18 July 1907. JARVIE, George Garden Nicol. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1907, p. 325. Collection: England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Marriages (SR) England. Huntingdon. 1st Qtr. 1903. JARVIE, Norman Alexander and FERGUSON, Edith Nora. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915. Vol. 3b, p. 630. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 14 June 1916. JARVIE, Norman Alexander. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1916, p. 285. Collection. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. Scotland. 26 November 1929. BANNATYNE, John Allan. National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936. 1929, p. B15. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 30 June 1950. BANNATYNE, Agnes Marion. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1950, p. 317. Collection. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Marriages. (SR) England. London. 1st Qtr. 1903. AIKMAN, Duncan Forbes Robertson and JARVIE, Susan Evelyn. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes, 1837-1915. Vol. 1a, p. 768. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Marriages. (SR) England. London. 1st Qtr. 1907. PERCY, Edward Josceline and JARVIE, Elizabeth Helen. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes, 1837-1915. Vol. 1a, p. 868. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 8 August 1931. PERCY, Edward Josceline. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1931, p. 679. Collection. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk
 Testamentary Records. England. 11 April 1954. PERCY, Helen Elizabeth. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. 1954, p. 377. Collection. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. https://www.ancestry.co.uk