The Robertson connection
William Robertson (born circa 1700) of Kindeace and Catherine Ross had six children, one of whom was John Robertson, known as “John of the Bank”. John married Katherine Hutchison, sister to Hugh Hutchison of Southfield, Maybole, Ayrshire who bequeathed a sum of money to John’s grandchildren of the marriage of his daughter Katherine Robertson and Thomas Sweet. This John Robertson had four sons and three daughters by Katherine. Three sons are mentioned in “Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship” as being successful merchants in Glasgow: John, James and William. Their names are so common at that time that it is dangerous to be too emphatic about their precise business interests but there are several indications that they were well regarded and successful. Their names appear in various enterprises but I have not found any philanthropic bequests or non-commercial interests, indeed I have not found a will for any of them.
Family tree for William and Catherine
The “History of Govan” ( by T C F Brotchie 1905 Chapter XI) tells us that “in the year 1783 Mr. John Robertson, merchant in the city, purchased the estate upon which there was a small dwelling house probably erected in 1701”. I believe that this was the grandson of William Robertson and Catherine Ross. This was Craigiehall a fifty two acre estate, which he renamed Plantation to reflect his west Indian investments. He was cashier of the Glasgow Arms Bank for many years. He was also a partner, with his brother William, in the Smithfield Iron Company, which, established in 1734, was conducted by his descendants until about 1850. I think it was John Robertson senior, son of William and Catherine who began the Smithfield iron works. He had a slitting and rolling mill at the mouth of the Kelvin and owned a cluster of houses at the “Pointhouse”, while he established the first regular ferry at the Kelvin mouth across to Govan. In Glasgow his warehouse stood on the Broomielaw, a short distance west of Jamaica Street, and the present Robertson Street was carried through his property, taking its name from him. Nearby were the Delftworks pottery. Plantation was sold in 1793 to John Mair, a mason from Paisley. John Robertson purchased a Burgess-ship in 1775.
In addition to Smithfield Iron Co, John also had interests in Muirkirk Iron Co, Spinningdale Cotton Co, and Glasgow Cudbear Co.(Source: Tobacco Lords; T.M.Devine. John and William were partners (with others) in Robert McKay & Co SRO CC9/7/84/2 53). Besides his large private business of West India merchant, he was a partner in the works commenced and carried on by George Macintosh and others for the manufacture of cudbear, cashier of the Glasgow Arms Bank, and principal proprietor of the firm designated the ” Smithfield Nailree.” Nor did he neglect his public duties, as he appears as a Director of the first Board of the Chamber of Commerce, and Preceptor of Hutchesons’ Hospital.(Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship by George Stewart 1881).
At the latter end of 1750 a second local bank in Glasgow was formed under the title of the Glasgow Arms Bank. The firm was Cochran, Murdoch, and Co. The partners, who were highly respectable, consisted of the following, viz:, Andrew Cochran, John Murdoch, George Murdoch, Robert Christie, John Campbell, John Murdoch, junior, Laurence Dinwiddie, John Hamilton, sen., James Donald, William Crawford, sen., Thomas Dunsmore, John Jamieson, John Bowman, John Brown, John Glassford, William Crawford, jun., Robert Scott, sen., George Carmichael, Archibald Ingram, James Ritchie, Archibald Buchanan, Thomas Hopkirk, merchants, Robert Findlay, tanner, Robert Barbour, weaver, and John Wardrop, writer all in Glasgow. (Source:Paisley Herald of 15 Sept, 1855). Cochran was Provost Cochran, whose cautious and wise policy in the memorable 1745 had won for him the respect and confidence of all classes of the community; and John Murdoch, who succeeded to the Provostship in 1746 and 1747, and who was also Provost in the year the Bank was opened. (Glasgow, past and present).
In 1763 the firm was changed from Cochran, Murdoch, and Co, to Spiers, Murdoch and Co. The partners were- Alexander Spiers of Elderslie, John Bowman, Peter Murdoch, Andrew Blackburn, Robert Donald, and John Robertson, all merchants in Glasgow; and George Murdoch, Comptroller of the Customs, Port-Glasgow. It was afterwards changed to Murdoch, Robertson, and Co.; the partners of which were – John Bowman, merchant Glasgow; George Murdoch, late Comptroller of the Customs, Port-Glasgow; John Robertson, and Peter Murdoch, merchants, Glasgow, formerly partners of Spiers, Murdoch, and Co,;- Mr. Spiers, Mr Blackburn, and Mr Donald, having retired. In 1793, the Glasgow Arms, Merchant’s Bank, and Messrs. Thomson’s Bank, failed but all of them paid in full. The trustee for the creditors of the “Arms” was Mr Walter Ewing McLea, merchant in Glasgow, father of James Ewing, Esq of Levenside. In 1793 no fewer than 1,956 bankruptcies passed through the Gazette, of which number 26 were banking companies.
In the Edinburgh Gazette Nov 5 to Nov 8 1816 there was this notice:
Notice to the creditors of the late John Robertson, Banker and Merchant in Glasgow.
The trustee on the estate of the said John Robertson being now about to pay such of his creditors whose debts were owing previous to the original sequestration of his estate in 1792.
An article by James Pagan, Aliquis, Robert Reid, J. B., Guild Court (Glasgow, Strathclyde). Printed by J. Macnab, 1851 – Glasgow (Scotland) states:
With regard to the two oldest of Glasgow’s indigenous banks, “The Ship” and “Glasgow Arms”, it may be remarked that the latter company removed, about 1765, from their antique office in Bridgegate, to a two-storey land, No 55 King street, east side. The house is still standing, a few doors south from Prince’s Street. The cashier lived above the bank. After being there for about twelve years, “The Arms” again moved, in 1778, to more commodious premises in the west part of the town. In March of that year, they purchased a tenement, then newly erected, in Miller Street (the second from the bottom, east side), from George Ferrie, wright, who had feued several stances from John Miller, of Westerton, maltman in Glasgow, after whom this fine old aristocratic-looking street got its name. they paid £1,340 for this property.
At this time the cashier was John Robertson, who resided above the banking-office. The accountant, Mr Broadie Wyllie, who is well remembered as a gentleman of extremely methodical habits, resided in his country house, still existing, on the east side of the “Byre’s Road”, Partick (a curious specimen of the suburban retreats of ancient men of business, with its “corbie” gables, and thatched roof), and was so punctual in his movements that people along the road used to say they could tell the very hours, from Mr Wyllie’s precision in passing their door, on his queer-looking pony, to and from the bank. They had one teller, Mr William Walker (afterwards Session-Clerk), and three subordinates.
The John Robertson referred to in these extracts may be John Robertson Senior (who married Katherine Hutchison) or John Robertson Junior (who married Elizabeth Murdoch) in my family tree. I have not yet been able to separate successfully the interests of each. John Senior was in partnership with Murdoch and it was his daughter (Elizabeth Murdoch) who John Robertson Junior married in 1766. They had eight children including a son, John Murdoch Robertson and Catherine Robertson, who married Thomas Sweet in 1787.
The Spinningdale Cotton Co was established with, among others, David Dale (who went on to found New Lanark). Dale established cotton mills in places as far apart as Oban, Stanley in Perthshire and Spinningdale in Sutherland. Spinningdale, the most conspicuously philanthropic of these ventures, was established with the specific intention to create industry, wealth and employment in the Highlands. (Glasgow, past and present) The intention at Spinningdale was to produce shawls, simple coarse fabrics and handkerchiefs…made from raw materials imported into Glasgow and shipped monthly from Leith or Edinburgh.(The Life and Times of George Dempster 1712 – 1818).
William was in partnership with his brother John at the Smithfield Iron Company or the Smithfield Nailree (see above). The Jones Directory of 1787 has the following entry:
Robertson William, merchant, at the nail-work, Broomielaw.
The following extract is taken from ‘Glasgow’ by David Daiches 1977.
“Expansion of the Iron industry in Scotland at the end of the eighteenth century was the result of the invention of new ways of applying steam power to the furnaces, forges and mills. The local availability of coal and ironstone led in 1787 to proposals by John Gillies (of the Dalnotter Iron Works), William Robertson (of the Smithfield Iron Co.) and John Grieve (of Bo’ness) for the setting up of iron Furnaces and forges in Muirkirk, some twenty miles south of Glasgow in the hills on the Lanarkshire/Ayrshire border. These three were joined in 1788 by Thomas Edington, manager of Cadells of Cramond (for by now the Cadell family had bought the Crammond Iron Works from the Carron Company) with the result that the following year saw the establishment of the Muirkirk Iron Works”
The first ironworks in Ayrshire, at Muirkirk, was founded in 1787 and continued in production until 1921. The remains of the blowing-engine house, furnace bank and foundations of three furnaces are spectacular. There are also considerable remains of the works canal. Muirkirk Ironworks
James Robertson was cashier for the Merchants’ Bank in Glasgow in 1792. The John Tait Directory 1783-84 refers to a James Robertson, accountant. Merchant Bank.
The entry in the Jones Directory of 1787 is:
Robertson James, treasurer to the Merchant Bank, 3d flat Paterson’s land, south side Argyle Street.
Alexander is a cousin to John Robertson and is mentioned in the will of Hugh Hutchison of Southfield, Maybole, Ayrshire.
The Jones Directory of 1787:
Robertson Alexander, writer, 3d storey Paterson’s land, south side Argyle Street.
Family tree showing the Robertson to Sweet connection.