Robert McNeil Ker (1878 – 1953)

On 11 December 1946, an oil painting entitled Mrs. Scott, Wife of James Scott of Kelly (2590) by John Graham-Gilbert RSA, was presented to Glasgow Corporation by Major Ker of Easterton, Milngavie. 1

Figure 1. Graham-Gilbert, John; Mrs James Scott of Kelly; Glasgow Museums;

The subject of the painting is Jane Martha Galbraith who was born in Barony on 7 May 1830. (She  died aged 87 in 1917 at 8 Woodside Crescent, Glasgow). Her parents were Andrew Galbraith, a cotton spinner/merchant, and Margaret Bogle Scott. 2 In 1848, aged eighteen, Jane married the thirty- eight-year-old James Scott. 3 (Appendix) The following year James Scott bought the estate of Kelly in the parish of Inverkip, Renfrewshire. The painting is dated to 1850 (ArtUK) so either commemorates the couples’ marriage or perhaps the birth of their first child Margaret Bogle Scott who was born on 14 July 1850. 4 Between 1850 and 1866 Jane Martha Scott gave birth to ten children, five boys and five girls. One of the girls, Helen Bethia Scott who was born on 16  July 1855 in Inverkip 5 was the mother of the donor. Helen Bethia Scott was 21 when she married Thomas Ripley Ker ‘gentleman’ of Dougalston, Milngavie on 20 June 1877 at St. Mary`s Tower, Birnam, Little Dunkeld. 6 (Thomas Ker’s father Robert Ker went out East as a merchant in 1825 and made his fortune before returning to Glasgow in 1836 and becoming a partner in Ker, Bolton & Co. of 27 West George Street, Manilla and Singapore Merchants. In 1841 he married Elizabeth Johnston of Shieldhall and had four children).7                   

Thomas and Helen Ker’s first child, Robert McNeil Ker (later ‘Major Ker’ the donor of the painting) was born in Strathblane on 18 February 1878. 8 A second child, Ronald Scott Ker was born in 1879 and the family took up residence in Bardowie House (Castle), Baldernock, Stirling. 9

Finely situated on its north-east side of Bardowie Lochan, and
embowered among foliage, is Bardowie House, an edifice of moderate
size, and somewhat timeworn, yet withal wearing an appearance of
quiet cosieness and comfort .’ 10                                                           

Figure 2. Bardowie_Castle in 1870 By Thomas Annan httpwww.theglasgowstory.comimage.phpinum=TGSB00235, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=15233785

Robert was educated at Dalvreck Academy (later Ardvrek Academy) in Crieff and appears on the school roll in 1891 11 but no record of Robert’s time there could be found by the school archivist. By 1901 the family had moved to Dougalston Mansion. This was a large house – according to the census there were thirty-five rooms with one or more windows – situated in Milngavie. 12

Figure 3. Dougalston, Milngavie (From an old post card)

 The house had been built by John Glassford, one of the Glasgow ‘Tobacco Lords’ in the early 18th century. Robert’s grandfather Robert Ker bought the house and estate in 1870 13 and had the house restored about 1872-73. 14 He also, in 1883, acquired the estate of Easterton . When he died in 1888, Robert Ker left an estate valued at £220,000 not including Dougalston. 15

The family now consisted of Thomas and Helen, Robert aged 23 was a ‘militiaman’, Ronald, an Oxford undergraduate and a sister Helen Ripley Ker born in 1887. They employed eight servants and a governess. 16

On 24 September 1902, Robert joined the army – the Officer Cadet Battalion with the rank of Honorary Captain. 17 The following year as a lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Regiment he married Margaret Lilian Blagden in Tisbury, Wiltshire.18,19 On 29 April 1904, the Royal Garrison Regiment embarked for South Africa to take up garrison duties at Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg. 20 Tragically, Margaret Lilian Ker died in Pietermaritzburg on 7 April 1905. Robert later erected a memorial plaque to her in the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Donhead St. Mary, Wiltshire:

In Memory of

Margaret Lilian Ker

Nee Blagden

Who was married in this church 13th October 1903

And who died in Pietermaritzburg, Natal

7th April 1905

Erected by Robert MacNeil Ker

Xmas 1905

Robert returned from South Africa later that year with three battalions of the regiment. (The Royal Garrison Regiment was disbanded on 1 September 1908 21). In the same year as the death of his wife, Robert’s grandmother Elizabeth Ker died at Eastertoun. 22

On 17 April 1907, Robert McNeil Ker married Lucy Winifred Strickland -Constable at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, Chelsea. 23 Lucy was born in Wassand Hall, Seaton, Yorkshire in 1875. She was the daughter of Henry Strickland – Constable and niece of Sir Charles Strickland eighth baronet of Boynton. After the wedding, the couple left for Paris and a continental honeymoon. 24

They had a son, Neil Ripley Ker, born on 28May 1908 in Brompton, London. Neil became an eminent palaeographer and his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says that his father was a captain in the 3rd battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (A & SH). During the war years his mother and grandmother held garden fetes etc. to raise funds for the A & SH Comforts’ Fund. 25

According to the census of 1911, Robert, aged 33 was living ‘on private means’ at Friningham Lodge, Detling, near Maidstone in Kent. With him were his wife Lucy aged 36 and son Neil aged 2. In 1914, with the advent of war, Robert was a captain in the Reserve of Officers attached to the Brigade of Infantry. In the same year he joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and then the Machine Gun Corps with the rank of major. At some point during the war, he was made acting lieutenant colonel of the corps. 26

Figure 4. Easterton House (Alexander Nisbet Paterson, 1915)Old Postcard View found in Crawford, James, Old Mugdock, Balmore, Baldernock and Bardowie, 2016, Stenlake Publishing, Ltd.

 After the war he seems to have lived quietly at Easterton, his father’s house in Milngavie taking an interest in local affairs. Lucy Winifred Ker died at Eastertoun on 7 December 1942. 27She was sixty-seven. Robert’s father, Thomas Ripley Ker, died at Eastertoun on 18 July 1947. An extensive obituary was published in the local paper. 28Robert McNeil Ker died on 15 October 1953 at Easterton. His death certificate states that he was a Major in the Royal Garrison Regiment (retd.) and the widower of Lucy Winifred Strickland – Constable. 29 A brief report appeared in the local newspaper stating that ‘he was well known locally for the deep interest and kindness he showed in philanthropic institutions, and particularly of the Old Folks Clubs. He was of a quiet genial disposition and will be missed by many in the district’. 30   

After a private funeral he was buried in Baldernock Churchyard alongside his parents, his brother and his second wife. His father had earlier gifted land to enlarge the churchyard ‘where the maternal ancestors of President Roosevelt are buried’. 31

Figure 5. Ker family gravestones in Baldernock Churchyard. httpswww.findagrave.commemorial196889564robert-macneil-ker



James Scott 1810 – 1884

James Scott had been made a partner in the firm of James Black & Co., calico printers, at the age of twenty and largely thanks to his efforts the firm’s business grew rapidly. In 1835 it acquired the Dalmonach printworks in Alexandria and through Scott’s ‘extraordinary enterprise’…….. attained it’s present position in the foremost ranks of printing’. James Scott retired from business in 1847. However, in 1852 he returned to set up the firm of J. & W.J. Scott with his younger brother. It became the largest cotton spinning works in Scotland. He also had interests in the railways and in oil setting up works at Clippens in Renfrewshire. 32 As a town councillor in Glasgow he was largely responsible for the formation of Kelvingrove Park. He sold the estate of Kelly to James ‘Paraffin’ Young in 1867. James Young died there on 13 May 1883 and is buried in Inverkip cemetery. James Scott died in 1884. Kelly House burned down in 1913 allegedly from suffragette activity. 33


  1. Catalogue of Donations, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre
  2. Scotland’s People, Death Certificate 1917, Jane Martha Scott
  3. Old Parish Registers, Family Search, Scotland
  4. Ibid
  5. Scotland’s People, Birth Certificate
  6. Scotland’s People, Marriage Certificate
  7. Smith, John Guthrie, Strathendrick, and its inhabitants from early times, Glasgow, J Maclehose and sons, 1896
  8. Scotland’s People, Birth Certificate
  9., 1881 Scotland Census
  10. Macdonald, Hugh, Rambles Round Glasgow, 1854
  11., 1891 Scotland Census
  12., 1901 Scotland Census
  13. Smith, John Guthrie, Strathendrick, and its inhabitants from early times, Glasgow, J Maclehose and sons, 1896
  15. Stirling Advertiser, 11 October 1888
  16., 1901 Scotland Census
  17. https//
  18. England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,
  21. Ibid
  22. Milngavie and Bearsden Herald, 10 February 1905
  23. England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,
  24. Hull Daily Mail, 18 April 1907
  25. Milngavie and Bearsden Herald, 12 April 1918
  26. https//
  27. Glasgow Herald, 8 December 1942
  28. Milngavie and Bearsden Herald, 26 July 1947
  29. Scotland’s People, Death Certificate
  30. Milngavie and Bearsden Herald , 17 October 1953
  31. Kirkintilloch Herald, 2 January 1929

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