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 period, however, that was not to last, particularly as far as Glassford was concerned.
By the early 1770s 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 lie 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 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 aged 26, the son of a doctor, she was the daughter of James and Margaret, aged 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 aged five and son John aged three who was in due course to inherit the Glassford family painting. He was born on the 29th April 1897 at Menmuir and 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 MBE. 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 over the farm. 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 having previously 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.
Devine, Tom. (1975). The Tobacco Lords. John Donald, Edinburgh.
Devine, Tom. (2003). Scotland’s Empire 1600 – 1815. Penguin.
Payne, Peter (ed.) Studies in Scottish Business History. 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. David Robertson and Co. 1884.
 Stewart, George (1881) Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship. Glasgow: James Maclehose. p. 138. https://archive.org/stream/curiositiesofgla00stewuoft#page/138/search/coats
 Ewing, Archibald Orr, ed. (1866) View of the Merchants House of Glasgow etc. Glasgow: Bell & Bain. p. 166.
 Deaths. Scotland. Glasgow. 29 March 1773. McKenzie, (Glassford) Lady Margaret. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/182330714/margaret-glassford#source
 Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.2. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 499
 Goodfellow, G. L. M. “Colin Campbell’s Shawfield Mansion in Glasgow.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 23, no. 3, 1964, pp. 123–128. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/988232.
 Devine, T. M. (1990) The Tobacco Lords. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 181.
 Castle, Colin M. (1989). John Glassford of Dougalston. Milngavie and Bearsden Historical Society. p. 22,23 and Oakley, Charles A. (1975). The Second City. Glasgow: Blackie. p. 7,8.
 Senex et al. (1884) Glasgow Past and Present. Vol.2. Glasgow: David Robertson and Co. p. 295.
 Castle, op.cit. p.24.
 Measuring Worth (2019). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/
 University of Glasgow. The University of Glasgow Story: Henry Glassford of Dougalston. https://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH1166&type=P
 Wentworth-Shields, W.F. and Harris, Jonathan. (2004) Glassford, James (1771-1845). In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/10806
 Births. Australia. Births Index 1788 – 1922. 1864. GLASSFORD. Registration Number 2134/1864. https://familyhistory.bdm.nsw.gov.au/lifelink/familyhistory/search/result?4
 London Gazette (1943) 28 May 1943. Issue 36033, Supplement, p. 2431. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/36033/supplement/2431
 Mrs. H. Lloyd by email. 9 August 2019.
 BBC News Channel. Mystery Slave Found in Portrait. 19 March 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/6466591.stm
 Maryland State Archives. Maryland Indexes, (Chancery Papers, Index), 1788-1790, MSA S 1432. 1790/12/013990: Robert Peter vs. William Deakins, Jr., Bernard O’Neal, Edward Burgess, Richard Thompson, John Peters, and Thomas Beall. MO. Contract to serve as securities. Accession No: 17,898-3990. MSA S512-4108 1/36