Daniel Robertson - Monzievaird ploughboy and millionaire
- NOTE :** Scottish idiom - A lad o' pairts is a youth, particularly one from a humble background, who is considered talented or promising.
I have researched more than a few families from Strathearn as a professional genealogist .In common with the rest of Scotland historic and economic pressures often forced families to depart these shores for the “ New World “ that is North America or perhaps to Australia South Africa or New Zealand . There was indeed in the 18th and 19th century a pattern of step migration as families left many of their rural or Highland roots to head for the burgeoning Central Belt locations such as Glasgow or the mining towns of Ayrshire or Lanarkshire .
I blogged some months ago about Lewis Miller - the ploughboy from Balloch near Crieff who became a highly successful timber merchant and operated as far away as Sweden and Canada but still retained a strong connection with his roots Apart from serving on the Town Council of Crieff , he was a Deacon in the Free Church of Scotland and donated the cost of the steeple for their new Church in Strathearn Terrace Crieff directly opposite the Parish Church of St Michaels . Story tells us that so intense was the rivalry between the two Presbyterian factions that Miller’s donation to the Free Kirk was to enable it to build the steeple some 3 feet / 1 metre higher than that of the other building !
Another lad from a similar background was Daniel Robertson from the Parish of Monzievaird and Strowan just to the west of Crieff . Followers of this “ blog “ will realise that my last submission was a brief history of that Parish written in 1822 by the then Parish Minister , a Mr Porteous . Daniel was born on the 19th of October 1805 at Clathick in the Parish to a Peter Robertson and Margaret McGregor . His father was a farm servant or labourer on the adjoining estate . Young Daniel proved a bright spark and was the “ Dux “ or top pupil at the small Monzievaird Primary School . He was awarded a scholarship to attend University and studied law but decided to follow a banking career rather than that of the legal profession .
In around 1822 Robertson joined Commercial Bank of Scotland, working as a clerk at Kirkcaldy and later in the accountant’s office in Edinburgh. He joined the new Glasgow Union Banking Company in 1830 as an accountant in its Edinburgh branch, and became an inspector of branches for the bank in 1833.
In 1833 preparations were underway in England for the establishment of a new nationwide bank, to be named National Provincial Bank of England. It was to be a joint stock bank – that is, owned by a large number of shareholders rather than a handful of partners. Such banks had only been permitted in England since 1825, but they had a much longer tradition in Scotland. Indeed, joint stock banking was commonly referred to at the time as the ‘Scotch system’.
To ensure its success, National Provincial Bank of England needed managers who had experience of the Scotch system. A search was made for suitable candidates, and over 100 men were considered. Of these, 12 were finally appointed. Robertson’s name is said to have been at the very top of the list.
The original intention was that National Provincial would be formed as a federation of local, independent banks with a central management overview in London. This approach soon proved unwieldy, and in 1835 – the year after the venture had begun – the system of federated banks was abandoned in favour of a centrally-directed branch network. This newly-centralised bank needed a general manager, and Daniel Robertson became the first man to hold that post.
When Robertson became general manager in 1835, National Provincial had about 20 branches. In the next three decades, Robertson led the bank from strength to strength. He opened new branches and oversaw the acquisition of 19 small private country banks. By 1864, shortly after his retirement, the bank had 119 branches, and had proved that a national shareholder-owned bank could be a success.
Robertson earned the respect and loyalty of his staff by bringing in a series of (for that era) unusually progressive welfare measures, including payments to staff in sickness and old age, pensions for widows and bonuses when the bank enjoyed ‘more than ordinary success’. He promoted talent from within the bank and was reluctant to dismiss staff for trivial errors, if he felt a reprimand could suffice.
Robertson was also widely respected outside his own bank, for his broad and deep knowledge of banking. He was called to give evidence to the House of Commons committee of enquiry on joint stock banking in 1836.
Robertson retired as general manager in 1863. At that time Bankers' Magazine observed ‘Mr Robertson will be followed into his retirement by the sympathy and good wishes – of the shareholders of the bank, whose property his management has so greatly improved – of the directors to whom he was the long-tried and faithful adviser – of the officers, of whom he was the considerate friend; and by the esteem of the banking community, of which he was so long an important member.’ After his retirement he became an honorary director of the bank, and remained so until his death the following year.
Daniel Robertson’s personal life was tinged with a great deal of sadness . He had married an Ellen McLachlan and was blessed with four sons and a daughter . Tragically his wife and family all predeceased him and are buried in Nunhead Cemetery in Surrey England . He was greatly affected by these tragedies and took early retirement from the Bank and turned his energies to two projects . The first was the restoration of Dalnaglar Castle in Glenshee, north of Blairgowrie and the second was to build a house for himself in Crieff . It was on the Comrie Road and was named Dalnaglar as well . It is now a substantial Nursing Home and part of the Balhousie Group . Although greatly altered and extended the original building is still clearly discernible
The imposing memorial to Daniel Robertson in Crieff Cemetery Ford Road
Daniel Robertson's final resting place is a haven of peace and rural tranquillity
Dalnaglar on the Comrie Road Crieff - built by Daniel as a summer residence
Dalnaglar Castle Glenshee - renovated by Daniel in the mid 18th Century but dates back to the 16th Century
Daniel Robertson never recovered from his family losses and died himself aged 59 years in Edinburgh on the 5th of November 1964 . His will which is available on the Scottish Government Genealogy Web Site “ ScotlandsPeople “ runs to 43 pages and documents in detail the generosity of this man of such humble beginnings . He left over £ 5 million in modern terms and is buried in the tranquil surrounds of Crieff Cemetery in Ford Road overlooking the hills and mountains of the Strath and Monzievaird the little Parish where he was born .