Monday, 21 April 2014

Daniel Robertson -a "Lad o' Pairts "** - the local ploughboy who became a millionaire






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 !


The steeple of the old North Free Kirk ( St Andrews) paid  for by Lewis Miller  to get one over the Established Parish Kirk  ! 


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 .


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