Robert Milligan

1746 - 21st May 1809


Scottish merchant, slave-factor in Jamaica and on his return to Britain, the driving force behind the construction of London's West India Docks. Deputy Chairman of the West India Dock Company. A statue of him stands in front of the Museum of London Docklands. He has an entry in the ODNB as 'merchant, slave-owner and dock promoter.'

  1. According to his ODNB entry he was born in Dumfries, and baptised there 31/08/1746, although a tension exists between his description as the son of James Milligan, an innkeeper, and the assertion in several secondary sources that 'he grew up on his family's plantations in Jamaica.' In Jamaica c. 1768 to 1779. He was probably the father, by Mary Slaughter, a "free mulatto woman", of James (born 11/06/1778 and baptised in Kingston 04/12/1778) and Clayton Slaughter (born 24/06/1779 and baptised in Kingston 18/04/1783). His partnership with James Dick of Kingston in Jamaica was dissolved 01/07/1799. Married Jean Dunbar, the daughter of William Dunbar of Forres and Jean nee Davidson, in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, England, 13/10/1781. Living in John Street, Camden, for the baptisms of his children Justina (1786), Robert (1787), David (1789) and Mary (1792).

  2. Recorded in the 1811 almanacs with 526 enslaved people on Kellet's and Mammee Gully Pen in Clarendon, Jamaica registered against his name. These listings were based on the givings-in (tax returns) of the March Quarter 1809, just before Milligan's death. The precise nature of his association with these estates, or with Golden Vale (which was registered by John Milligan, attorney of Mitchell & Milligan, in 1807) has not yet been traced: his will is silent on them.

  3. After his death, the West India Dock Committee acknowledged the contribution made by Milligan, 'by whose intelligent mind the original plan of this great and useful establishment was designed and to whose admirable perseverance and indefatigable exertions . . . it is principally indebted for the legislative sanction for the arrangement of its business, and for its present prosperity.'

  4. Will of Robert Milligan merchant of [the City of] London [made 30/07/1806] proved 06/06/1809. He left £1000 to his wife Jean, and the remainder of his personal and real property in trust (his trustees were David Lyon, Henry Davidson, Thomas Milligan and Joseph Kaye) to be sold to raise sufficient investment in government stock to pay his widow £1000 p.a. (and £500 p.a. should she remarry). His residuary heirs were his 8 children; he proved that no more than £300 p.a. should be spent for the maintenance of his eldest son and £200 p.a. for each other child, and no more than £2000 spent to place the eldest son in a profession or £1000 for each other son. He was, he said continuing his trade or business on his own behalf and that of the estate of David Mitchell his late partner. In a codicil of 1808 he clarified that this wife should have Rosslyn House, Hampstead; and his unmarried daughters his 'Cotswould House' in Gloucestershire.

  5. His third son, Henry Davidson Milligan, of Wimpole Street, London, married Georgiana Mathilda, third daughter of Sir Walter Stirling, Bart., MP for St Ives, in London 03/08/1816. Henry Davidson Milligan Esquire "of the house of Messrs. Milligan, Robertson, and Co. of London" died on board the ship Medina on his passage to Jamaica where he was travelling "for the benefit of his health".


Katie Donington "Milligan, Robert (1746–1809), merchant, slave owner, and dock promoter." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 29 Nov. 2017.

  1. GROS OPR Births 821 020 0155; Park, John James, The topography and natural history of Hampstead (London, 1814) pp. 321-322;, Jamaican parish registers, Kingston Baptisms 1793-1825 pp. 276 and 323; Royal Gazette of Jamaica 03/07/1799; batch no. M01477-5; Edward Walford, 'Hampstead: Rosslyn Hill', in Old and New London Vol. 5 (London, 1878), pp. 483-494, [accessed 29/2/2016];, London, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812 [database online].

  2. Jamaica Almanac (1811); will of Robert Milligan, merchant of London, proved 06/06/1809, PROB 11/1499/49.

  3. 'The West India Docks: Historical development', Survey of London Vols. 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, ed. Hermione Hobhouse (London, 1994), pp. 248-268, [accessed 23/02/2016].

  4. PROB 11/1499/49.

  5. Bell's Weekly Messenger 04/08/1816; Royal Gazette of Jamaica 15/11/1817.

We are grateful to Jim Brennan and Paul Hitchings for their assistance with compiling this entry.

Further Information

Jean Dunbar
Justina (1786-). Robert (1787-), David (1789-), Henry Davidson (1791-1817), Mary (1792-)

Associated Estates (3)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1807 [EA] - 1807 [LA] → Not known

Registered by John Milligan as attorney of Milligan and Mitchell, who were possibly mortgagees or mortgagees-in-possession

- 21/05/1809 [ED] → Not known

Shown as 'in possession of' Robert Milligan in 1807 and registered to him again in 1809 and 1811, although his will proved in 1809 was silent on slave-property in Jamaica.

1809 [EA] - 1811 [LA] → Not known

Registered to Robert Milligan in 1809 and 1811, although his will proved in 1809 was silent on slave-property in Jamaica.

Legacies Summary

Commercial (4)

Founder and Deputy Chairman
West India Dock Co.
Dock Company  
Name partner
Milligan & Mitchell
West India merchant  
Senior partner
Milligan Robertson
West India merchant  
James Dick & Co.
notes →
Partner in...

Physical (1)

West India Docks 
description →
Milligan was a prime mover in the development of the West India Docks. A statue of him commissioned by the West India Docks Co. and designed by Richard Westmacott was unveiled in 1813 and stood...
notes →
'The West India Docks: Historical development', Survey of London Vols. 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs, ed. Hermione Hobhouse (London, 1994), pp. 248-268, <a...

Relationships (9)

Business partners
Father → Son
Father → Son
Business partners
Notes →
James Dick of James Dick & Co. in Jamaica has been inferred by LBS to have been the same man as James Dick later of Finsbury...
Business partners
Other relatives
Notes →
Their wives were...
Trustee → Testator
Notes →
William Paterson devised the Aeolus Valley estate to David and Robert Milligan for a term of 200 years to raise £10,000 in total for his two daughters from his first marriage. It appears that the...
Trustee → Testator
Business partners

Addresses (3)

Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Southern Scotland, Scotland
John Street, Camden, London, Middlesex, London, England
Rosslyn House, Hampstead, London, Middlesex, London, England