1777 - 1859
Born in Glasgow, the son of a tobacco merchant, Donald attended Glasgow Grammar School before being legally trained in Edinburgh. He returned to Glasgow where he switched from law to calico printing.
He was from 1810 to around 1820 he was secretary of the Board of Green Cloth, a Glasgow businessmen's club. For more than 40 years (1817 to 1858, when he was succeeded by his son Thomas), he was the Commissary Clerk of Lanarkshire. A confirmed Tory, his dislike of change led him to spurn gas and use only candles in his office throughout his life.
In 1811 he married Marianne Stirling, with whom he had a large family. He died on 18 September 1859.
The following is taken from James MacLehose, Memoirs and portraits of one hundred Glasgow men who have died during the last thirty years and in their lives did much to make the city what it now is (Glasgow, James MacLehose & Sons, 1886), pp. 108-10:
THIS fine specimen of a Glasgow Writer of the old school was born in March, 1777, in a house on the west side of the Stockwellgate, which had previously been the town house of the Stuarts of Castlemilk. His father, Thomas Donald of Geilston, was a Virginia Merchant or Tobacco Lord; and his mother was Janet, daughter of Provost Colin Dunlop, of Carmyle, from whom he got his name. Like all Glasgow boys of that day, he was sent to the Grammar School, and entered Mr. John Dow's class of 1784-85. He early showed the stuff that was in him, being dux of his class in 1785, 1786, and 1788. In 1787 he was beaten by a young Nova Scotian, Thomas Wallace, much, no doubt, to his own disgust, for he was of a masterful temper. For some reason or another he received his legal training in Edinburgh, chiefly in the office of James Dundas, Clerk to the Signet, founder of the great firm of Dundas & Wilson. It was a convivial place and a convivial time. Mr. Donald used to tell how one night dining with Mr. Dundas need for more wine arose. The steps to the cellar were awkward, the sederunt had been long, and no one but Mr. Dundas knew where the wine wanted lay. At last the difficulty was solved. The apprentice took the master on his back down to the cellar. The latter pointed out the wine to be taken up, and then the modern pious Aeneas returned with his double burden.
After completing his professional education in Edinburgh, Mr. Donald returned to Glasgow and early in the century began business on his own account. At this time John Maxwell of Dargavel was carrying on the writer's business founded in 1769 by his father, known as John Maxwell, junior, to distinguish him from John Maxwell of Fingalton. Mr. Maxwell gave up business shortly after Mr. Donald's return to Glasgow, and handed over to him as much of his business as he could. For a short time the late John Park Fleming was his partner, and, afterwards, the late John George Hamilton, before he gave up the arid pursuit of the law for the primrose path of calico printing. Mr. Donald had no partner from 1824, when Mr. Hamilton retired, till 1842, when he assumed into the business his eldest son Thomas, now Commissary Clerk of Lanarkshire; and his third son, Colin Dunlop, now of the firm of McGrigor Donald & Co., and Dean of the Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. After the two sons were assumed the business was carried on under the firm of C. D. Donald & Sons till 1871, when it amalgamated with Messrs. McGrigor, Stevenson & Fleming, under the firm of McGrigor Donald & Co. For more than forty years the late Mr. Donald was Commissary Clerk of Lanarkshire, having been appointed to that office in 1817, and held it till 1858, when he was succeeded by his son Thomas.
In 1811 Mr. Donald married Marianne Stirling, youngest daughter of John Stirling of Tullichewan, and head of the firm of William Stirling & Sons, of Cordale and Dalquhurn. He long survived his wife, by whom he had a large family, and died on 18th September, 1859.
He was a good type of the men who stood with their backs to the wall through the long struggle with Napoleon, and won at last; to the end a tall, handsome old man, unbent by the weight of years. A Tory of the Tories, he carried his hatred of change so far as to spurn gas and stick to candles in his room in the office to the last.
Probably his most marked characteristic was his individuality. Much of this no doubt was natural, but it was also fostered by the state of society in Glasgow at the end of last century and beginning of this, which was then different in almost every point from what it is now. In the first place, it was not then the chief duty of man to resemble every one else; on the contrary, character was allowed full swing, and took it. The Cross was still the centre of the town, which was, speaking comparatively, a small place. A few adventurous spirits had gone so far west as Buchanan Street; but the better class houses were mainly in Queen Street, Miller Street, Virginia Street, Dunlop Street, George Square, and St. Enoch Square. West of Buchanan Street were a few market gardens and suburban villas, and then the country. Indeed Mr. Donald remembered, as a lad, shooting hares where St. Vincent Place now is, and where the Western Club now stands; and his brother-in-law, George Stirling, who only died twenty years ago, had gone partridge shooting over what is now Blythswood Square. There is now no burgher aristocracy. The place is too big and the men are too new. Then there was a small exclusive clique who knew each other well and no one else at all. There were no railways, no steamboats, no daily newspapers, no telegraph, no penny post. One stage-coach a day, which was three or four days on the way, left for London. The Continent was closed, and the Highlands had not yet been called into being by Sir Walter. In consequence men were both in mind and body confined to Glasgow, and sought and found their pleasures and interests there to an infinitely greater extent than they do now. There still lingered some of the blessed leisure of the eighteenth century. The easy day's work was generally over at four o'clock, leaving men plenty of energy to engage vigorously in talk and conviviality. All these causes contributed to the abundance of clubs, which was one of the most distinctive features of the social life of Glasgow of that day. These clubs had nothing in common with the palatial buildings of to-day where men gather to scowl at each other, abuse the cook, and grumble at the committee. In the strictest sense, they answered to Dr. Johnson's definition of a club - "An assembly of good fellows meeting under certain conditions." They consisted, as a rule, of a knot of friends who met at stated intervals in a room of a tavern in the Saltmarket, the Trongate, or the Stockwell for good fellowship and conviviality. Some of these clubs owed their origin to mere chance, like the "Hodge Podge," still green and flourishing in the hundred and thirty-third year of its existence. Some, like the "Gaelic" Club, which has passed its century, formed a rallying point for Highlanders in Glasgow. Others, like the "Camperdown" Club, took their name from a band of thirsty patriots assembling to celebrate some victory, or, like the "Medical" Club, from the pursuits of the members. Except the Hodge Podge and the Gaelic they are all dead - unless, indeed, the suspended animation of the "Jumble" may be regarded as a sort of life. They met at various hours from five to seven. After a reasonable quantity of rum-punch or whisky-toddy had been consumed, supper of welsh rabbits, Finnan haddies, or tripe, etc., was brought in, and after that, what, to modern ideas, would seem an unreasonable quantity of rum-punch or whisky-toddy. The frequenters of these clubs were, it must be remembered, not only the gay young men of the town, but also respectable middle-aged merchants and manufacturers with wives and families. As was natural, each set or clique in Glasgow had its club, and the club of the Glasgow burgher aristocracy in the end of last century and beginning of this was the "Board of Green Cloth." This club was founded probably between 1780 and 1790, and lasted down to about 1820. For the last ten years or so of its existence, Mr. Donald was its secretary.
Among its members were Thomas Donald, his father; Robert Houston, of the great house of Alexander Houston & Co., afterwards Robert Houston Rae, of Little Govan, who owned an estate out of a small part of which the Dixons made their fortune. Two other partners of the same firm were members of the club - William McDowall, of Castle Semple, Member for Renfrewshire from 1783 to 1810, Lord Lieutenant of the County; and James McDowall, his brother, Provost of Glasgow; Provost John Campbell, brother of Sir Ilay; John Dunlop of Rosebank - "plump John Dunlop with his belly so round," - poet and wit, another provost, uncle to Mr. Donald; Peter Blackburn, who with dauntless breast vindicated the right of walking on Sunday; and John his son, afterwards of Killearn; John Wallace of Kelly, a noted merchant, father of Robert Wallace, M.P., and of an undoubted centenarian in the person of Miss Ann Wallace; James Dennistoun of Colgrain, whose family have the proud boast of "kings from us, not we from kings," a merchant in Glasgow, another uncle of Mr. Donald's; James Dennistoun, his son, father of James Dennistoun, scholar and antiquarian, the last of Colgrain; Lawrence Craigie, twice Provost, one of the handsomest men of his time; Kirkman Finlay, prince of Glasgow merchants; "Brave Provost Monteith;" Archibald Campbell of Blythswood, Lord-Lieutenant of Renfrewshire, and M.P. for the Glasgow district of Burghs; James Monteith, afterwards of Stonebyres, brother to "the Major"; Samuel Hunter, the witty, wise, and genial editor of the Herald; William and George Stirling, heirs of a long line of Glasgow merchants, with many other names full of Glasgow memories - Bogle, Corbet, Dunlop, Dunmore, Cross, Hamilton, Douglas, Connell, Oswald, etc., etc.
The club, as its name implied, was a whist club, and met every Tuesday from the first Tuesday of November to the first Tuesday of May. Tremendous sederunts they must have had. Rule III. is - "The time of meeting to be at or as soon after five o'clock as convenient, and supper to be on the table at a quarter past ten o'clock; no new rubber to be begun after ten o'clock;" and Rule V., "The bill to be called at or before twelve o'clock." What a whist glutton he must have been who, after five hours of long whist, would propose a fresh rubber! Every member who did not attend was fined a shilling, or if he committed the baseness of deserting good company by going away after the sitting had commenced, three shillings. The preses for non-attendance was fined five shillings. He was to be "at some pains to get the members to meet early in the evening and stay supper"; and he had it in his power "to admit one or two strangers to the club, but no townsman can be admitted." The preses was also bound to have the club minute-book at the meeting before seven o'clock under the penalty of a bottle of rum. Nor was this a brutum fulmen. On 20th June, 1809, there is the entry - "Mr. J. Graham is fined in a bottle of rum for not sending the book when preses." After the whist was over, there must have been grand arguments and hot debates. The minute-book is filled with records of bets, principally of bottles of rum, but occasionally of a guinea, or five, or even ten guineas "dry." As was natural, the war gave rise to many bets. "10th July, 1809. - Mr. Dunlop bets with Mr. Leckie that Sir Arthur Wellesley is a Marshal, a bottle of rum." "8th August, 1809. - Mr. Blackburn bets versus Mr. Middleton a bottle rum and a guinea dry, that Lord Cochrane, in his evidence in Lord Gambier's trial, said that his Lordship made the signal that two line-of-battle ships were sufficient to destroy the enemy." "20th Feb., 1810. - Mr. Carnegie bets a bottle of rum and a guinea dry with Mr. Middleton that the French are in possession of Cadiz on or before the 1st of April next." "6th March,1810. - Mr. Blackburn bets a bottle of rum with Collector Corbet that General Graham, who has lately sailed, the object of his voyage is Cadiz." "Nov. 23, 1813. - Mr. W. Stirling bets a bottle of rum and twenty guineas that Dantzic holds out till the 1st day of January. Mr. Samuel Hunter bets it does not hold out."
Some of the members had apparently gloomy views on the American war, amply justified by the disastrous defeat at New Orleans in January, 1815. On this subject we find the following bet:- "1814, Jan. 11. - Mr. H Monteith bets a guinea and a bottle of rum with Mr. John Douglas that the Americans are not in possession of Montreal in six months. Mr. Douglas bets that they are."
The domestic, and especially the matrimonial, affairs of their neighbours were discussed with great keenness and freedom, and many were the bets to which they gave rise, all of which, with a grave official entry as to the loser and winner, are duly posted in the minute book. Politics ran too high in the small years of the century to make discussion desirable or safe, but still there seem to have been a few political disputes. For instance:- "10th Oct., 1809. - Mr. Wm. McDowall bets a bottle of rum with Mr. S. Hunter that Mr. Perceval is First Lord of the Treasury this day four months." "14th May, 1811. - Mr. Hunter bets a bottle of rum with Mr. James Monteath that his Majesty will never resume the Royal functions. Mr. Monteath bets that he will resume the Royal functions." "22nd Dec., 1812. - Mr. Stirling bets five guineas to one against Mr. Connell that Major Cartwright shall not be taken up upon a warrant for a supposed offence against the State on or before the 1st of February."
They seem to have discussed everything, and to have been always ready to support an opinion or a statement by a bet. The system had one great advantage. After a bet was made the most pertinacious arguer would have to cease from troubling. We find:- "13th Feb., 1810. - Mr. H. Monteith bets with Mr. Colquhoun a bottle of rum that the Glasgow Jail is not thirty feet wide over the walls." "20th Feb., 1810. - Mr. H. Monteith bets a bottle of rum with Mr. J. Hamilton that Mr. Blackburn will be found ultimately liable to pay the poor-rates to the City of Glasgow, in the action brought against him before the Town Court." "June, 1810. - Mr. H. Monteith lost a bottle of rum on a bet with Mr. P. Carnegie respecting a quarter of lamb." "19th Feb., 1811. - Mr. J. Graham has lost a bottle of rum to Mr. J. Maxwell about the latitude of New Holland." "14th Jan., 1812. - Mr. H. Monteith asserts that the Magistrate sitting in the Police Office can legally fine without any of the Town Clerks being present. Mr. Hunter denies that he can - a bottle of rum. Mr. Reddie to decide." "17th Nov., 1812 - Mr. William Stirling bets a bottle of rum and ten guineas with Mr. James Monteath that Mr. John Douglas does not charge anything for his trouble as agent for Mr. Finlay in the late election. Mr. Monteath bets that he does make a charge."
Good hearty fun they must have had, too:- "13th Oct., 1812. - Mr. William Stirling has lost a bottle of rum to the Club relative to the kind of fish at supper." "13th Dec., 1814. - Mr. Hunter has lost a bottle of rum to Mr. Monteith about a substance found in the toasted cheese." "3rd March, 1812. - Mr. Connel bets against Mr. Finlay a bottle of rum that Mr. Jas. Dennistoun will rout as a cow louder and better than Mr. Henry Monteith."
From James MacLehose, Memoirs and portraits of one hundred Glasgow men who have died during the last thirty years and in their lives did much to make the city what it now is (Glasgow, James MacLehose & Sons, 1886). Available at Glasgow Digital Library.
Glasgow Grammar [1784/5- ]
Edinburgh (in office of James Dundas)
Writer, then calico-printer
£1,889 15s 5d
Awardee (Executor or executrix)
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:
1834 [EA] - → Executor
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Central Scotland, Scotland