Alexander Gilzean

28th Dec 1777 - 1848

Claimant or beneficiary


Born in Moray, Scotland; emigrated to Jamaica in the 1790s. Worked as an attorney and later bought Dunvegan plantation in St Thomas-in-the-Vale. Resident at the time of compensation, but returned to Scotland and died there in 1848.

  1. Alexander Gilzean was born at Nether Meft, on the Innes House Estate in the parish of Urquhart, Morayshire, 28/12/1777. His father was James Gilzean and his mother was Henrietta Kelly. His mother's family, from New Miln of Kilbuiack, Alves, near Elgin, included a cousin George Forteath, a half-brother John, and a cousin William Falconer, all of whom were established in Jamaica in the 1770s and 1780s.

  2. Alexander's uncle was Thomas Gilzean, writer, later Sheriff-Substitute, and twice Provost, of Inverness, and funded Alexander at various times between 1788 and 1797. Thomas Gilzean had moved to Inverness as Comptroller of Customs in 1783, and as Sheriff-Substitute there built up a connection with John Innes, W.S., Clerk to the Signet, who would later acquire the Leuchars estate near Elgin. Through his Elgin agent, the writer Thomas Sellar, father of the notorious Patrick, Gilzean seems to have funded his nephew in clothing, footwear, Latin lessons, and books, and through Innes, a period in Edinburgh between 1788 and 1792, when Alexander, who had been receiving cash directly from, and drawing on, his uncle for some years before 1788, funded the purchase of £50 worth of furniture and accessories from two drafts inside two months on his uncle. This seems to have been the prelude to a period as an independent writer in Elgin which ended in failure. The Sheriff Substitute continued to honour Alexander's drafts into 1795, but by 1796 Alexander Gilzean was in Jamaica drawing on Lewis Cuthbert of Castlehill, Inverness, who had leased the patent office of Provost Marshal General on the island in the early 1770s and retained it until his death in 1802. The Sheriff-Substitute, who had become Cuthbert's Inverness factor in the early 1790s, met two drafts on Cuthbert for a total of £212 sterling inside eight months in 1796-7, nearly two-thirds of his lifetime funding of Alexander, and then transferred him to his Register of Doubrful and Desperate Debts, commenting succinctly “(my nephew!)”. Alexander Gilzean did not make another appearance in his accounts for nineteen years.

  3. Alexander first appears in the Jamaica Almanac for 1799, as an attorney licensed to practice in the Courts, and in the militia lists for the parish of St Catherine. His uncle, John Kelly, who owned and lived at Tamarind Grove in St Catherine and also owned Househill in St Thomas-in-the-Vale, died in 1804, leaving Alexander a legacy of £1000 sterling and a gold watch. Among the cousins mentioned in John Kelly's will were George Forteath in Newtown, near Alves, Moray, and his brothers. Forteath had been a merchant in Jamaica in the 1770s and 1780s, in association with Robert Milligan, who by the time of Kelly's death was one of the controllers of the West India Docks.

  4. In 1816 the Sheriff-Substitute in Inverness opened, without comment, a new account for his nephew, giving his address as Berry Hill in the Island of Jamaica, and crediting him with over £1,500. Berry Hill was one of Alexander and Kelly's cousin William Falconer's plantations in St Thomas in the Vale. Jane MacGillivray's investigations on Falconers in Jamaica, published online, indicate that he was probably the brother of Aeneas Falconer of Blackhills in Nairnshire. He had returned to the Highlands in 1805, having been more than twenty years in Jamaica, and for a time lived at Brightmoney, Auldearn. In 1806 he married Christian, the daughter of Provost John MacIntosh of Inverness. The address suggests that from the time of Falconer's departure, Alexander may have been acting as one of his plantation attornies, or in some other capacity at Berry Hill. Falconer, who finally settled at Lentran, just west of Inverness, on the shores of the Inner Moray Firth, had a number of properties in the island, and the slave returns for him in St Thomas in the Vale show that he employed another two attornies there besides Alexander.

  5. From 1817 the Jamaica Almanacs show Alexander as proprietor of Dunvegan, a 47-acre property accommodating, for its size, a fluctuating (between 28 and 52) but notably large population of enslaved people. After emancipation, Alexander's PCC will indicates he had expanded Dunvegan, mostly by the purchase of an additional 96 acres from "Gordon Munro" (possibly the "Munro and Gordon" (John Munro and Francis Gordon) shown as holders of Berry Hill in the 1840 Almanac, which might suggest that Dunvegan had once been part of the larger plantation). By 1817, Alexander had been joined in Jamaica by his brother Thomas, at least seven years his junior, who, at first buying slaves from his brother and his co-attornies, pursued a parallel but increasingly independent career which included appraisal work in Kingston, until his death late in the 1820s. Gilzean appears to have taken over the enslaved people owned by Thomas after the latter's death.

  6. At some point around 1810, Alexander began a relationship with Sarah Gilzean. Aged 25 and described as "African" in the Slave Register of 1817, she was registered as the property of Alexander Gilzean along with her sons Thomas age 6 and James age 2. In his 1832 return, Gilzean records the manumission since 1829 of both these sons, along with 3 further mixed-race children, Henrietta Kelly, Alexander and Isabella, but gives no indication of any formal manumission for Sarah, though his PCC will provides for the use of part of Dunvegan for her, and ownership for James and Isabella.

  7. Alexander's account with his uncle in Inverness over the next twenty years remained at between £1,000 and £2,500 sterling, but usually towards the upper end of the spread. It financed the arrival, in 1824, of another of Alexander's brothers, James, an Aberdeen qualified doctor, in Jamaica, who would eventually become his executor there, and residuary legatee. A more modest use of this Jamaica deposit was initiated by the now retired Sheriff-Substitute. Alexander's father, James, staying with his son-in- law at Kintrae, more than three miles from Elgin, had by the late 1830s grown too frail to walk into Elgin and back to be shaved. His brother, Thomas, who had twice, in the 1780s and 1790s, rescued him from serious financial trouble, noting that he doesn't "think Sandy will mind" allots some of his nephew's money to ensure that a barber named Sutherland rides out from Elgin three days a week to shave James, who died in 1840.

  8. In 1832, Alexander Gilzean was he third most generous contributor (at £25) to the funding, then standing at £385) towards a Kirk in St Thomas-in-the-Vale. A smaller contribution is recorded from James Gilzean.

  9. According to a report of 1833 in The Tourist: A Literary and Anti-slavery Journal, Alexander Gilzean was manager of Wey Hill in Jamaica when Alexander Kelly, an enslaved person there, was flogged to death as punishment for refusing to surrender a borrowed horse; this happened with Gilzean's apparent consent although he was not present at the time.

  10. Alexander is recorded at Charlestown-of-Aberlour in Banffshire when he wrote his will in 1846. He died in Aberlour, 21/02/1848.

  11. Alexander's eldest son Thomas Gilzean (1811-1868) would appear from the 1817 slave return submitted by Alexander to have been born in 1811. By the time of the 1851 census he was living at 82 Parkside Street, Edinburgh, his age recorded as 35, and his birthplace as St Thomas in the Vale, Jamaica, "British subject", with an 11 year old son, James, and an 8 year old daughter Henrietta Kelly. His wife, Barbara's, age was recorded as 21, and his occupation as "tailor" (this is confirmed by the 1861 census - the penmanship of the earlier records is slightly ambiguous. At his death in 1868 he was described as "journeyman tailor"). A marriage record, by a United Presbyterian minister from St James's Place, exists for them at St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh 03/07/1849, in which she was recorded as the second daughter of William Low, blacksmith, and Gilzean's name is recorded as "Gilyean", both then residing at 7 Brighton Street, St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh. She had been born in Aberdeen and baptized there 17/05/1830. So far it has not been possible to trace any birth data for the two children listed in 1851 (though their birthplace is given as "Midlothian" and in the 1861 Census, Henretia Gilyean, (sic) described as 18, still living with the couple (also now recorded as "Gilyean"), in a Greenside Place, St Andrew's, Edinburgh, tenement in which two rooms are recorded as having windows, and with two younger siblings, Thomas and Sarah, both born in Greenside, has an indicated birthplace of Broughton, ? Greenlinks, Midlothian).

  12. Thomas Gilzean died of tuberculosis (which thirty years later, the Austrian psychiatrist and GP Adler would identify as an occupational disease of tailors) in March 1868, still at Greenside, and his registration of death, describing him as 56, indicates before his marriage to Barbara Low he had been the widower of a Margaret Janes. His deceased mother's name (other than her maiden name) is given as Green. Barbara Low survived him. Her brother George was living nearby. In 1881, his son, Thomas, then aged 26 and a widowed shop-porter, with a 6 year-old daughter, Barbara, was living at 3 Hamilton Place, St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh.


We are grateful to Jim Brennan for compiling this entry.

  1. General Registry Office for Scotland OPR Births 144 020 245 Urquhart, Moray.

  2. Thomas Gilzean client account book 1782-1802 Highland Council Archives (HCA) D489.

  3. Will of John Kelly PROB 11/1424/96. Will of Alexander Forteath of Jamaica PROB 11/1139/409 (written 1779, proved 1786).

  4. Ledger of Thomas Gilzean 1802-35, Aberdeen University Library KC874 IBC/7/110/11. [accessed 15/07/2013]., Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834 [database online].

  5., Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834 [database online].

  6. Ledger of Thomas Gilzean 1802-35.

  7. Transcription from the Jamaica Royal Gazette, 22/12/1832 by Mary Mill at [accessed 15/07/2013].

  8. The Tourist: A Literary and Anti-slavery Journal, 14/01/1833, p. 164.

  9. SC26/39/6.

  10. 1851 census online; General Registry Office for Scotland OPR marriages 685/02 0460 0578 St Cuthbert's; OPR births 168/OA 0220 0151 Aberdeen.

  11. 1871 and 1881 censuses online. General Registry Office for Scotland deaths 1868 685/02 0151.  

Further Information

[With Sarah Gilzean] Thomas (1811-), James (1815-), Henrietta Kelly, Alexander, Isabella

The inventory taken following Alexander's death in February 1848 found that his assets in Scotland, including his gold watch, described as "old" and worth £7, and part of an insurance policy on a deceased James Phimister of St Vincent, came to £446 6s 7d, with an additional holding in 3 per cent annuities valued at £2261 10s. His brother in law, William Reid, who farmed at Salterhill, acted as Scottish executor.

The bequests fell within the implied total. He left £800 to provide for the children of his late brother George, £300 to his sister Mrs Isabel Petrie and her daughter, (her husband had farmed at Kintrae, where Alexander's father died) £400 to William Reid at Salterhill (widower of his sister Margaret) to help find a farm for Reid's son James, £100 to his niece Henrietta, and £200 to his niece Janet, in recognition of her kindness to him at Salterhill. Dunvegan was left to "my reputed children" James, Henrietta, and Isabella, share and share alike, their "mother Sarah Gilzean to have the use of part for her lifetime", and the residue to his brother James in Jamaica. £500 was left to "my reputed Son, Thomas Gilzean... now residing at 50 South Bridge Edinburgh".


Wealth at death
£2,707 16S 7D
Lawyer and planter
Church of Scotland

Associated Claims (3)

£1,247 12s 5d
£58 6s 3d
£71 10s 7d

Associated Estates (10)

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
1817 [EA] - 1829 [LA] → Attorney
1832 [EA] - → Agent
1834 [EA] - → Owner
1815 [EA] - 1839 [LA] → Owner
1817 [EA] - → Attorney
1826 [EA] - → Executor
1817 [EA] - → Attorney
1817 [EA] - 1829 [LA] → Attorney
1832 [EA] - → Agent
1823 [EA] - 1832 [LA] → Attorney

Relationships (2)

Other relatives
Notes →
Sarah Gilzean was the mistress of Alexander Gilzean from at least 1811 and the mother of his five...

Addresses (1)

Salterhill, Elgin, Moray, North-east Scotland, Scotland