Robert Gordon of Berbice

1768 - 10th Jan 1814


Governor of Berbice, father of Harriet Elizabeth Gordon (q.v.).

  1. Robert Gordon (1768-1814) was the third son of Robert Gordon of Hallhead and Esstlemont (Ellon, Aberdeenshire) and Lady Henrietta Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Aberdeen. His sister Katherine married James Baillie of Bedford Square (q.v.).

  2. In 1804 Gordon married Anna Maria Parkinson (b. 1787), the Demerara-born daughter of a long established planter William Parkinson (1748-1803), originally from Delaware, and Mary Reading (1768-1853) [National Archives of the Netherlands, Dutch Series Guyana, Inventaris nr. AZ.9.3, p272] Parkinson owned the 250-acre cotton plantation Grove, on the east sea coast of Demerara. They had one child, Harriet Elizabeth Gordon (1806-1859), born in Demerara.

  3. Gordon was resident in Essequibo at the time of his marriage and was described as 'late of the Hope estate'. At his death owned 30 acres of the plantation formerly known as Diamond on Leguan Island. He also owned the much larger plantation Elizabeth Ann, also on Leguan.

  4. In October 1807 Gordon was one of 'five or six English gentlemen' who joined with an American named Hubbard in an attack on a privateer from Spanish Orinoco which had been 'committing ruinous devasations on the property of British planters' in Essequibo. They were captured by the privateer but later rose against the crew as it neared the mouth of the Orinoco. They retook their schooner and made for Tobago, where they arrived 'just in time to save their lives, for they were nearly in a dying state for want of water'.

  5. In May 1810 Gordon was appointed 'Governor and Commander in Chief in and over the settlement of Berbice'. He took his oath in London in August and in September sailed on the Saphire. Gordon had an uneasy relationship with the colony's leading planters: 'in 1811 he dismissed the Deputy Receiver General without consulting the Court of Policy. During the ensuing furore in the Court over whether he had the right to do this Gordon even suspended one of its most respected members, the planter Samuel Kendall.'

  6. At the time of this appointment Gordon had made a bid to purchase the neglected Crown plantations in Berbice - a bid which was unsuccesfull because the Treasury decided to appoint its own agent to manage the plantations, reporting directly to Treasury Commissioners rather than to the Lt Governor. The Commissioners included the leading abolitionists William Wilberforce, Zachary Macauly and three anti-slavery MPs who, through their agent Col Duncan Macalister sought to ameliorate the conditions of slaves on these plantations as a model for what might be achieved on a broader front. Gordon, as a slave owner, had misgivings. 'He feared that discontent would grow among the majority of slaves in Berbice at this favoured treatment of a small minority: the chilling thought was yet another excuse for him to request an increase in the garrison of a colony where there were only 600 whites to 25,000 slaves.'

  7. Gordon stood down as Lt Governor in June 1812. He was reappointed in February 1813 but fell ill and died in Martinique on 10 January 1814.

  8. The 'Statement of the affairs of the late Robert Gordon, dec'd to 1st January 1818' now held by Princeton University reveals that he had six 'natural [illegitimate] children' - five daughters and a son. One of his slaves named Anthony was being educated in Aberdeen.

Sources [accessed 20/05/2017].

  1. GROS OPR Births 192 20 122 Ellon; William Temple, The Thanage of Fermartyn (Aberdeen, 1894) p. 516 (note d.o.b. wrongly given as 1764).

  2. National Archives of the Netherlands, Dutch Series Guyana, Inventaris nr. AZ.9.3, p272, [accessed 20/05/2019]; Harriet Elizabeth Gordon's life dates, Gravestone, Holy Trinity church, Cheltenham - transcription at [accessed 20/05/2019].

  3. Scots Magazine, Vol 66, p806 (October 1804); Essequibo & Demerara Royal Gazette 10/09/1817, transcript at [accessed 20/05/2019]; 'Statement of the affairs of the late Robert Gordon, dec'd to 1st January 1818', Princeton Archives, F-000052, for acquisition see [accessed 20/05/2019], for summary see [accessed 20/05/2019].

  4. Charles Waterton, Essays on Natural History, Chiefly Ornithology (London, 1838), pp. xliii-xlvii.

  5. London Gazette, Issue 16400 p. 1301 (28/08/1810); Manchester Mercury 02/10/1810; Donald Wood referencing CO 31910 Gordon to Liverpool 26/06/1811 [through personal communication to David Alston from Peter Fraser].

  6. Donald Wood referencing CO 11178 [through personal communication to David Alston from Peter Fraser].

  7. Gentleman's Magazine, May 1814, Volume 84 p. 515.

  8. 'Statement of the affairs of the late Robert Gordon, dec'd to 1st January 1818', Princeton Archives, F-000052.

We are grateful to David Alston for compiling this entry, and to Alexander Kunde for his assistance.

Further Information

Anna Maria Parkinson
Harriet Elizabeth

Associated Estates (1)

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 [EY] → Previous owner

Relationships (3)

Father → Daughter
Notes →
Tentative connection...