Who was Lawrence Dundas?
The Dundas family of Perthshire, Scotland owed their return prosperity to Thomas Dundas (1681-1762) a woollen-draper, who through his successful business bought back the family estate in Fingask, Perthshire. This property and much of the family’s wealth had been confiscated earlier in the seventeenth century, when the family switched loyalties from the Stuarts to Charles I. Thomas married Bethia Baillie (fl.1686-1732) whose brother was abbot of St James’s at Rattisbon in Bavaria. Lawrence was the second of two children born to Thomas and Bethia, in 1721. In 1738 Lawrence married Margaret (1715/16-1802) daughter of Alexander Bruce of Kennet, Clackmannanshire. They had only one child, a son Thomas (1741-1820), named after his grandfather and father’s older brother .
Dundas’s rapid rise to wealth reminds us that the East India Company was only one of many militaristic routes to fortune in eighteenth century Britain. Lawrence Dundas made his first fortune as a merchant contractor supplying goods (such as bread, forage, horses and waggons) to the British Army during their campaign against the Jacobites in 1745. These contracts made him a man of wealth. However his great opportunity came during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), when he secured even greater contracts. James Boswell’s claim that Dundas would ‘bring home a couple of hundred thousand pounds’ underestimated the scale of the profits, which others have put at between £600,000 to £800,000.[i] The final sums were rumoured to involve nearly £2 million. Dundas engaged in contracting on his own, something that required confidence as well as resources, and his refusal to share profits earned him many enemies.[ii]
Lawrence Dundas subsequently branched out into banking, property and was a major backer of the Forth and Clyde Canal which ran through his estate at Kerse near Falkirk. Associated with the Canal was the port at Grangemouth which Dundas founded in 1768. He was a Director of the Royal Bank of Scotland, had shares in the British Plate Glass Manufactory, invested money in private loans and shipping ventures, and owned two sugar estates in the West Indies, one in Dominica and the other in Grenada.[iii]
Serving as MP for Lanark Burghs from 1747-1748, and then as MP for Edinburgh in 1768, 1774 and in the year of his death in 1781, Lawrence Dundas established himself at the head of a small parliamentary group of relatives and friends whose support was useful for the prime minister, Lord North (1732-1792 ).[iv]
[i] 11 December 1762 in F.A. Pottle (ed.), Boswell’s London Journal, 1950, p.75.
[ii] Edith Lady Haden-Guest,‘Dundas, Sir Lawrence 1st Bt. (c.1710-81) of Kerse, Stirling and Aske, nr Richmond,Yorks’, History of Parliament Online, volume 1754-1790, p.358. One of these enemies was Sir James Cockburn (1729-1804) who in 1764 filed bills against him. Dundas in turn blocked Cockburn’s attempts to become a Director of the East India Company in 1765, although Cockburn suceeded in securing a Directorship between 1767-9 and 1770-73.
[iii] History of Parliament Online, volume 1754-90.p.358.
[iv] History of Parliament Online, volume 1754-90, p.358.