William Rattray of Downie Park

By Ellen Filor

Please note that this case study was first published on blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah in May 2013. The case study was last checked by the project team on 19 August 2014. For citation advice, visit ‘Using the website’.

The Rattrays of Rannagulzion, Drimmie, and Corb were an old Scottish family who supported the Jacobite cause in both 1688 and 1745. They also entered the East India Company in large numbers from the 1770s onwards. This case study focuses on William Rattray (1752-1819), one of the first of the family to travel to India. Almost none of his letters survive. However, Rattray’s will and inventory, his burial records and the house he built can illuminate the life of this man and his wider family. These records reveal Rattray’s strategic use of his domestic interiors to display his Scottish ancestry, Indian career, and Jacobite heritage.

Family and Life in India

The Duke of Athol East Indiaman in flames, James Gillray 1785, © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Duke of Athol East Indiaman in flames, James Gillray 1785, © The Trustees of the British Museum

In 1745, James Rattray of Rannagulzion in Perthshire raised an army in support of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Rattray was said to be faithful to the cause until the end, even after his army was wiped out at Culloden. After the failure of the Forty-Five, James Rattray was captured and taken to London to be tried as a traitor. James was eventually pardoned but stripped of most of his ancestral lands.[1] Three of James Rattray’s sons went to India, in part, to restore their family’s wealth and lands. One, Alexander Rattray, died on the subcontinent having served in the Bengal Artillery from 1778 until his death four years later in the China Seas.[2] However, the second eldest son, James, and his younger brother, William both survived. James went to sea and by 1782 was captain of an East Indiaman, the Duke of Athol. On 19 April 1783, the Athol caught fire and blew up while at anchor in Madras with the loss of the cargo and most of the crew.[3] His next ship was named the Phoenix. James sold this vessel in c. 1787 to Captain Alexander Gray, retiring on the proceeds.[4]

William, the fifth son, was born 30 October 1752 and entered the Bengal Artillery in 1772, rising up the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel by his retirement in 1798. He fought in the First Maharatta War (1779-1781) and was wounded on the retreat down the Bhor Ghaut in April 1781. He returned to Britain in 1794 with a letter of support for Warren Hastings signed by officers of Bengal Army and was appointed a member of the gun carriage committee in January 1794.[5] After his return to Scotland he married Henrietta Janet Rankine, daughter of John Rankine of Dudhope on 22 December 1796. While their marriage produced no children, William had at least three illegitimate (and probably mixed-race) daughters in India, two of whom — Mary and Sarah Elizabeth — he brought back to Scotland.[6]

Buying Estates: Corb, Arthurstone and Downie Park

When the two Rattray brothers returned to Scotland in the 1790s, they offered £12,000 for the now-lost family estate at Corb but ‘when 12,000 guineas was asked, no purchase was made.’[7] Instead, William bought Downie Park near Kirriemuir and his brother James purchased Arthurstone estate near Meigle, which had once belonged to their mother’s family. In the secondary literature, there is some confusion about the owner of Arthurstone: in Pevsner for Perth and Kinross, John Gifford writes ‘a three-storey piend-roofed house built for Colonel William Rattray, c. 1795.’[8] Yet, this is unlikely as William was still in India when the house was planned and built. A letter he wrote in 1809 after his brother’s death to his nephew James Rattray makes clear:

Arthurstone House in 1974. C18th part of the building to the left.

Arthurstone House in 1974. C18th part of the building to the left. Via Peter Ross.


You may remember before I left India I sent you an elevation of the house of Arthurstone as your future house. You then thought lightly of it, but you see it is now yours, though I do assure you it might have been mine if I had thought it proper to have acceded to overtures. The price at that time would have been far more advantageous to me than the estate and house I now write from, but I thought it improper. … The house, garden, and grounds are fit for the residence of any man. If their being situated in Scotland shall be a bar to your occupying, I shall regret I did not make them mine.[9]


This letter highlights the way that the brothers shared out the ownership of estates. As the younger brother, William thought it ‘improper’ to own Arthurstone and instead acceded to his brother James’ senior position in the family. The letter too stresses the importance of Scotland to William and his desire to communicate this to his English-born nephew. His casual warning that ‘If their being situated in Scotland shall be a bar to your occupying, I shall regret I did not make them mine’ suggests that his nephew should respect his Scottish ancestry. In the end, James Rattray did sell Arthurstone putting it on the market in 1811.[10]

Downie Park. Via Alan Morrison.

Downie Park. Via Alan Morrison.

While William seems to have owned Downie from at least 1801, it was not until 1805 that he set about building the house that still stands on the estate. John G. Dunbar has written on the Georgian architecture of Scotland, ‘Finally, mention may be made of the elegant little villa of Downiepark, Angus, erected for a retired Indian army-officer in about 1805, and remarkable for its distinctive external detail and elaborate galleried staircase.’[11] Shelia Forman notes that ‘there is a strong tradition that the Adam family had a hand in it.’[12] There is no evidence for this belief and as Robert and James Adam had both died a decade earlier, their first-hand involvement seems unlikely. Downie Park does exhibit some Adamesque features: the ‘relieving arch’ around the windows on the ground floor or the classical frieze around the hall way ceiling. Downie Park was more likely to have been designed by the same unknown architect who built nearby Pearsie for Rattray’s nephew-in-law Charles Wedderburn.[13] Outwardly at least, William’s house is emphatically ‘Scottish’ in character and displays no Indian influence in its architecture — in contrast, for example, to that of Seizencote or Daylesford.

Rattray also seems to have taken a personal interest in the architecture, which might account for Downie Park’s more ‘distinctive’ features. A family friend, James Scrymgeour recounted,

Towards the end of the year 1819 the Colonel feeling the cold of the climate, and otherwise thinking the mansion incomplete without a porch or portico for the main entrance, designed one himself. Workmen were brought in to execute the Colonel’s design, but while they were so employed death suddenly entered without knocking or warning, and the Colonel died before the porch was finished. I have seen and passed through that unfinished porch over and over again, and now at this time — sixty-four years after the Colonel’s death — I question if it is finished even yet. I fear not.[14]

Scrymgeour was correct: there is only a small and unimpressive portico on the front of the building from c. 1819.[15] The grounds likewise display an original design. The large stables are connected to the house by a stretch of lawn, allowing the riding of the horse right up to the door. The house is swamped by the run, it becomes the central feature of the surrounding landscape and acts to highlight the position of the stables rather than hide them. These contained at least ten horses and William’s coach, with the Rattray crest emblazoned on the side.[16]

Inside Downie Park

If the house was neo-classical outside, inside it reflected Rattray’s colonial career. The drawing room and bedroom above are both oval and both decorated in the same Chinese wallpaper supposedly brought back by Rattray and his brother from China. It is patterned with bamboo branches and grey birds on a green background.[17] It is likely that William imported this wallpaper and a substantial number of the Indian objects with which he furnished his Scottish home in his brother’s ship. The drawing room contained several items brought back from India. Scrymgeour wrote ‘my mother, while a young lady attending Miss Gordon’s boarding school at Janefield, … had often visited the Mansion house of Downie Park, and seen numerous Indian cabinets and curiosities.’[18] The inventory in William Rattray’s will lists two Chinese pagodas on bronze stands, three Choucrassie[?] tea tables and two china vases. The walls were covered in prints of Indian and Swiss views.[19] The room upstairs, described as a ‘Skey [sic] Parlour’ in the inventory but also containing a bed, seems to have been used as a junk room. It had ‘An Indian Goddess & Tamberine [sic]’ as well as various weapons and hunting trophies.[20]

We’re keen to know if any readers of this case study can tell us what a ‘Choucrassie’ tea table is. Does this read ‘Chaurasia’?

We’re keen to know if any readers of this case study can tell us what a ‘Choucrassie’ tea table is. Does this read ‘Chaurasia’?

The items which impressed Scrymgeour’s mother most were not the exotic Indian artifacts. Rather, her son wrote, ‘nothing did she ever remember so well, nothing impressed her so much, as the crest and legend of the Rattrays. The Colonel, fond of the crest and legend of his house, had it cut, or engraved, or painted on ever so many objects — the silver plate, the panels of the coach, the backs of the high-backed chairs’.[21] In contrast to other case studies such as Osterley Park where crested items often came from abroad — armorial porcelain from China and lacquered chairs from Japan — Rattray’s items instead seem largely local. None of the porcelain is crested and the only lacquered item is a ‘Jepand [sic]’ chest in the South West bedroom.[22] A large proportion of crested objects are silver plated and likely to be of British origin. While ‘Eighteen four pronged silver forks, Rattray crest’ are more conventional British plate items, others such as the ‘round Rice dish’ and the ‘two Curry dishes’, are more unusual.[23] The crested curry dish stands as a hybrid object: one that displays William’s pride in the Rattray name and heritage while simultaneously displaying the culinary influence that India exerted even in when returned to Scotland.

While the drawing room and parlour were the rooms most obviously influenced by Rattray’s career in India, they were not the only ones. The library was decorated with two large prints of the taking of Seringapatam along with an ‘explanation’ of the scene. However, the library contained prints of other battles, not limited to India. The Battle of the Boyne (1690) and La Houge (1692) were depicted alongside a print of the death of Scottish soldier Sir Ralph Abercrombie at Alexandria (1801). There were also one portrait and one print of Prince Charles and one of King Charles. The choice of battles — both were fought to restore James VII of Scotland and II of England to the English throne — and the portraits of the Stuart monarchs suggest that William remained proud of his Jacobite heritage.[24] By placing an Indian battle alongside these Jacobite struggles, he inserted himself into the bellicose Rattray heritage. Yet, this continued Jacobite sympathy was revealed only to those who were invited into the relatively private library.[25] In the dining room, for example, the prints on display are of George III, Princess Charlotte and Lord Cornwallis in an outward display of ‘Britishness’.[26] Here, it is interesting that not only outward signs of ’Nabobry’ had to be contained but also the Jacobite sympathies that still linger.

Thrice Buried

William Rattray died 20th December 1819 aged 67. He was buried in the grounds of Downie Park alongside his illegitimate daughters, Mary and Sarah Elizabeth, who died of consumption in 1801 and 1812, respectively. Scrymgeour described the spot as ‘in the centre of the sweet green holm on haugh below the mansion, between the ban on which it stands and the [river] Prosen, a lowen [Scots: sheltered from wind] place embellished with many flowers. A neat wall enclosed the spot, which all thought was to be the last resting place of the Indian soldier.’[27] The situation of his burial place suggests that Rattray intended for Downie Park to remain in the family for many years.

In the event, a decade after Rattray’s death, after a period of prolonged rain and thunder, ‘The swollen rivers overflowed their banks. The Prosen ran red and furiously in the haugh at Downie Park, & entering the sacred enclosure where the Colonel was buried, and swirling round inside of the enclosing wall, scooped open a large portion of the grave. The people of the district thought and said strange things on the subject, as if some Indian mystery had been connected with the Sacrilegious act of the Posen.’[28] Such a superstition, held by non-elite locals, suggests the ways that India could affect mentalities even in supposedly ‘provincial’ areas of Scotland and Britain.

After this incident, Rattray’s body was transferred to the churchyard of Kirriemuir and buried under the supposed grave of a medieval warrior. Scrymgeour recounts, ‘A rude stone of hieroglyphic story marked the head of the Colonel’s second grave.’[29] Some thirty years later, Rattray’s widow moved his remains again, this time to her family grave in the Howff, Dundee. She also moved his illegitimate daughters.[30] Rattray’s widow lived only occasionally at Downie Park, letting it out for shooting, and died leaving no heirs at Rothesay on Bute, 13 May 1860. She was buried on the island rather than alongside her husband.[31] Downie Park was eventually lost to the Rattray family in 1871 when it was sold to the Duke of Airlie for £28,000 pay off the debts of Captain James H. Rattray.[32]


William Rattray’s Tomb, The Howff, Dundee. Via impta on Flickr

William Rattray’s Tomb, The Howff, Dundee. Via impta on Flickr


For the Rattray brothers India was a means to reclaim wealth, lands and social standing stripped from their family in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The successful Indian careers of James and William allowed them to buy several estates in Scotland and build and furnish country houses. Despite his family’s integration into the ‘British’ Empire, William clearly retained pride in longstanding Rattray Jacobite sympathies. His domestic interiors were calculated to reveal these sympathies only to selected visitors. William’s relative success in restoring his family’s wealth and lands, however, did not extend much beyond his death, with Downie Park being sold by another branch of the Rattray family and William’s remains being moved from Downie, and eventually resting in the tomb of his wife’s family. This lack of wealth meant that the Rattray family did, however, continue its relationship with India through the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, by sending successive generations of sons to serve there. William’s tomb still stands in Howff graveyard, overgrown and eroded by the weather, a material metaphor for the family’s participation in the empire project.


On 6 October 2013, Thomas Rattray left the following comment:

A very interesting piece a minor correction Rannagulzion spelling. The z is the missing letter from the Scottish alphabet and is silent as it should be all Scottishe names from Menzies to Mac Kenzie.

On 6 October 2013, Ellen Filor replied:

Thanks for the correction, I’ve just amended the piece. Glad you enjoyed it!

On 30 December 2013, Thomas Rattray left a further comment:

Dear Ellen

I am writing to ask permission to publish your case study article in the Clan Rattray annual journal, most of the story is known to use, however your discussions and information on the house itself is new to us. I would also like to put a link to your web article on the Clan Rattray Website. No all our members have access to the Web some many would prefer to see the article in hard copy.

I will, of course, give you access to Clan Journal if you would like.

Best wishes

Rulzion Rattray
Clan Historian


[1] Sir Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain (London, 1852), p. 1101.

[2] Dodwell and Miles, Alphabetical List of the Officers of the Bengal Army (London, 1838), pp. 12-13.

[3] Alfred Spencer (ed.), Memoirs of William Hickey (4 vols, London, 1913-1925), vol. III, pp. 122-23.

[4] Robert Haldane Rattray, Personal and Family Events in My Life (Calcutta,1859), p. 5. Phoenix: Journal, 10 December 1787 — 29 August 1789, BL, IOR/L/MAR/B/175B.

[5] ‘Miscellaneous Tracts’, Asiatic Annual Register (1799), p. 183. Hodson, Officers of the Bengal Army, 1758-1834 (London, 1946), pp. 613-614

[6] Two of William’s daughter, Sarah Elizabeth and Henrietta Rathay [sic] are recorded as being baptised in Cawnpore on 19 August 1789. BL IOR/N/1/4 f.72. Another daughter Mary was born in India and is buried now in the Howff graveyard, Dundee.

[7] Alex Johnston Warden. Angus or Forfar (Edinburgh, 1881), vol. 2, p. 362.

[8] John Gifford, Perth and Kinross (London, 2007), p. 160.

[9] William Rattray to James Rattray, 19 April 1809, in Henrietta Rattray, Letters of Henrietta Rattray to Her Sons in India, A.D. 1800 to 1814 (London, 1878), pp. 150-51.

[10] Henrietta Rattray to James Rattray, 16 January 1811, Letters of Henrietta Rattray, p. 86.

[11] John G. Dunbar, The Historic Architecture of Scotland (Batsford, 1966), p. 124.

[12] Sheila Forman, ‘Downie Park’, Scottish Field, p. 36]

[13] Gifford, Dundee and Angus (London, 2012), p. 656.

[14] Norval, pseud. [James Scrymgeour], Thrice Buried; or, The Legend of the Rattrays (Dundee, 1883), p. 5.

[15] Gifford, Dundee and Angus, p. 437.

[16] William Rattray Will, Brechin Commissary Court, CC3/5/6, p. 497.

[17] Forman, ‘Downie Park’, p. 38.

[18] Scrymgeour, Thrice Buried, p. 4.

[19] William Rattray Will, p. 481.

[20] Ibid., p. 484.

[21] Scrymgeour, Thrice Buried, p. 4.

[22] William Rattray Will, p. 487.

[23] Ibid., p. 492. Thanks to Helen Clifford for her help in reading the plate inventory.

[24] Ibid., p. 495.

[25] This division of public and private spaces in the home is influenced by Amanda Vickery’s discussion in Vickery, A Gentleman’s Daughter (London, 1999), especially chapter six.

[26] William Rattray Will, pp. 494-95.

[27] Scrymgeour, Thrice Buried, p. 5.

[28] Ibid., pp. 5-6.

[29] Ibid., p. 6.

[30] The Burial Records of the Dundee Howff, http://www.fdca.org.uk/pdf%20files/HowffR02.pdf

[31] Scrymgeour, Thrice Buried, p. 8.

[32] Glasgow Herald, April 7 1871.