General Patrick Duff of Carnousie, Banffshire


General Patrick Duff portrait

Figure 1. General Patrick Duff. 1790. George Romney. Source: A. Tayler and H. Tayler, The Book of the Duffs (Edinburgh, 1914).

General Patrick Duff of Carnousie, Banffshire

by Alistair Mutch


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General Patrick Duff (1742-1803), commander of the East India Company’s Artillery in the 1790s, left behind no great mansion. However, he did however leave an impressive set of farm buildings on his home farm and extensive letters which enable us to examine the domestic concerns of a returned East India Company official in two key ways. First, Duff’s correspondence shows how he sought to create domestic comfort during his lengthy stay in India and provide details of the country estate he aspired to when he returned home to Britain. Second, these letters also highlight the importance of Madeira as a key link in the chain connecting Britain to India, enabling the development of a trade in desirable artefacts from Asia and generating wealth for those involved. Significantly, it was this wealth which aided Duff in his aspiration to a country estate.

Patrick Duff was born in 1742, son of a tenant farmer on unpromising land on the banks of the river Spey in Banffshire.[1] His maternal uncles, James (1712?-1790) and Alexander Gordon (1715-1797), were successful Madeira wine merchants. James, who was unmarried and childless, provided for the education of his nephews. Two were to enter the service of his Madeira wine business; the remaining three were destined for military service in India. The eldest was Patrick, who, after initial service in the British Army, transferred to the artillery of the East India Company in 1763. Despite participation in the mutiny of European officers in 1766, Patrick was evidently a competent officer, for he rose through the ranks.  His fortune appears to have been made by his command of the Nawab of Oudh’s artillery.[2] From the 1780s he was looking to repatriate some of his fortune and invest in a country estate in his native north-east Scotland. He eventually bought the 3,000 acre Carnousie estate near Turriff in 1788. Duff proceeded to invest in works of agricultural improvement, having a magnificent square courtyard steading constructed in 1797. He was involved in local politics, standing unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1795.[3] He had town houses in Banff and Edinburgh and repaired the existing house at Carnousie. Whether Duff would have commissioned a new house (as subsequent owners of the estate did) to be filled with artefacts from India will never be known, as he died in Edinburgh in 1803.

Rather than concentrating on his military and political exploits, which are recounted elsewhere, this case study draws on his own letters and other estate papers to focus on Duff’s home life in both India and Scotland. His letters were mainly to his brother James and his uncle, also James, and contained a mixture of topics. Material is often duplicated to cover the uncertainty of ships reaching their destinations and was often composed with dates of sailing in mind.[4] Some letters extend to sixteen pages, being added to as dates of sailing were put back. ‘You are not to expect method or regularity in this letter,’ he noted in a letter of 1785, ‘I write just what comes uppermost without minding what went before.’[5]  While much of their contents are concerned with Duff’s prospects of military preferment, they often slip into a more ‘domestic’ mode, from which we can glean some hints about his memories of home and the material artefacts that he collected.[6] Over time they also give more insight into his important connections with his uncles in Madeira. Although the trade of the island has been explored in considerable detail, especially in the context of colonial America, by David Hancock, its key role as a node in the trade and military networks that constituted the relationship between Britain and India has been relatively understated.[7] Duff’s letters help bring these networks to life and reveal his links to the wealth generated by trade through the island.  



At home in India

General Patrick Duff spent most of his adult life was spent in India. Although twice married, between 1776 and 1794 Patrick lived as a bachelor. As this section explores, however, he was not without female company or domestic comforts.





Acting as an important stopping off point for ships, Madeira also lay at the centre of networks of commodity trading, exporting wine to North America and the Caribbean. When American trade was disrupted by the American War of Independence, India emerged as another key export market. As this section examines, located in Bengal, General Patrick Duff played a key role in promoting his family’s Madeira business.

Mains of Carnousie 1797



Like other East India Company families, when returning home Duff worked with his brothers and uncles to secure an estate. As this section explores, in choosing a suitable estate, Duff was less focused on an ostentatious display of wealth and more on productivity.  

Restored House of Carnousie



In conclusion, this section reminds readers of the significance of Duff’s particular history. His connection to multiple networks of empire, rather than one and his focus on farming and improvement allow us to explore a different history of the ‘nabob’.


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The text and research for this case study was primarily authored by Alistair Mutch, Professor of Information and Learning, Nottingham Trent University.


On 30 November 2013, Christine Felton left the following message:

My grandmother was Violet Duff who was I think third generation of Duffs in the British Raj in India.

On 2 December 2013, Alistair Mutch replied:

I have not investigated the Duffs in India after Tiger’s return to Scotland, but his son William returned to India to become an indigo planter. My friend and former colleague, Professor Colin Fisher, has some knowledge of the indigo industry and suggests to me that this line of the Duffs was successful – but that would be very interesting to follow up in detail. For myself, my focus has turned to Madeira and the Gordons – there is still some intriguing material in the archives at Aberdeen to work through!

[1] Alistair Mutch, ‘Agriculture and Empire: General Patrick ‘Tiger’ Duff and the Shaping of North-East Scotland’, Review of Scottish Culture, 22 (2010), p. 91.

[2] Eric Grant and Alistair Mutch, ‘Indian Wealth and Agricultural Improvement in Northern Scotland’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, (forthcoming, 2014).

[3] , Alistair Mutch, ‘A Contested Eighteenth Century Election: Banffshire 1795’, Northern Scotland, 2 (2011), pp. 22-35.

[4] Kate Teltscher, ‘The Sentimental Ambassador: The Letters of George Bogle from Bengal, Bhutan and Tibet, 1770-1781’, in Rebecca Earle (ed.), Epistolary Selves: Letters and Letter-Writers, 1600-1945 (Aldershot,  1999), p. 80

[5] University of Aberdeen Special Libraries and Collections, Gordon of Letterfourie papers, Letters of Patrick ‘Tiger’ Duff, Bundle 2, Patrick Duff to James Duff, from Fort William, Bengal, 15 July 1785.

[6] Elizabeth Vibert, ‘Writing “Home”: Sibling Intimacy and Mobility in a Scottish Colonial Memoir’, in Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton (eds), Moving Subjects: Gender, Mobility and Intimacy in an Age of Global Empire (Urbana and Chicago, 2009), p. 69

[7] David Hancock,  ‘Commerce and Conversation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic: The Invention of Madeira Wine’, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 29:2 (1998), pp. 197-219; David Hancock, Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste (New Haven, 2009).