General Duff Case Study: Conclusion

Restored House of Carnousie

Figure 9. Restored house of Carnousie. Image courtesy of Alistair Mutch.

Patrick Duff’s letters reveal something of the concerns of those of more middling rank who made fortunes in India and were fortunate enough to return with them. They present an alternative to the more common narratives of return associated with East India Company ‘nabobs’.[1] Although Patrick’s wealth undoubtedly had an impact on his locality, and although, despite his earlier resolution, he did dabble in local politics, his horizons were rather more domestic ones than those of the ‘nabob’ elite. His letters give hints as to the material culture which accompanied the life of a successful British military officer, although unfortunately none of the artefacts he might have brought back survived the eventual dispersal of his estate on his son’s death in 1828. What is of particular interest is the gift of paintings of his sons to the Indian woman who cared for them, indicative of a flow of artefacts back from Britain. They are also indicative of bonds of responsibility and affection, tempered of course by assumptions of patriarchal authority, for the children he had with Indian women and, albeit fleetingly, for those women themselves.

Patrick went to India in some measure, as did Thomas Munro, another Scot in the service of the East India Company whose career has been explored by Margot Finn, to restore the family fortunes.[2]  As he noted somewhat ruefully in a letter to his uncle about his father’s affairs, ‘the Old Gentleman is not by any means a good Manager’.[3] Although John Duff appears to have been a competent farmer, his work on behalf of the Grant of Monymusk estate collecting rents for their lands on Speyside had landed him in considerable debt. Between them, Patrick and his brother worked to clear those debts.[4] In this, they were fortunate in their connections with their uncles, the Gordon wine merchants of Madeira. This both gave them the ability to settle their father’s debts and then to contribute to the expansion of the Madeira wine business. In this way private concerns meshed with the broader economic development of their home country, for their father moved to one of the new farms created by the rage for agricultural improvement in Scotland. George McGilvary has shown how this movement could not have been fuelled by investment from internal sources; the career of Patrick Duff gives an illustration of the process at work for one estate.[5] The magnificence of the surviving farm buildings and the high quality of the farmland that surrounds it testify to the lasting impact of Indian wealth on the Scottish countryside.

Duff’s history is also an indication of the important place of Madeira as a key node in the network over which capital and commodities flowed back to Britain from India. It was not just a convenient watering place, but an important centre of trade, one dominated in the late eighteenth century by British, and especially Scottish, merchants. They developed a global trade with British possessions in both the West and East Indies, and so were an important link between those areas and their wealthy customers in Britain. As well as supplying their noble patrons with wines, they also opened up awareness of other goods whose purchase they could facilitate. A gift of preserved lemons for the Duchess of Gordon to accompany an order for wine might build on distant family connections, connections which might also be mobilised to assist in the search for military preferment.[6] In this way, business, family and patronage networks were intimately intertwined.[7] Their lasting memorial might be the artefacts which found their way back into the noble houses of Scotland.

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[1] Andrew Mackillop,  ‘Locality, Nation, and Empire: Scots in Asia, c. 1695 – c. 1813’ in John MacKenzie and T. M. Devine (Eds), Scotland and the British Empire, (Oxford, 2011),  p. 70.

[2] Margot Finn, ‘Anglo-Indian Lives in the Later Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century’, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 33:1 (March 2010), p. 55.

[3] Gordon of Letterfourie papers, Bundle 4, Patrick Duff to James Gordon, 14 September 1780

[4] NRS, Grant of Monymusk, GD345/943, Mr Jas Duff of Madeira & his father Mr Duff of Pitchaish, James Duff to Archibald Grant, 8 November 1775.

[5] George McGilvary, East India Patronage and the British State: The Scottish Elite and Politics in the Eighteenth Century, (London, 2008), p. 185.

[6] Duke of Gordon muniments, GD44/43/185/20 James Gordon to James Ross, 22 July 1777.

[7] Margot Finn, ‘Colonial Gifts: Family Politics and the Exchange of Goods in British India, c.1780-1820’, Modern Asian Studies, 40:1 (2006), pp. 203-231.