Alexander Henderson Esquire
Alexander Henderson was a well-known, highly respected, philanthropic businessman who distinguished himself in the jute trade and in public life in Dundee. He was a model employer and generous benefactor to many charitable enterprises.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2023:
Relative to income compared to 2023:
Personal details and history
7 daughters and 3 sons - Agnes: Helen: Mary Ann: William: Isabella: Louisa: Annie: Alexander Sinclair: Margaret M: Charles Frederick:
Age at death:
Place of death:
West Park, Dundee
Date of death:
Western Cemetery, Perth Road, Dundee - West Wall
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Clubs / societies
Subscriber 74 – Reverend James Ewing – became father in law to Alexander Henderson’s daughter, Agnes Henderson
Career and worklife
Flax/Jute spinner & manufacturer
Place of work
1 Royal Exchange Place, Dundee
Career to date:
Alexander Henderson was listed in the 1841 census as having been a clerk. An obituary account suggested that he had served his apprenticeship at Ward Mills with Messrs Brown and that in 1842, began business on his own account. However, that information is slightly at odds with the fact that he and his father had formed a business, styled 'William Henderson & Son,' and, by 1845, they had taken over South Dudhope Mill from William Boyack and his father in law, Peter Davie, the firm of 'Davie & Boyack' having been sequestered in September of 1844. At the time of his death in 1847, William Henderson, Alexander's father, was stated as having a half share in the firm of 'William Henderson & Son.' From that point, Alexander Henderson took over the ownership and operation of South Dudhope Mill.
Alexander Henderson was born to William Henderson and his wife, Helen Chalmers, at Prestonholm, Cockpen, Midlothian, in 1819. It seems likely that William Henderson was employed in the flax yarn industry at Prestonholm, where a large spinning mill for flax and hemp was situated, on the estate of the Earl of Dalhousie.
All of Alexander’s siblings were born in Cockpen apart from his youngest brother, William Boyack Henderson, who was born in Dundee in 1832. It would seem likely therefore, that the Henderson family arrived in Dundee between the years 1829 (sister Christina born Cockpen 1829) and the year of William’s birth, 1832.
Perhaps another noteworthy indicator was William’s full name – William Boyack Henderson – William Boyack having been the name of the previous co-owner of South Dudhope Mill, West Henderson’s Wynd, Dundee.
Between the years 1832 and the 1841, William Henderson would appear to have been an employee as a flax mill manager and had not yet assumed ownership of the mill at South Dudhope. William Boyack may have been his employer at that time, given his youngest son’s name. The Dundee Directory of 1834 listed William as ‘flaxspinning superintendent,’ again indicating his rank as an employee, as opposed to that as an employer.
Having taken over ownership of South Dudhope Mill around 1844, William and his son Alexander entered into a co-partnership which ceased a few years later, on his father’s death in 1847.
It comprised ‘a 2 1/2 storey mill and storehouses with winding and warping above.’ Apparently, there were no changes to the mill after 1846. This was the year that ‘William Henderson & Son’ established their manufacturing works in neighbouring Smellie’s Lane. In 1864, the factory was of 3 storeys, containing 85 power looms to the rear. It was reported to have 2 engines producing 50 hp, with its 85 power looms providing employment for 460 workers. By 1865 it was heavily altered, with the rear demolished and supplied with a new roof.
Eventually, Alexander Henderson was to become the Senior Partner in the Firm of ‘Alexander Henderson & Sons,’ the proprietors of one of the best equipped spinning and weaving factories within Dundee.
It was reported that he himself, had been;
‘a prominent figure in the Cowgate for more than half a century, having been one of a group of young men who, in the 40s and early 50s laid the foundation of the jute trade and developed it by their untiring energy and industry,’
Obituaries for Alexander Henderson painted a picture of a charitable and beneficent character, described as having been;
‘one of the kindliest of our captains of industry, one of the most helpful of citizens and one who was ever ready to lend unostentatious aid in any good movement. Alexander Henderson was one of the truly good men whose influence tells in all the departments of social life.‘
The company of ‘Messrs Alexander Henderson & Sons,’ eventually became a subsidiary of ‘Low Brothers & Co (Dundee) Ltd,’ and was included in that company’s amalgamation with ‘Don Brothers, Buist & Co Ltd,’ in 1960.
- Old Parish Registers. Cockpen. (1819). 676/ 20 237. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1903). 282/1 229. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Year Book, 1903-04. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Statutory Registers. Edinburgh. Calton & Bonnington. (1858). 685/ 6 24. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Census Returns. Dundee. Liff & Benvie. (1901). 282/1 35/16. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Scottish Post office Directories. Dundee, 1845. p.40. National Library of Scotland website.
- Census Returns. Dundee. (1841). 282/ 109 1. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1864-65. p.132. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1867-68. pDundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Courier. 30 July 1903. p.7. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Evening Post. 27 July 1903. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser. 16 February 1883. p.1. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Courier. 18 June 1889. p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Centenary Souvenir. 1836-1936. Dundee Chamber of Commerce. p.47.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1861-62. p.151. National Library of Scotland website.
- Sheffield Independent. 18 September 1841. p.7. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. (1847). SC45/ 31/ 8. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Ordnance Survey Name Books. Midlothian, 1852-1853. Volume 35. OS1/ 11/ 35/ 24. ScotlandsPlaces website.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births. (1832). 282/ 170/ 99. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1834. p.22. National Library of Scotland website.
- Watson, Mark. Jute and Flax Mills in. Dundee. (1990). Taypost. Hutton Press Ltd. pp.205-206.
- Warden, Alexander J. The Linen Trade, Ancient and Modern. London. Longman. p.656.
- Dundee Evening Telegraph. 27 July 1903. p.4. British Newspaper Archive website.
- University of Dundee Archives.
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