David Pirie Esquire
Dundonian by birth and the son of an established local painter, David Pirie became a wealthy man through his successful painting and paper-hanging business and clever investments.
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Personal details and history
Date of birth
Place of birth
Name of spouse
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Place of death:
Date of death:
Western Cemetery, Dundee
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Clubs / societies
Career and worklife
Painter and Paper hanger
Place of work
Born in Dundee in 1820, David Pirie was the son of Alexander Pirie and his wife Agnes Greig.
Pirie was regarded as a tough man to work for, sacking staff without notice, but was a successful business man throughout the last half of the 19th century. His firm won contracts for many notable Dundee projects, including for the first street signs in 1865, so they were also sign writers.
In about 1876 Pirie joined forces with Alexander Croom, clerk, 38 Small’s Wynd, Perth Road, Dundee and the following year the firm of Pirie and Croom was awarded the patent for “an improved machine for cutting paper hangings“, the documents for which are housed in Dundee City Archives. The firm manufactured the machines at its Crichton Street premises.
Notably, Pirie was one of the expert witnesses at the inquiry into the failure of the original Tay Bridge and the resulting disaster on 28 December 1879, mentioning that the columns vibrated and loosened rivets:
“David Pirie, Painter, Dundee. Examined by Mr Trayner—Went over the Bridge with a view to contract to paint it, and examined the structure pretty carefully. The examination was made the end of May or beginning of June last year. He saw a good number of bolts and screws lying on the upper portions of the booms, but these he supposed had been left lying after the Bridge had been finished. Did not observe any of the bolts out of their place, or any of the screws without their heads. Did not get the contract paint the Bridge. Was three different days inspecting the Bridge, during the time trains were running. When at the north end of the high girders, and within them, felt the vibration of the Bridge as soon as the train entered on the girders, the train advanced, a wavy motion followed, which continued to increase until the train passed. Lattice work also vibrated very much, but did not think it was such as to have shaken off the paint off any of the booms. At times the vibration was more violent than others, and that, he thought, was owing to the speed of the train.”
Pirie was much involved with Dundee business in general, including the Loch Line steamship company and the company which began the Dundee and District tramway company. In later life David shared his house with his sisters, Ann and Agnes before also giving a home to his niece, Anna Maria Pirie. His younger brother, George C. Pirie, was a local surgeon.
David Pirie died in Dundee on 6 February 1899 and left an estate valued at £25,546 13s. 6d. Legacies were left to: Dundee Royal Infirmary, £100; Dundee Royal Lunatic Asylum, £100; Bannatyne Home of Rest, £50; Dundee Institution for the Blind, £50; Dundee and District Female Rescue Home, Union Place, £50; the Fund for the Relief of Indigent Gentlewomen of Scotland, £50; Dundee Industrial Schools Society, £50; the New Orphan Homes of Scotland, Bridge of Weir, £50; the Dundee Convalescent Home, Barnhill, £200; the Dundee Charity Organisation Society, £100; the Dundee Adult Free Breakfast Mission, £20; the Dundee Female Society, £50.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births. 23 July 1820. 282/150 28. ScotlandsPeople website
- 1871 Census Scotland. St. Clement, Dundee. 282/3 ED1 p.10. Ancestry website.
- 1881 Census Scotland. St. Peter, Dundee. 282/1 ED29 p.24. Ancestry website.
- 1891 Census Scotland. St. Peter, Dundee. 282/1 ED37 p.6. Ancestry website.
- 1841 Census Scotland. Dundee. 282 ED24 p.3. Ancestry website.
- Dundee Directory, 1864-65. p.171. Local History Centre, Dundee Central Library.
- 1851 Census Scotland. Dundee. 282 ED18 p.5. Ancestry website.
- 1861 Census Scotland. Dundee Second District. 282/2 ED2 p.6. Ancestry website.
- Dundee Directory, 1871-72, p.177. Local History Centre, Dundee Central Library.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. St. Peter. Deaths. 6 February 1899. 282/1 76. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Western Cemetery Lairs Index. Friends of Dundee City Archive website.
- Dundee Directories, 1864-1870. Local History Centre, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Evening Telegraph, Tuesday, 7 February 1899. p.4. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Directories, 1864-1899. Local History Centre, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Directory, 1890-91. p.317. National Library of Scotland website.
- Dundee Directory, 1898-99. p.354. Local History Centre, Dundee Central Library.
- Dundee Courier, Wednesday 11 May 1864. p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser, Friday 13 January 1865. p.5. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Directory, 1876-77. p.221. Local History Centre, Dundee Central Library.
- Letters Patent issued to David Pirie and Alex Croom, Dundee, for improved machine for cutting paper hangings 1877. GD/Mus/81. Dundee City Archives.
- Martin, Tom. Tom Martin's Tay Bridge Disaster Web Pages. The Tay Bridge Disaster - The Tay Bridge Disaster, taybridgedisaster.co.uk/.
- Dundee Courier, Monday 23 February 1880. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Courier, Saturday, 28 February 1880. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website..
- Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories. 1899. Ancestry website.
- Dundee Advertiser, Friday, 10 February 1899. p.6. British Newspaper Archive website.
The information above about David Pirie has been collated from a range of digital and hard copy sources. To the best of our knowledge it is correct but if you are relying on any information from our website for the purpose of your own research we would advise you to follow up the sources to your own satisfaction. If you are aware of an inaccuracy in our text please do not hesitate to notify us through our Contact page.