George Duncan Esquire
George Duncan, long retired as a haberdasher and draper in Dundee, was formerly very active in local and national politics. Still a prominent figure in Dundee in 1863, he was a noted benefactor and supporter of many local institutions.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2023:
Relative to income compared to 2023:
Personal details and history
Date of birth
11-03-1791 (baptised 13-03-1791)
Place of birth
Name of spouse
Hester Eliza Wheeler
Age at death:
Place of death:
Date of death:
The Howff, Dundee - declared to have been the last person to have been buried in the Howff
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Church of Scotland
Clubs / societies
Dundee Royal Infirmary - A Vice President: Dundee Royal Lunatic Asylum - A Director for Life: Dundee Industrial Schools Society - A Vice President: Dundee Royal Orphan Institution - A Vice President: Dundee Association for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb - A Vice President: Freemason - Member of Lodge St David No. 78: Right Worshipful Master, Lodge Ancient No. 49, 1843-49:
1825 - Merchant Councillor on Dundee Town Council: 1828 - Elected Councillor of the Guild: 1833-36 - Dean of Guild: 1838 - J P for Forfarshire: 1842 - Promoted to First or Senior Baillie: - noted as having been the first Scottish Bailie to sit in the House of Commons: M.P. for Dundee (1841-1857):
Career and worklife
Retired draper, haberdasher and merchant
Retired. Formerly owner of a business.
Place of work
Dundee and London
Career to date:
Born in Dundee, George Duncan's early education took place, firstly at the Grammar School, followed by Dundee Academy, (the present High School). He was first apprenticed to Archibald Ogilvie, draper. Post apprenticeship, there followed a period 2/3 years spent in Edinburgh, before returning to Dundee, where he commenced business as a draper and silk mercer on his own account. It is stated in printed biographies of Duncan that he entered commercial life in Dundee in 1813. He then entered into business as a haberdasher with a Mr Johnston, their firm being known as 'Johnston and Duncan.' The firm was reported as having been a 'large and lucrative business on the north side of the High Street.' The partnership is unlikely to have lasted for long as the Dundee Directory for 1818 lists separately a Joseph Johnstone, draper, with premises at 68 High Street and George Duncan, draper, at 61 High Street. By the 1830s, George Duncan lived at Hawkhill Place. By about the age of 45 years, George Duncan retired from the drapery business in 1836. He had given up his High Street business c1834. In the Dundee Directory for that year he was described as 'late merchant.' He was listed as a merchant in the Dundee Directory for 1837-38, by which time he had moved to Magdalen Yard. He became Director for a number of companies including the Dundee, Perth, and London Shipping Company and the Perthshire Fire Insurance Company. George Duncan also developed an interest in local politics and public affairs. He further became involved in local and national politics for many years. He was elected as one of the Assessors on the Dean of Guild Court in October 1828. He held this post until 1831. He was Dean of Guild 1833-36. On 2 Nov 1836 George Duncan was elected onto Dundee Town Council as Common Councillor for the Second Ward, along with William Boyack, flaxspinner. He was elected as First, or Senior, Baillie 'ad interim' on 14 April 1841, in place of William Johnston who had resigned. George Duncan retired from the Council on 2 Nov 1841. On 3 July 1841, following the retirement of Sir Henry Parnell from the representation of the Burgh, he was returned as Member of Parliament for Dundee. He was returned unopposed at the two succeeding elections of 1847 and 1852 and retired in 1857, having represented Dundee continuously for 16 years. After his retirement from the House of Commons, George Duncan continued to be active in local affairs. Still a prominent figure in Dundee in 1863, he continued to support many local institutions from his home at The Vine and was a noted benefactor, remaining so until his death.
George Duncan was born on the 11 March 1791 in Dundee. His father, William Duncan, was born in 1741 and was a maltman in the Nethergate and his mother was Amelia Guthrie, born in 1754. George was not the only child. He had an older brother, David, born in 1781. Following the death of his father in 1799 and of his brother in 1802, George became the sole support of his widowed mother.
On 18 November 1823, George Duncan married Hester Eliza Wheeler who was 11 years his junior and the daughter of an officer in the Royal Marines. The couple had a happy marriage but, unfortunately, on 27 May 1834, at the age of 31 years, Eliza Wheeler died. The couple were childless.
Two years after the death of his wife, George Duncan commissioned the building of his future home, ‘The Vine,’ situated on Magdalen Yard Road. Descibed as ‘an exceptional villa of national importance in late Regency mode,’ this significant edifice was built, not only as a home for himself but also as a gallery to house his art collection.
Throughout his political life, George Duncan was actively involved in the reform of Scottish prisons, with both their internal structure and their maintenance, and gave his support to the passage of a Prison Bill which involved frequent visits to London. At a time when travelling for long distances was not only expensive but also dangerous, George Duncan’s dedication was acknowledged by the Town Council and, on the 5 July 1838, he received a vote of thanks for his exertions in this matter.
It was thought that although some members of the Extreme Radical Party in the Burgh might have doubted his potential, the conduct George Duncan displayed during his time in office, convinced anyone who might have questioned him. George Duncan’s support was given to the Liberal Party.
George Duncan was also a great philanthropist. . On 20 May 1842, after obtaining a grant of £300 from the Treasury for the improvement of Magdalen Green, his dedication towards the city of Dundee was again acknowledged, and on 13 October 1852, after receiving a substantial monetary gift for his services, he donated £1000 of that sum, towards the founding of an Industrial School in Ward Road. This was opened in December 1856 under the name of the ‘Duncan Testimonial.‘
It was reported that George Duncan had the honour of presenting the Provost and other dignitaries to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when they landed at Dundee harbour and passed through the ornate, temporary, wooden arch which had been erected there. At that event, it was also declared that it was ‘he who, by the magnificence of his court dress, upstaged the entire Town Council on the arrival of Queen Victoria in 1844.’
George Duncan’s will stated that he bequeathed ‘to the Library of the Dundee Albert Institute my whole Parliamentary Papers and Blue Books, that the Directors may carefully preserve such part of them as they may consider useful for the town of Dundee and its inhabitants.’ He also made a bequest of 38 paintings, by various distinguished artists, together with framed engravings and prints, to Dundee Museum and Art Gallery. Additional institutions to benefit from George Duncan’s philanthropy included – The Ragged or Industrial School Society: Dundee Royal Infirmary: The Royal Orphan Institution and the Caledonian Lodge of the Freemasons.
In 1851, Duncan entered Parliament for the last time and, following the dissolution in 1857, did not seek re-election. He spent the rest of his years away from public affairs at his house, ‘The Vine,’ on Magdalen Green.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births. (1791). 282/70 392. Scotlandspeople website.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1834). 282/260 193. Scotlandspeople website.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Marriages. (1823). 282/210 102. Scotlandspeople website.
- Dundee Directory, 1829-30. p.22. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Directory, 1834. p.15. Dundee Central library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Directory, 1837-38. p.24. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1878). 282/1 20. Scotlandspeople website.
- Dundee Courier. 7 January 1878. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Entry for George Duncan. Provincial Grand Lodge of Forfarshire. website.
- Dundee Directory, 1869-70. pp. 31-33. Dundee Central library, Local Studies.
- Information supplied by Iain D. McIntosh, Friends of Dundee City Archives, from the records of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Forfarshire.
- Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. (1878). SC45/ 31/ 28. Scotlandspeople website.
- Dundee Directory, 1818. p.24. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Courier. 8 January 1878. p.6. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Millar, A. H. Roll of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee, 1513-1886. (1887).
- Guildry of Dundee scroll sederunt book, 1827-34. GD/GRW/G1/6(a). Dundee City Archives.
- Dundee Town Council minutes, 1836. Dundee City Archives.
- Dundee Town Council minutes, 1841. Dundee City Archives.
- http://www.pglforfarshire.org/George DuncanMP.html
- McKean, Charles & Walker, David. Dundee: An Illustrated Architectural Guide. Edinburgh, Glasgow, London & Manchester. Pillans & Wilson Ltd. p.83.
- Dundee Courier. 16 April 1878. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Mitchell, Alison. (ed). Monumental Inscriptions pre 1855. Volume 4. Angus: Dundee & Broughty Ferry. Scottish Genealogical Society. p.39.
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