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Mr George Forsyth Jessiman

George owned a wood merchant's business at Seagate, Dundee from 1830 until 1880. At the time of his death in 1896, aged 85, he was living at "Rosebank" Broughty Ferry. He was successful and highly regarded. He was buried in the Constitution Road cemetery.

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Personal details and history

Full name

George Forsyth Jessiman

Date of birth


Place of birth

Leuchars, Fife[1]



Marital status


Name of spouse

Janet Jessiman (No, this is not a typo, her MS was also Jessiman)[2]. She was a third cousin to George.


8 children: Thomas born 9th August 1838[3]; George born 17th November 1839[4]; Janet always known as Jessie born 2nd August 1841[5], died 18th May 1880[6]; Helen born 24th March 1843[7]; Isabella born 19th December 1844[8], died aged 15 in 1860[9]; Jean also known as Jane born 28th July 1846[10]; died aged almost 3, 16th April 1849[11]; John born 7th August 1848[12]; Mary Ann 28th February 1851[13]

Home address

Drummond's Close


55 Seagate

135 Seagate

136 Seagate

135 Seagate

137 Seagate

1 Rosebank
Monifeith Road
Broughty Ferry[21]

Age at death:


Place of death:

At his residence, Rosebank, Broughty Ferry[22]

Date of death:



The Cemetery, Constitution Road, Dundee[24]

Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers

Religious affiliation

Church of Scotland, Steeple and South (Parish) Churches, Dundee - office-bearer[25] Church of Scotland, St Stephen's, West Ferry[25]

Political affiliation

Not known

Clubs / societies

A committed supporter of the Young Women's Christian Association, his daughter Mary Ann having worked tirelessly in the organisation, and risen to be its President.[26]

Public offices


Related subscribers

Career and worklife


Wood Merchant



Place of work

George Jessiman, Wood Merchant

Work address

Drummond's Close
Dundee [14]

Barrack Street

Exchange Street

135 Seagate

Seagate Sawmills

Office: 137 Seagate Sawmills
133 &135 Seagate
and 12 East Dock Street, Dundee[28]

Career to date:

Wood merchant in the family business throughout his working life

More information

George Forsyth Jessiman,  born 1813, was the only child of Thomas Jessamine (sic) and his wife Helen Drummond[29].  Thomas was described as a “baker” in Leuchars[29], Fife, but the same year as George’s birth sees him move to Dundee and start a timber business.

When George was 17, his father died, and George carried on his father’s business.

In 1837 he married Janet Jessiman[2] (his 3rd cousin), daughter of Thomas Jessiman (farmer) and his wife Janet Jessiman. (MS also Jessiman !).  They had eight children:

Thomas   born 9th August 1838[3]

George   born 17th November 1839[4]

Janet always known as Jessie born 2nd August 1841[5]; died 18th May 1880[6]. She had married Charles Wilson (corn merchant) on 19th March 1867[30] and they had four children:- Georgeanna, Charles, Eric, and John J. Charles got into financial difficulties and was bankrupted in 1871. Nothing is known of him after that date,  he just disappears off the scene.  Jessie was found dead at her home[31] on 18th May 1880[32]. Cause of death “…an overdose of alcohol”. Her four children then went to live with George Forsyth.  At the 1881 census[33] their ages were:- Georgeanna, 13 yrs; Charles, 11 yrs; Eric, 10 yrs; and John J., 9 yrs.

Helen born 24th March 1843[7]

Isabella born 19th December 1844[8]; died aged 15 in 1860[9]

Jean  also known as Jane born 28th July 1846[10]; died aged almost 3, 16th April 1849[11]

John born 7th August 1848[12]

Mary Ann  28th February 1851[13] (1887 President of Dundee Young Women’s Christian Association[26])

Mrs Janet Jessiman[34] died 6th July 1871, aged 56. Cause of death, “…carcinoma of breast and uterus”.

George Forsyth Jessiman[23] died 18th December 1896, aged 85. Cause of death, “…bronchio pneumonia”.

Paternalistic Employer…

“Seagate Saw-Mill — Last night, according to annual custom, the workers at Seagate Saw-Mills were entertained to supper in Lamb’s Hotel, by their employer, Mr George Jessiman. Mr George Jessiman, jnr., occupied the chair, and Mr John Jessiman acted as croupier. The company spent a very happy evening together, and after singing ” Auld Langsyne” in chorus, parted about eleven o’clock.”[35]

MARRIAGE. At London, on the 10th May., John Jessiman, Esq., wood merchant, Dundee, to Alice, second daughter of Gascon Martineau, Esq., London.[36]
“JESSIMAN —MARTINEAU — May 10, at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Clapham-road, London, J. Jessiman, son of G Jessiman, to Alice, daughter G. Martineau.”[37]And on the topic of Marriages…

“Another Marriage Party. John Kinclaven, a middle-aged man, was brought up charged with being found drunk in Perth Road on Friday morning. John seemed to regard the whole thing as a good joke. He said he was working with Mr Jessiman, who was married yesterday. He was at the party, and was sober enough when he left, but the drink took his head after he got out into the air.

The Bailie:  You were at the merrymaking?

Accused: I do not mind where I went.

The Bailie:  Were you drunk ?

Accused: Of course, I must have been drunk when I do not mind where I was.

The Bailie: This is another marriage party. (Laughter) You are fined 7s 6d or five days in prison.”[38]

1880 – Notice of Retirement

THE Subscriber begs to intimate that he has RETIRED from the Business of TIMBER MERCHANT carried on by him for upwards of Forty Years at SEAGATE and DOCK STREET SAWMILLS, Dundee, and that he has made over the same to his Son JOHN, who has been his Assistant for the past Fifteen Years, and who will carry on the Business in all its Branches heretofore, in his own name and for his own behoof; and while warmly recommending his Successor to the favourable notice of his Friends and Business connections, he takes the opportunity of Thanking them for their kind Support in the past. GEORGE JESSIMAN.

With reference to the Above, JOHN JESSIMAN respectfully intimates that the BUSINESS will be CARRIED ON as formerly In its various Departments, and he trusts to be favoured with a continuance of that Support long enjoyed by his Father.”[39]

Unfortunately, under his son John’s stewardship the business soon began to suffer difficulties, and by 1891 was in breach of its banking covenants (i.e. exceeding a £6,300 unsecured overdraft (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £5,040,000)).

“Daniel McIntyre of Dundee, a Chartered Accountant, was asked by John Jessiman to examine his books and prepare a balance sheet on 4th January 1892.  He found him about £23,000 short, and hopelessly insolvent (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £18,400,000). In McIntyre’s own mind John Jessiman had been insolvent in November 1891 and for a considerable period previously. During the 12 years he had been in business he had spent about £2000 a year more than he made (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £160,000 per annum). In McIntyre’s opinion John Jessiman had never made any money.”[40]

A meeting of creditors was called and on 25th January 1892 and they agreed to a composition of 5s 6d per £ (27p in the £)[41].  A composition with creditors was a mechanism whereby creditors got some of their money much quicker (and a little more) than a sequestration would provide, and the debtor avoided the stigma of bankruptcy.

On 5th May 1892 Messrs Bell & Sime entered into a lease of the Seagate Sawmills, the whole of the works and stock being taken over by the leasees.[42]

So ended Jessiman’s, – a business that George Jessiman snr had built up over 50 years.

1896 – Death Notice for Mr George Jessiman.— “Yesterday the death occurred at his residence, Rosebank, Broughty Ferry, of Mr George Jessiman, who was one of the best known wood merchants in Scotland prior to his retirement from business fifteen years ago. The Deceased’s father started business as a timber merchant in 1813, and when he died Mr Jessiman was quite a young man. On succeeding his father he showed considerable administrative ability, and by strict attention was able to develop the trade so successfully that before retiring he had a very extensive connection, the firm owning a fleet of vessels for carrying their timber.  The late gentleman, who was in his eighty-fifth year, took little interest in public matters.”[22]


The death of Mr George Jessiman, wood merchant, took place on Wednesday, 16th December, at his residence, Rosebank, Broughty Ferry.  The deceased was a man of many excellent parts. Born in Leuchars about 85 years ago, he crossed the Tay when a boy, his father having started business in 1813 as a timber merchant in that city.  The trade was not large. Business transactions in timber with America were few; and even the Baltic ports did not export the large quantities they afterwards did.  Consequently Mr Jessiman, snr., had to confine his energies for some time to home timber, coasting vessels being employed to convey the wood to Dundee.  Soon, however, he discovered that the business could be greatly developed if the trade was spread, and he found opportunity to open up communications with agents in several foreign countries.  When the business was making satisfactory headway Mr Jessiman, snr., died.

His son, Mr George, then only 17 years of age, was left alone in the world, his nearest relative being a third cousin. Nothing daunted however, he determines to carry on the trade which his father had built up. He at once showed himself to be admirably adapted for the business he took in hand. Working early and late, he earned the confidence of brother merchants, and soon there were bright prospects of a further development of his connections. The wood-yards were situated on the south side of Seagate, the river at that time flowing past them, and allowing the vessels with their cargoes of timber to be discharged and loaded with practically no carting. Like his deceased father, Mr Jessiman had a firm belief in the advantages of a large foreign trade, and he assiduously cultivated his relationships with Russia and Sweden; and he had also the distinction of being the first merchant to import timber to this district from America. Meanwhile the large turnover enabled Mr Jessiman to make alterations on his works. Ever ready to introduce any improvement that science had devised, he decided, in 1833, to erect a sawmill in his yard for the conversion of timber; and this is certainly the first record of such a mill in Dundee, if not in Scotland. Previously the work was done by hand sawyers, and a laborious task it often was. The element of danger may have been more apparent with steam than with hand, but the employees in the establishment were not long in becoming acquainted with the modern and more rapid system of procedure. 

At this period Mr Jessiman found it necessary in the interests of his business to travel over large parts of the country, with the result that he became known to almost every leading timber merchant. Dundee was by then one of the seats of this trade, the harbour almost continually containing vessels with cargoes of timber for one of other of the large firms of the city. By 1854 Mr Jessiman’s transactions had so increased in number and importance that he had no alternative but to refuse many orders, or secure extended premises. To an energetic man like the deceased however, this alternative reduced itself to one course, – to carry out an extension. On the old site splendid new sawmills were erected, which were known to every Dundonian for many years. The mill was built of stone, measuring 100 feet by 60 feet, the driving shafts and pulleys being contained in the underground cellar. Amongst the machines might be mentioned combination log and deal frames, circular benches, and flooring machines. The yard extended to two acres.

At this period Mr Jessiman was also a large shipowner, the timber for the works being nearly all carried in his own vessels. These ships traded regularly to Baltic and American ports, and were well known on the banks of the Tay. Several years after the erection of the sawmill the deceased gentleman found his efforts being curtailed by want of space and the fact that several of his machines were not exactly up-to-date. Another series of improvements was therefore begun in 1876. In the interval the character of the locality had been very materially altered.  The river had been gradually driven back, streets and lanes had been opened on the south side of the works, buildings had been erected, and railways laid. A plan of reconstruction was therefore decided upon. Every inch of space was utilised, and this, combined with the additional time-saving appliances introduced, made the establishment one of the most complete of its kind in this part of the country. As a preventative against fire, an engine with two hydrants was always in a state of readiness to meet any emergency, and in the yard a huge overhead crane was placed for the handling of heavy timber.  In the sheds, which covered an area of 7000 feet, every commercial wood – British and foreign – had its place, a special shed being retained for the storage of hardwood planks. 

About 1881 Mr Jessiman, on account of advancing years, retired from business, and the establishment in Seagate was acquired by one of his sons.  The deceased, who was of an observant nature and a shrewd business man, saw many changes in the commercial life of Dundee. He was acquainted in a way with the jute trade from its infancy until it ultimately developed into the staple trade of the city. Although he could never be persuaded to offer himself for office in any public body, Mr Jessiman always took a deep interest in public affairs. To the Dundee Young Women’s Christian Association, of which one of his daughters is President, he was a devoted friend, ever ready to do all in his power to forward the objects of the organisation.

While in Dundee Mr Jessiman was an office-bearer in the Steeple and South (Parish) Churches, and upon removing to Broughty Ferry he joined St Stephen’s Established Church.  By many old friends his decease will be greatly regretted.  Mrs Jessiman died in about 1878, and her husband is survived by a family of grown-up sons and daughters.[25]

Funeral of Mr George Jessiman “The remains of Mr Jessiman, late timber merchant, Dundee, were interred on Saturday in the cemetery, Constitution Road, Dundee.  There was a large company of mourners, amongst them being Rev. Mr Wilson, Rev. Mr Leask, Broughty Ferry; Rev. Mr Inch, Dundee; Provost Orchar, Broughty Ferry; ex-Bailie Adamson, Dundee; Mr David Myles, accountant; Mr D. G. Stewart, solicitor; Mr Wm. Kidd, bookseller; Mr James Bell, Mr Peter Sime, and Mr John Fleming, timber merchants; Colonel Smith, Dundee; Mr John Kidd, Broughty Ferry. Among the chief mourners were Mr George and Mr John Jessiman, the Misses Jessiman, Mr Robert Thomson and Mrs Thomson, Miss Doddrell, and Mr W. B. Wilson. Rev. Mr Leask conducted service at Rosebank, the residence of deceased, and at the grave prayer was offered by Rev. Mr Inch.  As a token of respect, a choir composed of members of the Dundee Y.W.C.A., with which Miss Jessiman has been long prominently identified, rendered several hymns at the grave, this proceeding lending a pathetic and an appropriate interest to the obsequies.”[24]

At Messrs Bell & Sime’s Annual Dinner  “…Referring to the death of Mr George Jessiman, the Chairman declared that by his removal the timber trade had sustained a serious loss. His had been a prominent figure in the trade for nearly 60 years, and, although he never obtruded himself in public affairs, all who had dealings with him knew he had a kindly heart and that he could do a very kindly deed…”[43]

Personal estate of George Jessiman  (this does not include the value of real property i.e. houses, premises, and land.) He left a total of £4341[44]  (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £3,472,800).

Then came the sale of the properties:-

“FAMILY RESIDENCE AND GARDEN AT BROUGHTY FERRY[45]. UPSET GREATLY REDUCED. For Sale Public Roup, within the Office of D. Gordon Stewart, Solicitor, 10 Meadowside, Dundee, Tuesday, 2nd March 1897, at Two o’clock Afternoon, That Desirable SELF-CONTAINED VILLA known as ROSEBANK, Monifeith Road, as occupied by the late Mr George Jessiman, retired Timber Merchant.  The House occupies a splendid site, and contains Ground Floor, 3 Public Rooms, Kitchen, and Pantries; First Floor, 6 Bedrooms, Napery Room, Bathroom, Servants’ Accommodation, &c.; also a Small Room in the Tower. The Offices consist of Wash, Stick, and Coal Houses; also Two-Stalled Stable and Coach-House. The Ground extends to 106 Poles or thereby Annual Feu, £7 19s 11d (1s 6d. per Pole).  Reduced Upset, £1700.  On View (by Card) Daily, 11 to 1. Further particulars from Mr Stewart.”  (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £1,360,000)

“SEAGATE SAW MILLS”, HOUSES, etc., AND GROUND FOR SALE[46]For Sale, by Public Roup, within the OFFICE of D. GORDON STEWART, Solicitor, 10 Meadowside, Dundee, on Friday, 26th March 1897, 1 p.m. That Valuable PIECE of GROUND lying betwixt Seagate and Dock Street, Dundee, belonging to the Trust Estate of the late Mr George JESSIMAN, Retired Timber Merchant, including the DWELLING-HOUSE PROPERTY fronting Seagate, and the buildings known as “SEAGATE SAW MILLS”.  The Ground extends to 275 Poles or thereby, and, from its Size and Central and Convenient Situation, having Access to two Public Streets, forms a most Valuable Site for Building or other purposes requiring extensive accommodation. Present Rental of Dwelling-Houses, etc., £152 (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £121,600), “Seagate Saw Mills,” £425 (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £340,000). In total £577 (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £461,600). Upset Price Only £13,000.  Further particulars from Mr Stewart. (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £10,400,000)

Assuming that just the upset prices were achieved, this would have given a total estate of some £19,041 (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £15,232,800)

Last Will & Testament[47]

His instructions to his executors were very telling :-

Specific Legacies from personal estate were few :-

£100 to each of John Jessiman’s children.  (Nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £80,000)

£100 to his grand-daughter Georgina (sic) Jessiman Wilson.  (Nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £80,000)

£40 to his brother-in-law (also called George Jessiman).  (Nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £32,000)

£40 to his daughter to be applied to the Y.W.C.A.  (Nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £32,000)

£200 to his son George “…in such sums and at such periods and on such conditions as my trustees shall determine” (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £160,000), together with an annuity of £52 per annum “…incapable of being anticipated” (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £41,600).  Not exactly ringing endorsements of his son’s money management skills !

£2000 to be invested by executors and the proceeds (minus any expenses) applied to the “…support and clothing and comfortable maintenance of my son Thomas during all the days of his lifetime after my decease” (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £1,600,000).  The trustees were also to have “…full and unlimited discretion to encroach on the said capital sum  …for the purpose of increasing the comforts or supplying the necessities of my said son and for defraying the funeral expenses of my said son”.  Any portion of the capital sum unused was “…to form part of the residue of my estate”. This provision would seem to indicate that Thomas was “legally incompetent”, – incapable of managing his own affairs. As he did not appear on the family census returns, it is likely that he was institutionalised.

The Estate Residue  –“heritable as well as moveable”. The vast bulk of the estate residue was heritable, more than £19,041 (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – more than £15,232,800), was to be divided into three equal parts and distributed to:-

  1. “…my daughter Helen”
  2. “…my daughter Mary Ann”
  3. “…the children of my late daughter Jessie”

To his son John, who had presided over the demise of his life’s work, he left  nothing.


  1. Old Parish Registers. Births.  445/10 315 Leuchars,  p.315 Scotlands People website ("Jessamine"(sic) George Forsyth).
  2. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Marriages.  282/220 321  20th November 1837. ScotlandsPeople website.
  3. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births.  282/180 p190  9th August 1838. ScotlandsPeople website.
  4. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births.  282/180 p284  17th November 1839. ScotlandsPeople website.
  5. Old Parish Registers.Dundee. Births.  282/190 p43  2nd August 1841. ScotlandsPeople website.
  6. Old Parish Registers.Dundee. Deaths.  282/4  p159  18th May 1880. ScotlandsPeople website.
  7. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births.  282/190 p129  24th March 1843. ScotlandsPeople website.
  8. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births.  282/190 p205  19th December 1844. ScotlandsPeople website.
  9. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Deaths.  282/1  p1139. 1860. ScotlandsPeople website.
  10. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births.  282/190 p264  28th July 1846.  ScotlandsPeople website.
  11. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Deaths.  282/1  p1139  16th April 1849. ScotlandsPeople website.
  12. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births.  282/190  p332  7th August 1848. ScotlandsPeople website.
  13. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births.  282/200  p39  28th February 1851. ScotlandsPeople website.
  14. Dundee Directory 1834-35  p.25.
  15. Dundee Directory 1837-38  p.39.
  16. Dundee Directory 1844-45  p.44.
  17. Dundee Directory 1850  p.211.
  18. Dundee Directory 1856-57  p.105.
  19. Dundee Directory 1864-65  p.31.
  20. Dundee Directory 1867-68  p.144.
  21. Dundee Directory 1882-83  p.572.
  22. Dundee Courier Thursday 17th December 1896  p.4.
  23. Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths.  310/151  16th December 1896. ScotlandsPeople website.
  24. Dundee Courier Monday  21st December 1896  p.4.
  25. Dundee Year Book Facts and Figures of 1896  p.81/8.
  26. Dundee Directory 1887-88  p.60.
  27. Dundee Directory 1864-65  p.137.
  28. Dundee Directory 1869-70  p.150.
  29. Old Parish Registers. Leuchars. Births.  445/10  p315    1st Nov 1813. ScotlandsPeople website.
  30. Statutory Registers. Dundee. Marriages.  282/1  144 19th March 1867. ScotlandsPeople website.
  31. Dundee Directory 1876-77  p.480.
  32. Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths.  282/4  579  18th May 1880. ScotlandsPeople website.
  33. 1881 Census Scotland (LDS)  FHL Film 0203485 GRO Ref Volume 282-4 Enum Dist 1 p. 21.
  34. Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths.  282/4  455 6th July 1871. ScotlandsPeople website.
  35. Dundee Courier and Argus Thursday 1st January 1863  no page number.
  36. Dundee Courier and Argus, Tuesday 11th May May 1880  no page number.
  37. London Daily News, Wednesday 12th May 1880  p.1.
  38. Northern Warder and Bi-Weekly Courier and Argus, 18th May 1880  no page number.
  39. Dundee Courier & Argus Saturday, 17th January 1880  p.1.
  40. Dundee Advertiser, 2nd December 1892.
  41. Dundee Courier, Monday 25th January 1892  no page number.
  42. Dundee Courier,  Friday 6th May 1892  no page number.
  43. Dundee Advertiser Tuesday 22nd December 1896  p.3.
  44. Wills and Testaments. 1897.  SC45/31/49  Dundee Sheriff Court image 166. ScotlandsPeople website.
  45. Dundee Courier, Tuesday 23rd February 1897.
  46. Dundee Courier, Friday 26th March 1897.
  47. Wills and Testaments. 1897.  SC45/31/49  Dundee Sheriff Court image 168/9. ScotlandsPeople website.


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