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James Horsburgh Esquire

As a member of the committee of the Watt Institute, it is not surprising that James Horsburgh contributed to the funding for the Albert Institute.

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Personal details and history

Full name

James Horsburgh

Date of birth


Place of birth




Marital status


Name of spouse

Mary Gordon - 20.02.1829[2]


John Gordon (c.1831): Rosemary Keillor (c.1833): Stewart Gordon (c.1836): Sophia Weston Miln (c.1837): Maria E Gordon (c.1841): Harriet Shoebotham: Robert Soutar (c.1846): Thomas Weston Miln (c.1850): Alice (c.1855):

Home address

Argyle Close, High Street, Dundee:[3]
New Inn Entry:[1]
Dallfield Walk:[4]
40 Wellington Street, Forebank:[5]
Magdalen Yard Place, Dundee:[6]
Seafield House, Magdalen Yard Road, Dundee:[7]

Age at death:

72 years[8]

Place of death:

Walton, West Derby, Lancashire[8]

Date of death:




Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers

Religious affiliation


Political affiliation


Clubs / societies

Watt Institute Committee[9]; Dundee Literary Union[10]; Hawkhill Bowling Club[11]; Floral and Horticultural Society[12]; Dundee Trade Report Association[13]; Monthly Tract Society[14]; Dundee Philharmonic Society[15] and St Cecilia Society[16]; Dundee Savings Bank - Deputy Chairman[17]; Dundee Horticultural Society[18]; Secretary (1843-44), President (1844-45) and Vice President (1847-48) of Dundee, Forfar, Fife and Perthshire Educational Association[19].

Public offices

Member(1841) and Director(1859-61) of Dundee Chamber of Commerce[19]

Related subscribers

Career and worklife


Teacher[3] / Merchant[5]


Employee then owner

Place of work

T.W. Miln's:[5] George Armitstead & Co:[6]

Work address

Panmure Street[5]

2 Royal Exchange Place[20]

Career to date:

James Horsburgh started his working life as a teacher, before becoming a merchant.

More information

Early years and education.

James Horsburgh was the oldest surviving child of James Horsburgh and Mary Watson. James senior was a successful ship owner in Dundee and as a result, James junior had every opportunity for education. He was educated firstly at Dundee Academy[19] and then the University of St Andrews.[19]


In 1829, shortly after graduating from St Andrews, James Horsburgh married Mary Gordon. He then embarked on a short career as a teacher of English, before becoming a clerk and then partner of the firm of Thomas Weston Miln, merchant.[19]

On the 29th of June 1850, Miln turned his attention to philanthropy and transferred his business to James Horsburgh and George Armitstead[21] and the firm became known as George Armistead and Co.[19] The partnership was not all plain sailing and in 1852, Horsburgh was advertising a reward of £50 for news of the whereabouts of John Birse of Blairgowrie, for whom he and William Collier were trustees in bankruptcy and who had “absconded from the diligence of his Creditors.[22]

In 1857, the partnership with Armitstead was dissolved[23] and he carried on business in his own name in Dundee until 1870.

Seafield House.

In 1851, Horsburgh built Seafield House,[19][24] a classical mansion, then just above the Magdalen Green, with views over the river. It does not really seem clear why he had such a sudden turn in fortune. Previously, he had been living in fairly ordinary, artisan housing, so this would seem a major leap towards prosperity.

Gardening and Music.

Horsburgh’s hobbies were very much those of a cultured and educated Victorian gentleman, involving membership of societies for horticulture, literature and music. He was on the committee of the Watt Institute, which was formed in order to save the Institution from permanent closure:

“The Institution, which was very successful for many years, has unfortunately been closed for some time past for want of funds. In March last, a special committee was appointed at a public meeting, to inquire and report as to the causes of its decay, and the means of its resuscitation. This Committee reported on 9th June; and the following Provisional Committee was named to carry out its recommendations, and to endeavour to raise a fund of £2000, by subscription, for the re-purchase of the Library, Museum and Buildings, or the erection of more central and commodious buildings.”[9]

It was reported at the time that “there was not a spark of enthusiasm, ordinary or extraordinary, in connection with the meeting” but that the committee succeeded in saving the library and museum, at least until the opening of the Albert Institute, which then swallowed it up.[25] It is not surprising, however, given his leisure interests and past career as a teacher, that Horsburgh was one of the subscribers to the Albert Institute.

Move to Leeds.

Horsburgh retired from business in Dundee and went to live in Leeds around 1870. James and his son Robert set up a business in Leeds, as yarn and flax merchants in Bishopsgate, Leeds.[26] The partnership was ended in 1874.[26] By 1881, James Horburgh and his wife, Mary, were listed in census returns living in Ormskirk, in the household of their son, Thomas Weston Mill Horsburgh.[27] He died the following year at the age of 72 years.[8]





  1. The Dundee Directory and Register for 1834, Page 70, National Library of Scotland website.
  2. Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Marriages. (1829). 282/ 210 272. ScotlandsPeople website.
  3. The Dundee Directory and Register for 1829-30, Page 29, National Library of Scotland website.
  4. Dundee Directory for 1837-38, Page 36, National Library of  Scotland website.
  5. The Dundee Post Office Directory for 1845, Page 42, National Library of Scotland website.
  6. The Dundee Directory for 1853-54, Page 169, National Library of Scotland website.
  7. The Dundee Directory for 1853-54. Page 102, National Library of Scotland website.
  8. Civil Registration. Death Index, 1837-1915. Walton, West Derby, Lancashire. Vol.8b. p.335. and Public Member Tree via Ancestry website.
  9. The Dundee Directory for 1853-4, Page 86, National Library of  Scotland website.
  10. Lecture, Dundee Advertiser, Thursday 12 December 1861, Page 2, BNA website.
  11. The Dundee Directory for 1856-57,Page 45, National Library of Scotland website.
  12. The Dundee Directory for 1856-57, Page 44, National Library of  Scotland website.
  13. The Dundee Directory for 1856-57, Page 10,National Library of Scotland website.
  14. The Post Office Directory for 1858-59, Page 43, National Library of Scotland, website.
  15. The Post Office Directory for 1861-62, Page 50,National Library of Scotland website.
  16. The Post Office Directory for 1867-68, Page 45,National Library of Scotland website.
  17. The Post Office Directory for 1867-68, Page 20, National Library of Scotland website.
  18. The Post Office Directory for 1869-70, Page 46, National Library of Scotland website.
  19. James Horsburgh shipbuilder, 1786-1860, Dr David Horsburgh, Friends of Dundee City Archive website.
  20. The Post Office Directory for 1861-62, Page 154, National Library of Scotland website.
  21. The Edinburgh Gazette, 19 July 1850 Issue:5986, Page:602.
  22. The Edinburgh Gazette, 8 June 1852 Issue:6184, Page:501.
  23. The Edinburgh Gazette, 30 January 1857 Issue:6671, Page:101.
  24. Now known as Seafield Lodge-
  25. Smith, James V., The Watt Institute, Dundee 1824-49, Page 51, Abertay Historical Society 1977.
  26. The London Gazette, 26 May 1874 Issue:24098. Page:2794.
  27. Census Returns. Ormskirk. (1881). Class: RG11; Piece: 3744; Folio: 58; Page: 10; GSU roll: 1341896 via Ancestry website. 


Much of the research for this profile had already been completed by Dr David Horsburgh.

The information above about James Horsburgh 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.