James Luke Esquire
James Luke, accumulated more than sixty years of experience in flax/jute spinning and manufacture. He was regarded as having been an authority on the jute trade. He, together with his sons, had significant involvement in the Calcutta manufacturing mills.
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Personal details and history
Date of birth
Place of birth
Name of spouse
James Alexander (1847): David Smith (1849): John Laird (1853): Alexander Raglan (1854): Harry Dingwall (1856): Mary Isabella (1860):
New Howff Burying Ground, Constitution Road, Dundee. 18/12/1903 - Lair 1314B
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Clubs / societies
Career and worklife
Place of work
Kinmond, Luke & Co
Career to date:
James Luke entered his working life by learning the manufacturing trade in the factory of Mr A. J. Warden. It is probable that this took place towards the end of the 1830s / beginning of the 1840s (Alexander J Warden commenced business on his own account, as a manufacturer, circa 1833. One of the pioneers in working with jute, he also produced jute carpets). Over the following decade, James Luke was employed with Low & Thoms (Craigie Mill, Arbroath Road) and also with Mr John Mitchell (Polepark Works). By the time he was 30 years old (1850), his first venture in business (on his own account) as a flax spinner and manufacturer, was in a small mill 'behind the Gym in Ward Road.' Thereafter, he joined Messrs Kinmond & Hill, merchants and flaxspinners. However, the sequestration of Kinmond & Hill occurred shortly thereafter in 1851. During the 1850s, a new firm formed when James Luke entered into partnership with his former employers, Alexander Kinmond and John Hill, under the style of 'Kinmond, Hill & Luke.' They operated, in the main, from Pleasance Works in Lochee Road. By 1855, another mill, Burnside Mill, Lochee, operated by the firm, was advertised for sale. This mill, also known as East Mill, was purchased by Cox Brothers who first took up spinning in that same year. 1860 witnessed the dissolution of their co-partnery however, when John Hill left the firm. At the time of pledging a subscription towards the building of the Albert Institute, James Luke and his remaining partner, Alexander Kinmond, continued to operate the going concern of the 'Pleasance Works' under the name of Kinmond, Luke & Co. The remainder of the decade was one of change and expansion for James and the company.
James Luke was born the son (of twins) to James Luke, a baker in Dundee, and Isabella Smith. His father died in 1843, around the time when James had embarked on his working life as a flax spinner – a direction which, from that point, consumed his life. A few years later, in 1846, James began his own family life by marrying Mary Laird Smith and together, the couple bore a number of sons who were to join him in his endeavours and ventures. Their only daughter died in infancy.
During the 1850s, James Luke was forging his way as a partner within the flaxspinning industry. Although his earlier training had been confined to the flax trade, James Luke was among the first to recognise the possibilities of jute as a fibre and he became one of the pioneers in this industry. For many years he held the position as an importer of jute direct from India. The Pleasance Works was long regarded as one of the leading establishments in this trade, chiefly through the untiring energy and foresight of James Luke himself. It would appear however, that the running of a busy mill was rarely without incident.
In 1852, an incident of ‘wanton mischief’ occurred when ‘a young boy engaged in Messrs Kinmond, Hill & Luke’s mill at Burnside, Lochee, inserted a piece of iron rod into a force pump in connection with the engine, in consequence of which, the works required to be stopped for several hours.‘ The more drastic of consequences however, was meted out to the young lad, who having pleaded ‘guilty’ to the charge, was sentenced to 2 days imprisonment and 20 lashes for his jape. ‘This was believed to be the first time that such a judgement was issued at the Police Court.’ Perhaps the severity of the lad’s sentence was viewed as a deterrent to those hoping never to be brought before the aptly named ‘Bailie Spankie’!
In 1859 an incident at the mills operated by Messrs Kinmond, Hill & Luke (named in the report as Brewery Mill, Lower Pleasance) must have presented a devastating effect for all concerned. A 16 year old boy who ‘kept the gate’ at the mill had been tempted (the day being hot) to take a dip in the mill pond – a practice which was strictly forbidden at the works. Having taken cramp, the boy quickly sank and drowned. As it was some time before he was retrieved, no hope of life existed. The tragedy was further amplified by the fact that his father was, at the time, suffering the effects of an accident he had sustained while in England. The boy’s stepmother, who lived in Lochee, also had a large family to support – hard times indeed.
As owners and managers, James Luke and his partner Alexander Kinmond operated one of three businesses prosecuted in 1859 for employing children for longer than 6 and 1/2 hours per day and, further, without a schoolmaster’s certificate. The offences, described as ‘not attending to the requirements of the law relating to the employment of children,’ were not felt to be of an aggravated character and their saving grace was the declaration that ‘it is probable that it had been done without the approval of the masters.’
The 1860s was a decade of expansion, change and development for Kinmond, Luke & Co.
In 1867, the Ericht Linen Works in Blairgowrie was erected by James Luke. It was described as having been designed by Messrs Thomson Bros., Dundee, Architects. It was said that the design of the mill offered a handsome and conveniently arranged block of buildings which have the advantage of being situated within the town of Blairgowrie, and, therefore, near the homes of the operatives. The engines within the works were constructed by Messrs Carmichael & Co. ‘The works are large and handsome and in every respect – up to the times.’
James Luke’s interests in Blairgowrie were further increased with the purchase of the existing ‘Meikle Mill’ across the road from the ‘Ericht Works.’ Luke & Co had the mill fitted with new machinery adapted for their own business. Some of their machinery was also contained in a smaller building a little further down the river and driven by a small turbine, where the old ‘Plash Mill’ used to be.
The following year, an interruption to the co-partnery of Alexander Kinmond and James Luke arrived when ‘by mutual consent’ their working relationship was dissolved.
During the 1870s, James’ sons David and John were assumed into their father’s business. James had established himself within the wider civic interests of the town at the time. As a member of the Town Council from 1874-8, he had overseen the demolition of a substantial part of old Dundee together with the replacement of slum housing by new blocks along newly created thoroughfares.
Further strife was felt in Dundee when the ironworkers (engineers and mechanics) at the Pleasance Works felt it necessary to go out on strike. This was a protest against the attempt by ‘Kinmond, Luke & Co’ to increase their 51 hours (per week) in line with other (less skilled) mill operatives to 56 hours. Had the owners won, the ruling would have set a uncomfortable precedent for the other mills in the town.
By the 1880s, sons James and Harry also became embroiled within the industry. Harry became the talk of Blairgowrie when, in 1880, ‘the first telephone in use in Blairgowrie had been fitted up between Mr Harry D Luke’s room in the office at Ericht Linen Works and his residence at Hillbank.’
Although trade was faring well for the Lukes in Dundee and Blairgowrie, James’ remaining son, Alexander Raglan Luke, experienced the failure of his firm as a ‘Colonial & General’ merchant in London. The substantial debts were ‘due to firms in Dundee, Edinburgh and Blairgowrie.’ Alexander, by the turn of the century, was to venture further to the United States to seize new opportunities.
Having by the 1880s established decades of knowledge and experience in all aspects of the flax and jute trade, James Luke continued, with his sons, to expand his business interests. To that end, it was reported that the Lukes were responsible for the erection of the ‘Victoria Mill’ on the Hooghly. ‘Three so-called ‘Dundee’ mills came in succession during 1874-82: the ‘Samnugger Mill,’ really the first Dundee concern, in 1874: the ‘Titaghar Mill’,’ the second Dundee concern, in 1882 and the ‘Victoria Mill’ in 1882. All these companies came under the managing agency of ‘Thomas Duff & Co.’ which was formed and registered in Scotland in 1883, for carrying out the managing agency business for jute mills in Bengal. James Luke (jnr) later became head of the managing agency of ‘Messrs Thomas Duff & Co.’
By 1893, the winds of change had begun to be felt. The business of James Luke & Co was ultimately sequestered. The difficulties were understood to have been caused by serious depression in trade and speculation in jute. The company, ‘of which Lord Dean of Guild Luke is Senior Partner, employed about 800 hands at their works in Dundee and about 300 hands in Blairgowrie.’ Many other businesses in Dundee were anxious about their future as a result of the Lukes’ failure.
James Luke had been associated with the jute trade from its infancy and had been connected with it for almost seventy years. He was regarded as an authority on the trade and his advice and authority was keenly and frequently sought. On his death it was reported that with his passing, the link of the old commercial life of Dundee had been snapped.
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- MacDonald, John A R. The History of Blairgowrie (Town, Parish & District). (1899). p.170. Blairgowrie. Printed at The Advertiser Office.
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- Dundee Courier, 13 October 1868. p.1. Findmypast website.
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- Shipping & Mercantile Gazette, 16 September 1880. p.5. Findmypast website.
- Jute Mills in Bengal. Chapter 1v. p.98. Shodhganga website.
- Dundee Evening Telegraph, 23 July 1913. p.3. Findmypast website.
- Glasgow Herald, 12 May 1894. p.9. Findmypast website.
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