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John Sharp Esquire

John Sharp was 38 years old in 1861 census and his occupation was recorded as Flax and Jute Spinner, employing 450 persons. As a Director of the Albert Institute Ltd. in 1867/68 he would have been involved in discussions about the building.

Subscription value in 1863:


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Relative to income compared to 2024:


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Personal details and history

Full name

John Sharp

Date of birth


Place of birth




Marital status

Married 15-06-1852 in Perth by Rev Dr William Ritchie (bride's brother-in-law)[2]

Name of spouse

Christian Bower[2]


Jane Marshall (b1854); Christina (b1855); John (b1856); Robert Bower (b1858); William Ritchie (b1861); Frederick Bower (b1862)[3]

Home address

Meadow Road (Meadowside) Dundee (1841) parental home.[4]
55 Meadowside, Dundee (1842) parental home.[5]
53 Meadowside, Dundee (1851) parental home.[6]
31 Springfield (1853)[7]
Thornbank House, 115 Ferry Road, Dundee (1861).[8][9]
Fernhall, 69, Dundee Road, Broughty Ferry, Dundee (1871).[10][11]
Purchased Balmuir estate on outskirts of Dundee in 1874. (Thought to be living there at time of 1881 census).[12] His son and family were living in Fernhall in 1881.[12] 1891 census shows John Sharp back at Fernhall[13][14] and his son and family living at Balmuir House.[14]

Age at death:

71 years[15]

Place of death:

Fernhall, West Ferry, Dundee.[15]

Date of death:



Barnhill Cemetery, Dundee, Section H Lair 246L.[16]

Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers

Religious affiliation

Church of Scotland then Episcopal (St Mary's Episcopal Church, Broughty Ferry) for last 25 years of his life.[17]

Political affiliation

Liberal Unionist.[18]

Clubs / societies

Director of the Caledonian Railway Company.[19] Director, Dundee & Arbroath Joint Railway.[20] Chairman of three Scottish American Trust Companies.[19][20] Chairman of Dundee Branch of Royal Insurance Company.[19] Chairman, Queen Fire & Life Insurance Co.[21] One of original members of University College Council and held a seat as a life governor.[19] Vice President of DRI at time of his death.[19] Vice President of Dundee, Sick and Poor Nursing Society.[19][22] Honorary Vice-President, Dundee Boys and Girls Religious Association.[19][23] Director of Dundee Eye Institution/Association.[19][24] Involved in the affairs of the Mars Training Ship.[19][25] Trustee of William Harris Institution.[19][24] Director of Baldovan Orphanage/Lady Jane Ogilvy Orphanage.[19][22] Held a seat on Brechin Diocesan Court.[19] Member of the Representative Church Council of Scotland.[19] Model Lodging House Association.[26] Albert Institute Ltd.[27] Ordinary director, Royal Orphan Institution (wife also a lady governess).[11] Committee, Dundee Art Union.[22] Director, Baldovan Asylum.[22]

Public offices

Justice of the Peace for the Dundee District of Forfarshire.[25]

Related subscribers

Fellow Directors of the Albert Institute in 1867/68:    Rev Dr Watson (Subscriber no.254);   Rev A Taylor (Subscriber no. 241);   William O Dalgleish (Subscriber no.68);   Oliver G Miller (Subscriber no.149);   James H Bell (Subscriber no.25);  Patrick Anderson (Subscriber no.7);  William Small (Subscriber no.231);  William W Renny (Subscriber no.200);  James F White (Subscriber no.245);   David Dick (Subscriber no.60);   Robert McGavin (Subscriber no.154);   Patrick Watson (Subscriber no.253);  William Lowson (Subscriber no.136);  James Walker (Subscriber no.247);    James Paterson (Subscriber no.182);   John Gordon (Subscriber no.84);   Thomas Bell  (Subscriber no.30);   James Edward  (Subscriber no.72);   James  Neish (Subscriber no.261);   John Boyd Baxter (Subscriber no.22);   David Barrie (Subscriber no.16);         John A L Gloag (Subscriber no.86);   John Don (Subscriber no.67);   Robert Gilroy (Subscriber no.88);   Alexander D Grimond (Subscriber no.80);    William R Morison  (Subscriber no.162);   Alexander J Buist (Subscriber no.13);   Thomas Lamb  (Subscriber no.135);  John Henderson (Subscriber no.100).


Career and worklife


Flaxspinner and manufacturer.[9][11] Later also Merchant[12] and Jute Spinner.[14]



Place of work

Jute Mill

Work address

Miln Street Mill, Dundee.[28] (Now demolished and serves as car park for Verdant Works).
Bower Mill, Douglas Street, Dundee.[25] (Wife's maiden name was Bower). (Now car show room).
Edward Street Mill, Dundee.[22] (Now Housing Association properties).[29]
Office, Blinshall Street, Dundee.[28]

Career to date:

John Sharp started working with his father (a flax spinner) who owned Ward Mills. John bought Miln Street Mill in the early 1850s and did a large export trade in heavy yarns to Holland. His business from the very outset prospered and developed and in 1866 he built Bower Mill. This second venture was successful and he purchased Edward Street Mill in 1890. At the time of his death, John Sharp employed about 1000 hands.[30]

More information

John Sharp’s mother is recorded on his birth certificate as Christian Porter but no birth, marriage or death certificates relating to Christian Porter could be located.  The 1841 and 1851 census record John and his father living at Meadow Road/Meadowside, along with two unmarried Aunts and one domestic servant.[4]

John received part of his education at the Dundee Seminary before spending some time at Killingworth in the north of England. He then proceeded to Germany, completing his education at Neuwied on the Rhine. When he returned to Dundee, he joined his father, John Sharp (Snr) who was a flax and hemp spinner and one of the pioneers of the jute trade in the city and owner of Ward Mills. Young John soon displayed great aptitude for business and the sound training he received at this stage stood him in good stead in his subsequent career.[31]

He married Christian Bower in 1852. Her father, Robert Bower, had been a merchant and mill owner in Perth. She is shown on the 1851 census at the home of her brother-in-law and family, Rev Dr William Ritchie, minister of Longforgan Parish.[4]

John Sharp and his wife had 6 children – two daughters and four sons. Two of the sons, John and Robert, are shown in the 1901 census to have followed their father into the jute business. John was married with 6 children. The census shows he was a Jute Spinner, JP and Farmer, living at Balmuir House. Robert was unmarried, a Jute Spinner, living at Fernhall, with his unmarried sister, Christina, and a 4 year old nephew, Hugh F B Sharp.

John Sharp was one of the leading figures in Dundee’s ‘juteopolis’. His company, John Sharp and Sons, employed over 1,200 workers at the height of the industry in Dundee. He was a shrewd business man, of sound judgment and integrity and was known as ‘Honest John’. He was held in high respect by all those who came in contact with him in the management of his business. He was a philanthropist who donated to a variety of causes in his lifetime, including Dundee Royal Infirmary, the welfare of children and the provision of public parks but he did not seek recognition for his efforts.[32]

His death occurred on 24 February 1895, after a number of years of ill health due to heart problems. The family burial plot is a large granite ‘casket shaped’ memorial stone, which has the names of all the family members carved around the sides of the memorial.

John Sharp had become extremely wealthy by the time of his death, leaving an estate valued at £694,945 17s. 10d. His wife, who died shortly after John, intestate, also left a considerable estate of £15,573 8s. 8d. A benevolent trust which John Sharp set up, continued to provide funding to worthy causes long after his death.

The John Sharp and Sons Benevolent Trust, continued to provide funding to worthy causes until it was wound up in 2013. The fund’s trustees donated £200,000 to Dundee Social Enterprise Network to invest in new and existing social enterprise businesses in the city over the following two years. Adam Dunlop, Mr Sharp’s great-great grandson, said  ‘He did things on the quiet.  There are no streets named after him and no statues. But he gave significant funds to the hospital and other charities.’  Mr Dunlop said the benevolent fund was being wound up after the last beneficiary died three years ago. He added, ‘My fellow trustee and I decided to give £200,000 to DSEN and £40,000 to the heritage trust because we wanted to make sure that what capital was remaining was put back into Dundee.‘ He added,  ‘I would certainly hope my great-great grandfather would approve.’[33]




  1. Old Parish Records. Dundee. Birth. 10 April 1823. 282/150 165. Scotlandspeople website.
  2. Bentley family public members tree. Ancestry website
  3. Recorded on family gravestone and Bentley family public members tree. Ancestry website
  4. 1841 Census Scotland. Dundee. 282/108 15. Scotlandspeople website.
  5. Dundee Directory, 1842-43. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  6. 1851 Census Scotland. Dundee. 282 ED72 p.9. Ancestry website.
  7. Dundee Directory, 1853-54. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  8. 1861 Census Scotland. Dundee First District. 282/1 ED32 p.35. Ancestry website.
  9. Dundee Directory, 1861-62. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  10. 1871 Census Scotland. Dundee St. Andrew. 282/4 ED2A p.25. Ancestry website.
  11. Dundee Directory, 1871-72. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  12. Dundee Directory, 1880-81. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  13. 1891 Census Scotland. Dundee St. Andrew. 282/4 ED48 p.3. Ancestry website.
  14. Dundee Directory, 1891-92. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  15. Statutory Registers. St. Andrew, Dundee. Death 282/4 264. Scotlandspeople website.
  16. Burial Registers, Barnhill Cemetery. Burial Administration Environment Department, City Square Dundee.
  17. Obituary in Dundee Courier, Monday 25 February 1895. British Newspaper Archives online.
  18. Obituary in Dundee Courier, Monday 25 February 1895. British Newspaper Archives online.
  19. Obituary in Dundee Courier, Monday 25 February 1895. British Newspaper Archives for both Public Offices and Clubs.
  20. Dundee Directories, 1880-1885. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  21. Dundee Directories, 1871-1891. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  22. Dundee Directories, 1891-1895. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  23. Dundee Directory, 1894-95. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  24. Dundee Directories, 1880-1895. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  25. Dundee Directories, 1871-1895. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  26. Dundee Directories, 1861-1881. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  27. Dundee Directories, 1867-1872. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  28. Dundee Directories, 1853-1895. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  29. Dundee Social Network Report, 4 December 2013.
  30. Obituary in Dundee Courier, Monday 25 February 1895. British Newspaper Archives online.
  31. Obituary in Dundee Courier, Monday 25 February 1895. British Newspaper Archives online.
  32. The Scotsman, 5 February 2013. Pressreader website.
  33. The Scotsman, 5 February 2013. Pressreader website.

The information above about John Sharp 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.