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Pattullo & Thornton

One of the leading law firms in Dundee. The younger of the two men, Thomas Thornton, would go on to be Town Clerk of Dundee and one of the most dominant personalities in late Victorian Dundee.

Subscription value in 1863:

£60

Relative to inflation up to 2019:

£6000

Relative to income compared to 2019:

£48000

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Details and history

Name of company:

Pattullo & Thornton

Company address:

1 Bank Street, Dundee, 1857-1881[1]

Number of employees:

Not known

Nature of business:

Solicitors

Turnover:

Not known

Date ceased trading:

1881 - partnership dissolved[1]

Related Subscribers

Subscriber no.4 – George Armitstead – knew Thomas Thornton from his time as a clerk with Christopher Kerr.[2]

Subscriber no.104 – Peter Hean Esq – Thomas Thornton’s father-in-law.[3]

Subscriber no.124 – Messrs C. Kerr & C.W. Kerr – Thomas Thornton worked as a clerk for Christopher Kerr.[4]

Subscriber no.132 – Messrs John and W.C. Leng – James Pattullo, William Neish and John Leng became proprietors of the Dundee Advertiser and its allied publications, c.1854.[5]

Comments

James Pattullo was born at Baldragon in the parish of Strathmartine, Forfarshire, on 30 August 1818.[6] He served a law apprenticeship with Messrs Shaw & Thomson, writers, Dundee, completing his education at the University of Edinburgh. He returned to Dundee and began business in 1842, being admitted a member of the Faculty of Solicitors and Procurators in Dundee in 1844.[7] Pattullo’s house was at 31 Reform Street, Dundee and he was acting as secretary to the Dundee Writers Incorporation and was an agent for the Agricultural Cattle Insurance Co.[8]

By 1846 he had entered into partnership with William Neish. The firm of Neish & Pattullo, occupied offices at 1 Bank Street[9] and briefly 20 Reform Street[10] before returning to 1 Bank Street.[11] Neish & Pattullo acted as agents for the Dundee Cemetery Company, with James Pattullo a director and after 1856 its chairman,[12] and also the Caledonian Insurance Company. About 1853 Pattullo moved to Abertay Cottage, Monifieth Road, Broughty Ferry, which would remain as one of his residences for the rest of his life.[13] Pattullo was also briefly a depute commissary clerk.[14] About 1854 James Pattullo, William Neish and John Leng became proprietors of the Dundee Advertiser and its allied publications.[5] The partnership of Neish & Pattullo lasted until 1857 when Neish moved to London to the English bar.[15] At this time Pattullo entered into partnership with Thomas Thornton, the managing clerk with Christopher Kerr, writer, Dundee.[4] 

Thomas Thornton was born in Forfar on 9 December 1829,[16] attending that burgh’s school before at the age of fifteen going to a lawyer’s office in Edinburgh and attending law classes at the university. While in Edinburgh he also spent some time in the offices of the secretary to the North British Railway Company (and his connection with this company would remain an important one throughout his career). He was considered a brilliant student, but a breakdown in his health thwarted the ambition to train for the Scottish bar.[17] Health restored he returned to his chosen career as a solicitor and in 1851 at the age of twenty-one he became managing clerk in the office of Christopher Kerr, one of Dundee’s principle solicitors. His reputation grew during the six years he occupied this role.[18] His home addresses during this period were at his parents’ house at West Town End, Forfar;[19] 1 Victoria Square, Dundee[20] and then 3 Craigie Terrace, Dundee.[21]

1857 was a momentous year for Thomas; he married Helen Small Hean, daughter of Peter Hean of Rosemount, Dundee;[3] he entered into partnership with James Pattullo[22] and he moved into 4 Dudhope Terrace, which would remain his Dundee home for the rest of his life.[23] The Thorntons had two sons, William born in 1858[24] and John born in 1864.[25]Their mother died in 1868.[26]

Pattullo & Thornton operated from 1 Bank Street[27] and established themselves as one of the leading law firms in Dundee over the next twenty-five years with a large private family business,[28] while acting as agents for the Caledonian Insurance Company and the English & Scottish Law Life Assurance Company.[29] The partnership retained the position as agents to the Dundee Cemetery Company, of which James Pattullo remained chairman.[30] Thomas Thornton became clerk to the Forfarshire Prison Board about 1857[31] and also became the North British Railway Company’s adviser in Dundee sometime in the early 1860s.[32] In 1863 a meeting took place in his office to plan the bridging of the Tay at Dundee and after winning the support of the North British Railway Co. the project “thanks in large measure to his vigorous and untiring agitation” was realised. After the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879 he handled, on behalf of the company, the compensation claims for the relatives of the victims and settled all of them out of court.[33]

After the subscription to the Albert Institute Company the partners took on several other commitments. Thomas Thornton became the first clerk of the to the Dundee Gas Commission in 1868 and had to negotiate the transfer of the gas works from private to public control, a task occasioned with much acrimony.[34] He was appointed clerk to Dundee Police Board/Police Commissioners in 1870 at a time when a great many civic improvement schemes were contemplated and it proved to be a position which allowed him to demonstrate his skill in drafting bills and successfully piloting them through parliamentary committees.[35]  As with the tricky negotiations for the gas supply, Thornton was instrumental in the transfer of the water supply to public control and also responsible for acquiring the Loch of Lintrathen on favourable terms to put an end to the so-called “water war” which had bedevilled Dundee for many years.[36] He was also made the first clerk of the newly-formed Dundee School Board in 1873,[37] assessor to the Judges of the Police Court in 1874, [38] a director of the Prison Aid Society in 1874,[39] a justice of the peace connected with the Dundee district in 1876[40] and for a short while in the late 1870s acted as honorary secretary of the Dundee Liberal Association.[41] He further showed his commitment to the Liberal Party by successfully masterminding George Armitstead’s return as MP for Dundee in 1880.[42]

James Pattullo, meanwhile, became a member of the landed gentry[43] by acquiring the estates of Ashmore and Persey near Blairgowrie in the late 1860s.[44] In 1873 James was elected a member of the first Persie School Board[45] and the following year he was made a justice of the peace for the county of Perth.[46] He also became a justice of the peace connected with the Dundee district in 1880.[47] 

Throughout the 1860s and 1870s the firm of Pattullo & Thornton continued to thrive, becoming in about 1876 agents for the Northern Assurance Fire & Life Insurance Co.[48] and acting as solicitors to the Dundee Mortgage & Trust Investments Co.[49] and the Oregon & Washington Trust Investments Co.[50] In 1880 the firm also became solicitors to the Dundee Land Investment Co.

Thomas Thornton and James Pattullo’s partnership was dissolved in 1881. This may have been a result of a pre-arranged commitment to be partners for a specified term.[51] Thornton formed the new firm of Thomas Thornton, Son, & Co., taking his son, William, as a partner and also taking along with him the managing clerk from Pattullo & Thornton, James Burnet.[52] This new firm set up office at 15 Albert Square.[53] James Pattullo was joined by his nephew, Henry A. Pattullo, in the new firm of J & H Pattullo which carried on business from 1 Bank Street.[54]

Thomas Thornton, Son, & Co. continued the connection with the Caledonian Insurance Company,[55] the English & Scottish Law Life Assurance Company[56] and the Northern Assurance Fire & Life Insurance Co.[57] by acting as agents and also took on further agencies for Northern Marine Insurance Co. briefly[58] and Queen (Fire & Life) Assurance Co.[59] J & H Pattullo also retained agencies for the Caledonian Insurance Company[60] and the Northern Assurance Fire & Life Insurance Co., while also taking on an equally brief agency for the Northern Marine Insurance Co.[61] Thomas’s new firm took with it the representation of the Dundee Mortgage & Trust Investments Co.[62] and the Dundee Land Investment Co.,[63] and afterwards becoming the solicitors for the newly-formed Alliance Trust Co. Ltd.[64] Meanwhile James’s new firm continued to act as agents for the Dundee Cemetery Co., of which he remained the chairman for the rest of his life.[65] In 1882 James Pattullo was elected chairman of Persie School Board, a post in which he continued until 1900.[66]

Thomas Thornton continued to expand his workload showing an “appetite for public work that was insatiable” and “was the most regular official in his attendance, and came to exercise a very remarkable influence…equal to, if not greater than that of the chairman” in many cases.[67] Further responsibilities came his way: auxiliary sheriff substitute, 1884-1889 and honorary sheriff substitute, 1890-1903;[68] clerk to the Visiting Committee for Dundee Prison, 1884-1903[69] and clerk to the Forfarshire Lunacy Board, 1887-1903.[70] Along with these official responsibilities he became an honorary vice president of the Dundee Boys and Girls Religious Association, 1882-1887, becoming its president, 1887-1889[71] and served as a director of the Dundee Mission to the Outdoor Blind, 1882-1903.[72] He was an active and forthright supporter of the Liberal Party appearing on many a local political platform for the best part of forty years. He was also asked to run for Parliament for the Montrose Burghs and Dundee in 1885, but declined the offers.[73]

Thornton also distinguished himself in the field of education. His many years as clerk to the school board gave him an intimate knowledge of the various education acts and it was said of him “that there was no man in the community who had rendered greater help in the cause of primary education than he had done” and that the ambition of his life was that “the poorest boys should have such opportunity afforded for the development of their talents as would equip them for worthily filling the highest walks in life.”[74] He was consulted by Miss Baxter and Dr Boyd Baxter about the establishment of University College in Dundee and was apparently offered, but turned down, the post of secretary. He did, however, represent the college on the Court of the University of St Andrews[75] and was a member of the Council of University College, elected by the governors from 1884[76] and became a life governor himself in 1886.[77] He also established at his own expense a lectureship in law at University College.[78] In recognition of his many public services the University of St Andrews conferred upon him the degree of LL.D in 1891.[79] Further recognition of his pre-eminence in educational matters came with his appointment as clerk to the Secondary Education Committee for the Burgh of Dundee[80] and in 1893 his fellow citizens presented him with his portrait painted by Orchardson and a piece of plate in recognition of his “long and eminent” services to Dundee.[81]

In 1893 Dr Thornton was appointed town clerk and the post was amalgamated with many of the offices he already held, as reported in the Dundee Directory:

Important schemes, which will have a strong influence in regulating the affairs of the city, and which will place it on a higher status, have recently been introduced. The desirableness of having the different public Boards of the city amalgamated had long been a topic of discussion, but, although such a course was desiderated, serious obstacles blocked the way. An incident occurred, however, that facilitated the adoption of such a proposal. Mr William Hay, the respected Town Clerk, who had been in infirm health, died on 30th August last. Measures were at once taken to combine the offices of Town Clerk and Police Clerk, so that the duties of both should be discharged by one official. That course was agreed upon, and on 7th September Dr Thornton (now Sir Thomas) was unanimously appointed. Arrangements were further made to carry out the scheme of assimilation, and a measure, entitled the Dundee Corporation Bill, was promoted to amalgamate the Gas Commission with the Town Council, Police Commission, and other local Boards. This Bill, after being adjusted to the satisfaction of the County Council and parties interested, passed unopposed through the Committee of the House of Commons, and will soon become law. By this arrangement a great municipal reform has been effected, and the control of such an important department as the Gas Commission will now be vested solely in the ratepayers.[82]

Thornton was allowed to carry on his private business in view of the fact that the salary he accepted for the combined offices was much less than the salaries and fees formerly paid to him by the various bodies.[83] Elsewhere it was ironically remarked that “for his eminent services as Town Clerk he receives the starvation wage of £1250 per annum.”[84]

About the same time that Thornton was appointed town clerk he negotiated the purchase of Thornton Castle, Laurencekirk. He made no claim to a direct connection to the original owners, but obviously he must have felt drawn to the place that bore his name. He had been spending part of the year in country properties like Wemyss Hall, Fife[85] and Middleton, Forfarshire for some time, but this represented a permanent home away from 4 Dudhope Terrace. The train connection allowed him to spend four days at business in Dundee and Friday to Monday in his castle, if not solely at leisure, then at least with company of his own choice.[86]

In 1894 he was knighted for his services in the domain of municipal government and in celebration he was entertained at a great banquet in the Victoria Art Galleries (part of the present-day McManus).[87] The author of the Dundee Directory approved:

A notable public official has received well-merited and just recognition at the hands of the Government. For nearly forty years Dr Thomas Thornton has been to the forefront in all great and important movements either connected with or appertaining to our city, and in anything he has undertaken he has brought a masterly mind to see it carried out to the satisfaction of all concerned. Her Majesty, therefore, in recognition of his great abilities, and the vast amount of public work he has done, has conferred upon him the honourable title of knighthood, a distinction which all parties agree is highly deserved in every respect.[88]

It was Sir Thomas who framed the bill which led to Dundee becoming a County of a City in 1894.[89] He then became one of its Justices of the Peace[90] and soon after was made a Deputy Lieutenant and also clerk of the Lieutenancy of the County of the City of Dundee.[91]

He took on further commitments after becoming town clerk: vice president of the Dundee Home Mission Union,[92] clerk to the Manual Instruction Classes,[93] trustee of Dundee Liberal Club,[94] vice preses and then preses of the Faculty of Procurators and Solicitors in Dundee,[95] vice president of the Aged Christian Friend Society of Scotland (Dundee Auxiliary),[96] honorary secretary of the Victoria Hospital for Incurables,[97] president of the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (local branch)[98] and honorary secretary of the Dundee Consumptive Hospital.[99] He was also often in demand as an arbiter when strikes occurred.[100]

In 1894 James Pattullo was appointed as a Commissioner of Supply, being a fit and proper person to supply a vacancy among commissioners for the general purposes of the Income Tax Acts for the Blairgowrie District of the County of Perth.

Sir Thomas Thornton collapsed after leaving a meeting at the Town House in April 1903 and was taken home to 4 Dudhope Terrace where he died the next day having never regained consciousness. The Dundee Directory noted:

Sir Thomas Thornton, Town Clerk, who was associated with the public life of the city for nearly half-a-century, died after a brief illness on 21st April. Sir Thomas was honoured with a civic funeral. Delegates were present from all the representative bodies in the city and shire ; and the attendance of the general public was the largest that has ever taken place in Dundee.[101]

He left an estate valued at £173,205 2s. 5d.[102] His friend and biographer, Professor Knight, described him as being “perhaps the strongest legal brain north of the Forth in Scotland in his time, and one of the most dominant personalities” and “throughout his whole career he was from first to last a Dundee man, and Dundonian in sympathy…one felt that its interest and prosperity were much more important to him than his own ever were.”

Sir Thomas was not universally popular and he was regularly lampooned in The Wasp “The Dundee Flagellator” which referred to him as “his corpulency”[103] and regularly caricatured him wearing a comical-looking smoking cap (see images). Even his obituarist noted that he could “ill brook opposition or criticism” and that he had “the force and brusquerie that characterised a masterful nature.” Telling was the observation that “it was not in accordance with his nature to harbour petty spite. His enmities were on a colossal scale.”[104] His biographer characterised him as ” a bold and resolute pleader, often a daring man of affairs, an astute lawyer, an ever vigilant adviser, and also – be it remembered – the friend of the poor and needy for whom he pled.” He also noted that “as clerk to the Police Court …he was invariably both wise in guidance, and merciful to offenders. He tried to help the Magistrates not only to be just and equitable in their sentences, but also to aid the criminals to reform.”[105]

Sir Thomas was a member and office-bearer of the Free Church, but was happy to extend his support to any Presbyterian church.[106] “His philanthropy, and charity, to public and private causes was well known.”[107] He is buried in the Western Cemetery.[108]

James Pattullo of Ashmore and Persey died on 13 February 1904, less than a year after his erstwhile partner. His wife had predeceased him, but he was survived by five sons and two daughters.[109] The value of his estate was £58,639 7s. 5d. He is also buried in the Western Cemetery, Dundee, having been chairman of the company for many years.[108]

 

 

Sources

  1. Knight, Prof., of St Andrews University (1905) A Biographical Sketch with Reminiscences of Sir Thomas Thornton, Dundee. Dundee: William Kidd. [p.4] and Dundee Directories, 1858-1881. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
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  3. Leng, John, & Co. Ltd. (1904) Dundee Year Book, 1903 - Obituary Notices: Sir Thomas Thornton LL.D. Dundee: John Leng & Co Ltd. [p.64]. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee. FHL Film no.6035516. Ancestry website. Statutory Records. Dundee 1st District. Marriage. 17 June 1857. 282/1 144. Scotlands People website. 
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Credits

Many thanks to the ever helpful staffs of Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee; Perth & Kinross Archives and Local & Family History, A K Bell Library, Perth. Thanks also to R D Soutar for loaning his copy of The Wasp, 1897-1900.

The information above about 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.