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Wybrants Brothers

The Scots / Irish Wybrants brothers were merchants and jute manufacturers in the town of Dundee. Their maternal grandfather was George Rait of Forthill and Balgillo. Two brothers died young and the youngest moved to London.

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Details and history

Name of company:

Wybrants Brothers

Company address:


North Dudhope or Meadow Mill[2]
West Henderson Wynd

Number of employees:

about 250 in 1864[3]

Nature of business:

Merchants / Jute spinners[4] / manufacturers[5]



Date ceased trading:


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The Wybrants brothers were born into a respectable and monetarily stable family in Ireland but the family’s maternal roots were from the Dundee area.

Sylvester Rait, born about 1834, Robert Henry, born about 1837, and David William, born about 1841, were the children of Joseph Henry Wybrants of Springhill, County Offaly, and his wife, Helen Rait. Helen Rait was the daughter of George Rait of Forthill,[6] who had moved to Ireland with his family.

George Rait was described as “an opulent, enterprising, and industrious Scottish gentleman”[7] and indeed, it appears this was a good description of him. He owned the areas of Balgillo and Forthill and the sloped lands below Dudhope Castle in Dundee. Whilst he was still in Dundee, these were areas of small farms and cottages and he could not possibly have foreseen the changes in circumstances for his family, which came about simply because he did not sell up when he moved to Ireland.

Helen Wybrants lost her father in 1842,[8] her brother George in 1848[8] and then her husband Joseph in 1850 of a “paralytic attack.”[9] Probably due to a long running, expensive and complicated court case involving debt and deception on behalf of her formerly respectable husband, and his children by his first marriage,[10][3] Helen was left homeless in Ireland and returned to live in Dundee, where her father had left her an income, with her children. The Encumbered Estates Court sold the estate in Ireland for the remarkable sum of £14,825 in 1854,[11] which gives some idea of the lifestyle the family had before the scandal ensued. Several of the older children, from Joseph Henry Wybrant’s first marriage, emigrated to Australia.[12]

First mention of the family in Dundee was in 1856, Sylvester winning a bronze medal for “an Illustration of Projection of a Shadow” at Dundee Public Seminaries Government School of Art.[13] It is clear he was the imaginative and ingenious brother. At the same time, his younger brother, David, was an apprentice on a ship called the Beemah. The Beemah was a new ship and built in Dundee.[14]

“We understand that the ship Beemah, the largest vessel ever built at the port of Dundee, is to leave King William’s dock this afternoon tor the river. She is a very handsome vessel, and her build and apparent strength are much admired by nautical men. She is about to lie on at Leith for goods and passengers for Melbourne. She mounts 16 guns, and has every appearance of a war frigate. Capt. Pickernell has, we are informed, engaged a picked crew of Dundee seamen and some of the sons and nephews of some of our public spirited citizens, have entered as midshipmen to study the maritime profession in this noble specimen of naval architecture. Messrs Stephen’s high name as shipbuilders is not likely to suffer by this, one of the many superior vessels their skill and industry have produced.”[15]

But, David Wybrants clearly did not enjoy life at sea and jumped ship in Australia and then went missing for several months, with his mother posting ever more frantic sounding newspaper adverts for him to contact her and answer her letters and to take the money she had sent to various different addresses in Australia.[16][17] Despite the constant requests posted by his mother, he appears to have been AWOL between March[18] and June 1857,[19] very possibly with his older half brothers who had emigrated to Australia. By the census of 1861, he is safely back at his mother’s home at 8 Wellington Street, Dundee and his occupation is listed as “engineer”[20] and from then on he seems to have become the more reliable and sensible of the brothers.

The first mention of Wybrant Bros. as a firm, in the local press, is in fact their inclusion in the list of  subscribers to the Albert Institute,[1] perhaps implying that it was a newly established business. They appear to have been merchants first, but by 1860 they had bought North Dudhope Mill,[2] one of the first power loom mills built in Dundee, from Alexander Kinmond.[21] North Dudhope Mill was on land which had belonged to their maternal grandfather, George Rait. One advantage of being the feudal superiors was that their neighbouring mills had to pay their family feu duties, even if they now owned the land on which the mills stood.

In 1867 Sylvester married Betsy Arnott[22] and the same year was granted a British patent:

“To Sylvester Rait Wybrants, of Dundee, in the county of Forfar, North Britain, for the invention of ‘improvements in utilizing certain waste materials and in manufacturing packing therefrom*”[23] (*a form of cardboard?)

At the end of the same year, the brothers’ mother, Helen died,[6] meaning the rent and feu duties or ‘produce’ as her father had called it,[24] became the property of her children. However, instead of this becoming a period of prosperity for them, things took a dramatic downturn. But first, Silvester obtained a second British patent in 1869:

“Silvester Rait Wybrants of Dundee, in the county of Forfar, North Britain, for the invention of ‘improvements in the manufacture of textile fabrics.” [25]

There seems no monetary gain, nor change in practice of the firm, from either of these patents. But presumably, Silvester felt that there should have been.  The next year his brother Robert married Ann Steele.[26] A hint of things not all being well with the firm is given by an advert in the Dundee Courier in 1872 that their mill was for sale:

   “VALUABLE SPINNING AND POWERLOOM WORKS DUNDEE FOR SALE. The works known as the North Dudhope Works, situated at Henderson’s Wynd and Douglas Street, Dundee, consisting of Spinning Mill, Powerlooms, Steam Engines, Ponds, &c., and Machinery, comprehending 3148 Spindles for spinning Jute Yarns, with all necessary Preparing Machinery, Twisting Frames, Looms, Calender, &c. Besides the use of half the water of the Scouringburn, there is an excellent Well in the Premises. The Works may either be Sold in whole as a going concern, or the heritable portion may Sold itself. The Property is held in Feu. For further particulars, apply to Messrs Wybrants Brothers, the Proprietors, or J. W. Thomson, Solicitor, Dundee.”[27]

However, the building did not sell and then was almost destroyed by fire in 1873, but was fully insured[28] and a year later, in 1874, the boiler house burnt down.[29] North Dudhope or Meadow Mill was rebuilt with iron girders instead of the previous softwood ones and was reckoned to be fireproof.[30] (The building still stands in 2018 and is now a block of artists’ studios.) The following year, 1875, David married Mary Jane Shield.[31]

Silvester’s first wife died of consumption in 1873,[32] leaving him with a three year old daughter. Then, in June 1876, Robert was admitted to Montrose Royal Asylum, also known by the unlikely other name of ‘Sunnyside.’ Given Dundee had such facilities of its own, it would seem that he was being sent away to avoid a scandal. The only mention to be found in the local press is his removal from the Forfarshire Rifles, to which both he[33] and David[34] had belonged: “the services of Captain Robert Henry Wybrants are dispensed with, on account of ill-health. Dated 16th November 1876.”[35]

Silvester married for a second time, Agnes Walker in 1877,[36] only for him to die, in what sounds like horrible and rather odd circumstances, on 23rd June 1879.[37] His cause of death was given as “Exhaustion 3 days, Diffuse suppuration in Ischiorectal fossa 10 months.”[38] The death took place at Mrs Veitch’s Private Hotel in Edinburgh.[39][38] Robert remained in Montrose Royal Asylum until his death on 4 February 1880, when the cause of death was given as: “general paralysis.”[40] Neither man warranted an obituary in any newspaper.

David lived to be an old man, dying in England in 1924,[41] having lived there for some years. His obituary read:

“Mr Wybrants soon realised the immense possibilities which presented themselves in Calcutta, and it was largely owing to his enthusiasm that the industry there has reached its present position. He was a large shareholder in and latterly chairman of the Victoria Jute Company. Twenty-five years ago Wybrants disposed of the business of D. & W. Wybrants & Co. to A. C. Scott, and in North Dudhope Works it has since then been carried under the style of Scott, Sons & Co. Wybrants was also for a number of years a Director of the Dundee, Ferry, and District Tramway Co., Ltd.”[42]

In the 1911 census, he gave his occupation as “landed proprietor.”[43] Despite the turbulent years spent in Dundee, his grandfather’s money was still wisely invested, made from rich farmland that had been sold for mills in the lands of Dudhope, to make men rich enough to buy land in Balgillo and Forthill for large houses.

Two paintings were donated to Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection by Silvester Wybrant’s only child, Ann Crichton Wybrants (1870-1947). One is ‘A Frolic in the Sea’ by Robert Gemmell Hutchison (1855–1936) which was presented to them in 1921,[44] one year before the death of her stepmother, Agnes, with whom she lived. Robert Gemmell Hutchison was only just becoming well known at the point her father died,[45] so either this was a very astute acquisition, or it was made after her father’s death. The bottom left hand corner carries an alternative title in the artist’s hand “My Gift to the Bairns’ of Dundee” so it is appropriate that it has stayed in the town.

The second painting was a “gift from Miss Ann Wybrant’s trustees, 1948,”[46] the year after Ann’s death. It is again a scene of children playing, by the artist John Burr (1831–1893), entitled ‘Homeward Bound.’ [46]








  1. Dundee Advertiser, Wednesday, 16 December 1863, p.1. British Newspaper Archive website.
  2. Dundee People's Journal, Saturday, 9 June 1860, p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
  3. Dublin Evening Mail, Friday 27 April 1855, p.1. British Newspaper Archive website.
  4. The Edinburgh Gazette, 29 November 1878, Issue:8952, Page:982. British Newspaper Archive website.
  5. The London Gazette, 23 March 1880, Issue:24825, Page:2212. British Newspaper Archive website.
  6. Statutory Registers.Dundee First District. Death. Helen Wybrants, age 73. 1867. 282/1 1283. ScotlandsPeople website.
  7. Freeman's Journal, Wednesday 21 July 1830, p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
  8. Ancestry Family Trees, Online publication. Family Tree files submitted by Ancestry members. Ancestry website.
  9. Dublin Evening Mail, Friday 08 November 1850, p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
  10. Carrick, R., (1845) Irish Equity Reports: Particularly of Points of Practice, Argued and Determined in the High Court of Chancery, the Rolls Court, and the Equity Exchequer, in Ireland ..., Volume 7, Page 580.
  11. The Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales, Australia), Tuesday, 19 September 1854, p.2. Trove website.
  12. Bendigo Advertiser (Victoria, Australia), Tuesday, 4 November 1856. Trove website.
  13. Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Friday 18 July 1856, p.1. British Newspaper Archive website.
  14. Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Tuesday, 3 July 1855, p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
  15. Dundee Courier, Wednesday, 1 August 1855. British Newspaper Archive website.
  16. Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Friday 19 June 1857, p.3: Missing Friends in Australia. British Newspaper Archive website.
  17. Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Friday 11 September 1857, p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
  18. The Argus (Melbourne, Australia), Wednesday, 25 March 1857. Trove website.
  19. The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), Monday, 8 June 1857, p.1. Trove website.
  20. 1861 Census Scotland. Dundee. 282/1 24/ 7. ScotlandsPeople website.
  21. Warden, Alexander. (1864) The linen trade, ancient and modern, p.514. Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green.
  22. Statutory Registers. Auchterhouse. Marriage. Sylvester Rait Wybrants and Betsy Arnott. 1867. 273/5. ScotlandsPeople website.
  23. The London Gazette, 30 August 1867, Issue:23297, Page:4872. British Newspaper Archive website.
  24. Testamentary Records. Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills. 1847. SC70/4/4. ScotlandsPeople website.
  25. The London Gazette, 2 April 1869, Issue:23484, .Page:2068. British Newspaper Archive website.
  26. Statutory Registers. St George. Marriage. Robert H. Wybrants and Susan A. Steele. 1870. 685/1 336. ScotlandsPeople website.
  27. Dundee Courier, Tuesday, 19 November 1872, p.1. British Newspaper Archive website.
  28. Dundee Courier, Friday, 17 October 1873, p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
  29. Dundee Courier, Monday, 23 February 1874, p.2, British Newspaper Archive website.
  30. Watson, Mark, via Canmore website.
  31. Statutory Registers. St Andrew, Dundee. Marriage. David Wybrants and Mary Jane Shield. 1875. 282/4 57. ScotlandsPeople website.
  32. Statutory Registers. St. Peter, Dundee. Death. Betsy Millar Wybrants, age 34. 1873. 282/1 303. ScotlandsPeople website.
  33. The London Gazette, 27 April 1866, Issue:23106, Page:2639. British Newspaper Archive website.
  34. The London Gazette, 2 June 1865, Issue:22975,Page:2855. British Newspaper Archive website.
  35. The London Gazette, 14 November 1876, Issue:24383, Page:6041. British Newspaper Archive website.
  36. Statutory Registers. Urquhart, Moray. Marriage. Sylvester Rait Wybrants and Agnes Walker. 1877. 144/11. ScotlandsPeople website.
  37. Statutory Registers. St Andrew, Edinburgh. Death. Sylvester Rait Wybrants, age 45. 1879. 685/2 363. ScotlandsPeople website.
  38. Statutory Registers. St Andrew, Edinburgh. Death. 1879. 685/2 363. ScotlandsPeople website.
  39. Post Office Edinburgh and Leith directory, 1867-68, p.227. National Library of Scotland website.
  40. Statutory Registers. Montrose. Death. 1880. 312/ 41. ScotlandsPeople website.
  41. Statutory Registers. Barnet, Middlesex. Death. David W. Wybrants, age 84. Birth Date: abt 1840, Registration Date: Mar 1924. Registration district: Barnet, Inferred County: Middlesex, Volume: 3a, Page: 550. Ancestry website.
  42. Dundee Courier, Saturday, 8 March 1924, p.4, British Newspaper Archive website.
  43. 1911 Census England. Wybrants, David William. Parish: Hartwith cum Winsley. Class: RG14; Piece: 25839, Ancestry Website.
  44. Hutchison, Robert Gemmell (1855–1936), A Frolic in the Sea, Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council). Art UK website.
  45. Fowle, Francis. Robert Gemmell Hutchison (1855–1936), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website.
  46. Burr, John (1831–1893), Homeward Bound, Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council). Art UK website.

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.