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On Duncan Dunbar I and II


For relevant genealogy, go to the file Dunbar.

(Text of a talk on research on Dunbar, Recvd by this website in late November 2006 from Phil Fern, UK)

By David Dunbar-Nasmith (UK)


The Dunbars were tenant farmers on the Balnageith Estate, between Forres and the Findhorn in the 1700s. Duncan Dunbar I went down to London in the 1790s and founded a brewery at "Dunbar Wharf" in Limehouse on the Thames. This wharf still exists today. Duncan I prospered and was blessed with children. He died in 1825, worth about £1.4million at today's (2005) values.

His son, also Duncan Dunbar (II), took on the business at the age of 22. About ten years later he went in for shipping and before he died, owned the biggest fleet in the world. At one time or another he owned 73 clipper ships. In the late 1850s his fleet consisted of more than 40 sailing ships. He must have been administering 150 ships captains in his lifetime.

His ships were employed as troopships in the Crimean War, carrying convicts to Australia, emigrants to New Zealand and Australia, tea home from China and spices and many other things from India. Many of the shipwrecks are described. He owned a ship-building yard in Burma, where many of his ships were built.

The talk contains many frank and amusing extracts from Ship's Logs, Surgeon's Journals, contemporary letters and Duncan Dunbar's evidence to the House of Commons. It covers Duncan Dunbar's death in 1862. He died a bachelor and all his ships were sold, but his estate was worth £1.5 million in 1862.

The last part of the talk covers his immediate family and descendants and what happened to the money. Pictures of some of his ships, contemporary newspaper cuttings, poems by his niece and the Dunbar family tree (covering ten generations) will be available for perusal after the talk

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Our story starts with John Dunbar, who was a tenant farmer on the Balnageith estate, which lies between the river Findhorn and Forres, just south of the A96 road between Forres and Nairn. (John's father, Robert Dunbar, was also a tenant farmer on the Balnageith estate.)

John was married in 1745, just a year before Bonny Prince Charlie's army passed through Balnageith on their way to their doom at the battle of Culloden. John Dunbar had 15 children over the next 26 years, including triplets.

The seventh son (and tenth child), Duncan I, obviously reckoned that there was no future for him in Balnageith, so he went down to London and became a brewer and wine merchant. He founded Dunbar Wharf in 1796 on the River Thames at Limehouse. This still exists today. Presumably a wharf, with its alongside berths, it would have been ideal for distributing ale in heavy casks, both inside the country and overseas.

Duncan Dunbar I worked hard and prospered, and had two sons and six daughters between 1799 and 1816. The eldest surviving daughter, Justina, was my great great grandmother and next to her was Duncan the shipowner, born in September 1803.

Duncan Dunbar II

The second son, John, was born five years later. He was a partner in the firm for about eleven years, but bought the house and estate of Sea Park between Forres and Findhorn in 1838 and retired there two years later. He died in 1845.

Duncan Dunbar, Senior, must have decided early that young Duncan should have the benefits of a Scottish education for he sent the boy away at the age of seven or eight to stay with his relations in Balnageith or Forres, to attend Forres grammar school. Travel in those days would have probably have been from London to Aberdeen by sea and then on by coastal shipping to Findhorn, the port for Forres. It was before the day of steamers and the Napoleonic wars would have still have been on.

After three or four years at Forres grammar school young Duncan was moved to the Rev. Dr. Patrick Forbes' private academy at Boharm (just across the river Spey from Rothes) and two years later he joined Aberdeen University at the age of 13, which was quite usual at that time.

Dr. Patrick Forbes, who moved to Aberdeen University as a Professor while young Duncan was still there, must have been a remarkable man as he believed in the power of steam when nobody else did. He said that "one day the world would travel by its power over land and sea". In his electricity classes he said; "in thirty years it will put a girdle round the world and words will flash from land to land in twenty minutes.”

After two years at Aberdeen University (again quite usual at that time) young Duncan joined his father's counting house in London to serve his commercial apprenticeship. This took five years and on reaching the age of 21 his father made him a partner in his business. A year later his father died, aged 61, and he was left to run the business at the age of 22. His father left legacies of some £42,000 in his will (which today would be worth £1.4M), so his wine and spirit business and his brewery must have done very well.

The obituaries of Duncan Dunbar II, written in 1862, said that his father before his death in 1825 became "a pretty extensive shipowner", but the obituaries were wrong in other respects and I have found no evidence that his father actually owned any ships at all. However, he certainly left young Duncan a thriving brewery, and wine and spirit business.

One London directory for 1826-1827 lists:- "'Duncan Dunbar and Son, Wine and Spirit Merchant, Fore Street, Limehouse," and another for 1826 lists:-"Duncan Dunbar, Beer Merchant, 21 Fore Street, Limehouse". Dunbar Wharf is in Fore Street, Limehouse.

Young Duncan's first venture into shipowning was in 1827, when he owned half the new barque building at New Shoreham in Sussex, on the South coast of England. His partners were the captain and the captain's brother, who each owned a quarter of the barque. (I shall refer to Barques and Ships from time to time, they both have three masts - Ships were square rigged on all three masts - Barques were square rigged on fore and main masts and "fore and aft" rigged on the mizzen or after mast. All of his ships were sailing ships, built of wood, and all but one had three masts).

His first vessel was only 251 tons and was called BELZONI after an Italian Egyptologist, who was well known in London about that time.' Although so small (she was about the size of an inshore fishing boat and only 86 feet long) she sailed regularly from London to Calcutta and Mauritius and was eventually sold in Mauritius.

Six years went by before he invested in another Ship, the ISABELLA, 15-years -old when he bought her, but about twice the size of the BELZONI. Between 1835 and 1841, he bought eight second-hand ships and ordered three new ones.

By 1st January 1842 his fleet mustered 11 ships with a total tonnage of 5000 tons. From 1842 onwards he proceeded to build at least one new ship a year, often two or three and in 1850 four. In the next 20 years he ordered 42 new ships, three of which were still being built when he died in 1862.

To think up suitable names for all these was a little problem on its own. He named seven after family or Dunbar connections, six were after place names in his family's home county of Morayshire and 27 were named after Battles or Naval and Military Commanders.

In the first category was the barque PHOEBE; named after his mother. She was chartered for her first voyage to take colonists to Nelson, New Zealand, but after five years she was wrecked near Madras, however only one man of her crew was lost.

Then followed the ship RANDOLPH (a name with great Dunbar connections in history). After two years she was wrecked on the coast of Mauritius, while taking coolies from there to Bombay. There was considerable loss of life. (The Second Officer was presented with a chronometer by the inhabitants of Mauritius for his gallantry in saving the coolies).

The next was the ship PHOEBE DUNBAR launched the year after the PHOEBE was lost and while his mother was still alive. She was also chartered to take colonists to New Zealand for her first voyage. She was later carrying 270 immigrants to Brisbane in Australia, when her Captain mistook the entrance to Moreton Bay in misty weather and she grounded on Amity Bank.

She was lucky because two steamers came to assist and she was towed off and anchored. The passengers and their luggage were landed in Brisbane, 20 miles up the river, but she had to be beached for temporary repairs to enable her to reach a dry dock in Sydney.

At Sydney she was fully repaired and she went on until two years after Duncan Dunbar II died, when she was totally destroyed by fire alongside in Newcastle, New South Wales. What remained of her was sold at auction the next afternoon for under £100.

The next of the family names was the ill-fated ship, DUNBAR, completed just in time for the Crimean War and used as a troopship, as were 17 of his ships (three of them-being wrecked). The DUNBAR was lost 3 years later in one of the best-known and most tragic shipwrecks of those days. She was approaching Sydney with 64 passengers and 59 crew after dark with an onshore gale blowing. The captain thought he could see the entrance. Sadly what he thought was the entrance turned out to be "the gap", a low part of the rocks some three miles to the south of the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

There was a cry of "breakers ahead" and almost immediately the ship struck the rocks at the foot of the cliff. On initial impact the topmasts fell down. Shortly after the mizzen mast went over the side, followed by the main mast and the ship started to break up.

One Able Seaman called Johnson was washed onto the rocks, amongst a heap of timber and rubbish. When daylight came, Johnson found himself some 10 feet above the area, surrounded by wreckage, and the dead bodies of his fellow crew members and passengers, and a 100-foot vertical cliff behind.

It took some time for the authorities and the people of Sydney to realise that DUNBAR had been wrecked, but when they did, a crowd gathered on the top of the cliffs. Even so, Johnson's cries were not heard till 36 hours after the wreck. When they were, an Icelandic youth in the crowd volunteered to be lowered down the cliffs on a rope and Johnson was hauled up. I am glad to say that the crowd were sufficiently moved to have a collection for the Icelandic lad and he went home with £10 or £11 in his pocket. (worth £400 at today's values).

The bodies were terribly mutilated by being battered against the rocks, or by sharks. Many passengers were returning to Sydney after visiting England and whole families had been wiped out. A funeral was held in Sydney for the dead. The Artillery band played the Dead March from Saul with fine effect. Shops were closed and streets were lined with silent, awestruck citizens. One report at the time said:-"never can we recollect a scene, in which the feelings of the people were so keenly and manifestly exhibited".

The next of the Dunbar names was the ship COSPATRICK (a name steeped in Dunbar history). She served Duncan Dunbar very well, but some years after his death, Shaw Saville bought her for the New Zealand emigrant trade, and the following year she set alight in the Indian Ocean with 429 emigrants and a crew of 44.

Only two boats with 42 and 39 persons aboard got away safely, but with no food or water. They stood by her for two days until she sank and watched the captain throw his wife over the side, as the fire reached them, and then jump himself. One boat with three survivors was picked up eight days later; 470 persons perished. Such were the risks of emigrating to the colonies in the 1870s.

The year DUNBAR was lost he built the ship DUNCAN DUNBAR, named after his father or himself! She was his biggest ship, 1490 tons, and the pride of his fleet; three years after his death, when she was owned by his shipping manager, Edward Gellatly, she ran aground off the coast of Brazil on her way to Sydney. This time the captain landed everyone safely on a sandspit on the reef, where she had run aground, and he made a 120 mile passage in an open boat to obtain assistance. As a result everyone was rescued 10 days later.

The last of seven Dunbar names was the ship DUNBAR CASTLE, which was still building when he died. She ran very successfully for many years from London to Sydney and was known as "The last of the Dunbars".

He named six ships after places in Morayshire:- the ship SEA PARK (named after the estate his brother, John, had bought in 1838), the barque FORRES (where area he went to school), the barque BALNAGUITH (named after his grandfather's farm), the ship MORAYSHIRE, which was a troopship in the Crimean War and was then chartered to take descendants of the Bounty mutineers from Pitcairn Island to Norfolk Island.

Then there was the ship BLERVIE CASTLE, which was lost with all hands in the English Channel three years after she was built; and finally the ship DUNPHAILE CASTLE, launched the year before he died. We now come to the 27 ships he named after battles or naval and military commanders. The first of these was the ship HYDRABAD named after the victory Sir Charles Napier had won against overwhelming odds in India only two months before she was named; so it must have been very striking news at the time.

Sadly she only survived two years. When carrying horses from Sydney to Calcutta, she struck a shoal in the difficult waters of the Torres Strait, just North of Australia, then slipped off and sank in 15 fathoms. The horses were drowned, but all the passengers and crew were saved. They had to make a five-day passage in the boats, because the captain wouldn't let them land on a nearby island, as he had heard that a ship's crew had been killed there, some time ago, by cannibals, and probably eaten.

Then followed 26 ships named after battles in British history. I will not bore you with the names. The interesting thing is that 17 of these were named after battles in the Napoleonic wars (1794-1815) and most of the battles had taken place in Duncan Dunbar's lifetime.

Seven of these ships were lost in his lifetime, but except in the case of the BLENHEIM (where the Captain and 12 were lost landing from a boat in a surf), all the passengers and crews were saved. (He lost 14 ships all told in his lifetime).

The last of his ships to be called after a battle was the Ship ALUMBAGH, still on the stocks in the builder's yard, when he died. She was named after a fort, near Lucknow, recaptured in the Indian Mutiny, five years before. In 1867 "she sailed from New York and has not since been heard of" - a phrase which one hears all too frequently in the days of sail.

As well as new ships, he bought at one time or another 27 second-hand ships ranging from the barque LONDON built in 1800, to ships built the year before he bought them. One of them, the Ship EDWIN FOX, still exists today and is being restored in Picton, New Zealand. (I will show you afterwards the brochure appealing for funds. Not that you will be expected to subscribe, but it is interesting to see what she looks like today.)

In the two years of the Crimean War, fought by Britain and France against Russia from 1854 to 1856, there were expeditions to the Baltic and the Crimea in the Black Sea and all troops and their stores had to be transported by sea, so a tremendous number of ships were required. The freight rates were so good, that he bought no less than 11 second-hand ships, in addition to the five new ships he had been building, and he made very significant profits in those two years.

At the beginning of 1858 his fleet reached its peak with 36,800 tons and 43 ships. It is interesting that his 43 ships weighed only about 65% of the weight of the cruise liner Queen Elizabeth II, today.

He owned ships for 35 years, more than one ship for 30 years, more than 20 ships for 15 years, and over 40 ships for five years. His fleet was undoubtedly the biggest privately-owned one in the world. Only nine of his 73 ships were under 500 tons, 56 were between 500 and 1000 tons, only eight were more than 1000 tons and none were larger than 1500 tons. (QEII -- 57,000 tons.)

Some 32 of his new ships were built at either Sunderland or South Shields, on the Northeast coast of England (in fact 18 of these were built by the one builder, Philip and James Laing). Nine were built at Duncan Dunbar's own building yard that he established at Moulmein in Burma, from 1849 to 1859, to make use of the abundant teak available there. One new ship was built at Aberdeen in Scotland, one at Cardiff in Wales, one at Cochin in India, and one each at Emsworth and Shoreham on the South coast of England.

Manning and administering this great fleet must have been quite a problem. Most ships seemed to carry a crew of about 37 men, including a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Mate, but the size of the crew seems to have varied with the size of the ship. Some carried a crew of 50 or 60 men and some as few as 18, (the little Forres only 13). Many of the officers and even the men seem to have been in one Dunbar ship after another. I presume the Captains were responsible for engaging their ship's companies, but Duncan Dunbar must have selected his captains. What a task this must have been!

I have traced 136 captains who commanded his ships in his lifetime and nine others who commanded his ships after his death. Many were 2nd and 1st Mates before rising to command. Only three of his captains (whose birth dates are known) were older than him and two of these each commanded six or more of his ships for more than 24 years. They were still in command in their sixties. The youngest was his brother-in-law's son, Marmaduke John Tatham, whose captain died at sea, when he was still 19, and Marmaduke brought the ship home from St. Helena to London.

Henry Neatby was probably Dunbar's best-known captain, being entrusted with five of his finest ships new from the builders’ yard and given command for more than 18 years. When Duncan Dunbar II died, Neatby became a shipowner and one of his letters from London has been preserved. It said: - "Now I've spent all my money in purchasing three of the finest ships out of England, I must solicit the aid of the Sydney merchants to make them answer. I did not like the remarks in the Sydney Herald respecting my late worthy employer. Many thought him a hard taskmaster. He was a good master to me and always gave what he bargained for, to a farthing. I wish he had left £100,000 to build Alms houses for old Captains and Mates". Henry Neatby died 6 months after his old employer, at Rotherhithe on the banks of the River Thames in London, where he was born 58 years before.

Nine of Dunbar's captains served him for more than 15 years, 10 for 10-to-15 years, 39 for 5 to 10 years and 57 for one to five years.

Some 14 captains were brothers or close relations of each other. It must have been quite a party to keep track of and know their capabilities, in the days when a shipowner was almost entirely reliant on the captain for obtaining a return cargo, as well as the safe passage of his ship.

The ownership of ships was divided into 64 shares as it still is today. Fifteen of his Captains had a small number of shares in his ships at one time or another, enabling them to share in the profits of the voyages. Rather more captains had shares in the early days than later on.

Four of his Captains received honorary testimonials, three from grateful passengers and one for lifesaving. There were seven entries in the "Black Book", where disciplinary proceedings are recorded, three in his lifetime and four later. The only really surprising one is the captain of the NILE on passage back from Sydney in 1861, when a passenger accused him of drunkenness on three different occasions. The investigation was held in London and the captain's certificate was suspended for six months only, on account of former High Testimonials. He was not again employed by Duncan Dunbar!

There is a record of Duncan Dunbar having written to Jardine Matheson (Hong Kong) introducing his nephew, Duncan Dunbar Tatham, who was a midshipman, aged 21, in one of his ships. Two years later his uncle was horrified to hear that he had drawn two bills on Dunbar in favour of Jardine, Matheson and Co., which were now presented: - "he had no power to do so!" wrote his uncle. There is no record of Duncan Dunbar Tatham having been advanced any further in the firm!

Duncan Dunbar II was Chairman of the General Shipowners Society for many years and in 1847 he was cross-examined by a select committee of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, before the Navigation Laws were changed. He was asked among other things what salary his captains received? The answer was £10 a month, but with a lot of other perquisites, on which the profit, he (Duncan Dunbar) hoped, would be £500 a year (the equivalent of £20,000 today).

The average size of his crews he stated as 37 (three Mates, six Petty Officers, 12 Able Seaman, 11 Ordinary Seaman and five Apprentices). The 1st Mate got £6 a month, the next highly paid was the Carpenter, who received £5-10 shillings, then the 2nd Mate £1 less, down to the Able Seaman, whose monthly salary was £2 (about £80 at today's values).

He was asked if he would make the same enquiries into the character and capabilities of those he engaged, as he would do if he was engaging a servant? His answer was: - "Yes, much more so; because a servant we have always before our eyes: but we know that with regard to Captains and Mates very frequently we are putting an immense property under their charge, and without any power of control over them in their absence". In answer to another question he replied: - "I consider that a man who has £20,000 or £30,000 of property under his charge should be well paid".

His ships were chartered by the government to make 37 voyages carrying convicts, one to Bermuda and the rest to Tasmania, Western Australia, Sydney or Norfolk Island (that notorious penal settlement lying half way between Australia and New Zealand). On each of these voyages the ships carried between 200 and 340 convicts. A naval surgeon was appointed to each ship as "Surgeon Superintendent" in charge of the convicts and the Pensioner Guard, who numbered about 30 and brought their wives and children with them. So some ships had as many as 460 souls on board.

The Surgeon Superintendent had to write a report on the voyage to the Physician-General at the Admiralty and many of these have been preserved. I have read more than 30 of them and taken photo-copies of the interesting bits. Separate ships were used to carry female convicts and these of course had many children on board too.

The Surgeon's journal on board Duchess of Northumberland, a female convict ship in 1853, reads:- “The weather was very stormy being a succession of Westerly gales with much rain and occasionally very high seas so as to render it necessary to batten down the hatches fore and aft. During this period the decks were constantly wet & the thermometer varying from 40° to 50°. Yet notwithstanding we had little sickness on board."

"The females suffered a good deal from sea sickness, lowness of spirits, and required the use of wine and medical comforts to support them, but they did not appear to be at all affected by the battening down of the hatchways, the ventilating tubes admitting the necessary quantity of air for the purposes of respiration. In the tropics the thermometer averaged from 81° to 82° but it occasionally rose as high as 86°. The prison was carefully ventilated during this period and the females kept on deck as much as possible."

"The Bath was filled two or three times every morning during the hot weather and a certain number allowed to bathe every other morning, which no doubt contributed much to the healthy condition of the females. Their minds were employed in sewing or knitting or reading etc. and they were encouraged to take exercise on deck, when the nature of the weather would permit".

A few deaths took place on most voyages and up to nine convicts (and 10 amongst the pensioner guards and their families) on board the PHOEBE DUNBAR, where they had cholera, which was increased by scurvy. The children of the pensioner guards frequently died on board. The shortest passage was 79 days and the longest 126 days. In one ship the convicts were on board for nearly six months.

In one report the Physician-General had clearly ordered a trial of three different treatments in the event of scurvy breaking out. The importance of cleanliness was well appreciated and one comes across frequent references to "applications of chloride of zinc".

Another Surgeon Superintendent's report says:- "Wine for the voyage, is allowed nearly in the proportion of two gallons for each convict. The manner in which it is used is entirely at the discretion of the Surgeon Superintendent. I regarded it as a means of government, as well as a dietetic object”.

Another said:- "We experienced a very rough night between Portsmouth & Plymouth, in which we shipped a great deal of water, carried away a fore topmast staysail, and were in some danger of going on shore on the Bolt Rocks, on the coast of Devonshire. Most of the women and children and many of the convicts suffered greatly from fright and sea sickness".

The risk of the convicts gaining control of the ship was ever present (as shown by a report in the Times in 1854). To guard against this, firm treatment was required and MINDEN's log notes "two prisoners put in irons, one hand cuffed" and the following day "a prisoner flogged -- 3 dozen lashes". Ships newspapers were often produced such as the "Minden Times" and in the RAMILLIES' "A Banquet for the Banished".

His ships also made more than 40 voyages carrying emigrants to Australia or New Zealand, chartered either by the New Zealand Company, the Land Board or by private entrepreneurs. These ships tended to be as crowded as those carrying convicts.

Many children were born on board and when they were baptized, they often took the name of the ship. For instance:- on board the PHOEBE DUNBAR:- "Charles Sutherland Dunbar Rabbit, son of Corporal Rabbit was baptized in the Catholic Persuasion" and on the MINDEN, the twin daughters of Corporal Gorman were called Elizabeth Minden Gorman and Ellen Minden Gorman.

There were far fewer cargoes available to come home from Australia and New Zealand, than there were to go out there, so unless they could find a cargo of wool, most of the ships going out had to go on to India or China to find a cargo to come home with. I have a list of cargoes his ships brought home and they cover very many things, from spices to buffalo horns to jute to teak to rice to elephant tusks.

I have looked at some 33 of his ships logs and taken extracts from 20, all between 1858 and 1861. There are some fascinating things recorded and I just wish I had time to tell you more of them. The hazards of working aloft are all too frequent in this sort of entry: - "John James, Ordinary Seaman furling the Main Royal (the highest sail) fell off the yard; overboard, striking the Main Yard in his descent, and was drowned. It would have been madness to lower a boat".

One entry reads: - "Sailmaker' s finger severed in pump". A month later it reads: - "Finger well. Sailmaker resumed duty" (They were tough in those days!). Someone was brought before the Captain for: - "bantering the Reverend Gentleman, who was trying to preach a sermon to the crew. He was asking much questions & etc & etc, referring to the Bible, much to the annoyance of the Minister, who really was trying to do good."

There were many cases of stealing, drunkenness and disobedience and the officers had to be tough and handy with their fists to maintain control. Mutiny is recorded and the whole crew walking ashore to put their case to the local Magistrate. There were instances of rows with the Pilot and collisions; shortages of food and water and the calculations for reduced rations.

Duncan Dunbar II, as well as administering this great fleet, founded the London Chartered Bank of Australia in 1852 and was the chairman until he died 10 years later. He was on the committee of Lloyd's Registry for 16 years and deputy-chairman for five years. It was in this capacity that he was chairman of the General Shipowner's Society (a most influential post). He was deputy-chairman of the East and West India Dock Company and chairman of the Local Marine Board for the Port of London; and one of 16 Directors of the Marine Insurance Company for 20 years.

His obituary states: - "although chiefly known throughout the world as the largest shipowner in Britain, he was extensively engaged in various branches of trade, and probably no man, within the last 40 years, has transacted such an extent of business directly and by means of his own personal agency".

Duncan Dunbar II's youngest sister, Phoebe, kept house for her brother, John, at Sea Park and when John died in 1845, Sea Park was left to Phoebe. Three years later she got married to Captain Edward Dunbar, of the 22nd Regiment, youngest son of Sir Archie Dunbar, 5th Baronet. She must have been a formidable lady, because she said no way was she going to lose her Dunbar and insisted on being called "Mrs Dunbar Dunbar". Duncan Dunbar II gave her away at the wedding in Forres and the reception at Sea Park was a major affair and was very well covered in the local press.

After his mother died in 1853, he moved from Forres Place, (his father's house near Dunbar Wharf) and rented a new house in Porchester Terrace, Paddington, London. His sister, Margaret Masson (whose husband had died) and her three daughters moved in to keep house for him. One of the daughters was a poet and he published two books of her poems, some of which referred to his ships and some to him.

In about 1860 he built on a picture gallery to his house in Porchester Terrace and he was reported to be a "liberal patron of the fine arts". There was a sale of his pictures by Christies (the London auctioneer) long after his death in the 1890s, but there were no pictures of his ships among them.

He was a Conservative and was frequently offered a seat in Parliament, which he declined, saying, "he was much too busy". He gave the same reason for remaining a bachelor!

On 6th March 1862, when he was dressing, he suddenly fell forward in a kind of fit and expired. For his last few days he had been complaining of a cold in his chest, but it did not interfere with his business and he was at the Jerusalem Coffee-house transacting his affairs as usual the previous afternoon.

At the Stock Exchange his death, in the words of those days: - "caused heaviness in the securities of which Mr Dunbar was known to be an extensive holder". He had made a will two years before and his estate was eventually valued at £1.5 million (worth £65 million today). His shipping manager, Edward Gellatly, and my great-grandfather, (who also worked in his office) were appointed his executors.

His will made bequests of £250,000 and the residue of £1.5 million was to be divided into four equal parts and went to his two surviving sisters, Margaret Masson and Phoebe Dunbar, the children of his dead sister, Helen Abbot, and his niece, Phoebe Brown (my great-grandmother).

Three persons (including my great-grandfather) were given the option of buying the business at a moderate price and paying for it over five years, but they all declined and all 39 of Duncan Dunbar's ships were sold within two years of his death. Seven of his Captains bought shares in the ships, they were commanding. Edward Gellatly, his shipping manager, immediately founded the new firm of Gellatly, Hankey & Sewell" and bought shares in 13 of his ships. This firm still exists today.

Thus ended the Dunbar shipping line. The owner of Dunbar Wharf writing to my mother in 1936 about the Dunbar House Flag (a Scottish Lion Rampant in a shield on a blue background with the words "SUB SPE" above) says: - "It flew in almost every port in the world at the mast heads of some of the finest sailing ships on the ocean, 80 years ago".

Duncan Dunbar II's youngest sister, Phoebe, and her husband Edward Dunbar bought the estate of Glen of Rothes (7 miles out of Elgin on the road to Rothes) in 1870. An agreement was signed with the Morayshire Railway Company at the same time to build a railway through the Glen of Rothes, joining Rothes to Elgin. One of the conditions was that a siding was built at the north drive, which could handle the materials for building a mansion house.

The house was built a year later and Phoebe and Edward lived there in the summer and at Sea Park during the winter. In March 1890 a disastrous fire took place and the house was burned to the ground. A vivid description of the fire and of the rescue of the two servants was recorded in the local press.

Three years later the present house was built and no expense was spared (this house is now the Rothes Glen Hotel). Phoebe decreed that there should be no bathrooms in this house, as she was fed up with people squabbling, as to who should have the first bath after shooting! Anyone who wanted a bath, should have a hip bath in their bedroom!

Phoebe and Edward had four children, but only one son survived infancy. He got in his mother's bad books by fathering a daughter while at Oxford University. She said she was not going to trust the males in her family any more and she entailed the Glen of Rothes estate to her son (who didn't have any legitimate children) and then to my grandmother, and then to my mother, who was aged two when Phoebe died, and had two elder brothers living at that time.

One of the conditions of the entail was that the owner of Glen of Rothes should add two Dunbars to their name. My grandmother did this, but when my grandmother died and the estate came to my mother, my father refused to take on more than one Dunbar!

That finishes the talk and I'd be delighted to try and answer any questions you may have.

Round the stage there are five pictures of Duncan Dunbar II's ships and two photographs of Duncan Dunbar himself, by that time a fairly prosperous looking shipowner!'

On the table are two photograph books containing my collection of photographs and press cuttings about his ships and also the Dunbar Family Tree, which covers 10 generations and 176 names. There are also two books of Phoebe Masson's poems. The poems about his ships and himself have markers in; and finally there is the Edwin Fox Restoration Society brochure.

(Ends text of the talk)

Will of Duncan Dunbar II

I DUNCAN DUNBAR of Fore Street Limehouse do make this my last Will & Testament. I leave all my property PERSONAL or freehold of whatever description In trust to William Smith Brown of the East India Road Edward Gellatly Clerk in my Counting House giving them full power except as hereafter provided to realize the same when & in such manner as they may see fit without being personally responsible for such realization to sail my ships for the benefit of my estate until they can be satisfactorily sold without being responsible for any loss on any voyage to sell my Ships by Public or Private Sale to sell under mortgage by Private Valuation to Capt: Henry Neatby Capt: Alex Mollison Capt: Thomas Spedding Capt: Freeman or any party holding shares with me in any Ship or Ships the remaining shares if they are desirous of purchasing the same & for the following purposes.

I direct my Trustees to appropriate my house 50 Porchester Terrace with all my furniture plate wines pictures articles of virtue books china carriages horses & every article therein at the time of my death to the sole use free from the control of her present or future husband of my Sister Margaret Masson & on her death to the use of her daughters Elizabeth Dunbar Phoebe Anne & Katharine [Ferrier?] Masson while they remain unmarried it is my wish that in the event of the Marriage of any one or more then interest in the above bequest should cease & be invested in the one or others remaining unmarried & on the marriage of all three or on the death of last unmarried the entire property should be sold & become portion of the residue as hereinafter provided for I direct my trustees & executors to set apart & invest the sum of £100,000 in Government East India or Colonial Government guaranteed securities or Guaranteed Railway Bond or Stock to pay the sum of £3000 Three thousand pounds annually to my sister Margaret Masson for her sole & separate use free from the debts & control of her present or any future husband & for which her receipt alone shall be a sufficient discharge & from and after her decease to pay such sum to the 3 daughters of my said Sister subject entirely & solely to the same conditions as the preceding bequest of my house & it being my intention and desire that my Sister Margaret Masson should have the sole & entire use of the house at 50 Porchester Terrace with the sum of Three thousand a year to maintain it & after her death her daughters to be in the same position subject to the conditions named in the above paragraph Should there be any surplus dividends or interest from the above sum of £100,000 after paying the sum of £3000 annually the same to be invested & form part of the residue when the contingencies therein named take effect.

Out of the surplus of my estate I direct my Trustees & Executors to set apart & invest the sum of £20,000 & to pay the dividends & interest thereof to my Sister Margaret Masson for her own sole & separate use free from the debts & control of her present or any future husband & for which her receipt shall alone be a sufficient discharge & from & after her decease to pay such dividends & interest to the 3 daughters of my said Sister Elizabeth Dunbar Masson Phoebe Anne Masson & Katharine Ferrier Masson or such of them as may then be living (?) or during their lives & the life of the survivor or survivors should either of my Nieces be or have been married at the time of their Mothers death or should any of them be married afterwards I direct the said Legacy shall be divided in thirds & held upon trust as to 1/3 part for the said Elizabeth Dunbar Masson for her own sole & separate use free from the debts control & engagements of any husband with whom she may happen to intermarry & after her decease to pay the principal of such 1/3 part into & between all the children of the said E. D. Masson who being a Son shall live to attain 21 or being a daughter shall live to attain 21 or be married which shall first happen As to one third part upon the like terms & trusts for the benefit of the said Phoebe Anne Masson & her children & as to the remaining one third part for the benefit of the said Katharine Ferrier Masson & her children If any of my said Nieces shall die without leaving children who shall live to attain an interest in the Legacy I direct that her share as well original as what she may derive from a deceased Sister should be held for the benefit of the surviving Niece or Nieces & their children upon the trusts before declared If none of my nieces should have children who being Sons should live to attain 21 or being daughters live to that age or be married then I direct the Legacy to lapse & form part of the residue of my estate After my Sisters decease I authorize my trustees in the event of my Nieces dying & leaving children to apply the interest of such childrens presumptive share for their maintenance I direct my trustees & executors to lay out & invest the further sum of £20,000 Twenty thousand pounds & which I bequeath to such of the children of my late Sister Helen Abbott who being a Son shall live to attain the age of 21 or a daughter shall attain that age or be married & I direct that the interest of the said sum shall be applied in such manner as my trustees shall think most for the benefit of the children & I beg they will see to its proper disposal ...

I also authorize my trustees shall settle the portion of any Girl or Girls in the above legacy in such manner as they may see fit for their sole use & benefit free from any control of her husband I also authorise my trustees to apply the whole or part of the presumptive share of any boy towards his advancement if they should think fit to do so. I further leave in trust the sum of twenty thousand pounds £20,000 to pay the interest to my Sister Phoebe Dunbar Dunbar for her sole & separate use free from the debts control & engagements of her husband during the term of her life & after her decease the principal to be divided equally amongst such of her children as being Sons shall attain the age of 21 or being daughters shall attain that age or be married which ever shall first happen & in default of such issue I direct that the said legacy shall lapse into & form part & portion of the residue of my estate. I also leave in trust £20,000 Twenty thousand pounds to pay the interest to my niece Phoebe Brown wife of William Smith Brown during her life for her own sole & separate use free from the debts control & engagements of her present or any future husband & upon her death the principal to be divided among such of her children as being Sons shall live to attain the age of 21 years or being daughters shall live to attain that age or be married & I authorize my trustees to advance in such manner as they may think fit the interest of such Legacy in the event of the death of their Mother before they attain the age of 21 or the daughters are married for their maintenance & education I leave in trust £4000 to pay the interest to my Cousin Margaret Tweeddale during her life & upon her death to pay the principal to her daughters Georgina & Jeanine Milligan Tweeddale or to the survivor of them & if neither survive her to her Son William Alexander Tweeddale.

I leave in trust £2000 to pay the dividends or interest to my cousin Matilda Yule during her life for her sole & separate use & benefit & free from the debts control & engagements of any husband. On her death this legacy to lapse & become part & portion of the residue of my estate. It is my wish that the two last mentioned legacies of £4000 & £2000 should (carry?) interest from the time of my decease & that such interest should be paid half yearly as it becomes due.

I leave in trust the sum of £8000 Eight thousand pounds to be divided equally with accruing interest between the children of my late Niece Justina Shores or the survivor or survivors of them as being boys attain the age of 21 or being girls attain that age or are married. I leave in trust the sum of £5000 to pay the interest to my Cousin Phoebe Anne Sutherland for her sole use & free from the control of her present or future husband & upon her death to be divided equally among her surviving children. I leave in trust to pay Wm Smith Brown the sum of £10,000 Ten thousand pounds. I leave in proof of my opinion of his long & faithful Services to my friend Robert Dunbar Garden the sum of Ten thousand pounds & in the event of his death before me I wish the sum, out of the above, of Six thousand pounds to be divided equally among his daughters or their survivors & four thousand pounds among his Sons on their attaining the age of 21.

I leave in trust the sum of £5000 to be paid to my Nephew John Samuel Abbott on his attaining the age of 24 but my trustees may advance the whole or any part at their option without incurring any responsibility. If the three last named are desirous of continuing my business I wish the whole or any part of the Stock in trade & of the premises to be valued to them at a moderate price & that the amount may remain unpaid for 5 years at (an?) interest of 4 per cent per Annum.

I leave in trust the sum of £6000 to pay the interest or dividends to William Smith Brown & Phoebe Brown for the maintenance & education of Justina Tatham & Duncan John Tatham children of Duncan Dunbar Tatham & to pay the half of the said sum £3000 to the Boy on attaining the age of 21 & to the daughter on attaining that age or being married & in the event of the death of either or both their share to lapse into residue. I leave the sum of One thousand pounds to my Cousin James Hoyes of Lochinver near Elgin, Farmer & the like sum to his Sister Janet Hoyes. I leave the sum of £1000 to my old friend James Brands Allan M.D. I leave the sum of £500 to each of my Godsons. Duncan Dunbar Garden. Duncan Dunbar Shand. Andrew Adams Hoyes. Robert Sutherland. Dunbar Campbell of Sydney. James Dunbar Smith. S William Cosier Son of my friend William Cosier. I leave & bequeath the sum of One thousand pounds to Samuel Gladstone of Sea Cottage Blackwall free of duty. Duncan Dunbar II

I leave & bequeath to John Walter my Sail maker the sum of Five thousand pounds free of duty. I leave to Louis my Man Servant in 50 Porchester Terrace a Frenchman the sum of £150 free of duty should he be in my Service at the time of my death & to each & every man & woman Servant in my said house Five pounds & respectable Mourning. I leave to my Coachman James Child should he be in my employ at the time of my death the sum of £100 free of duty. I leave to Thomas Hardy my Foreman Cooper if in my employ at my death the sum of £100 free of duty. I leave to each Clerk in my Counting house One half years Salary free of duty & to each Workman in my Warehouse 3 months wages. I leave to Christopher Tatham (?) (?) the sum of Two thousand pounds £2000. I leave to Edward Gellatly the sum of £4000 Four thousand pounds. I leave in trust the sum of Two thousand pounds to be equally divided between Lancelot D??? Young & Elizabeth Young at present youngest children of W.O. Young of Porchester Terrace the interest to be appropriated for their education & the principal paid them on attaining the age of 21.

As I know the winding up of my estate will require much time & care I leave the period of the payment of the above legacies entirely to the discretion of my Executors & altho' I have I believe made ample allowance for the loss attending the winding up of such property as I (XXXXX XXX?) I wish in the event of any deficiency that all legacies exceeding £4000 may be diminished pro rata.

I leave to my friend Mr Charles Walton the sum of Five hundred pounds & it is my particular wish & order that he be employed by my Executors as Solicitor to my estate. The residue of my estate I wish divided amongst Margaret Masson and her daughters subject to the aforesaid trust declared in regard to the legacy of £20000 to the children of Helen Abbott to Phoebe Dunbar Dunbar & her children & to my Niece Phoebe Brown & her children in four equal shares & subject to the same trusts as the legacies of £20000 left in former parts of my Will.



To find your way to more files on Merchant Networks topics related either chronologically, or alphabetically by merchant surname, go to the main file of Sitemap.

I declare William Smith Brown of East India Road & Edward Gellatly of Limehouse EXECUTORS to this my last Will & Testament & I give them full power to employ competent Clerks & incur all reasonable expenses. I direct the sum of £2000 to be equally divided between them in addition to former legacies & I give them full power to invest at their discretion or allow to remain as at present invested all my funds in Government & Colonial Government Securities Guaranteed Railway Stock & Debentures East India Bonds & Stock Marine Insurance Shares & Shares in the London Chartered Bank. I declare this to be my last Will & Testament written on eight sheets of foolscap Numbered One to Eight & signed this 19th day of Nov: 1858__D.DUNBAR_-

Signed by the testator Duncan Dunbar as and for his last Will and Testament in the presence of us present at the same time who in his presence at his request and in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as Witnesses thereto C. WALTON 30 Bucklersbury Solr. __ WILLm. WALTON Solr. 30 Bucklersbury __

Resigned by the Testator Duncan Dunbar as & for his last Will & Testament in the presence of us present at the same time also in his presence at his request & in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as Witnesses __ D. DUNBAR 13 July 1859__

Theop. Bernard Marine Insce. Co: 20 Old Broad Street London __

Robert J Lodge Marine Insce. Co 20 Old Broad St. London __

PROVED at London 26th March 1862 by the Oaths of William Smith Brown and Edward Gellatly the Executors to whom Admon [Admin?] was granted.


This directory presents files on merchants working after 1800. Some of these files are on: Plummer and Barham after 1804, Robert Brooks of the Australia Trade, India indigo business, W. S. Lindsay, shipowner, Joseph Somes, shipowner, Norman (bankers), and on Hodson's Lists of notable families of British-India. Lists of international British C19th investment companies , investor names, etc.

Ends this set of information


Arrow graphicReferences other:
Text of talk by Rear-Admiral Duncan Dunbar-Nasmith. Will of Duncan Dunbar II transcribed by Rear Admiral Duncan Dunbar-Nasmith (UK) and Phil Fern (UK). Illustration courtesy of Dunbar-Nasmith and Fern. Material, various, provided by Michael Rhodes (Sydney, Australia, and also of the extended family).

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