John Gordon (1776 – 16 July 1858) was a Scottish soldier, Tory politician and the richest commoner in Scotland. The son of Charles Gordon of Braid and Cluny, Aberdeenshire, and his wife Johanna Trotter, Gordon became a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Aberdeenshire Light Infantry on 2 December 1800. He was then lieutenant in the 7th Company of the 55th Aberdeenshire Militia on 25 April 1804. In 1804 Gordon made a grand tour of Egypt, carving his name on many ancient monuments. He returned home via Gibraltar, where he boarded HMS Victory, which also brought home the mortal remains of Admiral Horatio Nelson. Arriving back in England in December 1805, Gordon became a major on 11 August 1808, lieutenant-colonel on 6 June 1820, then rose to the rank of Honorary Colonel in 1836.[1][a]Colonel Gordon’s father, Charles Gordon of Braid and Cluny (1740–1814), a Principal Clerk of Session and Writer to the Signet, married the Colonel’s mother, Johanna (d. 10 August 1798[2]), the daughter of Thomas Trotter of Mortonhall, in 1775.[3]

QuoteThe scene of wretchedness which we witnessed, as we entered on the estate of Col. Gordon, was deplorable, nay, heart rending. On the beach the whole population of the country seemed to be met, gathering the precious cockles…. I never witnessed such countenances,– starvation on many faces– the children with their melancholy looks, big looking knees, shriveled legs, hollow eyes, swollen-like bellies,– God help them, I never did witness such wretchedness![4]
— Reverend Norman MacLeod, 1847

On the death of his father in 1814, Gordon inherited the family estates including Cluny CastleCluny Castle was originally built in about 1604 as a Z-plan castle replacing either a house or small peel tower. Sited in the parish of Cluny, it is south of Monymusk and north of Sauchen in Aberdeenshire, north-east Scotland. ; he was already a wealthy man as he also succeeded to his uncle’s estate, who had been a merchant in West India.[5] After the British government introduced the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 Gordon received a compensation payment from it of £24,964. His six plantations in the Caribbean island of Tobago had 1383 slaves.[6] Additional properties, including the Scottish islands of North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra, were added to his land portfolio.[5] He was described by the architectural historian Harry Gordon Slade[7] as a “model landlord” to tenants on his Aberdeenshire properties,[8] although he was responsible for the expulsion of tenants in the Highland Clearances from the islands.[9] Tenants from his estates on the Outer Hebrides – about 3000 people – were forced to emigrate to Canada in 1851. The Colonel’s actions are described by modern-day academic James A. Stewart Junior as “one of Scotland’s most brutal clearances” and “particularly brutal”.[10]

Elected as the Member of Parliament for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in 1826, Gordon complained getting elected cost him £40,000. He “abandoned his parliamentary career in disgust” in 1832.[2]

Gordon died a bachelor without legal issue on 16 July 1858,[2] although he had four illegitimate children: John, Charles, Susan and Mary,[11] with his housekeeper.[3] Of his illegitimate children, John Gordon of Cluny, his eldest son, was the only one to outlive him.[8] After several legal challenges, the estate eventually passed to the widow of John Gordon of Cluny, Colonel Gordon’s son, Lady Emily Gordon CathcartHeiress known for her stance against Catholicism and her leading role in the Highland Clearances,[12] who continued sending evictees from her lands to Canada.[9] In The Gentleman’s Magazine the obituary written for Colonel Gordon describes him as “without doubt the richest commoner in Scotland.”[13]

Notes

^a Colonel Gordon’s father, Charles Gordon of Braid and Cluny (1740–1814), a Principal Clerk of Session and Writer to the Signet, married the Colonel’s mother, Johanna (d. 10 August 1798[2]), the daughter of Thomas Trotter of Mortonhall, in 1775.[3]

Citations



Bibliography


Campsie, A. (2016, August 3). The man who rid the Hebrides of thousands of men, women and children. The Scotsman.
De Keersmaecker, R. O. (1998). An Early Scottish Traveller in Egypt. Bulletin of the Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East, 6, 13–15.
Farrell, S. (2009). Gordon, John (c.1776–1858), of Cluny, Aberdeen. History of Parliament. http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/member/gordon-john-1776-1858
Leadbetter, R. (2013, February 28). Secret shame: The Scots who made a fortune from abolition of slavery. The Herald (Glasgow).
Slade, H. G. (1981). Cluny Castle, Aberdeenshire. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 111, 454–492.
Stewart, J. A. (1998). The Jaws of Sheep: The 1851 Hebridean Clearances of Gordon of Cluny. Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, 18/19, 205–226. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20557342
University College London. (n.d.). John Gordon 4th of Cluny. Legacies of British Slave-Ownership Database. http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/1301318774
University of Aberdeen. (2021). Gordon of Cluny: the working life of an Aberdeenshire Castle. https://www.abdn.ac.uk/special-collections/gordon-of-cluny-the-working-life-of-an-aberdeenshire-castle-440.php
University of Aberdeen. (2021). Special collections, Ref: MS 3127. https://calm.abdn.ac.uk/archives/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=MS+3127
Urban, S. (1858, September). Colonel John Gordon, of Cluny. The Gentleman’s Magazine, V, 310–311.