William Arbuthnot

William was brought up in poverty in north-east Scotland, but whereas his brother George went to India to seek a fortune, William came to Edinburgh and worked steadily at one of very few professions which could be described 'civil servant': Secretary to the Trustees for Fisheries and Manufactures. Every year, large sections of the newspapers were taken up with his complex notices about subsidies for linen etc. His hard work and political loyalty paid off when he was made Lord Provost several times, notably when George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822. He was known for congeniality, nicknamed 'Dickie Gossip', and gave strong support to Edinburgh's civic and charitable projects. His will has one of the most pious preambles of any in this group, which is the more striking as he died much earlier than many of his generation, when religion was supposedly less fashionable than under Queen Victoria.

Robert Arbuthnot, businessman whose firm failed the year George was born, in an epidemic of bank failures. (4 p.331)
Mary Urquhart. She had to bring him up in poverty. George remembered, 'I have heard my dear and excellent Mother say that so limited were the Means of the family at that period, and so uncheering the view before her, that she would have considered herself happy and fortunate if she could have been assure of an Income of £200 a year.' (4 p.331)
16 Charlotte Square
Political views
Religious views
He has an unusually pious preamble to his will: 'I most humbly recommend my soul to the mercy of Almighty God the first great author of my being, earnestly imploring his forgiveness of the manifold transgressions of which I have been guilty in the course of my life.'
Secretary to the Trustees for Fisheries and Manufactures. Lord Provost of Edinburgh 1815-1817 and 1822
Wealth at death
£30-35000 (but he didn't own a country estate)
Assessed taxes 1811
His house had 25 windows and rental value of £110. 2 male servants, 1 two-wheeled carriage, 1 horse, 1 dog, and armorial bearings.
William was Provost in 1822 when the King visited Edinburgh. At the dinner the King proposed the health of Sir William Arbuthnot, Baronet -- and so created him one. He was described thus in 'Memoirs of a Highland Lady': 'a little man of good family, highly connected in the mercantile world, married to an Inverness Alves, and much liked... He was a kind hospitable... The name amongst us for Sir William Arbuthnot was Dicky Gossip, and richly he deserved it, for he knew all that was doing everywhere to everybody, all that was pleasant to know: a bit of ill-nature or a bit of ill news he never uttered. After a visit from him and his exellent wife -- they were fond of going about together -- a deal of what was going on seemed to have suddenly enlightened their listeners, and most agreeably. A tale of scandal never spread from them, nor yet a sarcasm. They, from their situation, saw a great deal of company, and no parties could be pleasanter than those they gave.' (quoted in 5 p.307-9). He died suddenly in 1829. His brother described his funeral: 'Soon after 2 o'clock, the funeral took place... The service was read in St John's Chapel, by the venerable Bishop Sandford, and the last part of it at the Grave, by Mr Ramsay [ Edward Bannerman Ramsay]. We laid the Remains of my dear Brother in the Vault of his Family, near the Grave of our Mother. I could not help experiencing some painful sensations when the Grave was filled up, the soil thrown in being chiefly stones, some of them large, which rebouded ag[ains]t the coffin.' (5 p.363)
Chapel connection
1811 (baptism). Trustee of St John's Chapel. Owned burial vault no.1
Married on
13 Sept 1800
Anne Alves
Robert (1801), John (1802), George (1803) of Mavisbank, Archibald (1805), Helen (1805), William (1807), James (1809), Henry (1811), Elizabeth (1819), Anne (1822)
Related to
Margaret Urquhart, a relation of his mother's. William's son George inherited the estate and name of her husband, George Clerk of Mavisbank.
He bore office in the Society of Scottish Antiquities with Alexander Keith (1812); the Nelson Monument project with William Forbes and James Clerk (1814); and the Edinburgh Musical Festival with Clerk, Forbes, Archibald Campbell, Daniel Sandford, Walter Scott and John Cay (1816).




Arms of Arbuthnot
of Edinburgh


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Gazetteer of the British Isles (Edinburgh: Bartholomew and son, 1966)
  4. Assessed taxes for the Burgh of Edinburgh year ending at Whitsunday 1811, NAS E327/51
  5. P. Arbuthnot, Memories of the Arbuthnots of Kincardineshire and Aberdeenshire (London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd 1920)
  6. Inventory and Will NAS SC70/1/41/229

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