Robert Downie

Brought up a poor Presbyterian, Robert Downie went into business in Calcutta and returned a wealthy Episcopalian. He was an important collaborator in the construction of St John's Church, although he retained deep affection for the kirk of his youth. From rural roots he became strongly involved in urban projects, responsible not only for a church but also for a street in Edinburgh, and was the chair of the committee which caused the Union Canal to be built.

10 June 1771 - 10 September 1841
Spittleton, Menteith and Calcutta. His family arrived in Edinburgh from Calcutta in 1812 (5)
Robert Downie, farmer and distiller in Spittleton, Monteith, Perthshire
Margaret Morison, of Spittleton, Perthshire, daughter of Duncan Morison and Mary Mitchell, probably born in Kippen, Stirlingshire in 1749.
From 1813 he lived at 20 Charlotte Square
Appin, previously owned by the Marquis of Tweeddale, and purchased between 1815 and 1819.
Religious views
Along with Locheil, Appin was the main centre of Gaelic episcopalianism well into the 19thC. (3 p.78) In the report of the Commissioners of Religious Instruction in 1838, the Presbyterian minister of Appin said of him, 'I do not think that there is a parish in Scotland in which the Episcopalian heritors deserve at the hands of the Establishment more honourable mention'. (3 p.97) It seems Downie was brought up a Presbyterian: in 1815 he 'presented to the congregation of Norriestown, an elegant service of four silver communion cups, as a tribute of the regard for that religious establishment, which he attended in his youth.' (6) He perhaps became accustomed to Episcopal worship in India, but evidently retained great affection for the Church of Scotland. He was an important investor in St John's chapel, owning ten shares at his death (7).
Partner in Downie and Maitland, Agents, of Calcutta. This company later metamorphosed into Cruttenden, Mackillop and Co (10). 'Houses of agency' were founded in Calcutta from around 1784: they financed ships and plantations, ran banks and insurance, and arranged cargoes and remittances. Private trade in Bengal almost certainly eclipsed that of the Company by 1800 (11). MP for Stirling Burghs 1820-1830.
Wealth at death
considerable, including land, shares in four railway companies, Edinburgh Gas Company, East India Company, Canada Company, and Union Canal Company (7).
He played an important part in the development of the Union Canal. He chaired the committee which promoted the Union line, which was ultimately built despite fierce opposition from the City Council who supported an alternative 'Upper line'. At his death he had £3,000 of stock in the Union Canal, and he gave his name to the street (Downie Place, now a part of Lothian Road including Ali's Cave, Timpson's and the decorated Lloyd's bank building) which looked onto the final port in the canal, Port Hopetoun, which came in under a bridge over Semple Street and filled the area between Semple Street and Lothian Road. (8) The offices of the Canal company were at 8 Downie Place. (7)
Chapel connection
Member of first vestry of St John's.
Married on
8 October 1804, Calcutta
Mary Smith
Mary (1805-1813), George (1810-1811), Rose (1813-1842. She was baptised by George Gleig, Bishop of Brechin, and buried in St John's), Robert (1814-1843), Georgina Frances (1807-1881 inherited Appin), Roberta Harriet, (1808-1857), Marion Agatha (m.1827 James Mcalpine-Leny of Dalswinton d.1881). He also had a natural daughter, Margaret Downie or Carter (7)
In November 1814 Alexander Hamilton chaired a meeting of the subscribers to the Union Line of the Canal, a meeting which Downie convened when it met in June 1815. (9)


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Rowan Strong, Episcopalianism in nineteenth-century Scotland (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002)
  4. Peter Beauclerk Dewar, Burke's Landed Gentry of Great Britain: The Kingdom in Scotland 19th edition (Burke's Peerage and Gentry, London 2001) p.316
  5. Caledonian Mercury, 8 August 1812 p.3
  6. Caledonian Mercury, 7 September 1815 p.3
  7. Robert Downie's Inventory and Will National Archives of Scotland SC51/32/4/425
  8. Robert Stevenson and Son, The City of Edinburgh (W and A.K. Johnstone, Edinburgh, 1837), online accessed 7 June 2010
  9. Caledonian Mercury 19 November 1814 p.3 and 19 June 1815 p.1
  10. Amales Tripathi, Trade and Finance in the Bengal Presidency, 1793-1833 (Oxford University Press, Calcutta, 1979) p.121
  11. P.J.Marshall, 'The Bengal Commercial Society of 1775: Private British Trade in the Warren Hastings Period' in Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, vol. 42 no.106 (November 1969) pp.173-187

I am grateful to the historians of the Downie family for their contributions and corrections to this page.

Back to index