Elizabeth MacDowall

The two young Edinburgh lawyers who married Elizabeth and her sister Isabella MacDowall were not fortune-hunters, for the family fortune had been lost in the accidents of war and trade. But they were Whigs, and the story of how their father, grandfather and brother had built a fortune through enterprise, improvement and industry might well have been an example they admired. The ideology of the Edinburgh Whig wife, glimpsed here through wills, would make an interesting study.

Garthland, Renfrewshire
William MacDowall of Garthland, 18th of Garthland and 2nd of Castle Semple. Their ancestor was knighted in 1308 for the capture of Thomas and Alexander Bruce. The 1st William MacDowall of Castle Semple bought the estate from the impecunious 11th Lord Sempill in 1727. MacDowall had made a fortune in Jamaican sugar plantations and had also married a sugar heiress. As well as owning several hundred slaves he participated in the transportation and sale of Africans. He was 'probably the richest commoner in Scotland during the mid-18th century'. MacDowall laid out formal gardens and fishponds, and had plans for draining Lochwinnoch, for whose perceived economic benefits he had choen the estate. The original tower-house was demolished and replace with a modern Palladian mansion. He seems to have been shocked that he could not control his tenants as he had controlled his slaves in Jamaica. His son, the second William MacDowall, pursued vigorous agricultural improvements, draining lan to expose an additional 250 acres, and increasing rent revenues considerably. He planted trees, dug ponds, and built a hothouse in 1776. His son 3rd William MacDowall's partnerships with other local landwners and entrepreneurs began the industrialisation of Renfrewshire through major water-powered industries. However, the family's fortune was lost by the 1790s as the result of a slave revolt and the impact of the American and French wars. William had to sell the estate: his brother Day undertook to buy it back in 1806, but, in 1809, finding he was unable to meet the repayment date, he drowned himself in one of the fishponds. (3)
Elizabeth Graham 'Black Bess' (d.1803) daugter of James Graham 1st of Airth and Judge Admiral of Scotland.
3 Charlotte Square
Elizabeth only outlived her husband by three years. Her will, like that of her sister Isabella, is all about family ties and the meaning of objects; yet she also has a self-critical fear that these are the silly beliefs of a doting old woman. She is also bothered by the practical worry that her unmarried daughter will be left in poverty. The result is an impression of a confused yet intelligent old lady:
I have little or nothing to leave but when I think how very little there will be for my dear Jane I think it right and proper to make her as comfortable as it is in my power. Much do I owe to her for her kind dutiful neverwearying [sic] affection and love to me ... I think Jane should sort all the silver and a nice small set and give any thing that is over to Archd. Wm. Henry Day or the next of my sons ... And may God bless you all ... Blue china jars are Jane's the hexagons I wish Graham to have Oh how I love you all the presentation books I think should be Archie's and his father's watch. Written by my hand...
Then there is a codicil:
My dearest Jane my first wish and desire is that you may be made comfortable as the smal means I leave to you will scarcely do so, but I feel sure your brothers will always feel it their duty and a privilege to do all in their power to assist you. You know I am old and antiquated in my ideas and love old trash as you all think better than even grand things. Give to Mr Horner's family the head of Frank Horner [Leonard Horner's brother], Edward's Black pictures are in Johanna's possession but I do not think she really cares for them if she really loves them let her keep them or divide them. Your father's the best likeness I ever saw should be Archie's, Rutherfords and Tom Erskine's Jane's, also dear Lord Jeffrey's, my father's presentation sword should be Archie's... The white china figures are dearly loved and prized by me and many are old china plate such as the one with the cock I got from dear Rutherford at first I had ten but one I think was broken the two open china baskets were Castlesemple's long long ago. This is all. Ever yr affec. Mother
Chapel connection
1812 (baptism)
Married on
Henry Cockburn
Margaret Day (1812), Jane (1813) Archibald William (1814), James Macdowall (1816), Graham (1817), George Ferguson (1818)
Related to
Isabella MacDowall


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. South Renfrewshire Access Network Initiative, Conservation Statement and Managemnt Proposals (Land Use Consultants, Glasgow, 2008) p.12-19 Online accessed 8 August 2011
  4. Elizabeth MacDowall's will, National Library of Scotland

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