John MacKenzie (of Inverness)

John MacKenzie and Robert Cockburn were both remembered by later Victorians as a special breed of Scottish gentleman merchant, whose commercial wealth enabled them to give full flourishing to the high principles to which they had been bred: warm generosity, impeccable conduct, and social obligation, engaging in public life yet maintaining their integrity. While economic historians may assess whether they were, in financial terms, benevolent or parasitic members of their communities, the beleagured businessmen of the twenty-first century might surely learn from the success of their public relations.

Lived
13 October 1787 - 28 October 1854
Origin
Portmore, Peeblesshire
Father
Alexander MacKenzie
Mother
Anne MacKenzie, daughter of Colin MacKenzie of Kilcoy
Address
The marriage register says he is a merchant in Leith, living in St Andrew's parish. In Inverness he lived at Ness House, in 1885 'long since levelled to the ground' (2 p.78), probably soon after his death. It can be seen on contemporary maps (see below) with extensive grounds on the west bank of the river, but it was demolished shortly after his death and appears to be almost forgotten.
Political views
Whig/ liberal, unlike his brother Colin
Religious views
Isabel Anderson described John MacKenzie in church, opposite William Fraser Tytler:
In most of the Presbyterian churches in Inverness nearly all the members of the congregation can feel that their parents worshipped there before them... But in St John's [Episcopal chapel] who can now feel thus? ... And yet there are Invernessians scattered all over the globe who can vivdly recall the days when the stately form of "Banker John", the acknowledged prince of Inverness society, stepped regularly every Sunday into the Ness House pew in the front gallery (2 p.108)
Profession
In the marriage register he is described as 'Merchant in Leith'. His chief career was agent for the Bank of Scotland in Inverness, although his profession eventually conflicted with his political interests. Alexander Blair, appointed Treasurer of the Bank of Scotland in 1832, was rigorous in de-politicising the bank's business. The Directors agreed that local political advantage was no longer a prime consideration in dealing with agents: there was a new climate following the collapse of the old municipal interest in Scotland after the burgh reform Act of 1833. John MacKenzie was the first victim of Blair's policy:
As early as 1833, Alexander Blair felt confident enough to discipline agents who openly espoused political interests. John MacKenzie, the Provost and Agent at Inverness, was criticised in the press and was told either to desist or to retire from service. He was a relatively successful agent: by 1843 his losses on bills averaged only 8s 6d per cent. (3)
Story
John MacKenzie was remembered by Isabel Harriet Anderson:
In those days, when everyone was more or less hospitable, and the fine-looking courtly bankers, for which Inverness was at that time noted, vied with each other in keeping open house, there was no-one who dispensed hospitality with a more lavish hand, no one who was more generous to all who needed help, than Mr MacKenzie, Ness House (Agent for the Bank of Scotland). Not only did his birth and connections, his singular aristocratic appearance, and exquisite courtesy secure for him the undisputed precedence, but he was about the last to maintain in Inverness the manners and customs of a former generation, and was even in those days cnsidered the beau ideal of a Highland gentleman of the olden time. Visitors came to Ness House as freely as they would come to an hotel. Invitations were not needed, for an equally hearty welcome awaited every guest, whether invited or uninvited. on the sideboard in the dining-room, refreshments stood ready from morning to night for all comers, whilst a quaintly-shaped whisky bottle, with which "to speed each parting guest," was a fixture on the entrance-hall table. Any person of note who visited INverness, was sure to bring a letter of introduction to Mr MacKenzie, and then dinners, drives and picnics to Foyers and Kilmorack and the various beautiful places around, were sure to follow. Hospitality was, however, the least distinguishing trait of a noble character. His fine, free, forgiving nature, is not forgotten to this day, especially in Kintail, where his granduncle, General MacKenzie Fraser, and Lord Seaforth, raised, at their own expense, the gallant 78th Highlanders; and his own faith in the Highlanders and strong feelings of clanship, made him launch in the world with disinterested generosity many who thus advanced to fortune through his means.
      Mr MacKenzie was unanimously elected the first Provost of Inverness after the first Reform Bill had passed, and on retiring from office, his townsmen presented him with a very valuable piece of plate, whilst they urged him to permit them to return him to Parliament; but he was too rooted to his life in the Highlands to leave them -- even refusing the appointment of Governor of the Mauritius (very lucrative in those days), which was offered in recognition of his efforts in the Liberal cause.
      When Mr MacKenzie died suddenly in 1854, his funeral was the greatest that had been known for many years. The tenants of the Flowerburn estate (of which he had undertaken the management at the dying request of his great friend, the grandfather of the present Laird), erected a handsome marble tablet to his memory in the Cathedral of Fortrose. (2)
Chapel connection
1817 (wedding)
Married on
4 December 1817
Spouse
Mary Pierson
Children
Joseph Lowe (1797-1866) wrote a dance tune, 'Miss MacKenzie of Ness House', presumably for his daughter.
Related to
Colin MacKenzie and William MacKenzie, brothers.

Ness House on the
Ordinance Survey
first edition, 1875

Sources

  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Isabel Harriet Anderson, Inverness before Railways (A and W MacKenzie, Inverness, 1885) p.9-10
  3. Richard Saville, Bank of Scotland, A History (Edinburgh University Press, 1996) p.306

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