Thomas Robertson

Thomas Robertson was a leading figure in Charlotte Chapel congregation with close personal ties to the minister of St Cuthbert's Presbyterian Church next door. He was the son of a Writer to the Signet from a minor gentry family, who had made his fortune in trade as a Captain in the East India Company fleet. His biography elegantly embodies Charlotte Chapel's Enlightenment vision of a flourishing society: freed from the shackles of both bigotry and poverty, yet still ordered and rooted.

- 16 January 1822
James Robertson Barclay of Keavil, WS, son of George Robertson of Craigarnhall.
Isobel Wellwood, daughter of Robert Wellwood of Garvock.
From 1814 to 1820 he lived at 99 George Street. At the meeting of St John's Vestry on 7 July 1820, John Cay 'stated that Captain Robertson, having gone to reside for some time in England, had resigned the office of a vestryman, and that it therefore became necessary to elect a successor.' (3) This was probably for the health of his 21-year-old daughter Isabella, who died at Hastings on 21 November (4). He stayed in London, and died 'at his lodgings in Vere-street, Cavendish-square'. (5)
He lived for a time at Cramond House (see picture below), perhaps after his retirement. His will was amended there to reflect his increased wealth since he first made it in 1802: originally he had added £150 to the annuity his wife was due in their marriage settlement; now he added a further £100 to give her an income of £500 a year (15). A Game Duty record shows he still lived there in 1809 (9), although he appears to have given it up subsequently: he was latterly simply styled 'of George Street'.
Captain in the East India Company Naval Service. In 1781 a Thomas Robertson, 'late Third Mate of the Ship Valentine was 'restored to the Company's service' (10). It is not clear what had interrupted his service; but working up through increasingly high-ranking mates was the usual route to a command (11 p.24). In 1788 he was appointed to command the Bushbridge to 'Coast and Bay' (the coast of Coromandel and Bay of Bengal). From at least 1798 to 1805 he sailed the ship Cirencester on voyages to China, Bombay, St Helena, Madras and Bencoolen (Bengkulu), a garrison and pepper-trading centre in Indonesia (6, 7, 8).
      In 1793 the fleet had 36 ships of the 1,200 ton class and 40 of the 800, and remained of similar size during his career as the Company was restricted from deflecting resources away from the war effort. Robertson's ship, Cirencester, built in 1794 to replace a lost ship, was rated at 1,200 tons, but its actual size was 1,504 tons: in 1813 only Royal Charlotte, Walmer Castle and Lowther Castle were larger. (11 p.47)
      A commander's uniform consisted of a blue coat, with black velvet lapels, cuffs and collar, deep buff waistcoat and breeches, gold embroidery, and yellow metal buttons with the company's crest. In 1813 his pay was £10 a month, but the real benefit was in private opportunities for trade. A commander was allocated around 50 tons cargo space for his own use, and £8,000 - £10,000 profits could be made on a single voyage. On the 'double voyages' to both India and China which Cirencester habitually made, profits could be up to £30,000 (over a million pounds today, in terms of a retail price index comparison: twenty times that in terms of average earnings (12))
Religious Views
Thomas Robertson's appointment to the first vestry of St John's is significant as he was closely connected to the Minister of St Cuthbert's, Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood. They were first cousins (Thomas' mother was Sir Harry's aunt), brothers-in-law (Sir Harry had married Thomas' sister Susan), and did business together (Sir Harry was an executor of Thomas' will, and at his death owed him £528). It seems likely that this was a deliberate appointment to strengthen friendly links between Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches in the West End. Daniel Sandford told the clergy of Edinburgh,
With regard to those who conscientiously differ from us, the laws which are to regulate our conduct are clear and plain. 'We judge no man; seeing that every man standeth or falleth to his own master'. With regard, especially, to our Christian brethren of the Established Church, it is our duty to avoid, if it be possible, giving offence to any; to repay the tranquillity which we enjoy, by a mild and charitable deportment; to show that we do not consider difference of opinion in religious matters as any apology for acrimony or violence (13)
The joint social projects in which Sandford engaged with his Presbyterian neighbours shows that this was an active tolerance. It was a very different attitude to that of some Episcopalians such as his younger colleague James Walker, whose 'charity towards all men' involves a dogmatic attitude to faith, and thinly-veiled scorn:
To be well disposed, and candid, and charitable towards all men, is certainly the duty of every Christian; but the spirit of indifference which is recommended along with this, and which is very slightly concealed under a fair name, is equally contrary to the spirit and precepts of the Gospel and to the nature and powers of man. If, indeed, it were just, why not extend it a little father, and include Jews, Turks, and Infidels? But Christianity is an exclusive religion, and he who professes it, denies the truth of any other... What the Established Church of Scotland may have to fear from the numerous sects which have separated, and which daily separate from her, it becomes not us to judge; but from us, who never separated from, because we never belonged to her, most certainly she has nothing to fear. (14)
Thomas was replaced on the vestry by a connection of Margaret Hope, Major General John Hope. It is possible that this was intended to continue what would now be termed the 'ecumenical link' on the vestry, as one branch of the Hope family was of importance in St Andrew's Presbyterian Church on George Street.
Wealth at death
Around £11,200 in Scotland, as well as a house in George Street and 'land in Perthshire'. (15)
Chapel connection
Member of St John's first vestry
Married on
His marriage contract was made 22 March 1791
Elizabeth Robertson
James (eldest, d.1817 near Exeter), Anne Mary (eldest, m.1825 at Llangollen, Thomas M Griffith of Wrexham), Isabella Elizabeth (second, d.Hastings, 1820), Maria Love (youngest, m.1839 Rev T. Burnett Stuart, fellow of Trinity College Cambridge)

Cramond House


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Minutes of St John the Evangelist from 1814, National Archives of Scotland CH12/3/3 p. 10.
  4. Aberdeen Journal 23 December 1801, 4 January 1804, 6 December 1820.
  5. Morning Chronicle 23 January 1822.
  6. 'Bengkulu' in Wikipedia (accessed 21 November 2011)
  7. Oracle 12 May 1798, 11 October 1800
  8. Morning Post 29 April 1801, 13 June 1801, 19 November 1801, 28 January 1802, 7 October 1805
  9. Caledonian Mercury 2 October 1809
  10. Public Advertiser 27 September 1781
  11. Evan Cotton, East Indiamen: The East India Company's Maritime Service (London: The Batchworth Press, 1949)
  12. Measuring Worth website, accessed 23 November 2011
  13. Daniel Sandford, Charge, delivered to the Clergy of the Episcopal Communion of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, Manners and Miller, 1807) p.14
  14. James Walker, The condition and duties of a Tolerated Church: a sermon, preaached ... at the consecration of the Right Rev Daniel Sandford (Edinburgh, S. Cheyne, 1806) p.42, 48
  15. Thomas Robertson's Inventory and Will, National Archives of Scotland SC70/1/27/429

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