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Sir James Montgomery of Stanhope, Lord Chief Baron of Exchequer


Lord Chief Baron Montgomery was the second and youngest son of William Montgomery, Esq., of Macbiehill, Tweeddale, and was born in 1721. This gentleman was a devoted agriculturist at a period when that useful branch of knowledge was too little attended to in this country. He had the merit of introducing an early species of pease and of oats, which were named after his estate of Macbiehill; but the latter has for these last forty years been more generally known as the "red oat." So early as 1745, he cultivated potatoes to the extent of several acres annually; but the land so cultivated was uniformly sown down with bere and artificial grasses. He sold his potatoes by the Tweed-dale oat-firlot streaked, at 10s. per boll—an amazingly high sum at that period.

Sir James, being educated for the law, became a member of the Faculty of Advocates soon after he had attained his majority. His talents were by no means of the highest order; yet, by judicious mental cultivation—by throwing aside all ingenious subtleties, and boldly grasping at the solid practical view of every question, he in time acquired the character of a sound lawyer.

In 1748, when the Scottish heritable jurisdictions were finally abolished Sir James was one of the first sheriffs appointed by the Crown. He obtained the sheriffdom of Tweeddale, his native county; and it may be noticed that he was the last survivor of all those appointed at the same period. His conduct as a judge in his situation—the more irksome from its being the first of a new order of things—proved so highly satisfactory, that in 1764, he was promoted to the office of Solicitor-General for Scotland, and elected to represent his native county in the British Parliament. A few years after, he was still farther honoured by the appointment of Lord Advocate; and in 1777, on the death of Lord Chief Baron Ord, he was appointed Lord Chief Baron of his Majesty's Court of Exchequer. He was the first .Scotsman who held this office since the establishment of the Court in 1707. This situation he held until 1801, when he found it necessary to retire from public business. The title of Barouet was then conferred upon him (July 16, 1801), as a mark of royal esteem for his long and faithful services.

Sir James, like his father, had early formed a just estimate of the importance of agriculture as a study; and, even amid the laborious duties of his official appointments, was enthusiastic in its pursuits. On his farm of Wester-Deans, in the parish of Newlands, he had turnips in drills, dressed by a regular process of horse-hoeing, so early as 1757 ; and he was amongst the first, if not the very first, in Scotland who introduced the light horse-plough, instead of the old cumbrous machine, which, on the most favourable soil, required four horses and a driver to manage them.

For the purpose of enlarging his practical knowledge, Sir James travelled over the most fertile counties of England, and embraced every opportunity which could possibly tend to aid him in promoting his patriotic design of improving the agriculture of his native country. The means of reclaiming waste lands in particular occupied a large share of his attention. His first purchase was a portion of land, remarkable for its unimproveable appearance, lying upon the upper extremities of the parishes of Newlands and Eddlestone. This small estate, selected apparently for the purpose of demonstrating the practicability of a favourite theory, obtained the designation of the "Whim," a name which it has since retained. He also rented, under a long lease, a considerable range of contiguous ground from Lord Portmore. Upon these rude lands, which consisted chiefly of a deep moss soil, Sir James set to work, and speedily proved what could be accomplished by capital, ingenuity, and industry. Iu a few years the " Whim" became one of the most fertile spots in that part of the country.

His next purchase was the extensive estate of Stanhope, lying in the parishes of Stobo, Drummelrier, and Tweedsmuir, and consisting principally of mountainous sheep walks. Here, too, he effected great improvements, by erecting enclosures, where serviceable—planting numerous belts of young trees—and building comfortable tenements, and other premises, for his tenantry, to whom he afforded every inducement to lay out capital, by granting long leases, and otherwise securing to them the prospect of reaping the reward of their industry. To such management as this the extraordinary agricultural advancement of Scotland, during the last half-century, is mainly owing—an advancement which the present tenant-at-will system (extensively prevalent in certain districts of the country) threatens seriously to impede, if not thoroughly to counteract. Sir James also possessed the estate of Killeen in Stirlingshire, which he obtained by marriage.

On attaining the dignity of Chief Baron, Sir James found himself in possession of more leisure than he could previously command; but this relaxation from official duties only tended to increase his labours iu the cause of public improvement. He was one of the most useful members of the Board of Trustees for the encouragement of arts, manufactures and commerce in Scotland; and it may be observed with truth that a great portion of the business of the Board latterly devolved upon him. His extreme kindliness of disposition, readiness of access, and the universal estimation in which he was held, led him into a multiplicity of gratuitous, but not the less salutary or important labour. In the arrangement of private affairs among his neighbours, and in becoming the honoured arbiter in matters of dispute, he was so frequently engaged as materially to interfere with his own convenience ; but whether to persons of his own rank, or to the poor, his opinions were equally and always open.

Sir James died in April 1803. He married Margaret, daughter and heiress of Robert Scott of Killeen, county Stirling, who survived him, and lived till the 17th of February 1806. His eldest son, Colonel William Montgomery, died a few years before him. His second son, Sir James, inherited the title and estates, and was some time Lord Advocate and Member for the county of Tweeddale. His third son, Archibald, went to the East Indies; and his fourth son, Robert, was an English barrister. His eldest daughter was married to Robert Nutter, Esquire, of Kailzie—the Youngest, to Major Hart of the East India Service. The second daughter remained unmarried.

"Sir James," says a biographical notice written immediately after his death, "was in stature a little taller than the middle size, of a remarkably slender make; his air, though not undignified, had more in it of winning grace than of overawing command. His appearance in his old age was particularly interesting; his complexion clear and cloudless; his manner serene and cheerful. Two pictures of him are preserved, for which he sat when above eighty years old; one at Stobbs House, the other at Kailzie. Sir James at one time lived in the third part of the Bishop's laud, formerly occupied by Lord President Dundas. He subsequently removed to Queensberry House, situated near the foot of the Canongate, the use of which he gratuitously obtained from Duke William.


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