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Significant Scots
Patrick Colquhoun


Patrick Colquhoun COLQUHOUN, PATRICK, a writer on statistics and criminal jurisprudence, was born at Dumbarton, March 14, 1745. His father, who acted as Registrar of the county Records, was nearly allied to Sir Robert Colquhoun, Bart. of Nova Scotia, and also to Sir James Colquhoun of Luss. Having lost his father ere he attained his sixteenth year, Patrick Colquhoun determined, like many others of his countrymen, to seek his fortune abroad. He settled on what was called the Eastern Shore, in Virginia, where for five years he carried on commercial pursuits. It was the general custom of the inhabitants of this district to cross the Chesapeake Bay twice a year, in order to transact business at the seat of government; and such were the qualifications for public business manifested even at this early period by Mr Colquhoun, that many were in the habit of trusting their concerns to him, instead of going to the general mart in person. Besides carrying on these trading speculations, he studied very hard at this period, and endeavoured, both by reading intelligent books, and conversing with intelligent men, particularly of the legal profession, to fit himself for public duties. In 1766, when twenty-one years of age, he returned to his own country for the sake of his health, and settled as a merchant in Glasgow, where he soon after married a lady of his own name, the daughter of the provost of Dumbarton. On the breaking out of the war with the colonies, Mr Colquhoun’s sympathies leant to the side of the government, and, in 1776, he was one of fourteen principal contributors to a fund for raising a regiment in Glasgow, for his majesty’s service in that struggle. By this and other means he became a person of some consideration in the eyes of the government, and succeeded, in 1780, in carrying through parliament a bill of great consequence to the trade of that country. In 1781, when occupying a place in the town-council of Glasgow, he suggested and carried forward to completion the design for building the coffee-house and exchange, in that city. Next year, he was elected provost of Glasgow. He now became the founder of that excellent institution, the chamber of Commerce and Manufacturing at Glasgow, of which he was the first chairman. While holding these distinguished offices, he was also chairman of the committee of management of the Forth and Clyde canal, and the leading manager of various other public bodies. A genius for business on a large scale was conspicuous in all his undertakings. In 1785, he repaired to London to obtain legislative relief for the cotton trade, then in a languishing condition, and for some years afterwards he devoted a large portion of his time to similar objects. In 1788, he visited Ostend, then a depot for East India goods, to ascertain how far similar British manufactures could enter into competition with the imports of the Flemings; and it was owing to his exertions that our muslins, then an infant manufacture, became so extensively known throughout the continent. Connected with this subject he published three pamphlets, which tended to make his efforts known to the British merchants. In the same year, Mr Colquhoun laid the plan of a general hall in London for the sale of cottons, which, however, was rendered of little effect by the breaking out of the war with France. On this subject he also published a pamphlet. In the month of November 1789, he settled with his family in London, and soon after began to project those improvements in the London police and magistracy, by which he earned the principal part of his fame. The police of London was at this time in a state of shameful inefficiency, while the magistrates, excepting in the cityitself, were a set of low mercenary individuals, known by the justly opprobrious title of "trading justices." On this subject Mr Colquhoun composed several popular treatises, and in 1792, when seven public offices were established, with three justices to each, he was appointed to one of them, through the influence of his friend Mr Henry Dundas, afterwards viscount Melville. His exertions as a magistrate were of a nature truly useful; and he published the result of his experience in 1796, under the title of "A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, explaining the various Crimes and Misdemeanours which at present are felt, as a Pressure on the Community, and suggesting Remedies." This work earned a merited reputation, and went through a large annual reprint for the five succeeding years. It obtained the praise of the select committee of finance, and particular marks ofapprobation from the duke of Portland, then secretary of state for the home department. He was, in consequence of this work, appointed agent in Great Britain for the colony of the Virgin Isles. In 1800, appeared his treatise on the Police of the River Thames, a work certainly demanded in no small degree by the circumstances. Though it may hereafter appear almost incredible, it is nevertheless true, that the shipping of London, previous to this period, was totally unprotected from the vast hordes of thieves which always exist in a large city. While property on the banks of the river was so far protected, that which floated on the river itself had no protection whatever. Accordingly, a generation of thieves called mudlarks, prowled constantly about the vessels, and made prey annually of property to a vast amount. Not only did the cargoes suffer, but even sails, anchors, and other such bulky articles, were abstracted by these daring depredators. For many years this had been felt as a grievous hardship, but it is amazing how long an evil may be tolerated for which no remedy has been provided by the necessities of our ancestors. It was looked upon as a matter of course, a mischief incident to the situation of things; and as each individual only suffered his share of the immense amount of loss, there had been no general effort at a reformation. Mr Colquhoun’s work, however, effectually roused public attention to the subject, and an effective river police was immediately instituted, by which the shipping has been ever since fully protected. For his services on this occasion, the West India merchants presented him with the sum of five hundred pounds.

Although Mr Colquhoun bore externally a somewhat pompous and domineering aspect, and was certainly a zealous advocate for keeping the people in due subjection to the powers above them, there never, perhaps, was a heart more alive than his to the domestic interests of the poor, or a mind more actively bent upon improving both their physical and moral condition. He was one of the first men in this country who promoted a system of feeding the poor, in times of severe distress, by cheap and wholesome soups. And, in the famine of 1800, few men were more active in behalf of the starving population. He also took an early interest in the system of charity schools, being of opinion, that the true way of improving the condition of the people, was to enlighten their minds. In 1803, he was instrumental in founding a school in Orchard street, Westminster, in which three or four hundred children of both sexes were taught the rudiments of human knowledge. He also published, in 1806, a work entitled, "A New System of Education for the Labouring People," which obtained an extensive circulation. Two years afterwards, appeared his "Treatise on Indigence," in which the institution of a provident bank is strongly urged.

In 1797, Mr Colquhoun was honoured with the degree of LL.D., by the university of Glasgow, in consequence of his services in that part of the kingdom. Throughout the course of his long and useful life, he received many other testimonies of the public approbation. His last work appeared in 1814 under the title, "A Treatise on the Population, Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire, in every quarter of the world, including the East Indies." Dr Colquhoun’s publications in all amount to twenty; and of these an accurate list is given in the Annual Obituary for 1812. After having been concerned in public life for about thirty-nine years, during which he had transacted business with eight or ten successive administrations, in 1817 he tendered his resignation as a magistrate, in consequence of his increasing years and infirmities: this, however, was not accepted by lord Sidmouth, until the subsequent year, when the secretary of state for the home department expressed the high sense entertained of his long and faithful services by his majesty’s government. Dr Colquhoun died of a schirrous stomach, April 25, 1820, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.

The character of Dr Colquhoun has been thus drawn by Dr Lettsom: "When the importance of the morals of the community, with its influence on individual as well as general happiness is duly considered, one cannot but contemplate a public character, who, with unceasing exertion, endeavours to promote every virtuous and charitable sentiment, with gratitude and reverence; a magistrate clothed with power to enforce obedience, but possessing benevolence more coercive than power; who is eminently vigilant to arrest in its progress every species of vice, and commiserates, as a man humanized by Christian amenities, every deviation from rectitude, and reforms while he pities—such is a being clothed with robes of divinity, in this point of view, I, indeed, saw my friend, Patrick Colquhoun, Esq., whose exertions point to every direction where morals require correction, or poverty and distress the aid of active benevolence. As an indefatigable magistrate, and an able writer in general, Mr Colquhoun is well known throughout Europe. I introduce him in this place, as the founder and promoter of various institutions for supplying the poor, in distress, with cheap and nutritious articles of food, to an extent truly astonishing, and without which famine must have been superadded to poverty. The enumeration alone of my friend’s publications must evince the activity of his benevolence, with which his time and fortune have ever kept pace. May the reader endeavour to emulate his virtues! He will then not only diffuse happiness among the community, particularly the lower classes, but ensure the supreme enjoyment of it in his individual capacity."


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