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Significant Scots
George Drummond


DRUMMOND, GEORGE, provost of Edinburgh, was born on the 27th of June, 1687. He was the son of George Drummond of Newton, a branch of the noble family of Perth; and was educated at the schools of Edinburgh, where he early displayed superior abilities, particularly in the science of calculation, for which he had a natural predilection, and in which he acquired an almost unequalled proficiency. Nor was this attainment long of being called into use, and that on a very momentous occasion; for, when only eighteen years of age, he was requested by the committee of the Scottish parliament, appointed to examine and settle the national accounts, preparatory to the legislative union of the two kingdoms, to afford his assistance; and it is generally believed that most of the calculations were made by him. So great was the satisfaction which he gave on that occasion to those at the head of the Scottish affairs, that, on the establishment of the excise in 1707, he was appointed accountant-general, when he was just twenty years of age.

Mr Drummond had early imbibed those political principles which seated the present royal family on the throne; hence he took an active part on the side of government, in the rebellion of 1715. It was to him that ministry owed the first intelligence of the earl of Marr having reached Scotland to raise the standard of insurrection. He fought at the battle of Sheriffmuir, and was the first to apprize the magistrates of Edinburgh of Argyle’s victory; which he did by a letter written on horseback, from the field of battle. On the 10th of February, 1715, Mr Drummond had been promoted to a seat at the board of excise; and on the rebellion being extinguished, he returned to Edinburgh, to the active discharge of his duties. On the 27th April, 1717, he was appointed one of the commissioners of the board of customs. In the same year he was elected treasurer of the city, which office he held for two years. In 1722-23, he was dean of guild, and in 1725, he was raised to the dignity of lord provost. In 1727, he was named one of the commissioners and trustees for improving the fisheries and manufactures of Scotland, and on the 15th October, 1737, he was promoted to be one of the commissioners of excise.

No better proof can be given of the high estimation in which Mr Drummond was held by government, than his rapid promotion; although the confidential correspondence which he maintained with Mr Addison, on the affairs of Scotland, was still more honourable to him.

The wretched state of poverty and intestine disorder in which Scotland was left by her native princes, when they removed to England, and which was at first aggravated by the union of the kingdoms, called forth the exertion of many of our most patriotic countrymen; and foremost in that honourable band stood George Drummond. To him the city of Edinburgh, in particular, owes much. He was the projector of many of those improvements, which, commenced under his auspices, have advanced with unexampled rapidity; insomuch, that Edinburgh, from a state approaching to decay and ruin, has risen, almost within the recollection of persons now alive, to be one of the finest and most interesting cities in the world.

The first great undertaking which Mr Drummond accomplished for the benefit of his native city, was the erection of the royal infirmary. Previous to the establishment of this hospital, the physicians and surgeons of Edinburgh, assisted by other members of the community, had contributed 2,000, with which they instituted an infirmary for the reception of the destitute sick. But Mr Drummond, anxious to secure for the sick poor of the city and neighbourhood, still more extensive aid, attempted to obtain legislative authority for incorporating the contributors as a body politic and corporate. More than ten years, however, elapsed before he brought the public to a just appreciation of his plan. At last he was successful, and an act having been procured, a charter, dated 25th August, 1736, was granted, constituting the contributors an incorporation, with power to erect the royal infirmary, and to purchase lands, and make bye-laws. The foundation stone of this building was laid 2nd August, 1738. It cost nearly 13,000, which was raised by the united contributions of the whole country; the nobility, gentry, and the public bodies all over the kingdom, making donations for this benevolent establishment; while even the farmers, carters, and timber-merchants, united in giving their gratuitous assistance to rear the building.

The rebellion of 1745 again called Mr Drummond into active service in the defence of his country and its institutions; and although his most strenuous exertions could not induce the volunteer and other bodies of troops in Edinburgh, to attempt the defence of the city against the rebels, yet, accompanied by a few of the volunteer corps, he retired and joined the royal forces under Sir John Cope, and was present at the unfortunate battle of Prestonpans. After that defeat, he retired with the royal forces to Berwick, where he continued to collect and forward information to government, of the movements of the rebel army.

The rebellion of 1745 having been totally quelled in the spring of 1746, Drummond, in the month of November following, was a second time elected provost of Edinburgh. In the year 1750, he was a third time provost, and in 1752, he was appointed one of the committee for the improvement of the city.

The desire of beautifying their native city, so conspicuous among the inhabitants of Edinburgh, and which has engaged the citizens of later times in such magnificent schemes of improvement, first displayed itself during the provostship of Mr Drummond. Proposals were then published, signed by provost Drummond, which were circulated through the kingdom, calling upon all Scotsmen to contribute to the improvement of the capital of their country. These proposals contained a plan for erecting an Exchange upon the ruins on the north side of the High Street; for erecting buildings on the ruins in the Parliament Close; for the increased accommodation of the different courts of justice; and for offices for the convention of the royal burghs, the town council, and the advocates’ library. A petition to parliament was also proposed, praying for an extension of the royalty of the town, in contemplation of a plan for opening new streets to the south and north; for building bridges over the intermediate valleys to connect these districts with the old town; and for turning the North Loch into a canal, with terraced gardens on each side. In consequence chiefly of the strenuous exertions of provost Drummond, the success which attended these projects was very considerable. On the 3d of September, 1753, he, as grand-master of the free masons in Scotland, laid the foundation of the royal exchange, on which occasion, there was a very splendid procession. In 1754, he was a fourth time chosen provost, chiefly that he might forward and superintend the improvements. In the year 1755, he was appointed one of the trustees on the forfeited estates, and elected a manager of the select society for the encouragement of arts and sciences in Scotland. In the year 1758, he again held the office of provost; and in October, 1763, during his sixth provostship, he laid the foundation stone of the North Bridge.

Mr Drummond, having seen his schemes for the improvement of the city accomplished to an extent beyond his most sanguine expectations, retired from public life on the expiration of his sixth provostship; and after enjoying good health until within a short time of his death, he died on the 4th of November, 1766, in the 80th year of his age. He was buried in the Canongate churchyard. His funeral, which was a public one, was attended by the magistrates and town council in their robes, with their sword and mace covered with crape; by the professors of the university in their gowns; by most of the lords of session, and barons of the exchequer; the commissioners of the excise and customs; the ministers of Edinburgh; several of the nobility; and some hundreds of the principal inhabitants of the city and neighbourhood. A grand funeral concert was performed in St Cecilia’s hall, on the 19th of December, to his memory, by the musical society, of which he was deputy-governor. The concert was crowdedly attended, the whole assembly being dressed in mourning. The most solemn silence and attention prevailed during the performance. Similar honours were paid to his memory by the masons’ lodge of which he had been grand master. The managers of the royal infirmary, some few years after his death, placed a bust of him by Nollekins in the public hall of the hospital, under which the following inscription, written by his friend Dr Robertson the historian, was placed:—"GEORGE DRUMMOND, to whom this country is indebted for all the benefit which it derives from the royal infirmary."

His strict integrity and great talents for business, together with his affable manners and his powers as a public speaker, which were considerable, peculiarly fitted Mr Drummond to take a prominent part in civic affairs. His management of the city revenues was highly creditable to him; and although the great improvements which were accomplished under his auspices, and during his provostships, might have warranted additional demands upon the citizens, he did not even attempt to increase the taxation of the town. Not only was he highly popular with his fellow citizens, but during four successive reigns, he obtained the confidence of the various administrations successively in power, and was the means of communicating, on several important occasions, most valuable information to government.

Mr Drummond was about the middle stature, and was of a graceful and dignified deportment. His manners were conciliating and agreeable, and his hospitality profuse; more especially during those years in which he was provost, when he kept open table at his villa called Drummond Lodge, which stood almost on the site of Bellevue House, (afterwards the custom house, and more recently the excise office,) and nearly in the centre of the modern square called Drummond Place. Mr Drummond was strenuous in his support of religion and literature. He was a member of the "Select Society," which contained among its members all the illustrious Scotsmen of the age. It was to him that Dr Robertson the historian owed his appointment as principal of the university of Edinburgh. The university was also indebted to him for the institution of five professorships: viz, chemistry, the theory of physic, the practice of physic, midwifery, and rhetoric and belles lettres.


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