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Significant Scots
Thomas Coutts

COUTTS, THOMAS, who long moved at the head of the monied and banking interest of the metropolis, was the fourth and youngest son of John Coutts, originally of Dundee, and afterwards of Edinburgh, where he held the office of chief magistrate in 1743. The mother of Mr Coutts was a daughter of Sir John Stuart of Allanbank, in Berwickshire, who was the maternal grandson of Miss Grizel Cochrane, daughter of Sir John Cochrane, the associate of Russell and Sidney, in their project for liberating Britain from the tyranny of the last Stuarts. Of this lady, great-great-grandmother to Mr Coutts, the following anecdote has been related by her relation, the late earl of Dundonald.

"Sir John Cochrane being engaged in Argyle’s rebellion against James the Second, was taken prisoner after a desperate resistance, and condemned to be hanged. His daughter having noticed that the death warrant was expected from London, attired herself in men’s clothes, and twice attacked and robbed the mails (betwixt Berwick and Belford,) which conveyed the death warrants; thus by delaying the execution, giving time to Sir John Cochrane’s father, the earl of Dundonald, to make interest with father Petre, (a Jesuit,) king James’s confessor, who, for the sum of five thousand pounds, agreed to intercede with his royal master in behalf of Sir John Cochrane, and to procure his pardon, which was effected."

Mr Coutts was born about the year 1731. His father carried on the business of a general merchant, and established the bank which has since attained such distinguished respectability under the auspices of Sir William Forbes and his descendants. An elder son, James, entered into partnership with a banking house in St Mary Axe, London, which corresponded with that of John Coutts and Co., Edinburgh. Subsequently, Thomas Coutts, the subject of the present memoir, entered also into that house. He then became partner with his brother of a banking house in the Strand, which had long been carried on under the title of Middleton and Campbell; and, finally, on the death of his brother, in 1778, he became the sole manager of this extensive concern.

Mr Coutts possessed the accomplishments and manners of a gentleman; plain but fashionable in his dress; sedate in his deportment; punctual and indefatigable in business even to a very advanced age. His great ambition through life was to establish his character as a man of business, and he certainly obtained such a reputation in this respect as few men have enjoyed. Instances are related of his refusing to overlook a single penny in accounts even with those friends to whom he was in the habit of dispensing his hospitality with the most liberal hand. With such qualifications, and blessed with length of days beyond the usual span of human life, it is not surprising that he acquired immense wealth, and placed himself at the head of that important class to which he belonged. Nor was he exclusively a man of business: he enjoyed the society of literary men in a high degree, and was distinguished for his taste in theatricals. He was also a liberal dispenser of his wealth to the poor.

Mr Coutts was twice married:—first to Susan Starkie, a female servant of his brother, James, by whom he had three daughters—Susan, married, in 1796, to George Augustus, third earl of Guildford; Frances, married, in 1800, to John, first marquis of Bute; and Sophia, married, in 1793, to Sir Francis Burdett, bart. About three months after the decease of his first wife, which took place in 1815, he married Harriet Mellon, an actress of some distinction in her profession, whom he constituted, at his death, sole legatee of his immense property, consisting of personals in the diocese of Canterbury, sworn under £600,000, besides considerable real estates in lands, houses, &c., and the banking establishment in the Strand. This lady has since become, by marriage, Duchess of St Albans, and, by her acts of beneficiance, has proved herself not unworthy of the great fortune which she has acquired. Mr Coutts’ death took place at his house in Piccadilly, February 24th, 1822, about the ninetieth year of his age.

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