Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fettes, William

FETTES, Sir WILLIAM (1750–1836), founder of Fettes College, Edinburgh, born in Edinburgh on 25 June 1750, was the son of William Fettes, merchant there. After attending some classes in the high school he commenced business, at the age of eighteen, as a wine and tea merchant in Smith's Land, High Street, combining this business with that of an underwriter, and being also connected with trading establishments in Newcastle, Durham, and Leeds. He was also for many years a contractor for military stores, was very successful in business, and accumulated, for those times, a large amount of money. Entering the town council of Edinburgh he filled in 1785 the office of fourth, and in 1799 of first, bailie. In 1800 he was chosen lord provost, and in 1805 he was elected a second time to that office. In 1804 he was created a baronet. In 1787 he married a daughter of Dr. Malcolm of Ayr. Of this marriage there was but one child, William, who was called to the bar in 1810, but died at Berlin in 1815.

Fettes retired from business in 1800, and devoted himself to the management of various landed estates which he had purchased. In 1830 he executed a trust disposition, in which, after making some minor provisions, he devoted the residue of his estate to form an endowment ‘for the maintenance, education, and outfit of young people whose parents have either died without leaving sufficient funds for that purpose, or who from innocent misfortune during their own lives are unable to give suitable education to their own children.’ The trustees were invested with very ample powers as to the administration of the estate. At the time of Fettes's death (27 May 1836) the trust funds amounted to 166,000l. They were allowed by the trustees to accumulate till they reached an amount sufficient to carry the object of the bequest into effect in a satisfactory manner. In 1864 a very handsome building was begun on one of the estates that had belonged to Fettes (Comely Bank, near Edinburgh), according to a design of David Bryce [q. v.], R.S.A., architect. The college was opened in October 1870. The trustees determined that on the foundation of the institution a number of boys, not exceeding fifty, should receive their board and education free, while other boys should be eligible for admission on payment. On the appointment of the Educational Endowments (Scotland) Commission considerable dissatisfaction was expressed by several citizens of Edinburgh at the way in which the trust had been administered, on the ground that the number of beneficiaries was very small in proportion to the resources of the trust, and also that the class was not that which the founder had intended to benefit. The commission in their scheme of administration, while making some changes on various matters of detail, did not propose any essential change on the plan which the trustees had carried out. Besides the college building, with chapel and head-master's house attached, forming the most conspicuous architectural feature in the northern suburbs of Edinburgh, there are now four boarding-houses, each accommodating a number of boys, ranging from eleven to fifty-five. There are fifty foundationers who reside in the college building, and to this number other twelve are about to be added. The total number runs from 180 to 207. There are several scholarships awarded by competition, from 20l. to 60l. per annum, amounting to 300l. in all. Besides the head-master there are eleven assistant-masters. The education and administration are similar to those of English public schools.

[Statement regarding the Fettes Endowment with Biographical Notice of Sir W. Fettes, issued by the Trustees in 1868; another Statement, 1881; Scheme for the Administration of the Fettes Endowment, approved by order of her Majesty in Council, 3 April 1886; Prospectus of Fettes College, 1887; Oliver and Boyd's Edinburgh Almanac.]

W. G. B.