Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drummond, George
DRUMMOND, GEORGE (1687–1766), six times lord provost of Edinburgh, was born there 27 June 1687. His father is described as a 'factor' in Edinburgh, where Drummond was educated. He displayed at an early age a considerable aptitude for figures, and is said to have made in his eighteenth year most of the calculations for the committee of the Scottish parliament when negotiating with a committee of the English parliament the financial details of the contemplated union. He was appointed, 16 July 1707, accountant-general of excise on its introduction into Scotland. He was an ardent supporter of the Hanoverian succession, and he is described as in 1713 working actively to defeat the designs of the Scottish Jacobites. He had been appointed a commissioner of customs 10 Feb. 1715, at 1,000l. a year, Allan Ramsay, though a Jacobite, welcoming in some cordial verses the promotion of ‘dear Drummond’ (Poems, i. 375).In the same year he is said to have raised a company of volunteers and with them to have joined the Duke of Argyll and the royal forces employed in suppressing the Earl of Mar's insurrection. The statement that he wrote on horseback a letter from the field, which gave the magistrates of Edinburgh the first news of the battle of Sheriffmuir, 13 Nov. 1715, is not confirmed by any record of the incident in the council minutes. He seems to have become a member of that body in 1715. In 1717 he was elected by it treasurer to the city, in 1722 dean of guild, and in 1725 lord provost. At this last period he is described as exercising dictatorial power in the general assembly of the kirk (Wodrow, iii. 200). At the age of seventeen Drummond had become deeply religious (Grant, i. 365). In 1727 he became a commissioner for improving fisheries and manufactures in Scotland.
With Drummond's first provostship began a new era in the history of modern Edinburgh. The government and patronage of the university were in the hands of the town council, and from 1715 until Drummond's death nothing was done without his advice. A medical faculty was established and five new professorships instituted. Chairs were given to a number of eminent men, from Alexander Monro secundus and Colin M'Laurin to Adam Ferguson and Hugh Blair, and through Drummond Robertson the historian became principal of the university. In the first year of his provostship Drummond revived a dormant scheme for the establishment of an infirmary on a small scale by procuring the allocation to that object of the stock of the fishery company, of which he had been chief manager, and which was being dissolved. The scheme took effect in 1729, but Drummond never rested until he had procured the funds for a far larger institution, and its erection on the site where it remained until recent years. The charter incorporating, 25 Aug. 1736, the Royal Infirmary named him one of its managers, and he was prominent in the ceremony when its foundation-stone was laid, 2 Aug. 1738. He and Alexander Monro were constituted the building committee. He was called at the time ‘the father of the infirmary,’ and after his death there was placed in its hall his bust by Nollekens (since transferred to the New Royal Infirmary), with an inscription by Principal Robertson proclaiming that to him ‘this country is indebted for all the benefits which it derives from the Royal Infirmary.’ Drummond Street, in its vicinity, was called after him.
Drummond had married in 1707 a wife who died in 1718. His second wife, a daughter of Sir James Campbell of Aberuchill (his colleague on the board of customs), whom he married in 1721, died in 1732. These two wives bore him fourteen children. He fell into embarrassments in spite of his large income as commissioner of customs. They prevented him from marrying a morbidly pietistic lady of whose name only the initials ‘R. B.’ are given, to whom he was much attached, and in the efficacy of whose prayers and accuracy of whose predictions he had a superstitious faith. There is a great deal about her in the fragments of his manuscript diary, from the middle of 1736 to the last weeks of 1738, preserved in the library of the university of Edinburgh (see the account of it with extracts in Gordon, ii. 364–8). His circumstances were probably not improved by his surrender of his office of commissioner of customs and his re-appointment to a commissionership of excise, 1737–8, but in January 1739, having apparently broken off the singular connection with ‘R. B.,’ he was relieved from his money difficulties by marrying a third and wealthy wife.
With the rebellion of 1745 Drummond was foremost in calling for and organising resistance on the part of the citizens of Edinburgh to its occupation by the rebels. Through his efforts a body of volunteers was raised, and at his persuasion they were ready to march out of Edinburgh, and, with some regulars, meet the enemy in the open. Drummond, who was captain of the first or College company, found himself, however, unsupported by the authorities, and the zeal of the volunteers melted away until the only course left was to consent to their disbandment. Home (iii. 54 n.) has charged Drummond with simulating martial ardour in order to make himself popular in view of the approach of the usual time for the municipal elections, but this accusation is rebutted by Dr. Carlyle, who was himself a member of the College company of volunteers (Autobiography, pp. 119–20). Drummond's own account of the collapse is to be found in the report (State Trials, xviii. 962, &c.) of the evidence which he gave at the trial of Archibald Stewart, the then provost of Edinburgh, for neglect of duty, against whom he was a principal witness. With the surrender of Edinburgh Drummond joined Sir John Cope's force, and after witnessing its defeat at Prestonpans is said to have accompanied Cope to Berwick, and thence to have corresponded with the government. In 1745 the usual autumn elections had not taken place in Edinburgh. Those of 1746 the government ordered to be determined by a poll of the citizens instead of by partial co-optation Drummond was elected provost, both of the two lists of candidates which were circulated being headed with his name.
In 1750–1 Drummond was a third time lord provost, and in 1752 he prefixed a printed letter commendatory (Scots Mag. lxiv. 467) to copies of proposals for carrying on certain public works in the city of Edinburgh, which were drawn up by Gilbert Elliot (the third baronet), and which included one for an application to parliament to extend the ‘royalty’ of the city northward, where the New Town of Edinburgh is now. A portion of the scheme was sanctioned by an act of parliament passed in 1753 (26 George II, cap. 36), in which Drummond was named one of the commissioners for carrying it out. On 3 Sept. in the same year the works were begun by Drummond laying, as grand-master of the Scotch Freemasons, the first stone of the Edinburgh Royal Exchange, before what has been described as the greatest concourse of people that had ever assembled in Edinburgh (Lyon, p. 217). To promote this and other improvements Drummond became a fourth time lord provost, 1754–5. In 1755, his third wife having died in 1742, he married a fourth, a rich English quakeress with 20,000l., and then probably it was that he became the owner of Drummond Lodge, at that time an isolated country house on the site of what is now Drummond Place, also called after him, and in the heart of the New Town of Edinburgh. There, on stated days, he kept an open table. In 1755 he was appointed one of the trustees of the forfeited estates, and a manager of the useful Edinburgh Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Sciences, Manufactures, and Agriculture. Appointed lord provost for two years a fifth time in 1758, he took in hand the extension of Edinburgh northward, necessary steps to which were the draining of the North Loch and the erection of a bridge over its valley. The extension of the royalty northward met, like most of Drummond's schemes of improvement, with much opposition, and a bill authorising it which was introduced in parliament had to be abandoned. With the second year of Drummond's sixth and last provostship, 1762–3, the draining of the North Loch was effected, and the erection of the bridge with funds derived from loans and voluntary subscriptions decided on.
As acting grand-master of the Scotch Freemasons, Drummond laid the foundation-stone of the North Bridge on 21 Oct. 1763. The year after his death was passed the act extending the royalty over the fields to the north of the city, and the foundation-stone was laid of the first house in the New Town of Edinburgh. Drummond died at Edinburgh on 4 Nov. 1766, and was buried in the Canongate churchyard, near the grave of Adam Smith. He received a public funeral such as his native city had seldom witnessed. Sir A. Grant (i. 304) calls him ‘the greatest ædile that has ever governed the city of Edinburgh, and the wisest and best disposed of all the long list of town councillors and provosts who during 275 years acted as patrons of the college or university.’ Drummond was of the middle size, and his manners were conciliatory and agreeable. In advanced age the dignity of his person was such that, according to Dr. Somerville (p. 45), a stranger entering a meeting of Edinburgh citizens for the consideration of important business would at once have selected Drummond as the fittest person to take the lead in council. He was an easy and graceful public speaker. There are specimens of his official correspondence in Maitland's ‘History of Edinburgh,’ and a few of his letters on university matters in Thomson's ‘Life of Cullen,’ 1832. In the ‘Miscellany of the Abbotsford Club,’ i. 419, &c. is printed ‘Provost Drummond's Account of the Discussion in the House of Commons upon the application of Daniel Campbell, Esq. of Shawfield for compensation for his losses by the riot in Glasgow,’ caused by the imposition of an excise duty on ale. The letter is dated 25 March 1725, and contains a lively and graphic description of a parliamentary debate. Drummond had a town house in ‘Anchor Close,’ High Street (Lyon, p. 207). Besides Drummond Lodge he seems to have had at one time a country house at Colinton, near Edinburgh, where there are to be seen cedars grown from seed sent him by his brother Alexander [q. v.] who was consul at Aleppo (New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1832, i. 112). A sister of theirs gained considerable notoriety as a quaker preacheress throughout the kingdom, in the course of her expeditions raising money for her brother's scheme of a Royal Infirmary, and once delivering an address before Queen Caroline, the consort of George II. Her later career was an unhappy one (see the account of her in Chambers, iii. 559, &c.).
[Memoir of Drummond in Scots Mag. for 1802, vol. lxiv., abridged in Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Sir Alexander Grant's Story of the University of Edinburgh during its first three hundred years, 1884; Bower's Hist. of the University of Edinburgh, 1817, &c.; Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle, 1860; Howell's State Trials; Chambers's Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Revolution to the Rebellion of 1745, 1861; Home's Hist. of the Rebellion in 1745 (in vol. iii. of Works, 1822); Wodrow's Analecta (Maitland Club publications); Lyon's Hist. of the Lodge of Edinburgh, No. I., 1873; Somerville's My own Life and Times; Poems of Allan Ramsay, 1800; Maitland's and Arnot's Histories of Edinburgh; authorities cited; communications from Mr. William Skinner, city clerk of Edinburgh, and Mr. R. S. Macfie, Dreghorn, Mid-Lothian.]