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Findlay, John Ritchie (DNB01)

FINDLAY, JOHN RITCHIE (1824–1898), newspaper proprietor and public benefactor, born at Arbroath on 21 Oct. 1824, was the son of Peter Findlay, and grand-nephew of John Ritchie, one of the founders of the 'Scotsman' newspaper [see under Ritchie, William, 1781–1831]. He was educated at the Bathgate academy and in the university of Edinburgh. In 1842 he entered the 'Scotsman' office. It was then a small paper, published twice a week at the price of fourpence. At first engaged on the commercial side, Findlay afterwards took part in editing the paper. In April 1868 he became a partner in the firm; and on the death of his great-uncle in 1870, the bulk of the property passed into his hands. In his later years he gave up the immediate direction of his paper, but never ceased to take a deep interest in it and to control its general policy. The politics of the 'Scotsman' have always been liberal, but in the home rule controversy of 1886 it took, and has since adhered to, a strong unionist line. The adoption of this attitude by the leading Scottish paper was a political event of no small import. During the period of Findlay's connection with the 'Scotsman' the influence and circulation of the paper were enormously enhanced, and its proprietor became a rich man. But he lived unostentatiously, and regarded his wealth chiefly as a means of benefiting his fellow-citizens. He did not approve of posthumous benevolence, but spent large sums on public objects during his lifetime. At the cost of more than 70,000l. he presented to the nation the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, a fine building, which was opened on 15 July 1889; it also provides accommodation for the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. Findlay had a cultivated taste for art, and, as a member of the board of manufactures, took a prominent part in the direction of the Scottish National Gallery, to the collections of which he contributed with great generosity. To many learned, charitable, or useful institutions he gave not only money but time. He was secretary for six years to the Society of 'Antiquaries. He took part in the movement for opening the university of Edinburgh to female students, and was president of the association for the medical education of women. He was a director of the Sick Children's Hospital in Edinburgh, and was one of the founders of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Poor. On his estate of Aberlour in Banffshire, which he acquired in 1885, he spent more than he received in reclaiming land, making roads, and building cottages for his tenants. Avoiding civic and political contests, he never held a municipal office, and he refused the offer of a baronetcy; but he gladly accepted the highest honour which his fellow-citizens could bestow, when in 1896 they conferred upon him the freedom of the city. He died at Aberlour on 16 Oct. 1898; he married in 1863 Miss Susan Leslie, and left ten children.

A lover of literature and a wide reader, Findlay was especially fond of Wordsworth and Keats. In his youth he had been intimate with De Quincey, of whom he published 'Personal Recollections,' Edinburgh, 1886, 8vo. He also wrote an antiquarian history of Hatton House in Midlothian, where he resided for some years. Findlay was a member of the established church of Scotland: his religious views were strong, but entirely devoid of sectarianism or bitterness. In person he was somewhat below the middle height, spare, and of a fair complexion. His features were sharply cut, his expression shrewd but kindly. A portrait, by Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A., has been placed as a memorial in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Findlay was an admirable host. His conversation was pointed and vigorous, seasoned by dry humour, and enlivened by a store of witty and characteristic anecdote.

[Obituary notices, private information, and personal recollections.]

G. W. P.