McLaren, Duncan (DNB00)

McLAREN, DUNCAN (1800–1886), politician, son of John McLaren, farmer, was born at Renton, Dumbartonshire, 12 Jan. 1800. At the age of twelve he was apprenticed for four years to a draper at Dunbar. From Dunbar he removed to Haddington, and thence in 1818 to Edinburgh, where the whole of his subsequent life was passed. Here he was employed under John Lauder & Co., in the High Street, until 1824, when he commenced business as a draper, in a shop opposite St. Giles's Church. In 1838 he became member .of the town council of Edinburgh, and he was successively baillie, treasurer, and finally provost from 1851 till 1864. When he was appointed treasurer the city was almost bankrupt, but he made satisfactory arrangements with the creditors, including the imperial treasury. In 1862 he unsuccessfully contested Edinburgh as a liberal, and in connection with the contest received from the 'Scotsman,' in an action for libel, the sum of 500l., which he gave away in charity. At the general election of 1865 he took his seat for Edinburgh, and continued to represent the city for sixteen years, acquiring in the House of Commons a position of so much authority on Scottish questions that he used to be called 'the member for Scotland.' He took part in passing the act for the commutation of the annuity tax, a local church rate peculiar to Edinburgh and Montrose. He also helped to pass the Burgess Act and the Irish Sunday Closing Act. On his retirement in 1881 he received a testimonial from his fellow-members, and the citizens of Edinburgh placed his portrait by Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A., in the council chamber. The public act on which he most prided himself was the establishment of the Heriot Free Schools in 1836, with the surplus funds of the trust, but his efforts failed to prevent the transference of these schools to the school board in 1884. He died at Newington House, Edinburgh, 26 April 1886, having married in 1829 Grant, youngest daughter of William Aitken, a merchant at Dunbar; she died in 1838. He married secondly, in 1836, Christina, daughter of William Renton; she died in 1841. He married thirdly, in 1848, Priscilla Bright, daughter of Jacob Bright of Rochdale.

A replica of Sir George Reid's portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

McLaren published:

  1. 'History of the Resistance to the Annuity Tax under each of the four Church Establishments for which it has been levied,' 1836.
  2. 'Facts regarding the Seat-Rents of the City Churches of Edinburgh,' 1840.
  3. 'Evidence given before the House of Commons respecting the Annuity Tax,' 1861.
  4. 'History of the Annuity Tax and of the Smuggled Clause in the Act of 1809,' fourth ed. 1851.
  5. 'Information for Reformers respecting the Cities and Boroughs of the United Kingdom,' 1859.
  6. 'Facts respecting the Contagious Diseases Acts,' 1870.
  7. 'The C. D. Acts in India, Official Report of Mr. McLaren's Speech in the House of Commons,' a reprint, 1889.

[J. B. Mackie's Life and Works of D. McLaren, 2 vols. 1888, with two portraits; Times, 27 April 1886, p. 9.]

G. C. B.