From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

George Duncan, M.P., for Dundee, 4th September 1812

 

GEORGE DUNCAN, MERCHANT, WAS ADMITTED BURGESS OF DUNDEE FOR HAVING PAID £10 IN FULL OF His FREEDOM.

GEORGE DUNCAN, who occupied a leading place in the civic history of Dundee for more than half a century, was born in the Burgh in March, 1791. His father was a maltman in the Nethergait, and some interesting particulars as to his parentage and family are afforded by the tombstone that marks their resting place in the Howff (No. 265), which bears the following inscription:

" Hora Ruit."
[The Hour hastens.]
Erected by George Duncan, merchant in Dundee, and
dedicated to the memory of his father, William Duncan,
who was born in 1741, and died in 1799; of his
brother, David, who was born in 1781, and died in 1802
and of his mother, Amelia Guthrie, who was born in 1754,
and died in 1817."

From this inscription it appears that GEORGE DUNCAN was left fatherless at a very early age, the only support of his widowed mother. He was educated at the Dundee Academy, and began business in 1813 as a haberdasher, in company with Mr JOHNSTONE, the designation of the firm being JOHNSTONE & DUNCAN. While the long struggle between the Town Council and the Guildry, which was only terminated by the Burgh Reform Act, was in progress, he took a lively interest in Burgh affairs, and his public life began in 1825, at which time he entered the Council as Merchant Councillor. Three years afterwards he was elected Councillor of the Guild, and held the office of Dean of Guild from 1833 till 1836. During, this time his attention had been specially directed towards the reform of Scottish Prisons, both as to their internal arrangements and as to the means adopted for their maintenance. His efforts in carrying forward the Prisons Bill, which necessitated frequent visits to London at a time when such a journey was both expensive and dangerous, were gracefully acknowledged by the authorities ; and on 5th July, 1839, he received a vote of thanks from the Town Council for his exertions in this matter. On 16th April, 1841, he was elected First Bailie of Dundee, and on the retirement of SIR HENRY PARNELL from the representation of the Burgh in the same year, Mr DUNCAN was returned as Member of Parliament for Dundee.

This position he continued to occupy without intermission for sixteen years, and though his introduction to this honourable place was at first regarded with dubiety by some of the extreme Radical party in the Burgh, his conduct during his term of office convinced the most doubtful of his single minded philanthropy and devotion to the interests of the country. He was the first Scottish Bailie who sat in the House of Commons, and his support was consistently given to the Liberal party both in and out of office. He voted in favour of free trade in corn, he opposed monopolies, he proposed an increase of the Education Grant, and advocated an extension of the Franchise. On 20th May, 1842, he obtained a grant from the Treasury of £300 for the improvement of Magdalene Green, and again received the thanks of the Council for his successful efforts in this affair. The Seamen Fraternity of Dundee presented him with a silver salver "as a mark of respect for public services," in August, 1845, and on 8th January, 1847, shortly before the dissolution of Parliament, he was entertained to a public dinner in Dundee, and received the unqualified approbation of his actions in the House of Commons from his constituents.

At the General Election in 1847 he was again returned as Member for Dundee, and after the dissolution on 1st July, 1852, it was proposed to present him with a testimonial by public subscription. On 13th October, 1852, he received the gift of a piece of plate and 1,000 guineas; and in that philanthropic spirit which had marked his career, he devoted £1,000 of this money towards the founding of an Industrial School in Ward Road, which was opened in December, 1856, under the name of the "Duncan Testimonial." He entered Parliament for the last time in 1852, but after the dissolution in 1857 he did not seek re election. The remainder of his life was spent in seclusion from public affairs at his house of "The Vine," near Magdalene Green, though he still took an active part in the promotion and support of the charitable institutions which he had founded and fostered. He died on 6th January, 1878, in the eighty seventh year of his age. As his father was born in 1741, these two lives comprehended the very unusual period of 137 years. Mr DUNCAN'S wife, HESTER ELIZA WHEELER, a lady possessed of considerable literary ability, predeceased him on 27th May, 1834, and he left no children. Portraits of himself, his mother, and his wife are now preserved in the Baldovan Industrial School, towards the foundation of which he largely contributed.

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