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

William Hay, Provost of Dundee - 6th November 1863



WILLIAM HAY, formerly Provost of Dundee, and now Town Clerk of the burgh, is a native of Elgin, Morayshire, and was born in May, 1818. He was educated at Elgin Academy, and having served his apprenticeship in the office of the Sheriff Clerk of Elgin, he removed to Edinburgh, and attended the law classes at the University. Whilst in Edinburgh, Mr HAY received the appointment of Depute Sheriff Clerk of Forfarshire, and entered on his duties at Dundee in August, 1840. About three vears afterwards he was admitted as a solicitor, and on the appointment of BAILIE ANDERSON as Town Clerk of Dundee, Mr HAY succeeded him as law agent of the Parochial Board, which office he held until his appointment as Town Clerk.

At the time of his enrolment as a Burgess, in 1863, Mr HAY entered the Town Council. For many years before his entrance, the town had been involved in the action known as the Stipend Case, and serious attempts were renewed to have this wasteful process terminated. Mr HAY assisted materially in bringing this case to a satisfactory conclusion, and the property of the town, thus relieved from the burden of litigation, was utilized so that PROVOST PARKER and the Council were thereby able to pay off the creditors of the town. The services which Mr HAY had rendered in this affair were appropriately acknowledged by the presentation of a service of plate by the inhabitants in 1864. At the election in the following year Mr HAY was appointed first Bailie, and when PROVOST PARKER died in office in April, 1867 (vide page 287), Mr HAY was chosen to fill his place as Provost until the November term. PROVOST PARKER had been engaged, in conjunction with some influential members of the community, in making arrangements for the reception of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which had agreed to visit Dundee in 1867. The sudden death of the Provost seemed likely to disarrange all that had been settled, as it could hardly be expected that a new Provost would be in a position to carry out all PROVOST PARKER'S intentions. PROVOST HAY, however, was able to receive the members of that distinguished Association in a manner befitting the position of an important burgh like Dundee. He presented the freedom of the town to the DUKE OF BUCCLEUGH, Chairman of the Association, and to SIR CHARLES LYELL, and other eminent scientists; and when referring to their reception SIR RODERICK MURCHISON made the following allusion to PROVOST HAY'S services, in his speech acknowledging his acceptance of his Burgess Ticket :

"You, sir, have so completely embodied all the appropriate sentiments that ought to fall from the Magistrate of a great town in connection with a great Association for the Advancement of Science, that I must say that of all the meetings I have attended of the British Association, no Magistrate of any town where we have assembled has so completely developed in a telling manner the advantages which we humbly think we can procure for society at large in connection with the cities and towns we visit."

The meetings of the Association in Dundee were eminently successful.

During PROVOST HAY'S term of office there were many great public undertakings commenced or carried out. In the time of PROVOST PARKER, negotiations were begun for the transference of the Gas and Water Companies to the Corporation, and these were completed during Mr HAY'S Provostship. At the election in 1868 he was again unanimously chosen as Provost, and entered on a new term of office. So early as 28th January, 1864, Mr HAY had moved in the Council that a Special Committee should communicate with the Scottish Central (now Caledonian) Railway Company to ascertain whether the Directors would co operate with the Council in providing a promenade for the inhabitants, on the south side of the railway, next the river. The proposal was not adopted by the Company at that time; but when the Tay Bridge was proposed the Council succeeded in making arrangements whereby the idea of the Esplanade was realized and carried out. He had also the privilege of opening the Morgan Hospital, as Chairman of the Governors of that institution, in 1868. Eighteen years before (October, 1850), whilst the Morgan Bequest was still regarded by the public authorities as hopelessly lost to the town, Mr HAY published an opinion upon the validity of MORGAN'S mutilated wills, asserting that these constituted a valid bequest. The House of Lords, on appeal, reversed the decision of the Court of Session, and ultimately supported the wills, and by a strange coincidence PROVOST HAY, acting officially, saw his own opinion fully vindicated by opening the Morgan Hospital. The Free Library in Dundee the earliest institution of the kind in Scotland under the new Act was opened by PROVOST HAY, on 1st July, 1869, and he took out the first volume in presence of a large audience.

The office of Town Clerk had been held by Mr CHRISTOPHER KERR for forty seven years, and at his death in June, 1869, Mr HAY resigned the Provostship and became a candidate for the vacant place. To this post he was ultimately appointed on 19th August, 1869, and still holds the position of Town Clerk of Dundee. His predecessor, Mr KERR, had begun some time before his death to have the documents and records of the town revised and arranged by an expert, and the work, which had been interrupted by his decease, was completed under Mr HAY'S supervision. When the papers had been arranged, a selection of charters, writs, and documents, dating from 1292 to 1880, was prepared by Mr HAY, and published by authority of the Town Council at the latter date. The volume affords a complete documentary history of the burgh. Mr HAY is a Justice of Peace and a Commissioner of Supply for the County, and he also holds a commission as an Honorary Sheriff Substitute for Forfarshire.


Iain D. McIntosh, Friends of Dundee City Archives