The Old Country Houses of the Glasgow Sugar Aristocracy: Carbeth Guthrie

About time I started blogging more about Glasgow’s ‘Sugar Aristocracy’ (in advance of publication of book of the same name with the Royal Historical Society sometime next year).

John Guthrie of Carbeth (1768–1834) was the nephew of Archibald Smith of Jordanhill, one of the most influential of Glasgow’s West India merchants in the city’s ‘golden age’ of suCarbethgar, 1783-1838. Smith’s firm, Leitch & Smith, was one of the most extensive firms of its type in Glasgow in the period, importing sugar and providing credit to slave-owners in the south-eastern Caribbean island of Grenada as well as Jamaica. John Guthrie managed Leitch & Smith’s sister firm on Grenada in the late 18th century. Guthrie & Ryburn was established sometime after 1792 and became the largest firm on the island. By 1799, Guthrie was a respected member of the plantocracy elite on the island, and was appointed a ‘Guardians of Slaves’ in the capital St George’s. A fortune based on slavery secured, John Guthrie returned to Scotland after around a decade in Grenada [1].

John Guthrie was a wealthy returned sojourner (but unrepresentative of most Scots who travelled to the West Indies) and invested in a landed estate on his return. Around 1800, he purchased the 286-acre estate of Carbeth, in the parish of Strathblane and county of Stirling. He immediately ‘began to improve his new acquisition’, including a grand mansion with ornamental gardens and pleasure grounds [2]. Carbeth2The landed estate was not only a solid investment, but the title improved Guthrie’s social standing. In Glasgow, he was appointed a city magistrate in 1810-1811. He was Dean of Guild of the Merchants House in 1814 (an influential position in local politics). On his death in 1834, Guthrie was worth £8977, not a huge fortune by the standards of the Glasgow West India elite, but a sum that would have placed him comfortably in the ranks of the developing middle-class in Scotland [3].

Dying without issue, Guthrie bequeathed the estate of Carbeth to his nephew, William Smith, Archibald Smith’s son. In turn, William Smith’s son inherited the estate and took on the name of the estate. John Guthrie Smith authored the magisterial  The Old Country Houses of the old Glasgow Gentry across two editions in 1870 and 1878, and surveyed Scottish estates purchased with capital derived from slavery in his own family line (including Craigend, Craighead, Carbeth, Jordanhill). The Smiths of Jordanhill were amongst the most succesful West India families in late eighteenth century, and suceeded in converting capital derived from Caribbean slavery into land in the west of Scotland. The true impact of slavery and its profits on eighteenth-century Scottish agriculture was profound, if still contested by some historians today.

This video here shows the estate of Carbeth today.

[1] Stephen Mullen A GlasgowWest India merchant house and the imperial dividend, 1779-1867, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies (2012).

[2] John Guthrie Smith, James Oswald Mitchell, ‘Carbeth Guthrie’, The Old Country Houses of the old Glasgow Gentry, (Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1878 edn.).

[3] National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh Sheriff Court Inventories, SC70/1/51, Inventory, 15/11/1834.

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