Hugh Gordon



1766 - 1834






Hugh Gordon of Manar

Elizabeth Forbes of Echt, wife of Hugh Gordon of Manar

Extract from Hugh Gordon's Last Will and testament - to view the whole Will click: here

Extract from 'Scottish Notes and Queries' (2nd series Vol IV) ed John Bulloch, July 1902 to June 1903

My thanks to my cousin Barbara Gordon (Dundas) for spotting this post and these pictures

about Hugh Gordon's work in India

"Hugh Gordon, the son of James Gordon, joined his brother Robert in India, arrived at Madras in 1792 and was in business on his own account in 1793.

He continued in business at Madras until 1803. He appears to have made his fortune in Madras, and in 1804 he returned home to Aberdeen a wealthy man.

He purchased an estate near Inverurie and had a new house constructed there. In 1807 he married 22-yearold Elizabeth Forbes

and the couple had ten children. He died in 1834 aged 68 years." Note initials HG and thistle, on back of the spoon.

Inscription: Sacred to the memory of HUGH GORDON of Manar who died on 11 Jul 1834 aged 68 and of his youngest son WILLIAM who d 27 Apr 1834 aged 15;

also of his widow ELIZABETH FORBES who died 10 Feb 1870 aged 85. Burial: Saint Nicholas Churchyard, Aberdeen




Hugh Gordon

The starting points of Hugh Gordon's life were Rhynie and the Cabrach, fairly remote backwaters, where his father James Gordon of Old Merdrum lived and worked (and was buried in a snowstorm). His mother was Jean Gordon, descended from the Gordons of Newseat. Hugh's uncle, John of Drumfergue, had been 'out' in the '45 supporting the Jacobite cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and had suffered physical deprivations in the vengeful aftermath. Whether Hugh's father was a Jacobite too is not known, but the family claimed Stuart descent (via Princess Arabella Stuart). Indeed, in the 1930's, the elderly sisters Alice and Anne Gordon claimed to have a portion of Prince Charlie's plaid which they showed to visitors. The Lesmoir family were traditionally supporters of the Stuarts, coming out previously for Montrose and the Stuart Kings in the Civil War of the 17th Century, when the castle at Lesmoir was ransacked and reduced to partial ruins. Whatever their origins, Hugh had three sisters, and an older brother Robert Gordon, who had been apprenticed to a relative in Aberdeen, but was treated so badly that he ran away to India, starting a business as a jeweller. In due course, Hugh followed his brother out to India, where he eventually made his fortune.

These circumstances were hardly the stuff of nobility, and yet, Hugh Gordon strongly claimed that his grandfather Peter Gordon of Haddoch was a son and heir of the Gordons of Birkenburn, and that the family therefore had a claim to the Baronetcy of Lesmoir. This was a claim he maintained throughout his life. According to some, there had been a falling out between Peter Gordon of Haddoch and his family, and Peter had moved to the backwater of Rhynie, where indeed he was buried.

Hugh Gordon of Manar was born in 1766.

After having received training as a watchmaker, being apprenticed to Patrick Gill in Aberdeen, he arrived at Madras in 1792 to be reunited with his elder brother Robert Gordon who had run away to make his own way in the world. For a number of years Hugh Gordon was employed by the East India Company but was also in business as a watchmaker and silversmith on his own account from 1793. We have a photo of one of the silver spoons he produced, with his initials 'HG' and a thistle emblem. He continued in business at Madras until 1803 when, in that year, his business was passed to the firm of Gordon & Lovell (George Gordon I, Francis Lovell, and Robert Gordon II). Scottish families were operating familial and trading networks in India and China, later extending to Australia. These peaked between 1790 and the 1830's. These were years of opportunity.

When he returned from India with his fortune in 1804, Hugh Gordon bought the estate which he re-named Manar, after the straits between India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where according to some accounts Hugh had made part of his fortune in pearls. The new estate Manar was close to the estate of the Leslies of Wardhill, who were also to send family members overseas. These Scottish families operated in a network of connections and association, as will be seen in the case of Hugh's son Hugh, and four Leslie sons, who all headed overseas, marrying into influential families in Australia.

On 2nd April 1807 Hugh Gordon of Manar married Elizabeth Forbes of Echt, a well-established family. The portraits of both of them can be seen on this page of the website, and behind Hugh can be seen Manar House, which he had built for his new bride. These portraits were painted in 1823 by John Moir. A Bible (in the possession of our family) was bought, and this 'Manar Bible' detailed the births and baptisms of Hugh and Elizabeth's children (and later, in the back of the Bible, the details of his grandchildren).

They had two sons who lived into adulthood (James Gordon of Manar, Scotland - and Hugh Gordon of Manar, New South Wales), and four surviving daughters. Three other children died in infancy and one died at the age of 15 from scarlet fever while away at school in Elgin.

Hugh Gordon was able to use his wealth to buy status, combined with marriage to good connections. But he continued to insist that he had good connections of his own: namely the family's right to the baronetcy of Lesmoir which was held by the noble Birkenburn family, as closest direct male descendant. He was making enquiries as early as July 1810, having a correspondence with the Rev. John Gordon of Cabrach, who sent a copy of the inscription on a flat tombstone in memory of Peter Gordon and his wife Bessie. It was even then partly illegible. A certified copy of it was made on April 3, 1845.

This came to a head in 1824. John Stuart, IX. of Birkenburn decided to sell the Birkenburn estate in 1824. He wrote a letter, dated Birkenburn, February 19, 1824, to Hugh Gordon of Manar - "because he was a distant relative" - so he "thought it proper to send (Hugh) the plan and valuation by the mail" requesting "their early return by the same vehicle." Birkenburn intimating to Manar that he had received an offer for the property of 7,000, and that he expected it would be increased to guineas : a sum which he was not at liberty to refuse. William Leslie of Warthill in a letter to Hugh Gordon of Elgin on 17th March 17 1845, says that Stuart offered to sell the estate of Birkenburn to Hugh Gordon of Manar who was willing to give 1,000 above any other offer. Leslie accompanied Manar, by appointment, to Birkenburn when the estate was advertised, only to find that John Stuart had sold it to Lord Seafield for 10,000. Leslie never "saw Manar so chagrined " for he was "prepared to give 12,000, at least, before allowing what he considered his paternal acres to go into other hands". John Stuart died in 1837, unmarried and the Lesmoir baronetcy became vacant.

The desire to establish a connection between Peter Gordon in Haddoch and the house of Birkenburn was not only being pursued by Hugh Gordon of Manar. An attempt made in 1841 and renewed in 1887 by the family of Lieut.-Col. Herbert Spencer Compton Gordon to claim the dormant baronetcy of Lesmoir. These Gordons advertised in The Times of November 9, 1841, for a missing pedigree. In the same year the Rev. George Gordon, minister of Glenrinnes, who was connected in a very roundabout way with the Haddoch Gordons including Gordon of Manar, began on his own account (for he was immensely interested in genealogy) to make investigations into the origin of the Haddoch family. He applied in particular with some success to William Ronald, schoolmaster in the Cabrach ("an extraordinary fellow"), and he interviewed several collateral branches of the family and also local people. A reason for Peter Gordon going into obscurity was given to the Rev. George Gordon in 1845, when he interviewed James Malcolm, the nonagenarian blacksmith at Haughs of Glass, who had married a grand-daughter of Peter. Malcolm declared that the sixth and last male Gordon of Birkenburn had a younger brother who lived with him. They were "nae weel doin','' and at last, as if anticipating complete disaster, the one said to the other: "We maun sinner" (separate).

The Gordons of Coynachie who had made their mark in the army, had also gone to the length of borrowing family papers from the Stuarts. In addition, Dr. John Stuart, secretary of the Spalding Club, who was descended from Peter's son, John Gordon in Drumfergue (the Jacobite uncle of Hugh Gordon of Manar), made several inquiries. Among others who joined the hunt was William Leslie of Warthill, who was considered " as good as an old almanack among the antiquarians". Last of all, the various investigations were co-ordinated in 1845 by Hugh William Gordon of The Knoll, Elgin, who had an eye on the baronetcy of Lesmoir and the strongest claim as the son of Manar's older brother Robert. The baronetcy was actually assumed by Gordon of the Knoll's son Hugh (by advertisement in The Times) in 1870. He did not prove his case, but many of the letters on the subject were preserved at the time and may still exist. This Hugh Gordon lived as a tea planter in Assam, drowning at sea in 1899. He left two daughters, Muriel and Dorothy. At that point the next male heir became Henry Gordon of Manar.

If Peter Gordon of Haddoch was indeed a true Birkenburn, then no claimants from 1899 had as strong and direct claim as Henry Gordon of Manar. The tradition gains some validity from the fact that it has been handed down through several generations, and it was on foot long before the Lesmoir baronetcy actually vanished.

Whether Hugh Gordon of Manar's chagrin and eagerness to purchase the Birkenburn estate were motivated by emotional sense of identity and the truth of his family's claim, or by frustrated desire for a title to consolidate his family's position in society, it is hard to say - unless DNA testing is able to disclose truths that have now lain hidden for 200 years.

Hugh Gordon was able to offer support for some of his relatives: for example, he had a sister Janet, whose son Robert Gordon (Manar's nephew) had gone out to Madras to join his uncle Hugh in business. When Robert died in 1818, Hugh Gordon of Manar brought up his son George Gordon. This George eventually went out to Madras, demonstrating the extensive family networks in operation.

It would appear that with his new-found wealth and status, Hugh Gordon entered into the privileges and entertainment of social life in early 19th Century Scotland. He became a J.P. and Deputy Lieutenant of the county, attended the fashionable assemblies in Aberdeen, and between 1817 and 1821 contributed to the horse races there. In 1823 he was Assessor to Earl Fife, Rector of Marischal College at the university of Aberdeen. In July 1830 he was involved in a court case at the Court of Session in Edinburgh against Leys, Masson and Company, who ran a large bleaching operation on a meadow on the right bank of the Don, immediately above 'Black Balgonie's Brig', and employed a thousand people. Along with Lord Forbes, Sir John Forbes of Craigievar, and John Farquharson of Haughton, he tried to shut the operation down because it was claimed to be interfering with the salmon fishing. The case was lost, and the complainants were strongly criticised in the Fife Herald. In an extract from 'Scottish Notes and Queries' (2nd series Vol IV) ed John Bulloch, July 1902 to June 1903, we find the following report from April 1834, only 3 months before his death and the same month his teenage son William had died at Elgin Academy: "Mr Hugh Gordon of Manar was present at a grand fancy and masked ball in the Public Rooms, Aberdeen, appearing in a handsome Greek costume." The reporter notes that the affair was attended by "200 of the fashionables of the city and county." Among others were the Misses Gordon of Manar "as 2 Greek ladies" and Miss J.J. Gordon of Manar as a "Neapolitan lady". Later the same month, on 27th April 1834, his teenage son William died at Elgin Academy.

In his last years and months, Hugh Gordon of Manar made arrangements in his Will (which can be studied in its entirety on this website) for the disposal of his possessions and the provision of his family (including, as the Will discloses, one son born out of wedlock in India - leaving 500 "to my natural son John in Madras" who was born to a Miss Sarah March of the house of Messrs Gordon and Co, Madras). The Will gives a good indication of his wealth. Apart from the estate left to his eldest surviving son, he still had enough cash to leave about 10000 to each of about seven children, not to mention gifts of about 100 each to around 25 friends and relatives. These were huge sums of money in those days. Hugh died on 11th July 1834, aged 68, at Manar House.

His life had been one of venture and achievement. From financially humble beginnings, he had established (or as he would claim, re-established) his family in wealth, comfort and landed society. He comes across as a supremely practical man, with a strong sense of family (both his claimed noble past, his household and the impoverished relatives he protected).

Postscript: His wife Elizabeth lived on until 10th February 1870, when she was 85, but did not stay at Manar.The census of 1861 reports Elizabeth (Forbes) Gordon still living (age 76), with her daughter Jane (Gordon) Hunter, and 16-year-old grandson Charles Hunter, at 2 Upper Church Street in the Kingsmead area of Bath. Elizabeth is described as the Head of the Household, and a 'landed proprietor', with Jane (age 49) described as a 'fund holder'.

About Manar

Manar House stands in a rural setting three miles from Inverurie, which is 15 miles from Aberdeen in the north-east of Scotland. The estate had originally been called Badifurrow, then changed to Woodhill in 1796, and finally to Manar when Hugh Gordon bought it in 1808. The estate extended to over 2000 acres. Manar House was then built with 4 large and spacious public rooms, kitchens, school room, and other areas (some designated for servants) downstairs; with 9 upstairs bedrooms for the family and 5 more bedrooms for servants. Census records show that some servants were distributed to other accommodation on the Estate, or on the associated unit at Home Farm. In addition to Home Farm, the Estate owned many other farms, which were rented out to tenants. Above Manar, the Estate reached up to the hill called Bennachie. Below the House, the lands sloped down to the River Don where there was good fishing along a mile and a half of the riverside owned by Manar (over 50 salmon a year caught, as well as good trout fishing) - as well as over three miles of fishing along the River Ury. The fishing and shooting were let to sporting tenants, raising extra income. The Estate included good woodland areas.

Beyond the House lay stables for 8 horses, a coachman's house, a laundry, poultry houses, and kennels. There is a walled garden and a gardener's house. Further afield there were keepers' houses for staff dealing with the sport and shooting.

The Estate is located on a historical site, including the site of the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, and an ancient stone circle, as well as various other standing stones.

In addition the ancient Chapel of St Apolonaris (first mentioned in 1190) used to be part of the Manar Estate, on the south bank of the River Don. This 14 acre site planted with yew, sycamore and elm - also known as the Polnair Burial Ground - was walled in by the Gordon family, and is held by the Gordon family in perpetuity. It was never sold, and documents report that it was reserved from sale when the rest of the Estate was put up for sale. It contains the remains and memorials of the Gordons of Manar, and is regularly visited by the family.

Family members known to be buried there:

1838 Catherine Gordon (age 10 months)

1848 Catherine Gordon (age 11)

1851 William (age 2 months)

1857 Elizabeth Gordon (age 16)

1860 James Gordon (age 17)

1874 James Gordon of Manar (age 62)

1911 Elizabeth Gordon (nee Lumsden) (age 94)

1942 Anne Gordon (age 96)

1942 Alice Gordon (age 83)

There are also other names engraved on the memorial slabs:

1858 Hugh Gordon (age 19, died at Lucknow)

1928 Henry Gordon of Manar (age 79, buried at Chiswick)

1938 Mary Fraser (nee Gordon) (age 85, buried in Elmwood, Winnipeg - she was married to Arthur Matthew Fraser, a barrister in Montreal, and is known to have published a volume of poetry, 'Restful Rhymes' in 1875).

Collated and summarised by Susannah Clark, 15th October 2017

(Great-great-great granddaughter of Hugh Gordon of Manar)







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