An Eminent Campbeltonian
HTML Article Retrieved May 31, 2002
In the last century Campbeltown, Scotland, made a contribution to the development of India far out of proportion to the size of the town. It would take a very long article indeed to do credit and justice to the many Campbeltionians who contributed to the Administration, Commerce and Industry of British India, , consequently, to the new and great country India now is. Incidentally, thought they may be forgotten in their native town, even if this is not the case in India.
Dugald Stewart Gilkison was one of this worthy band, perhaps not the most famous, but certaintly one of the most remarkable. He is the Eminent Campbeltonian of this article.
I have taken the liberty of abstracting what follows from the published history of Peiree Leslie and Company, which Gilkison headed for many years. These abstracts give a thumbnail sketch of this remarkable man–his adventuresome life and the character which inspired it. He was obviously not only adventurous, but also very determined and very astute. Peiree Leslie and Company was, and still is, a trading and servicing company with branches in Cochin, Calicut, and elsewhere on the Malabar Coast in South India. This is the coast referred to in the abstracts; and the “Planting Districts” are in the various ranges of hills lying beyond the coast.
Dugald Stewart Gilkison fully deserves the title of Merchant Adventurer though in his case, the Adventurer came very much first and the Merchant later. He was born on 13th of March, 1840 in Campbeltown, Scotland, which has been the home of leading business magnates in India. His father died in September of 1842 and his mother was left with two sons of whom D.S. Gilkison was the elder, and one daughter. She was, however, left in comfortable circumstances and was able to give the children a good education. He was educated at the Rothesay Academy, where he was taught French and German, and having a taste for modern languages, got up early in the morning to teach himself Spanish. And by the time he left school in 1857, he had a reasonable, working knowledge of all three languages.
He then went into an office in Liverpool, but already the wanderlust had seized him and after only eighteen months, he left Scotland and joined the Foreign Legion. He was thus in time for the war in which Napoleon the Third declared war on Austria in 1859, and though he was at Magenta, he fought at Solferino. France and Austria soon after that concluded a treaty, but the piping of times of peace did not suit D.S.G. and his mother, after some trouble and expense, managed to buy him out of the Legion. He did not, however, return home, but went, instead to the Argentine, where he led a roving life for the next three years and was actively engaged shortly afterward in a revolutionary war Uruguay.
In 1863, he heard of an even better war going on in North America, so he proceeded thither and fought in the 2nd Corps of Ulysses S Grant Army through the last year of the American Civil War. Although Lee surrendered to Gran in April of 1865, D.S.G. evidently remained in the Army for a time, as, on 17th of May 1865, he received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Tenth New York Regiment of Infantry, and we now have among our records his original commission signed at the city of Albany under the seal and signature of Reuben S Fenton, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Military and Navel Forces, and countersigned by J.B. Stonehouse, Assistant Adjunct-General. It might be added that, until his death, he received pension as a Veteran of the Civil War.
Soon after this, he returned to Scotland where his mother had settled in Glasgow, and where he tried to adopt himself to commercial life in that city, but once again the lust for travel was on him, and he went out to Point de Galle, which was the principal port of Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka). Here he was engaged in some capacity in the Coffee business, which still flourished on the island; and here his knowledge came in good stead, as he secured the appointment of the Spanish Vice-Consul at Point De Galle, and by 1872, he had become Consul for Spain at the port. This was at the time an important Consular post, for the cable had not extended further east than Point De Galle. An important dispatch from Madrid to Manila, and similarly in the opposite direction.
He had one interesting experience during his time in office. Attending a large luncheon given by the Roman Catholic priest at Point De Galle to high Ecumenical Council of 1869-1870, the one which declared the doctrine of the Infallibility of the Pope, D.S.G. attended as the representative of His Most Catholic Majesty. When he resigned his post on coming to India, he was made Knight of the Order of Isabella the Catholic, which however, he did not greatly appreciate, as he was very much of the Presbyterian persuasion.
He had previously married Margaret Dunlop Ralston, though whom it was understood that he had been able considerably to augment his captial resources. This is indicated by the fact that from 1879 the profits of the Firm took a decided leap upwards. They had three children. The eldest was Stewart Gilkison, who went in the army, and in 1914, was Captain of the Scottish Rifle. The younger son, James, first took into the London Office in the hope that he would succeed his father in due course, but James also preferred the army and, in 1914, was a Lieutenant in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. Their only daughter, Joan, also married in the army, her husband being Captain Bramwell of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. They were all killed in WWI, while Mrs. Gilkison survived her husband. She eventually died in 1945. It is interesting to note that Mrs. Gilkison died in the Roman Catholic Faith.
Before we deal with details of the Gilkison’s long reign as head of the Firm, we must endeavor to describe the exceedingly complex character. In spite of his earlier roving life, he must have somehow acquired a thorogh and working knowledge of commerce and economics. He was also a man of considerable personal charms and a magnificent host. He was a fine shot and a good man on a horse. IN fact, during the time he was in Calcut, he would think nothing of riding in the early morning to Wynaad to visit some Estate and then ride down again the same evening. When he subsequently settled in London, England, he regularly took an Estate in Scotland every Autumn for fishing and shooting, and it was perhaps typical that he always rented and never bought. He invariably drove a hard bargain with the owners of the rentals, which it was possible to do in those days. Here he would be at his best, and was wonderfully hospitable, in which he relieved full support from his wife. Any manager or assistant home on leave from India always invited him to stay. And the writer has a very happy memory of stopping on his first leave from India with the family at the Dalquarran Estate in Ayrshire. We have mentioned that he was a good host, and this most notable as, although he usually had people of considerable importance stopping by. His most junior assistant would be treated exactly the same way as the most eminent person present.
But when it came to business, and especially in the case of correspondence between London and India, he was a very different person. And before he settled in London, his reputation on the Coast, and particularly in the planting districts, for driving a hard bargain, was notorious. The feeling among planters in particular was that he was “too clever by half.” This caused him to be regarded with considerable distrust, and in one or two cases, aroused very bitter feelings. On the other hand, he had certain very solid supporters, notably in the Nelliampathies, where he and the firm had very happy relation with those great pioneers, the brothers Horatio and Cecil Hall, and he was also partner in with them in the fairly considerable Nelliampathy Estate. As, in addition to this, he was on good terms with the firm of James Finlay and Company, who had large estates in the mine district. Nelliampthy Coffe was the backbone of the Firms Curing works in Calicut.
Gilkison was also a very shrewd judge of character, and insisted that, in Planting, management was everything, and he was prepared to back his judement, constantly remarking that men like “Carver” Marsh and the Crawford Brothers were people to be cultivated , although in the case of Carver, it was more a matter of dricing a hard bargin with a man who as as good of a barginer as himself. Also, he did, through backing the Crawford Brother, contribute considerably to laying the firm’s Coffee connections in Mysore. The writer recalls Loftus Crawford in the United States Service Club, Bangalore, chortling about when his brother in London had “bitten old Gilkie in the ear for 800 Pounds.” It wasn’t many who could have claimed that, but, generally speaking, he was very much the austere man” of the parable in that he expected to reap what he had not sown, and any capital outlay which could be avoided was anathema to him.
See Also: The Geographic Journal, Volume 2