The Deed Box of Robert Scott

The Deed Box of Robert Scott

Robert Scott, Fairlie and Company

Offered in our February auction of Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs , this collection comprised the Deed Box and papers predominantly sent to Robert Scott, 1777-1884, and his company, Robert Scott, Fairlie and Company. It provided fascinating insights into the life of a British family who were heavily involved in the East India Company.

This collection comprised the Deed Box and papers predominantly sent to Robert Scott, 1777-1884, and his company, Robert Scott, Fairlie and Company. The company acted as a Scottish Agency House, a middleman between the East India Company, local people in India and other areas of the British Empire and Western owners of plantations in these places. In his work, The Scottish Connection with India 1725-1833, George McGilvary rather succinctly describes the role of such organisations:

"Without Scottish Houses of Agency (such as Scott & Co., Fairlie Fergusson & Co., Alexander & Co., Colvin Bazett & Co.) acting as middle-men and purveyors of capital for indigo plantations and production in Bengal, for salt farms and saltpetre, and most of all for opium and cotton, the EIC would not have fulfilled its primary commercial function or been able to remit moneys to London."

A quantity of the documents contained in the deed box refer to this company. For example, a letter dated 10th April 1836 from another such company states: “We have of course no means of forming any opinion as to the present value of the Belvedere Plantation but have always considered it would be extremely advisable of the parties invested to dispose of the whole of their property in the Island should an eligible opportunity occur…” Whilst more exact details of the contemporary costs of estates, spices and land can be gleaned from other documents, providing a valuable insight into colonial trade in the early 19th century:

"Statement of the Claim of the State of the late Capt. Francis Salmond on that of the Late M. William Baskett.

Feb. 1824

The Purchase Money of the Spice Plantation at Bencoolen? Called Fir Grove MsRs 5000… Add Live Stock on Plantation valued at 300…”


LOT 243 | THE EAST INDIA COMPANY: ROBERT SCOTT, FAIRLIE AND COMPANY, AGENCY HOUSES AND PAPERS OF THE SCOTT FAMILY | THE DEED BOX OF ROBERT SCOTT, (1777-1844) | tin Deed Box, 29 x 41 x 30cm, containing a large quantity of correspondence, the majority sent to Robert Scott (1777-1844) and his Agency Firm, Robert Scott, Fairlie and Company, dating from the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, discussing East India Company trade, dealings involving colonial plantations, and family matters in both India and Britain | Provenance: Robert Scott, 1777-1884; his daughter Isabella Mary Anne Quekett (née Scott), 1816-1872 and her husband, John Thomas Quekett, d.1861, founder of the Quekett Microscopical Society in London; and thence by descent | Sold for £20,000 incl premium


Take a closer look at Lot 243 ⇒


However, the contents of the deed box also provided fascinating insights into the life of a British family who were heavily involved in the East India Company. Robert Scott's uncle, David Scott (1746-1805) and moved to India in 1763 as a teenager, making his fortune through his company, Scott, Tate and Adamson. Being the younger son of Robert Scott of Dunninald, he decided to purchase the estate from his older brother, Archibald in 1786, forming friendships with figures such as Henry Dundas, at the time Head of the India Board of Control, and William Pitt. These connections proved beneficial for David Scott's two nephews, Robert (1777-1844) and David (1786-1831). Robert Scott would follow his uncle's lead to become a writer with the East India Company and owner of Scott, Fairlie and Company, whilst David Scott would head out to India in 1801, becoming a judge and magistrate and the agent responsible for the North East Frontier and revenues from the Assam Valley by 1824.

One of the most touching stories told in the family letters involves the three young children of David Scott the younger, his 'natural' children born outside of wedlock. In August 1831, letters sent to Robert Scott in England reveal the untimely death of his younger brother. Many of these letters appear to be sent by Lieutenant General Archibald Watson, David and Robert Scott's brother-in-law, as he married their sister Ann in 1821. Watson edited Memoir of the Late David Scott, published in Calcutta in 1832. Letters sent by Watson and other colleagues of David Scott reveal - apparently to the surprise of Robert Scott - that David was father to three young children, all of mixed British-Indian heritage: a six year old girl, and a younger boy and girl between the ages of two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half. Sent on the 19th October from Gowlpara, signed 'Rutherford', one letter reads:

"My Dear Sir, I have made enquiries with reference to your note of the 7th… And it appears that the [?] of the eldest child of poor Mr Scott now at Goahulty is about 6 yrs – it is a Girl – there are two others nearly about the [?] age 3 – The mother of two of them is said to be a native of this place, now I’ve not [?] doubt in that case that she would live here readily if any security for a provision was given, the other is I believe a native of [?] in Apaur, if she would have an objection to residing at this station, [?] it would decidedly be the best place…"

Several letters discuss the care and financial situation of these children, although less so their mothers. by Christmas 1831, the children appear to be living under the care of Archibald Watson himself.

An earlier letter from General Archibald Watson to Robert Scott, discussing life in India, also offers a valuable insight into British colonial attitudes and opinions at the time. In one such letter, he writes about the Indian mutiny at Barrackpore in 1824, and his personal opinions about the future of the British Empire in India:

"A very serious business has just happened at Barrackpore - a Regiment of Infantry mutinied and refused to march to join the troops in the Burmese Country - in Consequence of which 2 Regiments of Europeans were ordered from Calcutta with their guns; paraded in front of the mutineers; who, on refusing either to march or lay down their guns, were ultimately blown to pieces... The Effects of this severe Example I fear will be rather sinister throughout the Country...

...I do not think we shall ever lose our Eastern Empire - but I do not in the least doubt that it will fall to pieces..."

Further family letters naturally discuss rather mundane matters, however scattered amongst these are testaments of love, details of estranged spouses (it would seem that Archibald Watson and his wife, Ann (née Scott), were separated following a suspected affair), and descriptions of voyages and journeys to India. Watson sent his children to be educated in Scotland under the supervision his wife Ann with whom he did not have children nor did she ever travel to India. Interestingly the papers include letters relating to the position of "natural" children in Scotland. Watson’s son Sydney Grandison emigrated to New South Wales in 1836 after finishing his education. Watson died in London, leaving his entire estate to his daughter Louisa.

Further papers relating to the Scott family in India can be found in the India Office Records, whilst the lot also contains handwritten 'Extracts from the Letters' and 'David Scott: Some Pages from the Life of an Indian Civil Servant 1800-1831' compiled by Mrs A.E. Quekett in the 1920s.



Auction Information


Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs

Wednesday 24th  & Thursday 25th February 2021


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Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps Department


Lyon & Turnbull’s dedicated team of Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps specialists have established an international reputation for their auctions, selling both through our Scottish auction house in Edinburgh, and via our online auctions. Our specialists are experts not only on books and manuscripts, but also on current market conditions, an essential combination to the successful sale of fine antiquarian books, modern first editions, folios, autographed letters and important archives.


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