George Drummond

George Drummond (1687-1766) was a politician who served six terms as Lord Provost of Edinburgh. He was a founding director of The Royal Bank of Scotland.

Background and early life

George Drummond was born on 27 June 1687 at Newton Castle, Perthshire. He was educated at the Royal High School in Edinburgh.

Early career

George Drummond’s aptitude for accounting led to his involvement, at the early age of 18, in various responsibilities relating to preparations for the Union between Scotland and England. He was amanuensis to Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, one of the commissioners appointed to negotiate the terms of the Union, and he undertook a series of calculations for the committee of the Scottish parliament responsible for calculating Scotland’s ratings and valuation in preparation for the Union. Following the passing of the Union in 1707, he was appointed to the new post of accountant-general of excise. In 1715 he became one of the commissioners of customs.

During the Jacobite rising in 1715 George Drummond led a company of Edinburgh volunteers against the Earl of Mar at the battle of Sheriffmuir.

Political career and public works

George Drummond was elected to Edinburgh’s town council in 1716, becoming city treasurer the following year. In 1725 he was elected Lord Provost for the first time. He served five further two-year terms, beginning in 1746, 1750, 1754, 1758 and 1762.

Drummond was responsible for numerous large-scale public works projects in Edinburgh, including the establishment of Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, for which he laid the foundation stone in 1738. When the building was completed in 1741 he was appointed a manager of the hospital and was referred to as the ‘Father of the Infirmary’ until his death.

In 1747 he unsuccessfully stood for parliament.

In the early 1750s, George Drummond proposed the building of a ‘new town’ on fields to the north of Edinburgh, as a way of relieving overcrowding and disease in the city. In 1752 the town council adopted his proposals, and a competition was launched to design what would become Edinburgh’s New Town. Drummond did not live to see much of the new enterprise take shape, but it was he who instigated the draining of the Nor’ Loch in preparation for the works, and who in 1763 laid the foundation stone for the new North Bridge, which was to form the link between the old city and its new district.

In 1752 George Drummond also laid the foundation stone for the new Royal Exchange (now City Chambers). The building was completed in 1760.

The Royal Bank of Scotland

George Drummond was one of the founding directors of The Royal Bank of Scotland at its formation in 1727. The presence of Edinburgh’s Lord Provost on the board no doubt lent the new enterprise credibility, but he was much more than a mere figurehead. From the outset, he was a very regular attendee at board meetings, and it was he – along with fellow director Lord Monzie – who undertook the bank’s very first important task, finding suitable premises in overcrowded Edinburgh.

The Bank’s activities in 1727, the year of its foundation, were confined to preparing for business. It was not until January the following year that it actually opened its doors to customers. On 12 January 1728 George Drummond became the recipient of The Royal Bank of Scotland’s first loan, receiving £1,000. In fact, despite his political influence, Drummond seems to have been short of money for most of his life, sometimes only remaining solvent thanks to money received through financially advantageous marriages.

Drummond was a director of The Royal Bank of Scotland until 1745, and from 1759 to 1765. Even in the intervening years, he remained a customer and valued friend of the bank. When the Scottish hereditary jurisdictions were abolished in 1748, the bank arranged for Drummond, on a visit to London, to lobby on its behalf for compensation money to be lodged in Royal Bank accounts.

Drummond’s interest in banking was not limited to The Royal Bank of Scotland. In 1764 he prepared the ‘plan of trade’ for the reinvention of the British Linen Company (est.1746) from a struggling linen trading concern into Scotland’s third large public bank.

Other roles and interests

George Drummond was an active churchman, serving as a ruling elder in the Church of Scotland’s presbytery, synod and general assembly during the course of his life.

During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, George Drummond was actively involved in organising volunteers to defend Edinburgh against the approaching Jacobite army. After the Jacobites took control of the city, he and his followers joined Sir John Cope in facing them again – and again being defeated – at the battle of Prestonpans.

He had a keen interest in music, becoming deputy governor of the Edinburgh Musical Society in 1756. The society attracted the best musicians from throughout Europe to perform in concerts in the city. Following his death in 1766 the society held a memorial concert for him.

Family life

George Drummond was married four times: to Mary Campbell; Catherine Campbell; Hannah Parson; and Elizabeth Green. He had numerous children, including five with his first wife Mary and nine with his second wife Catherine.

Death and legacy

George Drummond died on 4 December 1766 at the age of 79. Reporting his death, Scots Magazine remarked:

'He engaged in public business at the age of 18, and continued capable of discharging it till the end of his life. During that long period, scarce any scheme for the improvement or advantage of this country has been carried on, of which he was not an active and able promoter.'