John Campbell

John Campbell (c.1703-1777) was a Scottish banker and man of business. He worked for The Royal Bank of Scotland from its foundation in 1727, and was its cashier, 1745-77.

Background and early life

John Campbell was born in about 1703. His parents were Colin Campbell of Ardmaddy, youngest son of the 1st Earl of Breadalbane, and Grizelda Douglas. He was believed to have been illegitimate, although some evidence suggests that Colin and Grizelda were in fact married, but that the Earl disapproved of the match and therefore had all evidence of it destroyed.

Colin Campbell died when John was still an infant and it is not clear where John was brought up. He certainly remained closely connected with the Breadalbane Campbells. Grizelda Douglas died in 1732.

In 1718 Campbell was apprenticed to Colin Kirk, Writer to the Signet, for a term of three years. Kirk was the son of Robert Kirk, famous in Scottish lore as ‘the Fairy Minister’. The apprenticeship indenture was discharged in September 1722, after which Campbell seems to have remained at Kirk’s chambers. Colin Kirk died in 1725.

The Royal Bank of Scotland

In 1727, Campbell joined the staff of the newly established Royal Bank of Scotland, initially working in the accountant's office. He was appointed assistant secretary in 1732 and second cashier in 1734. It is probable that Campbell informally took on many of the day-to-day responsibilities of Allan Whitefoord, the first cashier, during this period.

In July 1745 Campbell succeeded to the post of first cashier, also known simply as cashier. During the Jacobite occupation of Edinburgh in September and October that year he was engaged in protecting the bank at a time of significant threat. The diary he kept during this time is preserved in the RBS Archives, and is an important source for studying Edinburgh during the ‘45 Jacobite Rising.

The Jacobite Rising of 1745

John Campbell’s diary recounts how the Jacobite army took control of Edinburgh on 17 September 1745. On 1 October, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s secretary informed John Campbell that he had £857 of Royal Bank banknotes and wanted payment for them in gold. If the bank failed to comply, the Jacobites would seize property from it and its directors to the value of the notes.

It was not immediately easy to meet the demand, because all the bank’s valuables, including its reserves of gold, had been moved to Edinburgh Castle for safekeeping during this time of turmoil. At first, it had been possible to get access to the Castle when necessary, but by this time the Castle – still in government hands – was locked down, while the rest of the city was under Jacobite control. Just a few days earlier, Campbell and some colleagues had been refused access to the castle, despite waiting at the gates for an hour.

Campbell sought and obtained a special pass from the Jacobite authorities permitting him to pass through the streets safely on his way to the castle. He also wrote ahead to the castle warning its commander that he would be asking for access. The commander implied he would be allowed in, but refused to guarantee it in writing.

Campbell, accompanied by colleagues and directors from the bank, made his expedition to the castle on 3 October 1745. He successfully gained access, withdrew the gold to meet the Prince’s demands (which by now had risen to over £3,000), and more to meet any imminent further demands. He also destroyed a large quantity of unissued notes to remove the risk of them entering circulation and becoming an additional liability. While he worked, shooting went on between government forces in the castle and Jacobites outside.

He paid the money to the Prince’s secretary at his office later that evening. The Jacobite army left Edinburgh on 1 November, marching on into England in a bid to claim the British throne. The army’s progress into England was funded in no small part by the gold it had received from The Royal Bank of Scotland.

Other activities

In addition to his role at The Royal Bank of Scotland, Campbell had numerous other business roles, including:

  • Scottish representative of The Equivalent Company, which was closely linked to The Royal Bank of Scotland
  • Agent for his kinsmen the 2nd Earl of Breadalbane and Lord Glenorchy, keeping their estate accounts and acting as their representative for all types of business in Edinburgh.
  • Partner in the Marble & Slate Company of Netherlorn
  • Involved in the management of a coal mining company and the Edinburgh Sugar House

Campbell was a Gaelic-speaker with an interest in supporting the survival of the language. He read poetry and his diary suggests that he also wrote it, although no samples are known to survive. It is thought that he was one of the financial supporters of James Macpherson, in his search for the ‘lost’ Ossian cycle of poems.

The Gaelic poet Duncan Ban Macintyre (in Gaelic: Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir, 1724-1812) wrote a 192-line poem in praise of Campbell, which begins (in English translation):

    John Campbell of the Bank, I greet you well, man
    To uphold kith and clan,
    Who behoved to be great:
    Who, with heart kind and manly,
    Surpassed all the rest,
    In many a plight pressed
    Beyond common folk’s fate

Family life

In 1728 John Campbell married Jean Stirling, the widow of Colin Kirk, his first employer. She seems to have suffered from poor health, and died in about April 1739.

On 15 April 1751 he was married for a second time, to Ann Carolina Campbell (c.1728-1800), eldest daughter of his friend James Campbell of Tofts. They had 14 children together:

  • Arabella, born 28 January 1752
  • Anne Carolina, born 4 January 1753 (married the famous industrialist David Dale)
  • John, born 20 December 1753
  • Colin, born 21 November 1754 (joined the army and served in the American War of Independence. Eventually became Lieutenant-Governor of Gibraltar.)
  • James, born 25 June 1756
  • Christian, born 6 August 1758
  • Catherine, born 8 March 1760
  • Patrick, born 24 June 1761
  • Jean, born 21 August 1762
  • Allan, born 1 July 1765
  • Willielma, born 6 October 1765 (twin sister of Mary. Died 11 May 1770, the only one of John and Ann Carolina’s children to die in childhood)
  • Mary, born 6 October 1765 (twin sister of Willielma)
  • Archibald, born 28 May 1767
  • Alexander, born 20 February 1770

In 1762 John bought a property at the Citadel, Leith, where the large Campbell family was raised. There was also a flat above the bank in Fishmarket Close, just off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, where both John and Ann Carolina sometimes stayed when business or social obligations kept them in the city.

Campbell died in Edinburgh on 28 January 1777. Ann Carolina and 13 of their children survived him.

Related publications and online sources

  • The Diary of John Campbell: a Scottish Banker and the ‘Forty-Five’ (Edinburgh, privately published, 1995)
  • 1745: John Campbell and the Jacobite Occupation of Edinburgh, schools teaching resource suitable for Curriculum for Excellence Social Studies second and third levels, and National Curriculum History key stage three

Summary of our archive holdings

  • Letters received by John Campbell, with some associated accounts and other notes 1723-77
  • Personal account books of John Campbell (incomplete set) 1727-75: source overview (PDF 50KB)
  • Journals and cash books of John Campbell (incomplete set) 1731-73
  • Private diary of John Campbell 1745: source overview (PDF 34KB)
  • Mrs Campbell’s domestic account book 1751-72
  • States of affairs 1766-72