Friday, 1 April 2016


Donald E. Meek


For reasons that are not at all clear, the estate of North Bantaskin has failed to be preserved as a prominent entry in the records of Falkirk, and it is hardly noticed in present-day accounts of the history of the burgh and its environs.  Its existence has to be pieced together by diligent examination of historical sources, but that is no new problem to historians, who thrive on such challenges.  As often happens in such circumstances, however, the evidence for furnishing a fresh interpretation and a better understanding is much more plentiful than may appear at first sight, and the availability of digitised records and internet search facilities turns a potentially daunting task into a relatively straightforward operation.

The causes of the low profile of North Bantaskin seem to derive, first, from its nature as an agricultural estate, which did not contribute to the town’s burgeoning industry, based on coal and iron.  In this it contrasts sharply with the estate of South Bantaskine, lying on the other side of the Union Canal, which was owned from 1828 by the coalmasters Robert Wilson and his son John, who succeeded his father in 1836, and was famous for his ‘forty feet of daughters’.  Because of its prominence as a coal-producing area, and the preservation of part of the estate as a park, South Bantaskine has featured conspicuously in recent writing about Falkirk, and is frequently memorialised.   Its prominence has also worked to the detriment of North Bantaskin, which is regularly absorbed – erroneously – into the lore surrounding South Bantaskine.  Such confusion alone makes this fresh examination and ‘disambiguation’ necessary.

The second reason for the disappearance of North Bantaskin from the public mind is its gradual and progressive use for the construction of new housing for the growing town.  Pressure for new housing became acute in the 1930s, and continued after the Second World War.  The erosion of the old estate and indeed its submergence by new houses in both private and council sectors have all but obliterated every trace of its former existence.  In this respect, it was more vulnerable to building than South Bantaskine, as the latter, because of mining, did not provide firm ground, and developers were wary of its land.
Thanks to a copy of Raeburn's famous portrait of William 'Copperbottom' Forbes,
he stands above the mantelpiece in the Drawing Room of Callendar House.

A third, and more general, reason for the low profile of North Bantaskin in the historiography of Falkirk is the tendency of historians to focus – perhaps even to over-focus – on the Livingstons of Callendar and their large and ‘central’ Callendar estate, as well as the town, while making only the barest mention of any other Falkirk estates.   The narrative of the greatness, decline and fall of the Livingstons continues immediately with the arrival in 1783 of William ‘Copperbottom’ Forbes, the industrialist-turned-landowner of Callendar, to whom, as Baron, every knee bowed thereafter (sometimes reluctantly).  This, however, did not mean the immediate end of the Livingstons’ landholding elsewhere.  In fact, Bantaskine remained in parallel Livingston ownership until the end of the eighteenth century, when Colonel Adam Livingston sold the estate to Sir Alexander Campbell of Ardkinglas in 1791.

Reassigning of portions of Bantaskine to other owners by feu is evident in the Livingston era. The conveyance of the estate by purchase, with title, to single owners from Campbell onwards, however, together with the conveyance of other estates in the area, is the crucial development which appears to have formalised, if not actually created, the distinction between ‘North Bantaskin’ and ‘South Bantaskine’.  Sale of estates in this period was hastened by the impending insolvency of the original landlord, sometimes through excessive spending on matters of lifestyle. The ‘new nobility’ who came to the rescue of their impecunious predecessors were created by mercantile wealth.  North Bantaskin was fated to come under the control of nouveau-riche landlords through purchase in 1803, when it passed to Charles Hagart.  Twenty-five years were to pass before South Bantaskine came into the hands of Robert Wilson, likewise by purchase.  In the case of North Bantaskin, however, the new landlords were consistently merchants, and its most prominent owners for a whole century, from 1803 to 1908, were successively West India merchants, and not industrialists such as William Forbes, the coppersmith in Callendar, and Robert Wilson, the coalmaster in South Bantaskine. 

This process sets the development of the Bantaskine estate firmly within the economic reconfiguration of Scotland from the later eighteenth century, when both agricultural and industrial revolutions were in progress, and trade with the West and East Indies was adding greatly to the wealth of merchants, and transforming landholding accordingly.  This wider context is nowhere better explained than in T.M. Devine’s 2006 volume, Clearance and Improvement: Land, Power and People in Scotland 1700-1900.

My own interest in what became North Bantaskin derives from the final phase of the occupation of the estate mansion, namely Bantaskin House, by the last of these West India merchants, James Wilson and his son Robert, in the later nineteenth century and the early twentieth.  In that period, three of my MacDonald relatives from the island of Tiree were ‘in service’ with the Wilsons, and the last surviving member of the family, my great-aunt Annabel MacDonald, in her latter years often recalled her enduringly happy times ‘at Bantaskin’. 
Annabel MacDonald as a young lady.

Annabel MacDonald in 'Coll View' in 1964, with Donald Meek and his parents.
Annabel’s sister, my grandmother Nancy MacDonald, met and married James Meek, a master painter from Falkirk, at Bantaskin House in 1899.  The arrangements for the wedding were made by Nancy’s brother, Alexander (‘Sandy’) MacDonald, and the wedding invitations, with replies to ‘Bantaskin’, have survived.  Sandy married another of the Bantaskin servants, Mary Fairlie from Killearn, and their descendants preserved several fine portraits of members of the Wilson family, and also the only surviving  photograph of Bantaskin House which shows it in context.   For these MacDonald and Fairlie servants, ‘Bantaskin’ was a place of immense kindness, ‘a home from home’, where long-lasting relationships were forged – and one of these contributed significantly to the making of this writer.

Remarkably too, for an estate which has disappeared almost completely from public consciousness other than in the use of ‘Bantaskin’ in street names and the occasional reference to the town house of the ‘Laird of Bantaskine’ in the High Street of Falkirk, its great mansion was still standing as late as 1947, when thieves were caught red-handed stealing six cwts of lead from its flat roof.  The dilapidation of the mansion, said to have been ‘unoccupied for some considerable time’, was obviously under way, and it appears to have been demolished by 1950 or thereabouts.

The Livingston era

Bantaskin appears in writing in 1450 as ‘Pettintoscale’, a Brythonic/ Gaelic name, ‘Peit an t-soisgeil’, meaning ‘the field of the gospel’, presumably a field set aside for maintaining (the preaching of) the gospel. It was commonly written as ‘Pantaskin’ from about 1584 and ‘Bantaskin(e)’ from about 1687 (Reid 2009, p. 59).  The house and lands of Bantaskine merited some notice in general accounts and maps of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  ‘Pantaske’ appears as a place-name in Timothy Pont’s map of the Stirlingshire district, drawn between 1584 and 1613.  In 1707, Sir Robert Sibbald, in his History & Description of Stirling-shire, Ancient and Modern, observed that ‘To the South of the Town is Pantaskin, the Seat of a Gentleman of the Name of Livingston, of which there are several others in this Shire’ (Calatria, 24, p. 70).  In 1723 Alexander Johnston of Kirkland (in the parish of Dunipace) wrote an account of the parish of Falkirk, in which he made reference to the house: ‘A quarter of mile west of Falkirk stands the house of Bantaskuie [sic – a misreading of minims] upon the south side of Grahams dyke and half a mile west of Callander’ (Calatria, 32, p. 3).
 This shows the Antonine Wall in what would have been the garden of
Bantaskin House, looking towards Camelon.

The powerful Livingston family of Scottish nobles, descended from Sir Andrew de Livingston and pre-eminently associated with the Callendar estate, owned the Bantaskine lands originally.  The first bearer of the style ‘of Bantaskine’ in surviving inventories of writs is David Livingstone [sic, with –e in the writs, followed in this paragraph] of Polmont, ‘thereafter of Bantaskine’, who was granted an Instrument of Sasine on 31 May 1637 for ‘the Lands of Bantaskine, called Wester Bantaskine’, ‘proceeding upon a charter from James Lord Livingstone of Almond and Callander’.  He was succeeded by his son Alexander in 1644.  Alexander was followed by his nephew Michael in 1664.  Through Michael Livingstone’s daughters Isabel and Mary, who had no heirs, the estate passed in 1736 to Sir James Livingstone of Glentirran, Michael Livingstone’s nephew and his daughter Isabel’s ‘heir of provision’.  Michael Livingstone had earlier feued the ‘part of Bantaskine called Tophill and Lymielands’ to Andrew Dick of Campstone (or Compston, in Muiravonside) and his daughters Margaret and Anna in liferent in 1722.  Dick was apparently a Writer to the Signet in Falkirk, appearing as such on 11 January 1762.  He later feued the lands to John Benny, who then disponed them to Alexander Adam, merchant in Falkirk.  In 1757 Adam resigned the lands of Tophill and Lymielands to Sir James Livingston, thus returning them to the estate.

In 1757 Sir James Livingston of Glentirran and Bantaskine assigned the estate to Captain Adam Livingston (c. 1723-95) and Captain John Livingston. Adam was Sir James’ second surviving son, by Helen, daughter and heir of Sir James Campbell, M.P., of Ardkinglas, Argyll, a family which later came to own Bantaskin briefly.  Livingston was a distinguished soldier in the Scots Fusiliers, and served in Canada under Wolfe.  He was brought into Parliament as M.P. for Argyll in 1772 by John, 5th Duke of Argyll, and relinquished the seat in 1780, in favour of Argyll’s brother Frederick (Namier and Brooke).

On 19 October 1771 (transcript in FA: A001.096/08; A1818.006), following his father’s death, Adam Livingston was confirmed by James Earl of Errol (on behalf of the York Buildings Company, which administered the forfeited Callendar estate) in liferent of the Bantaskine estate, including Dick’s former lands, namely:

 ‘All and Whole the Said Sir James Livingston his lands of Bantaskine with the pertinents lying in the Barony of Callendar & the Sheriffdom of Stirling, as also all and heal that part of the lands of Bantaskine called the Lyme Lands with ane piece of ground on the west end thereof which were also acquired by the Said Andrew Dick, as also all and heal that easter and wester meadows of Bantaskine, as also that sixteen shilling eight penny land of the old town and lands of Falkirk with a cottace [sic] land belonging thereto extending to a ten shilling land of old extent.’   

In September 1790 notice was given that the

‘Policy and Parks of Bantaskin consisting of about 66 Scots acres currently possessed by Colonel Livingston himself are to be let and can be entered to at Martinmas 1790, being all delightfully situated, and fit for the accommodation of a family wishing to settle on a healthy spot hard by good markets, and roads leading to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling etc.

‘Whoever are inclined to take feus or lets of any part of the premises may apply to John Burn, Writer, Falkirk who will treat and transact with them…Application can also be made to John Campbell, Writer to the Signet.’

In 1791 another advert appeared for what seem to be additional lands for feuing or letting ‘all to be entered into at Martinmas 1791’.  The 1791 advertisement defined these lands as:

Bantaskin(e) Estate is positioned between the two canals, the Forth & Clyde ('Great Canal') to the north, and the Union Canal to the south.  South Bantaskine is south of the Union Canal.

‘Those Parks of Colonel Livingston’s lands of Bantaskine, presently possessed by Wm Waugh, Robert Walker and his subtenants, consisting of about 112 Scots acres of land, lying on the banks of the Great Canal, in the near neighbourbood of the town of Falkirk and the Villace [sic] of Camelon, all of easy access and most conveniently situated for carters, tradesmen and others, there being excellent free stone quarry on the grounds for building houses etc. and plenty of coal in the land and all around.

‘It is proposed to feu out grounds betwixt Camelon Villace [sic] and the Canal into such lots for building a house or yard on each – also the parks be south the Canal, occupied by Robert Walker and his subtenants in lots of one, two or three acres each – and Wm Waugh’s farms in lots of five, eight or ten acres each…

Such of the lands as shall not be taken off for feus will be let for nineteen years commencing from the said term of Martinmas 1791.

Likewise the House, Offices, Garden.’ (Transcripts in FA: A001.096/08)
This suggests that the estate had been divided into two different parcels of land for feuing and letting, the 1790 parcel without the ‘House’, and the 1791 parcel with the ‘House’, lying close to the Forth & Clyde Canal, or that Livingston finally decided to sell the entire estate. Livingston’s desire to reassign the lands may explain why he commissioned a map of ‘the lands of Bantaskin’ in 1790 from John Home, who drew up ‘A Plan of the Lands of Bantaskin, belonging to Colonel Livingston’, which was hand-coloured and linen-backed, with engraving by Kirkwood, Edinburgh.  The estate plan shows ‘house, formal gardens, meadows with boundaries, canal, post-road, Maggie Wood road, Soapree House, Shiel Hill, and the lands of Arnot Hill noted’ (National Records of Scotland, Repository code 234, reference RHP695). Adam Livingston certainly appears to have been eager to be rid of the estate at this point.  By 17 September 1791, acting with Captain John Livingston, he had sold at least part of the estate to Sir Alexander Campbell of Ardkinglas (d. 1810).  Dispositions continued into 1792.   On 1 April 1793 Campbell conveyed the estate (through James Ferrier WS) to Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo (1739-1806), a wealthy banker and improver. 
Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo (by Joshua Reynolds).

In 1799-1800, Forbes sold the Bantaskine estate to a Falkirk merchant, John Rankine, who was soon in financial difficulties.  In 1803 he was sequestrated, and this led to a complex series of transactions, including the intervention of James Aitken, a Writer in Falkirk, who acted as Rankine’s intermediary in his dealings with Forbes (to whom he had obviously not paid the £4,000 purchase price of the estate), and also of James Hill, a Writer in Glasgow, who obtained possession of the lands on 18 June 1804 (G.R.39.17.1804; FA: A001.096/08).  Thereafter the estate was conveyed to ‘Charles Hagart, Merchant, Glasgow’, who was seised in possession on 29 June 1804.  Hagart already appears as ‘now proprietor’ in a letter of acknowledgement of 1803 from Forbes to Aitken, possibly because he provided the money for discharging Rankine’s bond to Forbes for £4,000, the purchase price of the estate, which Aitken had forwarded to Forbes (G.R.703.2.1804; FA: A001.096/08; A1818.006). The disposition to Hagart records that he was seised in:

‘Parks of Pantaskine or Bantaskine called Wester Bantaskine and the lands of Tophill and Lymielands and wester & easter Meadows of Bantaskine, viz. Mansion House of Bantaskine and lands around the same, with a belt of planting and three parks to the west thereof, consisting in all of 69 acres, 3 roods and 17 bolls and Teinds.’

Among the Bantaskin writs, there are no deeds relating to the estate known as South Bantaskine, which was owned from 1828 by Robert and John Wilson.  However, land which is said to have formed a portion of the ‘the estate of Bantaskin sometime purchased by Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo’, namely the farm or ‘mailing’ of Newhouse of Bantaskine, was incorporated into South Bantaskine by disposition from James Rupel and Henry Arthur to John Wilson in 1836 (FA: EN 132/Wilson /7).  This implies intervening transactions.   ‘North’ Bantaskin, which is always ‘Bantaskine’ in the writs and in the family style (latterly without ‘-e’), was the principal estate, but it was evidently given the adjective ‘North’ as a geographical marker to distinguish it from its ‘new’ neighbour, which appears to have grown piecemeal as coal-bearing seams were discovered.

After a decade of financial and proprietorial uncertainty at the end of traditional Livingston ownership, the purchase of North Bantaskin by Charles Hagart put the estate on a very sound footing, ushering in a century of remarkable stability, thanks to the immense fortunes made by Scottish merchants in the West Indies.

The Hagart era

Charles Hagart ‘of Bantaskine’, a Scot born in 1747, was a very wealthy West India businessman with interests in trade and shipping, based in the island of St Thomas.  His wife was Elizabeth Molineux, daughter of Philip Molineux, whose first husband was John Heyliger, Governor of the Dutch-owned island of St Eustatius in the second half of the eighteenth century (FA: A001.096/08).  Charles Hagart died in September 1813, and his wife in December 1820, and both were buried in Falkirk Parish Churchyard, where there may have been a family lair.  A fragment of what is possibly Thomas Hagart’s gravestone was sketched by Geoff  B. Bailey prior to its disposal along with other fragments in 2000 (Calatria, 26, p. 16, fragment from lair 58).

In February 1810, with the place of notice given as Glasgow, the Edinburgh Gazette reported that ‘the co-partnership of Charles Hagart and Co. is this day dissolved’, and that the same business was ‘to be carried on in future under the firm of Hagart, McBean & Co by the patrons of the late concern, CHARLES HAGART, ROBERT HAGART, THOMAS C. HAGART’.   Robert Hagart, a Glasgow-based merchant, with a house in George Square (Somerville 1891, p. 22), was Thomas’s first cousin, and it is evident that this new arrangement was a family partnership under a wider umbrella, presumably created to ensure the future of the company following Charles Hagart’s death, which occurred three years later, when he left a personal estate of just over £18,000, and £40,000 worth of consolidated annuities (FA: A001.096/08).  Both Robert Hagart and Thomas C. Hagart are noted by Tom Devine in his list of ‘Glasgow Colonial Merchants, 1770-1815’ (Devine 2006, pp. 91-2). Thomas appears to have had a brother, Charles junr, ‘formerly of the Island of St Thomas’, who died at Stannard’s Hotel, Covent Garden, on 12 December 1811 (Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 112, p. 672).

Thomas Campbell Hagart, son of Charles Hagart and Elizabeth Molineux, was born in St Thomas in 1784.  On 23 August 1813 at Glasgow Field, Thomas, styled ‘younger of Bantaskine’, married Elizabeth Stewart ‘of the Field’, ‘a famous Glasgow beauty of her day’, who was born about 1783, and was the only daughter of Thomas Stewart of Westforth (Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Miscellany, Vol. 75, pt 2, p. 717; died July 1824, Blackwood’s Magazine, Vol. 18, p. 528).  Her maternal uncle, James McCaul, known as ‘McCaul of Belvidere’, who owned a house in the vicinity of George Square, Glasgow (Somerville 1891, p. 17), was co-owner with James Bruce of the island estate of Belvedere, St Vincent, in the West Indies. McCaul (whose surname is spelt ‘McCall’ beyond the family, which consistently uses ‘McCaul’) purchased an estate called ‘Belvidere’, a couple of miles outside Glasgow, in 1798.  Upon McCaul’s death, under his will of 1823, Elizabeth Hagart inherited his Belvedere, St Vincent, estate as residuary legatee (Summary of Individual Legacies of British Slave-ownership).  This was a sugar plantation run by slaves.  In 1834 compensation of £5,310 10s 3d was paid to Elizabeth Hagart as ‘owner-in-fee’ (St Vincent 501) for emancipation.  The number of slaves on her Belvedere estate was 199 in 1824, but it had fallen to 184 by 1834, as the records of slave-owning estates show (below).

Thomas C. Hagart and his wife appear to have been resident in Scotland by at least 1819, when their second daughter, Ann Elizabeth Molineux, was born in Edinburgh.  They were living at Bantaskin by 1824, and ‘well set up’ by inherited wealth, with a sugar-growing estate in St Vincent, Westforth estate in Lanarkshire, and a country estate near Falkirk. Thomas Hagart was granted heraldic arms in 1824 (Seton 1863, p. 129), a sign of his ‘arrival to landed power’ sometimes sought by the new ‘merchant aristocracy’ (Devine 2006, p. 68).  The escutcheon granted to Hagart has entered heraldic history as it was ‘somewhat curious’ in its ‘extension of the “matrimonial allusion”’, because ‘in the second and third quarters we find the bearings of the family of McCaul “as a mark of regard and affection for the memory of the patentee’s wife’s maternal uncle of that name”!’ (Seton 1863, p. 129).  In 1824, Hagart became a member of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. 

The Hagarts had two sons, Charles, born in 1814, and James McCaul, born in 1817. Both became distinguished officers in the British army, entering the 7th Hussars as cornets in 1832 and 1837 respectively.   Both were in India, in service with the 7th Hussars, and both held command of the regiment.  In the Valuation Roll for 1865, they each owned half of the three fields of North Bantaskin, while their father owned the house and gardens. Lieut Colonel James McCaul Hagart CB’s address was then said to be ‘Belevedere St Vincent, West Indies’, while that of his brother Colonel Charles Hagart CB was ‘Commandant Cavalry Depot, Maidstone, Kent’. 
One photograph exists showing Colonel James McCaul Hagart dressed rather eccentrically in non-military attire, while undertaking his military duties in India (Hagart brothers’ military service).  Both were soldiers of exceptional bravery, as recognised by their CBs, and James was actually recommended for a VC by Sir Hope Grant for his gallantry at Lucknow.  A memorial cross to both brothers was erected in Camelon Cemetery, Falkirk.  

A memorial to the Hagart brothers stands in Camelon Cemetery, Falkirk.
From the Scottish War Graves website.
Thomas and Elizabeth Hagart had five daughters, of whom three died at relatively young ages, namely Mary Ann (1822-40), Susan (1827-41), who was buried in the Protestant Cemetery, Augusburg, Germany, and Zina (1824-42), who died at Beauvais, France (Gentleman’s Magazine 1842, p. 334; FA: A001.096/08).   Two other daughters, Eliza (1817) and Ann (also ‘Anne’), lived into adulthood.  Ann Eliza (full name, Ann Elizabeth Molineux Hagart) was with her parents at Bantaskin in 1851, and remained unmarried.  In 1836 ‘at Bantaskine’, Eliza Stewart Hagart married Alexander Speirs of Elderslie House, a match which was evidently highly regarded in the right circles, as the Speirs had status arising from their success as Glasgow ‘tobacco barons’.  Speirs later became M.P. for Richmond.  Both Thomas and Elizabeth were at pains to provide for their unmarried daughter Ann Elizabeth Molineux Hagart, but Elizabeth regarded her daughter, Eliza Speirs, as sufficiently well set-up by her marriage and her father’s legacy not to need further endowments through her will.  Eliza’s first husband, Alexander Speirs, died in 1844, and in 1867 she married Edward Ellice of Invergarry. Eliza’s daughter, also named Eliza, married into the military family of the Alexanders of Ballochmyle.

It is certainly clear that Thomas C. Hagart was an extremely rich man.  When he died in 1868 in a house which he owned at 47 Eversfield Place, St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, his will shows that his personal estate alone in the United Kingdom came to some £78,243. Major General (formerly Colonel) Charles Hagart, as the elder son and educated at Eton, inherited the Bantaskin estate. Upon his retirement on 12 November 1858, his younger brother Lieut Colonel James McCaul Hagart was given the estate of Belvedere, St Vincent, by his mother, and that explains his presence there in 1865.  

Mrs Elizabeth Hagart died at Weston-super-Mare in October 1869.  As her will shows, she was a very wealthy woman in her own right, leaving personal estate worth £47,421 in the United Kingdom, including consolidated stock (£3,400) in the Forth and Clyde Navigation Company, and debenture stock (£2,400) in the Scottish Central Railway Company (Caledonian Railway).  She was also firmly independent, as she did not give her St Vincent estate to her husband, nor did they hold it jointly, as she was evidently very loyal to her McCaul benefactor and his name, while maintaining her interest in her father’s Scottish estate of Westforth.  She also ‘part bought commissions in the army’ for James, and, in her will, she states that her not giving him a larger share is explained by her earlier gift of the Belvedere estate, her army purchases and provisions by her late husband. 

Eastbury Manor, Compton, Guildford, Surrey, is now a Grade II Listed Building, and a BUPA Care Home.

When Charles Hagart and James McCaul Hagart died, Charles in 1879 and James in 1894, their respective personal estates amounted to £100,000 and £118,000.  At the time of his death, Charles was living in Eastbury Manor, near Guildford, Surrey, but his will makes no mention of Bantaskin estate, being concerned to bequeath his Surrey home to his sister, Ann Elizabeth Molineux Hagart, who, presumably, had continued to live in Bantaskin House, or took to do with it, until it was sold.  Thereafter she went to live at Eastbury Manor until her own death in 1895.  At the time of his death, James was living at 13 Queen Street, Mayfair, and, by means of an instrument under French law, had disposed of an estate, ‘Barbiccagia, in the Commune of Ajaccio’, in Corsica, ‘in favour of my niece Eliza Alexander’ (wife of General Sir Claud Alexander of Ballochmyle) prior to making his will in 1889.  No mention is made of Belvedere, St Vincent, which was presumably sold at an earlier date, and the proceeds invested in Barbiccagia.  No wives or immediate family, other than the Hagart sisters, Eliza and Ann, are mentioned in either will. 
Barbicaggia, Ajaccio, Corsica, as it is today.

James’ remaining sister and the last of the Hagarts, Eliza Stewart Ellice (formerly Speirs) of Invergarry, died at Eastbury Manor in December 1910, as the confirmation of her will indicates.  Edward Ellice (1810-80), her second husband whom she married as his second wife in 1867, was the son of Edward ‘Bear’ Ellice (1783-1863), who bought the Glengarry estate in 1839. The Ellices (probably Edward jnr) bought Glenquoich in 1863.  Edward jnr was a  Liberal M.P. for St Andrews Burghs for 42 years. Both Eliza and her husband undertook building projects in the area.  Eliza is credited with the building of Invergarry Hotel in 1885, the parish church in 1864, the school in 1868 and other houses in the village (Ardochy House Cottages).

Elizabeth Stewart (Hagart) Ellice, formerly Speirs, is buried at Tornacarry,
Invergarry.  Image from Find a Grave, uploaded by Jim Hunt.
All in all, the Hagarts were very much a ‘county family’, and regarded as such in their own time, being afforded notices in the ‘class journals’ of their era, and reckoned among ‘the top ten thousand’ in the United Kingdom.  Mrs Hagart was able to discuss the prospects of James McCaul Hagart with no less a person than William Ewart Gladstone.  Gladstone notes in his diary: ‘Hagarts breakfasted with me — very nice boys.  Fr. reading as yesterday — billiards with Miss Hagart — long conv. with Mrs H. on her son's prospects (Js)’ (Foote 1968).  Thomas Hagart was also noticed in the publications of the Freemasons, and he was a Knight Commander of the Order of the Knights Templars (Statutes of the Religious and Military Order of the Temple 1843, p. 34).  So far, however, there is no evidence of any significant philanthropy on his part, though in later years his son General Charles Hagart maintained the family’s Falkirk connection by contibuting to the fund for coal for ‘the poor’.  Two letters by Thomas Hagart to William Forbes MP of Callendar, written in January 1835 and January 1836 respectively, show routine concerns, the first confirming the landholding status of his son Charles for voting purposes, and the second requesting a day’s shooting at Callendar for Charles and two friends (FA: A727.1230 (1), A727.1231 (8)), a courtesy which can be traced back to the days of the first Charles Hagart at Bantaskin, who wrote similarly in 1804 to ‘Copperbottom’ Forbes, father of William Forbes, MP.

The Hagarts thus fit firmly into the pattern of the very many enterprising, business-minded and hard-nosed Scots of the later eighteenth century and the early nineteenth, who went to the West Indies, and, through trade, transport and industry (in the form of slave-owning, sugar-growing estates like Belvedere, St Vincent), made immense fortunes which allowed them to become an integral part of the new ‘landed gentry’ with an abundance of ‘landed security’.  Money, rather than title, gave them land and status and access to the ranks of high society, which they obviously craved.  Eliza Stewart Hagart, the eldest and longest-surviving daughter, married well, first into the Speirs of Elderslie, West India tobacco merchants, and then into the Ellices, the owners of Glengarry and Glenquoich.  Her daughter continued to climb the grand ladder. At the same time, the Hagarts contributed, through their sons, to British imperial power, particularly in India.

This extract from a map of 1865 shows Bantaskin(e) House and gardens, with Maggie Wood's Loan on the right.

A couple of fascinating snapshots of Bantaskin House and its occupiers have survived from the days of the Hagarts. In the New Statistical Account of 1834-45, the house and grounds are described as follows:

‘Bantaskine House, the residence of T.C. Haggart [sic] Esq., is an elegant and substantial mansion of modern architecture.  It stands on an elevated spot, half a mile south-west of the town, and partakes of the fine prospect which has already been adverted to.  The grounds are encircled by luxuriant plantations.’

In the 1851 Census, we find that the house and estate were maintained by no less than twelve servants, comprising coachman, footman, groom, butler, laundrymaid, kitchenmaid, cook, ladysmaid, dairymaid, head gardner and two gardners.  

This certainly squares with the dimensions of the house itself and the acreage of the estate.  These were described in 1911, when Bantaskin was put on the market, as follows:

‘The Mansion House and Estate of Bantaskin, situated to the West of Falkirk.  The Grounds extend to about 89 acres.

‘The Mansion House consists of Three Storeys, and consists of Entrance Hall, and Lounge, Dining-Room, Drawing-Room, Parlour, Library, Boudoir, Billiard-Room, Cloak-Room, 8 Bedrooms, Dressing-Room, 2 Bathrooms, 3 Servants’ Bedrooms, Servants’ Parlour, Kitchen, and other accommodation, including Wine Cellar and the usual Offices; also Entrance Lodge, stabling etc.

‘The Flower and Vegetable Gardens, which are walled in, extend to about 2½ acres, and contain Three Large Vineries, Pear-House and Orchid-Houses.

‘The Mansion House is surrounded by Shrubberies, and Lawns (including Tennis and Croquet Lawns), and the remainder of the ground is in pasture.’

We may well surmise that Bantaskin House was greatly enhanced by Thomas Hagart, but there is no evidence so far for the date of building or for any reconstruction.  The only surviving photograph showing the front of the mansion demonstrates that it was of a relatively unadorned Classical style, with a portico and columns, not unlike the frontage of Elderslie House, built to a Robert Adam design in 1782.
Elderslie House (demolished 1920).
Remarkably, as if to affirm and complement the photograph, we have a description of the approach to Bantaskin House, written about 1880 by the author of The History of Stirlingshire, who wanted to give the reader some impression of the ‘elegant mansions and villas’ in this part of Falkirk:

‘Bantaskine too has its own peculiar attractions.  Delightful is the walk along the avenue to the mansion.  Among the ornamental trees, thick and umbrageous, are magnificent specimens of the chestnut, plane and larch.  Three years ago, this old estate, than which a finer, for its extent, lies not within the bounds of Scotland, was purchased from General Haggart [sic] by Mr. Alexander McLean of Glasgow; but last year it became the property of Provost Wilson of Govan.  Near the house – externally a plain, yet substantial edifice – there is an old yew which measures 70 yards in circumference.’

Mr. Alexander McLean was a banker with the Bank of Scotland, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, and the estate was purchased on his behalf for £14,000 by his brother Robert McLean, Writer, Hillhead (FA: A001.096/08).  It may be of significance that James Wilson, in his will, indicates that he bought the estate from a Chartered Accountant (‘acquired by me under Disposition by Robert Reid Chartered Accountant in Glasgow’).  This may suggest that McLean had run into financial difficulties.

The Wilson era

When Provost James Wilson of Govan purchased the estate of Bantaskin in 1879, he was within a year of completing his third term as Provost of the burgh.  As he had been very effective in his duties, and honoured with regular dinners and accompanying speeches of appreciation (as, for example, in 1876 and 1877), he was offered a fourth term in office, which he refused. 
A contemporary cartoon of James Wilson as Provost of Govan.
Retirement from a very challenging role, which he had fulfilled with distinction from 1872 to 1880, now beckoned, and in 1881 he moved from his home in Govan to his new Falkirk estate.  James Wilson’s deep commitment to civic affairs involving ‘ordinary’ people stands as something of a contrast to the class-bound  aspirations and circles of Thomas Hagart.  It is therefore fascinating to note that, in spite of their very different perspectives, James Wilson too was a West India merchant. 

James was born in 1823 in Edinburgh, and not Maryhill, as claimed in his obituary in the Falkirk Herald (FH, 28 May 1904).   He was the son of Robert Wilson and Margaret Jackson, whose banns were called at Glencorse, Midlothian, on 12 April 1822.  According to his obituary, which is not always reliable on important points of detail, James Wilson’s family appears to have moved to the Glasgow area, and to have been located in Jordanhill and Scotstoun, and also Paisley.  In 1842 he was apprenticed to Messrs John Taylor, jun., & Co., West India merchants, who had premises in Cochrane Street.  He went to Trinidad in 1845 to manage the firm’s branch house, evidently in Port of Spain.  A year later, with the resignation of the younger John Taylor, he became a partner with Mr Taylor, senior, and for a period the firm was known as ‘Taylor and Wilson’.  This was a standard career-track for young Scottish merchants in Trinidad, as Bridget Brereton (1979, p. 51) has noted:

‘The Scots, though relatively few in numbers, were an extremely influential commercial group, dominating the “dry goods” business, the larger stores dealing in everything except food.  Scottish merchants sent out young men to Trinidad to work as shop assistants or clerks, often in stores owned by relatives in Trinidad or by Scottish firms.  If they were industrious they would, after a few years, set up businesses themselves, or be admitted as partners to established Scottish merchants.’

In 1846, too, at Port of Spain James Wilson married his boss’s daughter, Agnes, in the small Baptist church where the Rev. John Law had only recently arrived from England under the auspices of the Baptist Missionary Society. 
Mrs Agnes Wilson with baby Edwin Connell Wilson.
 This was to be a ‘good career move’, as such marriages usually were, as he came to own the firm, and eventually it became James Wilson, Son & Co. and James Wilson & Sons, as his sons were admitted as partners.  Its business was conducted from Glasgow, variously at 166 Buchanan Street, and 38 West George Street.

James Wilson in his middle years with top hat!
Wilson & Sons are described in the obituary as ‘merchants and planters’, in sugar and cocoa, ‘in a large way of business’.  Wilson’s will (FH, June 1904) shows that he had interests in ‘several shipping concerns’, among them the Trinidad Shipping and Trading Company, and that he was also involved in the Scottish Employees’ Liability and General Insurance Company (Limited).  The total value of his estate at the time of his death was £153,563 – a very substantial amount of wealth, directly comparable with that of the Hagarts.

Wilson returned to Scotland as ‘home partner’ in 1859, and appears to have built a substantial house at 595 Paisley Road West, Govan, which was known as ‘Trinidad Villa’, and where he and his family were resident from at least 1867-68 (Glasgow Street Directory), with three servants in 1871 as listed in the Census for that year, namely Janet Fairlie (41, from Killearn), Margaret McIntyre (35, from Kilbrandon) and Sophia McReddie (27, from Ferintosh or Tain).  Janet Fairlie remained with the family throughout her active life, and appears to have been instrumental in introducing her nieces, Janet and Mary, to Bantaskin House.  Mary was later to marry my great-uncle Sandy MacDonald from Caolas, Tiree, and the Fairlies were to become, and remain, friends of the MacDonald and Meek families to the present day.

Having moved from Govan, Wilson lost no time in improving his new estate.  The third edition of Nimmo’s History of Stirlingshire informs us:

‘North Bantaskine (James Wilson, Esq.,) is fully entitled to a place of some consideration among the notable estates of Stirlingshire. The grounds contain some of the finest specimens of the yew, larch, plane, and chestnut in the county, together with a fine fragment of the Roman wall. The lawn in front of the mansion is in beautiful condition, and the garden and green-houses are also in a very perfect state. Mr. Wilson, who only became proprietor of the place about two years ago, has not only enlarged, but greatly improved his residence.’

James Wilson’s sons, Robert, James, Edwin and Gilbert, moved between Scotland and Trinidad, and acted as the firm’s representatives overseas. The most prominent of these was Robert, the eldest, who went to Trinidad at the age of nineteen, and later became the owner of the Mayfield estate, Falkirk, immediately to the east of Bantaskin.  In 1891 he was resident in Mayfield House, with his wife Charlotte Lydia Ross, and his eight children, together with no less than six domestic servants.  Both Robert and Charlotte, and several of their children, were born in the ‘Trinidad British Colony’.  After his father’s death in 1904, Robert moved to Bantaskin House, and remained there until his own untimely death in 1908.
Mayfield House, the residence of Robert Wilson.
Though his sons attended to the firm’s overseas representation, James Wilson himself visited Trinidad regularly, even when he was Provost of Govan, as in 1876.  His last visit is said to have been in 1897, when, according to his obituary, ‘the black people were so delighted to see their old friend that, without reserve, they went up to him, and threw their arms around his neck.’ 

This would appear to be no exaggeration.  The Wilsons seem to have enjoyed a close and happy relationship with Creole people.  In fact, James Wilson, junior, married ‘Marion, elder daughter of the Hon. Julian H. Archer’ in All Saints Church, Port of Spain, Trinidad, on 14 November 1900.  The Archers were a very prominent Trinidadian English Creole family with mercantile interests, among others.  A very fine photograph of a beautiful coloured lady has survived among my family’s Bantaskin photographs, and this is almost certainly Marion Archer Wilson, who, though coloured, would have been English-speaking.  The 1901 Census records that Marion and James were at Bantaskin House in that year, and it is highly likely that the photograph was given to Mary Fairlie as a special keepsake of the occasion. 

This may be Mrs Marion Wilson (nee Archer), wife of James Wilson jnr.
The 1901 Census also shows that the house was maintained by five domestic servants, Ellen Wilson (44) from Ayrshire, Mary Fairlie (32) from Killearn, Flora MacKinnon (28) from Tobermory, Christina MacLean (32) from Tiree, and my great-aunt Annabel MacDonald (22) from Tiree.  Mary Fairlie’s sister Janet was also there, probably in the 1890s. We know too that my great-uncle Alexander (‘Sandy’) and my grandmother Nancy were both at Bantaskin in 1899, when Sandy issued the invitations to attend the marriage of Nancy to my grandfather James Meek on Friday 2nd June 1899.  The instruction at the foot of the card read simply: ‘Reply to BANTASKIN, FALKIRK’.  No more was needed, and no place could have been more appropriate for the event.

James Wilson in pensive mood at his desk.
This is all of a piece with the broader perspectives of the Wilson family, which combined a concern for people of all classes with a kind-hearted philanthropy, the evidence of which has outlasted Bantaskin House, and extended beyond his home and business.  In December 1875, for example, ‘Provost Wilson, in the presence of a large number of spectators’, laid the ‘memorial stone’ of Govan’s new Baptist church, and gave a speech which showed his knowledge of, and deep commitment to, Baptist witness in Govan and Glasgow (GH, 6 December 1875). His Baptist commitment, however, is seen pre-eminently afteer 1880 in the gathering and building of Falkirk Baptist Church, of which he and his son Robert were members and office-bearers.  James Wilson met half the costs of the original ‘tin kirk’ in Melville Street, and also of the 1897 building in Weir Street, which is used to the present day (Polland 1999, pp. 8-25).

Memorial window to Mrs Agnes Wilson and Mrs Charlotte Wilson in Falkirk Baptist Church.
Appropriately, the church contains two fine stained-glass windows in memory of members of the Wilson family.  Above the pulpit, in the south gable, stands a particularly poignant window which was installed in 1897 by James Wilson in memory of his own wife, Agnes, and his daughter-in-law, Charlotte Lydia, Robert’s wife.  Both ladies died tragically and unexpectedly within months of each other in 1892, Agnes in February, and Charlotte Lydia in May.  In 1905 Robert, ‘a veritable tower of strength’ and a Deacon of the church, installed a fine window in memory of his father, James Wilson, in the north gable.  This adds a colourful and warm-hearted touch of ‘class’ to what continues to be a fine building, but, above all, it bears eloquent witness to the generous, supportive and close-knit nature of the family of the Wilsons of Govan and Bantaskin.

Memorial window to James Wilson, Falkirk Baptist Church.
James Wilson was generous with his skills, time and money in other areas of Falkirk life.  He was an Honorary President of the local YMCA.  More signficantly, he was a staunch Liberal, and very active in the politics of Stirlingshire, helping the Home-Rule candidate to a major political triumph in a difficult contest in 1886, and acting as the first President of Falkirk Liberal Club.  His last public appearance on the platform, when he was in failing health, was met with such adulation that he was overcome with emotion and unable to speak. According to his obituary, ‘He always kept himself in touch with every section of the party, from the head down to the poorest member, showing quite as much respect for the one as for the other’. 

That is fair comment, it would seem, and it explains fully why, when my Aunt Annabel reached her own last years in ‘Coll View’, Caolas, Tiree, in the late 1960s, nothing pleased her more than to recall, with a broad smile, the many kindnesses she had known, and the many friendships she had made, in Bantaskin House, the home of James Wilson and his family, a millionaire in today’s terms, but a man whose warm ‘embrace’ reached even the hearts of his servants.

Hagart, Wilson and the merchant aristocracy

James Wilson was born in 1823, about the same time as Thomas Hagart became a recognised landowner on Bantaskin estate.  Both men were separated by a generation, and much had changed in that period.  Hagart and his father were at the height of their careers before emancipation in 1833, and would have been slave-owners, as Elizabeth Stewart Hagart certainly was on her inherited Belvedere estate, while Wilson was active after 1840, and would not have owned slaves.   Emancipation may have changed such men’s perspectives not only on the relationship between a wealthy merchant and his workers, but also on their relationship to the world beyond their immediate circles. 

It is certainly evident that, in terms of social attitudes and aspirations, the two men were very different, although they shared very similar business contexts.  When he settled at Bantaskin, Hagart acquired all the signs of the ‘arrived’ landed potentate, including heraldic arms and membership of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.  His own marriage and those of his daughters were high-class ‘world events’, and the family moved in the ‘right’ circles, with an eye to continuing advancement.  His sons became distinguished soldiers of Empire, and their promotion was a matter of concern to Mrs Hagart in her conversations with Gladstone.   In short, the Hagarts used their status as wealthy landowners to exploit the social and political prestige which such status bestowed.  Their perspectives also seem to have been directed towards the corridors of power within the British Empire, and specifically in the south of England, where all the main members of the family – father, mother and all four of their surviving children – were latterly resident.

Wilson shared with Hagart the ultimate earthly ambition of those who accumulated wealth through commerce, namely to become ‘landed proprietors’, whose status was recognised not by lineage and inherited title, but by their ‘self-made’ achievements, crowned with the ownership of an estate.  Wilson, however, reached his goal much later in life than Hagart, and there is no evidence that he sought badges of power to affirm his presence among the landed aristocracy.

Both Hagart and Wilson operated within the networks provided by the West India merchants of Glasgow and their associates.  Both married within the  group, Hagart into the Stewarts of Glasgow Field and Westforth, and Wilson into the Taylors of Glasgow, with whom he served his apprenticeship.  Their offspring did likewise.  Hagart’s daughter Eliza married into the wealthy Speirs merchant family of Elderslie, and Robert, James Wilson’s son, married Charlotte Lydia Ross, whose father John Ross was also a West India merchant.  His second son James married into the prestigious Trinidad family of the Hon. Julian H. Archer, which had strong mercantile interests.

Beyond merchant circles, however, Wilson’s worldview was shaped by his own roots, which did not lie, as far as we can judge, within an already wealthy kindred.  He had risen from much more lowly circles than Hagart, with no pre-existing West India connection. He had no ‘paternal acres’ to inherit, and they were clearly not his first, or even his second, priority.  Civic service called more loudly.  His long tenure of office as Provost of Govan from 1872 to 1880 sets him apart from the Hagarts, but places him firmly within the Glasgow West India merchant circle, which provided several Provosts of Glasgow. Like these merchants, James Wilson operated in the ‘outside’ community as a man of influence, and exercised political leadership for the wider good of society and of many much less fortunate than himself, namely the working class of Govan in an era of rapid industrial expansion.  It is telling that he identified with Govan to the end of his days, and that he and his son Robert were buried in the family vault in Craigton Cemetery.

In addition, Wilson’s values were nurtured by his evangelical Christian faith within the Baptist denomination, which had a strong connection with working-class people, while depending to some considerable extent on the generosity of wealthy men and, to a lesser degree, women, to fund their outreach and to support the building of premises.  Evangelical Christians were to be found among Glasgow’s West India merchants, but they were usually within the Presbyterian fold, and most joined the Free Church in 1843.  Wilson was unusual in being a Baptist.  In addition to his support for the local Baptist cause, he  contributed to the life and politics of Falkirk and Stirlingshire.  In these ways, he seems to have been less self-seeking, and more altruistic, than Thomas C. Hagart.  Hagart’s gaze was upwards to prestige, while Wilson’s was downwards to the wider social good.  

It is noteworthy too that the Wilsons’ West India interests lasted much longer than the Hagarts’. Thomas Hagart’s sons became high-ranking officers in the British Army, and their business interests declined accordingly.  They appear to have lost interest in Bantaskin House and estate after their father’s death, if not long before.   James Wilson’s business was passed to his sons, who likewise made Scotland their base, and then to his grandsons, employing much the same principles as Wilson himself had done, with family members acting at home or in Trinidad as required.  His sons, Gilbert Taylor Wilson and Edwin Connell Wilson, each designated ‘West India merchant (Retired)’ on their death certificates, were latterly based in the west of Scotland, the former dying at 4 Bute Mansions, Glasgow, in 1928, and the latter normally resident at Luss Hotel, Luss, at the time of his death in 1948.  His grandson (Robert’s son), John Ross Wilson, was designated a West India merchant at the time of his father’s death in 1908, and his son James died in Trinidad in 1915, shortly after enlisting in the 1st Merchants’ Contingent, with a view to service in the First World War.  Three of Robert’s sons – James, John Ross and Tom Taylor – attended Glasgow University for a year each in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth (University of Glasgow Story).

Decline and decay

Although the Wilsons’ firm and certainly their West India interests appear to have survived well into the twentieth century, the family’s connection with Bantaskin House seems to have weakened both speedily and substantially after Robert’s death in 1908. The house and estate were put on the market in 1911, for an upset price of £17,000.  By 1914 it was still unsold, and it was re-advertised at an upset price of £10,000.  The drop in value reflects the economic downturn which affected Falkirk at that time, and foreshadows the effect of the First World War on the local and national economy. 

However, the papers of James Love contain remarkable evidence that a group of Falkirk citizens was considering buying Bantaskin House and estate for the town at precisely this point.  The evidence consists of a pamphlet, marked ‘PRIVATE’, with the title, ‘Proposed Purchase of Bantaskin’, and dated ‘Falkirk, 16th January 1914’ (FA: A001.096/09).  The first paragraph reads:

‘In response to a widespread desire that some effort should be made by the Citizens of Falkirk to buy the Mansion House and Estate of North Bantaskin, Falkirk, a public meeting was held in Mathieson’s Rooms, Falkirk, on 8th inst. At that Meeting those present unanimously resolved to endeavour to form a Limited Liability Company, for the purpose of raising funds to acquire the same for recreative and other purposes.’

The pamphlet goes on to describe the house and estate, as summarised in the advertisements, but it also examines the potential of the estate, with a Report by John Duncan, the Professional of the Stirling Golf Club, who opined that ‘The turf is exceptionally good and little work would be required in making the greens’.  The proposal was that the company should raise a capital of £12,000 on the basis of shareholding.  What is described as ‘a feasible scheme’ for maintaining the property is then outlined, with estimates of Income and Expenditure (presumably for a single year), without taking into account the Minerals and other potential sources of revenue.  The writer of the pamphlet was at pains to point out that the grounds would ‘not be any more private than they are now’, and not retstricted to ‘Golf, Tennis, Bowling etc.’  A form was enclosed for those interested in taking shares to indicate their willingness to do so, and to what extent.  A Prospectus would then be issued, inviting people to subscribe ‘the necessary Capital’.  The pamplet was signed by James Muirhead, Convener of the Committee (formed at the meeting of 8th January), and by A. & J. C. Allan & Co., Solicitors.

This document foreshadows what, a century later, would have been a fairly standard procedure for rescuing and developing a facility deemed to be of value to a town. A similar process would have been put into effect when Callendar House, for example, was bought and restored.  There is, however, no evidence that the proposal for Bantaskin House and Estate went much further.  The downturn caused by the war probably dampened enthusiasm and reduced potential funds.

The advertisements of 1911 and 1914 emphasise the ‘imminent Feuing Value’ of the estate, and, with the 1914 proposal apparently in abeyance, it would seem that Bantaskin Estate was gradually feued out.  This appears to have caused difficulties when, in September 1937, Falkirk Town Council ‘abandoned’ an attempt to acquire some ground.  The Council had received advice from the Secretary of the Department of Health for Scotland ‘with reference to the proposal to acquire a site at North Bantaskin for housing purposes’.  The Chief Valuer, in an enclosed copy of a letter, had intimated ‘that practically all the available frontages of Bantaskin have been feued, the extent being 25 acres, and asking in view of this if the Town Council wish to reconsider their decision to acquire the ground’ (FH, 25 September 1937).  The Town Council duly reconsidered.  However, the Council was able to acquire ground from Bantaskin Estate for the building of Falkirk High School and council houses to the south of what is now Westburn Avenue, where the area preserves the name of Bantaskin in its street nomenclature.

Presumably members of the Wilson family were still active in estate affairs as proprietors, at least in matters pertaining to private feuing, but it would seem that none lived at Bantaskin House for any substantial part of the twentieth century, though this requires further investigation.  On Robert’s death in 1908, the house would have passed to his sons who had already made their own arrangements, and would not have wished to encumber themselves with a large mansion, requiring costly maintenance. His brothers likewise would have been self-sufficient in this regard.  Grandeur was no longer an essential part of the successful West India merchant’s trademark.

Gradually, over some forty years, the house decayed until, in 1947, lead was being stolen from the roof (FH, 8 October 1947). It was probably demolished soon thereafter.  It is little short of remarkable that it lasted as long as it did, and this may be an indication that the town was, on the whole, unwilling to part with it, and living in hope that a buyer would appear.  This did not happen.  The ground that was not feued for private housing was feued or rented out for farming, and individuals brought up in the area in the 1950s still remember the piggeries on the west side, between Frobisher Avenue and Anson Avenue, while others from an earlier generation remember the stables. 

No physical trace of the house itself now remains, but study of available maps of Falkirk from the mid-nineteenth century, and a survey of the area, show that it was located at a point where a line drawn due south from Rosebank Distillery intersects with the line of the Antonine Wall.  This places the site of Bantaskin House more or less in the middle of what is now Frobisher Avenue.  The main driveway to the house, shown in the photograph, corresponds roughly to the route of Queen’s Drive, which leads off Maggie Wood’s Loan.   The Loan marked the eastern boundary of the estate as it would have been in the second half of the nineteenth century. 
On the other side of Maggie Wood’s Loan was Mayfield Estate, formerly owned by Robert, James Wilson’s son.  He lived in Mayfield House from the 1860s, a fine Italianate mansion built for Provost John Russel, which still stands proudly as the last building associated with the Wilson family. When he became owner of Bantaskin Estate after his father’s death in 1904, and moved into the ‘big house’, Robert had only to cross Maggie Wood’s Loan.

Mayfield House alone bears witness to the style and grandeur formerly enjoyed by those wealthy West India merchants, the Hagarts and the Wilsons, in their ‘retirement years’ in Falkirk.  Like the Hagart family before it, the Wilson family vanished during the first half of the twentieth century.  Its status was built on money, and the family had no name or title or lineage to preserve its memory in public, beyond the stained-glass windows in Falkirk Baptist Church and obituaries and notices in the columns of newspapers.  By 1950 too, Bantaskin House had been reduced to rubble, and lived only in the memory of its former servants.

James Wilson in his later years.

Mrs Agnes Wilson.



James Wilson

In his will of 1894 (SC67/40/6 Stirling Sheriff Court Wills), James Wilson mentions several members of his wider family, and one member of his immediate family.  These may be of interest to distant relatives researching family history (with punctuation regularised):

(1) ‘Isabella Taylor, daughter of my sister-in-law Mrs Isabella Taylor, presently residing at Shawlands’;

(2) ‘my four sisters-in-law Sophia, Georgina, Mary and Jemima Taylor’;

(3) ‘my brother-in-law, William Taylor’;

(4) ‘my niece, Margaret White, now Mitchell, residing at Portland Place, Hamilton’;

(5) ‘my nieces, Catherine Taylor or Renison, wife of William Renison, Junior…Amelia Taylor and Jessie Taylor or McLeod, wife of Donald McLeod, presently residing at Bearsden’;

(6) ‘my female cousins, daughters of my late Uncle James Cowan, late Gardener at Holyrood’;

(7) ‘Margaret Golder, daughter of my deceased sister Mrs Elizabeth Wilson or Golder’

(8) ‘Mrs William McKay residing at Stromness’;

(9) ‘Mrs Martha Wilson or Allan, my sister’;

(10) ‘my sister-in-law Mrs Margaret Taylor or Park, presently residing at Royal Street, Gourock’;

(11) ‘my daughter Agnes Wilson, now Sturrock, [recently married] to John Frederick Sturrock, Doctor of Medicine, Broughty Ferry’.

[Agnes Sturrock died at ‘Arina’, Brook Street, Broughty Ferry, on 26 June 1906, aged 42.  Her husband died at the same address, aged 54, in February 1916, and his death was registered by his daughter Isabel Sturrock.]

Robert Wilson

In the 1891 Census, the children of Robert Wilson, son of James Wilson, are listed as follows: James (18) art student, John R. (14) scholar, Agnes T. (11) scholar, Tom T. (9) scholar, Robert (6) scholar, Cecil G. (3) scholar, Gladys M. (2), Dorothy (7 months).  The first two, and also Tom T., were born in Trinidad British Colony; Agnes T. was born in Govan, and the four youngest were born in Falkirk.



The present account, which rescues Bantaskin and its owners from obscurity, owes its existence to the recollections of my great-aunt Annabel MacDonald, a former domestic servant at Bantaskin House, to whom it is dedicated with deep gratitude for, and in warm and affectionate remembrance of, a wonderful lady who spent her last years at home in ‘Coll View’, Caolas, Isle of Tiree. She was Bantaskin’s finest ambassador.  


In addition to my debt to my Tiree relatives, I deeply indebted to those who have assisted my research for this paper.  In particular, I wish to thank the staff at Falkirk Archives, Falkirk Community Trust, Callendar House, for their excellent service, which went far beyond the fetching of documents. 

I would not have known of the collection of James Love FEIS, FSA Scot., had it not been drawn to my attention by an Archivist who spontaneously searched the catalogues for material relevant to my research.  James Love wrote articles about Falkirk’s life, institutions and people in The Falkirk Herald from the late 1890s to the late 1920s, and he assembled extremely valuable notes on the history of North Bantaskin, which are kept in two envelopes in Falkirk Archives.  I had already written the main part of this paper when I discovered his notes, but they filled a number of crucial gaps, and amply confirmed that my enquiry and the emerging article were on the right lines.  The Love collection led me to John Rankine, the Falkirk merchant who bought the Bantaskin estate in 1800, and to the vitally important bundle of papers associated with that transaction, namely A1818.006, which provides inventories of writs for previous owners as far back as the seventeenth century.

I am very grateful indeed to Mrs Esther Harland (nee Fairlie) for passing on the photographs of the Wilson family and Bantaskin House, which have preserved such a fine visual record of a former mansion and its owners.

I am also deeply indebted to Miss Linda Gowans, Sunderland, for tracing the on-line source for triennial returns for the British slave-owning estates of the Caribbean, and particularly for finding those for Belvedere in Elizabeth Hagart's time.


This article owes a great deal to sources which are very readily available on the internet, and accessible at a stroke or two of a computer keyboard, thanks to the digital revolution in resource enhancement over the last decade.  Even newspapers like the Falkirk Herald can be accessed on line as a result of the fine work of the British Library.  Basic information relating to all the principal individuals in the discusssion can be accessed merely by typing their names into the relevant sections of the outstanding facility Scotland’s People, for which I am most profoundly grateful.  Consequently, I do not provide references for these ‘obvious’ sources.  This helps to reduce the size of the article. 

I have, however, provided references and page numbers to printed papers and journals, and to less accessible sources, such as academic books and articles. Manuscript sources are listed in the usual way. I have also provided references to little-known digital sources, and I have listed useful websites.  Significant historical source-books, often out of print, are sometimes available on-line, and several of these are listed. 

It should be noted that Wills for the following individuals are available through Scotland’s People:  Thomas C. Hagart (with Inventory), Elizabeth Stewart Hagart (with Inventory), Charles Hagart, James McCaul Hagart, Ann Hagart, Eliza Ellice (with Inventory), James Wilson, and Robert Wilson (with Inventory).





FA: Falkirk Archives, Falkirk Community Trust, Callendar House

FA: A727.1230 (1), A727.1231 (8), Letters by T.C. Hagart

FA: 1818.006, John Rankine, Title Deeds, Rentals, etc. relating to Bantaskine

FA: A001.096/08, 09 James Love Papers

FA: EN 132/Wilson /7

Printed sources

Brereton, Bridget, Race Relations in Colonial Trinidad 1870-1900.  Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1979.

Calatria, Journal of the Falkirk Local History Society.

Cooke, Anthony, ‘An Elite Revisited: Glasgow West India Merchants, 1783-1877’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 32.2 (2012), pp. 127-165.

Devine, T. M., Clearance and Improvement: Land, Power and People in Scotland 1700-1900.  John Donald: Edinburgh 2006.

Devine, T.M., ed., Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection.  Edinburgh University Press:  Edinburgh 2015.

Dobson, David, ed., Scots in the West Indies. 2 vols. Clearfield Company Inc.: Baltimore, Maryland 1998-2006.

FH: The Falkirk Herald.

Foot, M.R.D., ed., The Gladstone Diaries 1825-1839.  Oxford University Press:  Oxford 1968.

Glasgow Street Directory 1867-68.

Hamilton, Douglas J., Scotland, the Caribbean and the Atlantic World 1750-1820.  Manchester University Press: Manchester 2005.

Polland, Ron., ‘I Will Build My Church:’ A History of Falkirk Baptist Church.  Falkirk Baptist Church: Falkirk 1999.

Reid, John, The Place Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire. Falkirk Local History Society:  Falkirk 2009.

Scott, Ian, The Life and Times of Falkirk.  John Donald: Edinburgh 1994.

Seton, George, The Law and Practice of Heraldry.  Edmonston and Douglas:  Edinburgh 1863.  Also available on-line.

Somerville, Thomas, George Square, Glasgow; and the Lives of Those whom its Statues Commemorate.  MacKinlay and MacCallum:  Glasgow 1891. Also available on-line.



Ardochy House Cottages,

Hagart brothers’ memorial, Camelon Cemetery, Falkirk,

Hagart slaves: see Slave Records for Former British Colonial Dependencies 1813-34,

Livingston, Descendants of Sir Andrew de,

Namier and Brooke, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790,

Nimmo, History of Stirlingshire,

Statutes of the Religious and Military Order of the Temple,

Summary of Individual Legacies of British Slave-ownership,

University of Glasgow Story,


  1. Hi there. Marvellous stuff this. Thank you for sharing.

    Would you mind if I use the image of Marion Wilson? Please make contact. All the best.

  2. I am delighted that you have found this article useful, Rudy! Yes, of course - feel free to use the material. I have discovered further Wilson photographs in the family archive. I produce research of this kind so that it will be of benefit to others. It is particularly pleasant - but EXTREMELY rare - to receive an appreciative comment. Well over 1,000 readers or browsers have seen this article, but you have been the first to acknowledge its value. A great deal of effort goes into such projects, although they are the products of personal enthusiasm and curiosity. They don't simply 'grow' on blogs and websites. Every best wish for your research. Let me know if you need any further assistance in what is a very interesting field. Most gratefully, Donald.

  3. Thanks for the permission to use the image. How this connects to my research is:
    James Wilson built Trinidad Villas in Glasgow having lived in the West Indies. This house leant its name to the area, and later, a football pitch, called Trinidad Park was rented to a football club called Parkgrove. The money to rent the Park came from a young mixed-race gentleman, called Andrew Watson, the first black footballer to captain a national team and to play internationally. His Scottish father was a plantation owner in Guiana, and his mother was a local free woman of colour. In 1877 James Wilson, now Provost for Govan, became the President of the Parkgrove Football Club. I wanted to use the image of Marion Archer to support the theme of diversity in later 19th Century Victorian Glasgow. Thank you very much for your permission. It will appear in the forthcoming publication, Andrew Watson: A Straggling Life.

    1. Rudy - My apologies for my slow response! My computer imploded in September, and I had to rebuild it! Then I knuckled down to completing a couple of books. So here I am again - just to say again, how delighted I am that my material was of use to you. Your discoveries about James Wilson do not surprise me in the least. His approach to 'diversity' was very different indeed from that of his predecessors on the Bantaskin estate!(!) Wilson's interest in football is fascinating too. All fascinating. Please keep me posted with regard to your publication. I look forward immensely to seeing it and reading it. Well done! Donald.

  4. Fascinating!
    My great grandfather James Campbell Beatson birthplace was listed as Bentaskine 31.10.1877
    He came to South Africa in 1900 and built a house which he called Bentaskine.

    1. Thank you! But which Bantaskine, I wonder? There were a few in Scotland, and two estates claiming the name in Falkirk itself. Can you tell us more! A very good New Year to you!