Sir David Baxter, 1st Baronet

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The grave of Sir David Baxter, Cupar in Fife

Sir David Baxter, 1st Baronet (1793–1872), was a linen manufacturer in Dundee, Scotland, and a baronet. He also performed a considerable amount of philanthropic work, benefiting his home city of Dundee and more widely Scottish education.

Early life and family[edit]

Baxter was the second son of William Baxter, of Balgavies, Angus, and was born in Dundee on 15 February 1793. He was educated at one of the local schools.

In 1833 he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of R. Montgomerie, of Barrahill, Ayrshire.

Business career[edit]

While still a young man, he became manager of the Dundee Sugar Refining Company. The concern was never prosperous, and notwithstanding his prudent and energetic management it collapsed in 1826.

Thereupon he became partner in the linen manufacturing firm of Baxter brothers, which included his father and his two younger brothers. Edward, his elder brother, had left it in the previous year to commence the business of a general merchant. From the time that he joined the firm he was practically its head, and on the death of his two brothers and his father within a few years afterwards he and the former manager of the works remained the sole partners.

In 1828 an attempt had been made by him to introduce power-loom weaving, but after a short trial it was abandoned until 1836, when its revival was followed by complete and extraordinary success. Through the mechanical skill of his partner in perfecting the machinery, and the business capacity and tact of David Baxter, the firm speedily became one of the largest manufacturing houses in the world; and to its remarkable success may be in a large degree ascribed the position which Dundee attained as the chief seat of the linen manufacture in Britain in the nineteenth century.

Public affairs and philanthropy[edit]

Although much immersed in the cares of business, Baxter took an active, if not very prominent, share in public affairs. In 1825 he was chosen a police commissioner, and in 1828 a guild councillor and member of the harbour board. A liberal in politics, he took a lively interest in parliamentary elections, both in Dundee and in the county of Fife, where in 1856 he purchased the estate of Kilmaron.

His enlightened regard for the welfare of his native town was, however, manifested chiefly in noble and generous benefactions which have given his name one of the highest places of honour in its annals. The most notable of these was perhaps his presentation, along with his sisters, of thirty-eight acres of land to Dundee as a pleasure garden and recreation ground, which, under the name of the Baxter Park, was opened by Earl Russell in September 1863. A 20,000 pound bequest on his death in 1872 led to the foundation of a mechanics' institute in 1888. Known then as the Dundee Technical Institute, the fore-runner of Abertay University today.

The foundation of the Albert Institute of Literature, Science, and Art (now the McManus Galleries) was due also chiefly to his liberality and that of his relatives; and in connection with Dundee Royal Infirmary he erected a convalescent home at Broughty Ferry at a cost of 30,000 pounds.

More important than his benefactions to Dundee were his gifts in behalf of higher education in Scotland. Besides building and endowing at Cupar, Fife a seminary for the education of young ladies, he established several important foundations in Edinburgh University, including scholarships in mathematics, philosophy, physical science, and natural science, each of the annual value of 60 pounds; and a chair of engineering, with an endowment of 5,000 pounds, which was supplemented by an annual parliamentary vote of 200 pounds.

On 1 January 1863 he received a baronetcy.

Death and legacies[edit]

He died 13 October 1872. He is buried in the old churchyard in the centre of Cupar in Fife, just west of the church. His wife, Dame Elizabeth Montgomery (1801-1882) is buried with him. They had no children.

Of his heritable and personal property, valued at 1,200,000 pounds, one half was divided among near relatives, and the other among distant relations and public institutions, the largest legacies being 50,000 pounds to the Free Church of Scotland, 40,000 pounds to Edinburgh University, and 20,000 pounds towards the foundation of a mechanics' institute in Dundee. Established as the Dundee Institute of Technology in 1888, since 1994 it has been known as Abertay University.

Before his last illness his attention was occupied with a scheme for linking Dundee with the neighbouring university of St. Andrews, and although he did not survive to carry out his plans, his relatives helped found University College, Dundee. Towards the purchase of buildings and general equipment of this college one of his sisters Mary Ann Baxter who died unmarried on 19 December 1884, contributed 150,000 pounds.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Baxter, David". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.