George Dempster of Dunnichen

(Honest George)

1732 - 1818

Politician and reformer. Born in Dundee, Dempster was educated there and at the University of St. Andrews. He inherited the family estates aged just 22 but, having toured Europe, he moved to Edinburgh to become an advocate. There he was part of a social and intellectual circle which included figures such as David Hume (1711-76), William Robertson (1721-93), James Boswell (1740-95), Alexander Carlyle (1722 - 1805) and Adam Ferguson (1723 - 1816), whose son became a life-long friend and confidant to Dempster.

Dempster was elected as Member of Parliament for the Fife and Forfar Burghs in 1762, one of the last elections to be determined by bribery rather than the democratic process. It cost him the vast sum of £10,000 and earned him the soubriquet of "Honest George". A radical, he opposed British actions in America and supported the colonists in their quest for representation. Serving in the administration of William Pitt, Dempster supported of free trade and became a director of the East India Company, but made himself unpopular by proposing the company confine itself to commerce, rather than territorial dominion. He did much to improve the social and economic conditions for Scottish people, often at considerable cost, taking part in the mill projects at New Lanark (1784), Stanley (1786) and Spinningdale (1794). He encouraged the fishing industry and formed a company which purchased land at Tobermory, Loch Broom and on Skye to build harbours and related fish-processing facilities.

Dempster retired from Parliament in 1790 and devoted himself to Scotland and the improvement of his estates at Dunnichen (Angus) and Skibo (Sutherland). He improved the lives of his tenants, built the village of Letham, drained Dunnichen Moss and Restenneth Bog. Dempster wintered in St Andrews, where he was able to associate with the Professors of the University. He was respected by poet Robert Burns (1759-96) and had streets in Dundee, Glasgow and Wick named in his honour.

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