TAMH: History


Tayside influence in the 19th century

The Scottish colony in Gothenburg had grown considerably by the start of the nineteenth century and merchants benefited from the Baltic blockade during the Napoleonic Wars as Sweden was not blockaded. Thomas Thomson from Crieff, and later Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow, made a visit to Sweden in 1812 and confirmed that the Scots, transhipping timber and iron were prospering,

'The principal merchants in Gothenburg are Scotsmen. In consequence of letters of introduction which we carried to several of them, we experienced from that liberal and respectable body a profusion of kindness and politeness which it was impossible to surpass, and which it would be very difficult to equal. The want of inns, and our ignorance of the Swedish language, would have made it very difficult for us to have procured dinner while we stayed at Gothenburg, but this difficulty was obviated by the merchants, with one or other of whom we dined every day during our stay in that city. The entertainments which they gave were in the Swedish style, and possessed a degree of splendour at which I was not a little surprised.'

Thomas Thompson, Travels in Sweden during the autumn of 1812, London, 1813

After the wars came the depression, the Arbroath-born William Gibson losing all his assets in both 1811 and again in 1815. By the 1820s though, he turned to rope and sailmaking, which had been his father's trade in Arbroath. The firm grew rapidly and moved out to Jonsered where he took the Dundee-born Alexander Keiller into partnership. The business expanded into engineering, making agricultural machinery, in the 1850s and, around the same time, a cotton mill was established. A son and a grandson, also William's, diversified very successfully into timber-processing machinery and brought the firm through to the twentieth century

Keiller left the business in 1839 and set up his own engineering works and was also involved in mining. His greatest success, though, was in shipbuilding and his yard the Gotaverken is still going today, albeit after government intervention in the 1970s as part of Svenska Varv.

The longest-lasting Tayside legacy to Swedish business came from David Carnegie. His father, George, from Southesk had fought for Prince Charles at Culloden and escaped with two other Tayside men in an open boat from Montrose. Picked up by a Swedish vessel, they were landed at Gothenburg where Carnegie worked himself up from employment as a shop assistant to being the owner of an import-export business, owning ships which sent iron and timber to Britain with butter, coal and wheat coming the other way. There was also an extensive trade with Russia. He returned to Scotland in 1769 and bought back the family seat at Pittarrow near Laurencekirk and another estate at Charleton. His son, David, was sent to Gothenburg in 1786 and worked first for the British Consul, Thomas Erskine, and then with John Hall, both of whom had previously worked for David's father. When Erskine returned to Scotland in 1800, David Carnegie took over his business which, on 4 May 1803, became D Carnegie & Co. Like his father before him, he exported iron and timber to Britain and had a healthy trade with Russia, importing flax. With the arrival of Carnegie's nephew, another David, in the 1830s, the company bought the Lorent sugar refinery and porter brewery in Klippan. Management of the company passed arond this time to the younger David although he returned to Scotland in 1845 leaving the running of the company to Oscar Ekman. Although it no longer refines sugar, nor makes, beer the company has survived to celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2003, as D Carnegie AB, a leading Scandinavian investment bank.

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