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Robert Gordon (Esslemont, Ellon)

For family tree see Robert Gordon on Ancestry (subscription required)

Robert Gordon (1768-1814) was the third son of Robert Gordon of Hallhead and Esstlemont (Ellon, Aberdeenshire) and Lady Henrietta Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Aberdeen. [Thanage of Fermartyn but note d.o.b. wrongly given as 1764: for correct d.o.b. see OPR Ellon] His sister Katherine married James Baillie, a plantation owner in Grenada, Tobago and Guyana and a London merchant.

In 1804 Gordon married Anna Maria Parkinson (b1787), the Demerara-born daughter of a long established planter William Parkinson (1748-1803), originally from Delaware, and Mary Reading (1768-1853) [National Archives of the Netherlands, Dutch Series Guyana] Parkinson owned the 250-acre cotton plantation Grove, on the east sea coast of Demerara. They had one child, Harriet Elizabeth Gordon (1806-1859), born in Demerara.

Gordon was resident in Essequibo at the time of his marriage and was described as 'late of the Hope estate' [Scots Magazine]. At his death owned 30 acres of the plantation formerly known as Diamond on Leguan Island [E&DRG 20 Sep 1817] He also owned the much larger plantation Elizabeth Ann, also on Leguan [Princeton University Library: Statement of the affairs of the late Robert Gordon, dec'd to 1st January 1818 - for acquisition by Princeton see blog]

In October 1807 Gordon was one of 'five or six English gentlemen' who joined with an American named Hubbard in an attack on a privateer from Spanish Orinoco which had been 'committing ruinous devasations on the property of British planters' in Essequibo. They were captured by the privateer but later rose against the crew as it neared the mouth of the Orinoco. They retook their schooner and made for Tobago, where they arrived 'just in time to save their lives, for they were nearly in a dying state for want of water'. [Charles Waterton, Essays on Natural History, Chiefly Ornithology (London, 1838), xliii-xlvii]

In May 1810 Gordon was appointed 'Governor and Commander in Chief in and over the settlement of Berbice'. He took his oath in London in August [London Gazette, 29 August 1810]and in September sailed on the Saphire [Manchester Mercury - Tuesday 02 October 1810]. Gordon had an uneasy relationship with the colony's leading planters: 'in 1811 he dismissed the Deputy Receiver General without consulting the Court of Policy. During the ensuing furore in the Court over whether he had the right to do this Gordon even suspended one of its most respected members, the planter Samuel Kendall.' [Donald Wood referencing CO 319\10 Gordon to Liverpool 26 June 1811].

At the time of this appointment Gordon had made a bid to purchase the neglected Crown plantations in Berbice - a bid which was unsuccesful because the Treasury decided to appoint its own agent to manage the plantations, reporting directly to Treasury Commissioners rather than to the Lt Governor. The Commissioners included the leading abolitionists William Wilberforce, Zachary Macauly and three anti-slavery MPs who, through their agent Col Duncan Macalister sought to ameliorate the conditions of slaves on these plantations as a model for what might be achieved on a broader front. Gordon, as a slave owner, had misgivings. 'He feared that dis­content would grow among the majority of slaves in Berbice at this favoured treatment of a small minority: the chilling thought was yet another excuse for him to request an increase in the garrison of a colony where there were only 600 whites to 25,000 slaves.'  [Donald Wood referencing CO 111\78]

Gordon stood down as Lt Governor in June 1812. He was reappointed in February 1813 but fell ill and died in Martinique on 10 January 1814.

The 'Statement of the affairs of the late Robert Gordon, dec'd to 1st January 1818' now held by Princeton University reveals that he had six 'natural [illegitimate]children' - five daughters and a son. One of his slaves named Anthony was being educated in Aberdeen.

Harriet Elizabeth Gordon (1806-1859)

Harriet Elizabeth was born in Demerara on 3 August 1806 and died in Cheltenham on 29 April 1859 (Memorial, Cheltenham). She was orphaned by the death of her father in 1814 and brought up in the household of her father's cousin, Jane Gordon, and her husband Hugh Primrose Lindsay (1765-1844), a director and later chairman of the East India Company. They were said to have received £1000 a year for her maintenance.

Her father's cousin, Frances Gordon, remembered her as 'having been brought up with every kind of extravagance, two governesses to herself, and everything she fancied got for her.' And 'although her money (which was mosty West Indian) decreased very much in value . . . she continued recklessly extravagant.' [Adam Lindsay Gordon and his friends in England and Australia (London, 1912), 120]

She married her cousin Adam Durnford Gordon (1796-1857) and the family lived in the Azores, Madeira and then Cheltenham, squandering both her ownand her husband's money. Their son was the Australian poet and politician Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870).


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