Robert Cunninghame Graham

1735 - 1797

Previous owner (non-claimant)


Son of Nicol (or Nicholas) Graham (1694/5-1775), laird of Gartmore, Perthshire, and Lady Margaret Cunninghame (1703/4-1789), daughter of William, 12th Earl of Glencairn.

1752, left for Jamaica, where he was a slave-owner, landowner and planter, politician, and public servant until 1770. By 1753, aged 18, he was the receiver-general of taxes. 1765, elected to national assembly for St David. He was associated with estates called Roaring River (as mortgagee-in-possession) and Lucky Hill, which has yet to be reconciled with that in the compensation records.

By 1770, he left Jamaica for Britain and became laird of Ardoch in Dunbartonshire. He had succeeded to the estate, (entailed upon him in 1757), on the death of his second cousin William Bontine in 1767 or 1768 [1].

Married (1) in 1764, Anne, daughter of Patrick Taylor of Jamaica . 3 daughters and 2 sons; (2) Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Buchanan of Spittal, Perth. His first wife was the sister of Simon Taylor of Jamaica (q.v.), who became an importance business contact for Robert.

His elder brother William was married but died in 1774 without sons, so Robert inherited Gartmore on their father's death on 16 November 1775. Following the death in late 1780 of his wife, Anne, [2] he married in 1786 or 1787 Elizabeth Buchanan Hamilton, daughter of Thomas Buchanan Hamilton of Spital. The marriage ended in separation in 1789.

Elected lord rector of Glasgow University in 1785-87 (replacing Edmund Burke). He is said to have been very active in this and in the reform of the internal government of the Scottish royal burghs. Friend of Charles James Fox and Thomas Sheridan. Became MP for Stirlingshire, 1794-1796. Active supporter of political reform including attempting to introduce a Bill of Rights. Supporter of the principles of the French Revolution. Lost his seat in 1796.

1796: death of John Cunninghame, 15th and last earl of Glencairn: Graham succeeded to the Finlaystone estates, Renfrewshire, and assumed the additional surname of Cunninghame.

In the 1780s and 1790s he had been active as a poet.

He was survived by his two sons: William and Nicol. He was grandfather of Robert Cunninghame Graham [Rubinstein 1863/76] and Thomas Dunlop Douglas Cunningham[e] Graham (both of whom q.v.), the sons of William Cunningham[e] Graham (who died in 1845).

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936), one of the founders of both the Scottish Labour Party and the SNP, was a lineal descendant, the great-great grandson.


William D. Rubinstein, Who were the rich? 1860- (Volumes 3 and 4, manuscripts in preparation), reference 1863/76; John Walker, ‘Graham , Robert, of Gartmore (1735–1797)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; National Library of Scotland, accessed 17/04/2014; R. G. Thorne, entry in History of Parliament online.

Portrait is by Henry Raeburn, 'Robert Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore, d. 1797. Poet and politician', National Galleries of Scotland, photography by Antonia Reeve.

For more on Robert Cunninghame Graham and two enslaved people who travelled to Scotland with him in 1770, see Katinka Dalglish, 'The Laird of Gartmore, his Creole Wife and their Jamaican slave, Tom', [accessed 06/09/2017].

[1] Cunninghame Graham Family Bible, by email from W R B Cunnighame Graham of Gartmore

[2] Letter from Robert Cunninghame Graham to Simon Taylor, 20/12/1780, by email from W R B Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore.

We are very grateful to W R B Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore for additional information in this biography.

Further Information

(1) Anne Taylor; (2) Elizabeth Buchanan
William Cunninghame Cunningham Grahame; Robert Cunninghame Cunningham Graham
Glasgow University [1749 ]
Oxford DNB Entry

Associated Estates (1)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1780 [EA] - 1788 [LA] → Mortgagee-in-Possession

Legacies Summary

Cultural (1)

Glasgow University...... 
notes →

Historical (1)

Doughty deeds: an account of the life of Robert Graham, 1735–1797... 1925 
notes →
Michael Morris has written on Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham's biography of his great great grandfather in 'Don Roberto on Doughty Deeds: or, Slavery and Family History in the Scottish...

Political (1)

Whig / West India interest 
election →
Stirling Stirling
1794 - 1796

Relationships (4)

Grandfather → Grandson
Grandfather → Grandson
Notes →
Robert Graham married Anne Taylor, sister of Simon Taylor. Petley White Fury p. 28 shows Robert Graham and Simon Taylor as partners in a Kingston merchant house until the early...
Attorney → Principal
Notes →
Robert Graham was identified in the will of Tobias Smollett as his 'attorney substitute' in...