John Gordon 4th of Cluny

1776 - 16th Jul 1858

Claimant or beneficiary


Col. John Gordon of Cluny, son of Charles Gordon and trustee of Sir Frederick George Johnstone (q.v.), his nephew.

The recipient with his brother Alexander Gordon (q.v.) of compensation for the Bacolet, Trois Rivieres and Spey Side estates in Tobago, for which there is extensive correspondence in the University of Aberdeen Archival Database.  Also counter-claimed apparently unsuccessfully as mortgagee on Betsey's Hope in Tobago. He left personalty of more than £250,000 on his death, with land worth several times more.

  1. John Gordon's grandfather John Gordon (1st of Cluny, died age 74 in 1769) was curator/factor to the 3rd and 4th Dukes of Gordon and also appeared as a merchant in Edinburgh and leased rights to salmon fishing on the Spey. This John Gordon founded the family fortune and acquired Cluny at some point between 1729 and 1753 - '... every shilling that he got within his fingers stuck to them'. He had four sons: Cosmo (2nd of Cluny, 1736-1800), Charles (3rd of Cluny and 1st of Braid, 1740-1814), Alexander (of Tobago, 1742-1801) and James (1749-1771).

  2. Cosmo (2nd of Cluny) was MP for Nairnshire, 1774-1777, Baron of the Exchequer 1777-1787, Rector of Marischal College 1782-1787 and continued to add to the family's landholdings, buying land in Moray, Nairn and Aberdeenshire. He died s.p. leaving £50,653 in personalty and the estate passed to his brother Charles.

  3. Charles (3rd of Cluny) was a Writer to the Signet and one of the Principal Clerks of Session. Bought the Braid estate in Edinburgh in 1772 and further land in Aberdeenshire. According to his obituary in The Times, he 'had all the penuriousness, if not all the ability for management, of his father. As he advanced in years the passion for saving became a perfect disease.' Charles married Joanna Trotter, daughter of Thomas Trotter of Mortonhall in 1775; John Gordon, 4th of Cluny was his eldest son.

  4. The third son of John Gordon (1st of Cluny), Alexander moved to Tobago, purchasing land there from at least 1770, eventually owning Trois Rivieres, Spey Side and Bacolet estates, which he bequeathed to John Gordon (4th of Cluny) and his younger brother Alexander Gordon (1779-1839). The youngest son James died in Tobago in 1771 aged 22 years.

  5. John Gordon (4th of Cluny) was educated at a school in Norwich and admitted St John's College Cambridge in 1797, matriculated 1799, awarded a BA in 1808. He became a second lieutenant in the Royal Aberdenshire Light Infantry in 1800, a lieutenant in the 55th Regiment, Aberdeenshire Militia in 1804, a major in 1808, lieutenant colonel in 1820 and honorary colonel in 1836. MP for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis 1826-1832. He made several large land purchases including: the islands of Benbecula and South Uist for £150,000; Midmar, near Cluny, for between £60,000 and £70,000; Kebbatty for £45,000. An agricultural improver and controversial figure in the Highland clearances. Rebuilt Cluny Castle 1820-1838.

  6. He was the subject of adverse comment reported in the Times over his conduct as guardian and trustee of Sir Frederick George Johnstone, the child of his sister Charlotte and Sir John Lowther Johnstone (who died in 1811), in the context of the electoral interest of the Pulteney-Johnstone family in Weymouth.

  7. A proprietor of East India stock, he may have been the ‘John Gordon’ who attended the special meeting of the West India Planters’ and Merchants’ Committee, 23 Nov. 1830, but he was not otherwise active on it. (Though this may have been John Gordon [1774-1834], West India planter, of Wincombe Park, Dorset, Clifton, Glos. and Jamaica.)

  8. He died, unmarried, at his house at 4 St Andrew's Square, Edinburgh, 16/07/1858. He left personalty in Scotland of £251,599 but the bulk of his wealth was in landholdings; according to The Gordons of Cluny at John Gordon's death he was 'credited with a fortune of £2,000,000'.

  9. By his will, dated 27/04/1837, proved in London, 29/08/1859, Gordon attempted to provide for his illegitimate children by his housekeeper and to create a distinct ‘Gordon of Cluny’ dynasty; his large estates in Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Inverness-shire, Midlothian and Nairnshire passed to his eldest son John, though there was 20 years of litigation involving John and his cousins.


GB 0231 Aberdeen University Special Libraries and Archives MS 3600/1/14 Gordon of Cluny: Papers relating to estates held in Tobago 1847-1990s;'ms%203600')&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqPos=35 [accessed 28/03/2011]; T71/891 Tobago No. 64; W. D. Rubinstein, 'Who were the rich?' 1858/56, MS supplied to LBS.

  1. John Malcolm Bulloch, The Gordons of Cluny from the Early Years of the Eighteenth Century down to the Present Time (privately printed, n.d.) pp. 4-8. The youngest son, James does not appear in the work of Bulloch. His baptism 10/06/1749 in Fochabers: GROS OPR Births 126/ 10 77 Bellie. Notice of his death by email from Derrick Johnstone, 24/02/2020.

  2. Bulloch, Gordons of Cluny pp. 9-18; History of Parliament Online, [accessed 27/02/2020]; Edinburgh Commissary Court, CC8/8/131.

  3. Bulloch, Gordons of Cluny pp. 19-32.

  4. See separate entry for Alexander Gordon the elder. Information on James Gordon by email from Derrick Johnstone, 24/02/2020.

  5. Bulloch, Gordons of Cluny pp. 33-40;, Cambridge University Alumni, 1261-1900 [database online]; H. Gordon Slade, Cluny Castle, Aberdeenshire, Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot., 111 (1981), pp. 461-2; James A. Stewart Jr., 'The Jaws of Sheep: the 1851 Hebridean Clearances of Gordon of Cluny' Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium Vol. 18/19 (1998/9) pp. 205-226; History of Parliament Online, [accessed 27/02/2020].

  6. Times 05/04/1831 p. 3.

  7. History of Parliament Online, [accessed 27/02/2020].

  8. Bulloch, Gordons of Cluny death: p. 40; quote from p. 3; Will of Lt Col John Gordon of Cluny: Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills SC70/4/60; his inventory: Edinburgh Sheriff Court Inventories SC70/1/98; and additional inventory: SC70/1/99.

  9. PROB 11/1557/366 ; see Bulloch, Gordons of Cluny pp. 41-48 for an account of the succession lawsuits.

We are grateful to Derrick Johnstone for his assistance with compiling this entry.

Further Information

died unmarried
4 illegitimate children (2 sons, 2 daughters)
Wealth at death
Norwich school
St. John’s College, Cambridge [1797 ]

Associated Claims (4)

£4,625 7s 10d
£3,080 7s 8d
Awardee (Owner-in-fee)
£4,777 5s 1d
£2,574 4s 5d
Unsuccessful claimant (Mortgagee)

Associated Estates (4)

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
1801 [SY] - → Owner

Passed from Alexander Gordon the elder to his nephews John Gordon of Cluny and Alexander Gordon under the former's will proved 19/09/1801.

Mortgage Holder
1801 [SY] - → Owner

Passed to John Gordon of Cluny and Alexander Gordon from their uncle Alexander Gordon the elder, whose will was proved 19/09/1801.

1801 [SY] - → Owner

Passed to John Gordon of Cluny and Alexander Gordon from their uncle Alexander Gordon the elder, whose will was proved 19/09/1801. PROB 11/1362/231.

Legacies Summary

Imperial (2)

notes →
Involved in the Highland clearances including the forced emigration of three thousand of his former tenants to Canada in the...
sources →
James A. Stewart, 'The Jaws of Sheep: The 1851 Hebridean Clearances of Gordon of Cluny', Procedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, Vol. 18/19, 1998/1999, pp....
East India Company
notes →
A proprietor of East India stock although his exact relations with the East India Company are...

Physical (1)

Cluny Castle 
notes →
See Bulloch, Gordons of Cluny pp. 39-41....

Political (1)

Tory / West India interest 
election →
Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Dorset
1826 - 1832

Relationships (3)

Uncle → Nephew
Nephew → Uncle

Addresses (3)

25 Jermyn Street, London, Middlesex, London, England
4 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, Midlothian (Edinburgh), Central Scotland, Scotland
Cluny Castle, Cluny, Aberdeenshire, North-east Scotland, Scotland