Victorian Professions


A seaport town, Dundee sits on the north bank of the Firth of Tay on the North Sea coast of Scotland. The export of wool in medieval times was replaced in the 18th century by the production of linen in substantial four storey-mills, supported by the 1742 Bounty Act. The phasing out of this government subsidy in 1825 and 1832 stimulated demand for cheaper textiles and the town switched to jute production, using its easily accessible supply of whale oil to lubricate the dry fibres. At its height in the 19th century, the Dundee jute industry had 62 mills, employing some 50,000 workers. This jute boom led to an expansion in the supporting industries of whaling and shipbuilding. Around 2000 ships were built between 1871 and 1881 and because of its experience building whaling ships to withstand extreme conditions, Dundee was also chosen to build the RRS Discovery which took Captain Scott to Antarctica - the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain.

The rise of jute and shipbuilding were accompanied by other industries such as the production of marmalade by James Keiller's and Sons and the Thomas family's publishing business (later known as D.C. Thomson), publisher of the Dundee Courier and later The Beano (1938). Consequently, the second half of the 19th century was a period of great prosperity for the town and it is often said that Dundee was built on the three Js': “jute, jam and journalism”. In 1867 Dundee's wealthy built the grandest Albert Memorial outside of London. This was followed by the Tay Rail Bridge in 1878, the longest bridge in the world at that time at over two miles long. (It unfortunately collapsed during a storm in the December while a train was crossing, killing 75 people. A replacement bridge was completed in 1887.)

In 1801 the population of Dundee was 2,472. By mid-century it was 64,704 and by 1901 161,173. Many successful people established fashionable residences in the nearby small town of Newport-on-Tay.

These are the people in Dundee we are interested in: