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Westminster Abbey, London: Monument to Sir John Dalrymple, 4th Baronet, c1782, as executed (3)

Sir John Dalrymple, 4th Bt. was born in 1726, the eldest son of William Dalrymple, 3rd Bt. (1704-1711) and his first wife Agnes (d. 1755), the daughter of William Crawford of Glasgow. Sir John was educated at Edinburgh University and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Born into a preeminent legal family, he was admitted into the Faculty of Advocates in 1748.

On 7 October 1760 Dalrymple married his cousin Elizabeth Hamilton-Macgill, daughter of Thomas Hamilton and Elizabeth Dalrymple. As Thomas Hamilton’s only child, Elizabeth was heiress to a significant fortune and her marriage was thought to have taken place without her father’s consent. Together the couple had thirteen children, including midshipman William Dalrymple (c1764-1782).

Dalrymple found a patron in the Duke of Argyll, and with the Duke’s influence was appointed solicitor to the Board of Excise in 1759. Dalrymple went on to form a keen attachment to Lord North, to whom he remained loyal until North’s death in 1792. With North’s assistance he secured a post on the bench of the Court of the Exchequer in Scotland from 1776, a post which Sir John held until he resigned in 1807 at the age of 81.

Dalrymple was a significant figure behind the proposal for Catholic relief, a cause for which he campaigned from 1775 to 1778. With Lord North’s support, Dalrymple secured a limited form of relief for English and Irish Catholics in 1778, but plans to extend the measures were curtailed following the anti-popery riots, which broke out later that year.

Sir John found himself a part of the intellectual circle surrounding David Hume and was a keen member of the Select Society of Edinburgh and the Glasgow Literary Society. He published ‘State Paper Memoirs’ in 1757 and ‘Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland’ (1771).

Phillipson highlights a reference to Dalrymple’s literary capabilities in Boswell’s ‘Life of Samuel Johnson’:

‘Though Sir John Dalrymple’s style is not regularly formed in any respect, and one cannot help smiling sometimes at his affected grandiloquence, there is in his writing a pointed vivacity, and much of a gentlemanly spirit’ (Boswell, 508).

Phillipson also notes that Dalrymple was known for his curious chemical compositions and inventions, including recipes for soap produced from herrings and beer that could be made with salt water for the benefit of those at sea.

In later life, through his wife Elizabeth, Dalrymple came into a substantial estate and as a result he adopted the name Hamilton-Macgill. Sir John Dalrymple died 26 February 1810 and was succeeded by his fourth son John who inherited the title of 5th Baronet.

Sir John Dalrymple was a client of Robert Adam’s; with the office carrying out a scheme for his family seat, Oxenfoord Castle, Modlothian between 1780 and 1782. The project coincided with this scheme for a tablet monument for Sir John’s son William who died 29 July 1782, aged 18.

Midshipman William Dalrymple was killed off the coast of Virginia when Captain Salter of the Santa Margareta took a superior French ship, the Amazone. Executed to Adam’s design in white and yellow marble, the monument survives in situ in the south choir aisle of Westminster Abbey. The arms of Dalrymple are included along with those of Macgill and these are surmounted by a crest. The inscription notes William as ‘a worthy and deserving youth, who, had he lived, would have been an ornament to his profession’.

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, p. 508; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 25, 51, 67; A. Rowan, ‘Oxenfoord Castle, Midlothian’, Country Life, August 15, 1974, pp. 430-433; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I pp. 363-364, 372, pl. 537; F. Sands, Robert Adam's London, 2016, pp. 12-15; N. Phillipson, ‘Dalrymple, Sir John, of Cousland (afterwards Sir John Hamilton-Macgill-Dalrymple), fourth baronet (1726-1810), September 2004, www.oxforddnb.com; ‘William Dalrymple’, www.westminster-abbey.org (accessed March 2021)

Anna McAlaney, 2021
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