People of Angus
Provost Alexander Christie of Montrose (c 1721-1794)
Alexander Christie was Provost of Montrose at various times between 1765 and 1780. He was a wealthy merchant and bank agent who assisted in many philanthropic projects such as the bridge over the River North Esk and the creation of Scotland's first lunatic asylum in Montrose.
The Christie family had lived in a property on the west side of the High Street, south of Hume Street, in a small lane once known as Christie’s Close. They moved to Montrose in about 1730 from Fettercairn. Various members of the Christie family became Provosts of the prosperous burgh of Montrose. Thomas Christie became Provost in 1763, and his son Alexander became Provost in 1765. His cousin William Christie succeeded him in office in 1768.
Alexander Christie was a supporter of many works of philanthropy in the Montrose area. His father, Provost Thomas Christie, had begun the work on the Lower North Water Bridge, a work completed by Alexander with the assistance of a Committee of Subscribers in 1775. The foundation stone was laid on 18 October 1780 and the bridge was finished on 18 October 1785. In 1781 he collaborated with Susan Carnegie of Charleton to open Scotland’s first Lunatic Asylum in Montrose.
Christie joined the first Unitarian Church in Scotland, established in 1781 in Montrose by his brother William Christie (1748-1832). Alexander had incurred the anger of the Kirk Session elders for declining to take Communion and for claiming the right to attend any religious meeting of his choice. Kirk Session minutes of 30 April 1789 recorded that his attendance at the Unitarian Society caused many members of the Parish Church to take offence at his actions. This was not the first time he had taken on the might of the Kirk Session. In 1780 he led the Magistrates of the burgh in a refusal to compel persons accused of fornication to appear in front of the Kirk Session. He rebuked the Kirk Session and reminded them that their role was to care for abandoned children, not to make deals with the church to search the town for the missing fathers of abandoned babies.
However, when life became very difficult for the Christie family, this difference of opinion was forgotten. On 3 October 1793, Christie declared himself to be bankrupt. The start of the Napoleonic Wars the previous February had ruined his merchant trade. No doubt many of his ships and their cargoes were lost to french privateers. As well as being a merchant, Christie was also the bank agent for the British Linen Company. Many locals recommended to the Company that Christie should be retained as Agent, despite his bankruptcy, which the Company agreed to after an investigation.
By the end of November 1794 Christie did manage to repay some of his creditors: ‘I have parted with all to pay all’. Alexander Christie died on 29 December 1794, after a short illness, leaving his widow, 3 daughters and a son without any financial provision.
Care in the community
In Montrose, a movement had secretly formed to subscribe to an annuity for his widow, several weeks before his death. He had married Catherine Speid, daughter of William Speid, a former Town Clerk of Montrose. (Her sister Agnes had married Alexander’s brother William) It was to be an offering of esteem and friendship to the Provost’s family. £1,200 was raised. Sir David Carnegie of Kinnaird persuaded the British Linen Company to employ Christie’s son Robert as their agent, despite being a youthful 21 years old. This gave him a salary of £100 pa. The position of Lunatic Asylum treasurer was also given to Robert, another post once held by his father.
Christie, a darker side?
The accompanying illustration is taken from a coloured print depicting the 1790 election for a Member of Parliament, marred by accusations of bribery. The sitting MP for the Montrose burghs, which included Aberdeen, was Sir David Carnegie of Kinnaird. He sought re-election and was promised the support of Montrose Town Council. However 11 of the 19 commissioners failed to vote for him. Instead, Sir David Scott (pictured on the far right) was elected MP. Scott is pictured on the far right. He was a director of the East India Company and originally came from Dunninald, near Montrose. Scott was held in high esteem in Scotland for his part in repealing the duties on coal carried coastwise. Christie, it was suggested, assisted in persuading the current Provost, Adam Glegg to change his vote. Glegg is in the centre of the print. Hence Christie is shown with cloven feet and horns.
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