Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Alexander Dow Anniversary Event Gunsgreen House

Next month marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Dow, playwright and orientalist. While Dow was born in Comrie in Perthshire he had connections with Eyemouth, particularly with the brothers, John and David Nisbet, who made a fortune through smuggling and who built the recently restored Gunsgreen House which is open to the public.

For reasons which are not entirely clear it would appear Dow had to leave the country in something of a hurry, possibly because he had been involved in a duel and in this he was greatly assisted by David Nisbet. Whether out of gratitude or perhaps because of impecuniosity and having no means of settling with Nisbet for expenses incurred he made a will in favour “of his beloved friend David Nisbet”.

Dow then joined the East India Company as an ensign in the Bengal infantry on 14 September 1760, and was rapidly promoted to lieutenant on 23 August 1763, and captain on 16 April 1764, then he rose to the rank of Colonel.

On his return to England (past misdemeanours overlooked or forgotten) he translated and edited the History of Hindostan, the first English language history of India.

He also had his portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, a copy of which can be seen at Gunsgreen.

Dow befriended the playwright, David Garrick, and persuaded Garrick to put on two of his plays although it might appear Garrick did so rather against his better judgment. In the Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds by Leslie and Taylor, 1860, it is recorded:

“The society who dined at the British Coffee House that summer interested themselves in promoting the reception by Garrick of a second tragedy by a worthy well intentioned but utterly unpoetical Scotchman and Indian Officer, Colonel Dow. He had some years before by dint of high protection got Garrick to produce his ‘Zinghis’ , a stilted Tartar tragedy. His present venture was ‘Sethona’ an Ossianic rhapsody in five acts . Garrick did bring it out two years after this, against his better judgment, when it met with the fate it deserved, in spite of strenuous support from the countryman of the author.”

Dow died in 1779 at the age of just 43 leaving a fortune of some £10, 000, over one million pounds in today’s terms.

On his death no other will emerged apart from that in favour of David Nisbet. This was just at the point when the Nisbets were in considerable financial difficulties and facing bankruptcy. They attempted to forestall their creditors claiming ‘Great Expectations’.

However the Will was challenged and referred to Chancery where as in Dickens novel ‘Bleak House’ very many years (nearly twenty) were to pass before the matter was finally resolved – too late to save Gunsgreen House for the Nisbets.

To mark the anniversary of Dow’s birth there will be an afternoon event at Gunsgreen on Sunday 19th June 2011 running from 2pm to 6 pm. This will take the form of a talk by Derek Janes on the life of Alexander Dow, a talk by Anne Buddle of the National Galleries of Scotland about the Scots in India, readings from Dows’ works and a guided tour of the House.

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