Blair, James Hunter (DNB00)

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BLAIR, Sir JAMES HUNTER (1741–1787), was the son of John Hunter, a merchant in Ayr, where he was born 21 Feb. 1741. In 1756 he was apprenticed in the house of the brothers Coutts, bankers in Edinburgh, where he made the acquaintance of Sir William Forbes, and the two being admitted to a share in the business on the death of the senior partner of the firm, they gradually rose to the head of the copartnery. In 1770 he married Jane, eldest daughter of Mr. John Blair of Dunksey, Wigtonshire, and on his wife succeeding to thc family estate in 1777, he assumed the name of Blair. On his estate he effected remarkable improvements, introducing to his tenants the most approved modes of farming, and nearly rebuilding the town of Portpotrick, at which he established larger and better packet-boats on the passage to Dnnaghadee in Ireland. In 1781 he was chosen to represent the city of Edinburgh in parliament, and again in 1784, but on account of thc claims of his professional duties he resigned a few months afterwards. In the Fame year, however, he consented, at the urgent request of the town council, to accept the lord-provostship. It was chiefly due to his energy and public spirit during his term of office that several important schemes for the improvement of the city were successfully carried out. He did much to further the rebuilding of the university, and contrived a plan for obtaining funds to erect the South Bridge over the Cowgrate. Chiefly by his strenuous perseverance against strong opposition the scheme was successfully carried out, thus opening up a convenient communication between the southern suburbs and the city. He died of a putrid fever at Harrowgate, Yorkshire, 1 July 1787, and was buried in the Greyfriars churchyard. Hunter Square and Blair Street, Edinburgh, are named after him. He held the appointment of king's printer.

Robert Burns, whose special regard for Blair was increased by his enlightened interest in agriculture, wrote an elegy on his death, a performance he acknowledged to be ‘but mediocre,’ although his grief was sincere. ‘The last time,’ says Burns, ‘I saw the worthy, public-spirited man, he pressed my hand and asked me with the most friendly warmth if it was in his power to serve me.’ In a letter to Robert Aiken of Ayr, enclosing the poem, Burns also wrote, ‘That I have lost a friend is but repeating after Caledonia.’

[Gent. Mag. lvii. pt. ii. 641–2; Edinburgh Magazine, vi. 43–4; Kay’s Edinburgh Portraits, 1838, i. 62–4; Arnot's History of Edinburgh, pp. 256, 264; Works of Robert Burns.]

T. F. H.