Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Baxter, David

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BAXTER, Sir DAVID (1793–1872), baronet, a Dundee manufacturer, was the second son of William Baxter, of Balgavies, and was born in Dundee 15 Feb. 1793. He was educated at one of the local schools, and, entering business, became, while still young, manager of the Dundee Sugar Refining Company. The concern was never prosperous, and notwithstanding his prudent and energetic management it collapsed in 1826. Thereupon he became partner in the linen manufacturing firm of Baxter brothers, which included his father and his two younger brothers, Edward, his elder brother, having left it in the previous year to commence the business of a general merchant. From the time that he joined the firm he was practically its head, and on the death of his two brothers and his father within a few years afterwards he and the former manager of the works remained the sole partners. In 1828 an attempt had been made by him to introduce power-loom weaving, but after a short trial it was abandoned until 1836, when its revival was followed by complete and extraordinary success. Through the mechanical skill of the junior partner in perfecting the machinery, and the business capacity and tact of David Baxter, the firm speedily became one of the largest manufacturing houses in the world; and to its remarkable success may be in a large degree ascribed the position which Dundee has attained as the chief seat of the linen manufacture in Britain.

Although much immersed in the cares of business, Baxter took an active, if not very prominent, share in public affairs. In 1825 he was chosen a police commissioner, and in 1828 a guild councillor and member of the harbour board. A liberal in politics, he took a lively interest in parliamentary elections, both in Dundee and in the county of Fife, where in 1856 he purchased the estate of Kilmaron. His enlightened regard for the welfare of his native town was, however, manifested chiefly in noble and generous benefactions which have given his name one of the highest places of honour in its annals. The most notable of these was perhaps his presentation, along with his sisters, of thirty-eight acres of land to Dundee as a pleasure-garden and recreation ground, which, under the name of the Baxter Park, was opened by Earl Russell in September 1863. The foundation of the Albert Institute of Literature, Science, and Art was due also chiefly to his liberality and that of his relatives; and in connection with the Dundee Infirmary he erected a convalescent home at Broughty Ferry at a cost of 30,000l. More important than his benefactions to Dundee were his gifts in behalf of higher education in Scotland. Besides building and endowing at Cupar Fife a seminary for the education of young ladies, he established several important foundations in Edinburgh University, including a mathematical, a philosophical, a physical science, and a natural science scholarship, each of the annual value of 60l.; and a chair of engineering, with an endowment of 5,000l., which is supplemented by an annual parliamentary vote of 200l. On 1 Jan. 1863 he received the honour of a baronetcy. He died 13 Oct. 1872. In 1833 he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of R. Montgomerie, Esq., of Barrahill, Ayrshire. The lady survived him, but he had no family. Of his heritable and personal property, valued at 1,200,000l., one half was divided among near relatives, and the other among distant relations and public institutions, the largest legacies being 50,000l. to the Free Church of Scotland, 40,000l. to Edinburgh University, and 20,000l. towards the foundation of a mechanics' institute in Dundee. Before his last illness his attention was occupied with a scheme for linking Dundee with the neighbouring university of St. Andrews, and although he did not survive to render personal aid to the project, the foundation of the University College, Dundee, by his relatives may be regarded as possibly an important step towards its realisation. Towards the purchase of buildings and general equipment of this college, a sister of Sir David, who died unmarried on 19 Dec. 1884, contributed 150,000l. (Times, 20 Dec. 1884).

[Thomson's History of Dundee, revised and continued to the present time by James Maclaren (1874); Norrie's Dundee Celebrities of the Nineteenth Century (1873).]

T. F. H.