Joanna Hill and Nicholas Bastin's new book, A Very Canny Scot, paints a 'warts and all' picture of Daniel Campbell of Shawfield and Islay, a larger than life figure in early eighteenth century Scotland, who just happened to purchase Islay and part of Jura in 1726 for only Â£12,000. Daniel Campbell, who is thought to have Islay connections through his mother Jean Campbell of Ballmeanach, was born in 1670 at Skipness and was apprenticed in the 1690s to Robert Campbell of Glasgow, a Merchant and Dean of Guild, where he quickly learned how many beans make five in the cut-throat commercial world of the time. Despite the fact that Scotland, in those pre-Union days, shared a King with England it was prevented by the English Navigation Acts from trading with English colonies. Daniel was one of the Glasgow merchants who ignored the Navigation Acts, and from around 1690 was involved in the highly dangerous, but very profitable, trade with North America and the West Indies. By 1695, at about the age of 25, Daniel had already amassed a small fortune and in one of his few errors of judgement, invested Â£1000 in the Darien Scheme. This venture, which was intended to establish a Scottish trading colony on the Isthmus of Darien was doomed from the outset and, when the English backers withdrew in 1696, Scottish investors, from the lowest to the highest in the land, snapped up the remaining shares. In the excitement of the moment, no one remotely considered that Darien might be a totally unsuitable place for such a settlement and when the colony had to be abandoned, the Scottish investors suffered a catastrophic financial loss.
Daniel Campbell who, by now appointed a Royal Commissioner and soon to be a signatory to the Act of Union, predictably, received the return of his Â£1000 investment. In March 1701 and despite the illegal trade which Daniel had plied between Scotland and America, he was made, in a 'poacher turned gamekeeper' appointment, Collector of Customs at Port Glasgow. When the ships Neptune, Eagle and May Flower, arrived in May 1707 in Greenock Roads in Daniel's bailiwick loaded with brandy, the Customs Watchers who went aboard saw blank landing permits in the cabin signed by Daniel and were locked up for their trouble while the cargo was illegally offloaded into lighters. In the subsequent enquiry it transpired that most of the Neptune's cargo belonged to Daniel and that the duty on the cargo of the three vessels would have amounted to 'twenty-eight thousand, one hundred and eighty six pounds' an enormous sum for those days. Clearly, Daniel was by now no small-time operator. Because of his alleged support for the Malt Tax - a House of Commons motion had proposed that instead of a duty on malt in Scotland a duty of 6d should be levied on every barrel of ale - a mob wrecked his mansion at Shawfield, Glasgow in June 1725. Even here, Daniel was suspected of fixing the list of goods which had been stolen and was eventually awarded compensation of Â£6080 for the destruction of his house and nearly Â£3000 for the loss of his possessions.
Daniel had advanced money to John Campbell of Cawdor who owned Islay and part of Jura and was something of a spendthrift. John Campbell, who was already heavily in debt, was unable to repay the Â£6000 which Daniel had lent him and a further payment of Â£6000 secured Islay and Jura for Daniel. He was the first improver of Islay and Daniel the Younger writing in 1777 said that from the time his grandfather had acquired the estate 'he immediately began and carried on, extensive plans for the improvement and civilisation of that corner. To the branch of the flax husbandry and manufacture he particularly turned his care and attention. He laid out in building lint milns, bringing to the island manufacturers, hecklers, weavers etc. considerably above Â£2000 sterling.' He expanded the Islay Stent Committee's rights and responsibilities and established the first post office at Kilarrow in 1744.
W. Lamont in his 'Early History of Islay' perhaps sums it up when he writes 'There is a sense in which the history of Islay as we know it today, begins with the purchase of the Island by the Campbells of Shawfield in 1726. ''A Very Canny Scot' is a fascinating account of what was clearly an extremely astute business man who balked at very little to advance either his career or fortune. The authors are to be congratulated for producing a very readable account of Great Daniel's life and times which all Ileachs who have an interest in their island's history will enjoy immensely. The Appendices include Shawfield family trees, Summaries of Daniel's trading voyages, an extensive Bibliography and a useful Index. 'A Very Canny Scot' is available from C & E Roy or any good bookseller.
This story was written by GR and published with kind permission from the Ileach