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The Compt Buik of David Wedderburne


The manuscript Compt Bulk of David Wedderburne belonged to the late Mr. A. C. Lamb, Dundee, and a few of the historical entries were used in Mr. Lamb's volume, entitled Dundee: its Quaint and Historic Buildings. The editor assisted Mr. Lamb in the preparation of the literary portion of that volume, and it occurred to him that the Compt Buike would afford precisely the kind of material suitable for a volume such as the Scottish History Society would publish. On making the suggestion to Mr. Lamb, he at once adopted it, and placed the manuscript at the disposal of the Society. He gave free access to his extensive collection of documents relating to the history of Dundee, and rendered valuable assistance in other ways. As the Editor had made voluminous notes in the charter room of Dundee when engaged upon his Roll of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee, 1513-1887, he was able to utilise these in identifying many of the persons mentioned in the Compt Buike. He has specially to acknowledge the courtesy of Alexander Wedderbum, Esq., Q.C., London, who kindly provided the material for the account of the Wedderburn Family, which forms a separate portion of the Introduction. Mr. Wedderburn, who has long been engaged on a volume of family history, entitled The Wedderburn Book', frankly offered to the Compt Buik this contribution, which embodies the result of elaborate researches in private repositories of the Wedderburns to which he had access. With Mr. Lamb's consent the manuscript had been transcribed by the Rev. Walter Macleod for Mr. Wedderburn's use in his volume; and the proof-sheets of the text have been compared by Mr. Wedderburn with this transcript, besides being carefully collated with the original by the Editor. The text may therefore be accepted as doubly revised.

The Scottish History Society is indebted to the late Lord Provost of Dundee, Sir James Low, and to the present Lord Provost, Henry M*Grady, for permission to transcribe the Shipping Lists of Dundee; and also to Sir Thomas Thornton, Town-Clerk of Dundee, who is official custodian of these documents, and who placed them in the hands of the Editor for transcription. The Editor has further to express his obligations to Mr. T. G. Law for many useful suggestions; to Mr. Mill of the Signet Library, for compiling the Index; and to Mr. Alexander Balharrie, Montrose, for assistance in preparing the work for the press.


The materials for writing a history of Scottish commerce in the reign of James VI., before and after the Union of the Crowns, have hitherto been very scanty. Some idea of the trade of Scotland with other countries in the fifteenth century may be obtained from a study of The Ledger of Andrew Halyburton 1492-1503, edited by Professor Cosmo Innes, and published in 1867. That volume also contains the ' Table of Customs and Valuation of Merchandises, 1612,' which indirectly shows the goods imported from which rates were levied, though it affords no clue as to the quantity of goods brought into Scotland, nor does it indicate the places whence these were brought. Professor Innes was thoroughly aware of this defect, for in his Preface he thus alludes to the tariff of 1612 :

'It is certainly very carefully formed, although we may regret that it appears intended to contain and exhaust all articles of possible commerce. It would have suited our purpose, the purpose of the historian, better, if it had indicated the commodities which were habitually, or even occasionally, shipped and landed, bought, sold, bartered in Scotland, just nine years after King James had gone to fill the long-expected seat of Queen Elizabeth, and thought that he had ended the national feud which had so long interrupted the commerce of his two kingdoms."

The present volume more than fills the space in the annals of Scottish commerce which was vacant when Professor Innes wrote his Preface, and it is the first book issued which contains authentic details of the imports, exports, and home trade at a busy Scottish seaport during the eventful period between 1587 and 1630. It thus covers sixteen years before the Union of the Crowns, and twenty-seven years after that event, in all, forty-three years of Scottish mercantile life, in a time of political and national transition. The last entry in Andrew Halyburton's Ledger is dated July, 1503. The earliest commercial entry in David Wedderburne's Compt Bulk was made on 15th March 1587. The intervening period is a total blank, so far as documentary evidence of Scottish commerce is concerned, save for stray references in the Acts of Parliament, and the Records of the Convention of Burghs. The last entries in Wedderburne'^s book were made on 12th December, 1630 (pp. 76, 77), two years before his death. This parchment bound volume, with its quaint flap, partly frayed by constant use, had been his continual companion for forty-three years, and to its pages he had committed the records of his commercial transactions, the register of his family, the lists of deeds relating to his properties, the books he most highly prized, the furniture and warlike graith which were most valuable to him, the portentous local and national events that seemed most worthy of notice, everything, in short, which made up the life of a thriving merchant three centuries ago. In this respect the Wedderburne volume is much more instructive than The Ledger of Andrew Halyhurton's for while the latter book contains the business transactions of a fifteenth century Scottish merchant, formally arranged for commercial purposes only, the present volume gives a vivid picture, drawn unconsciously, of the domestic life of a burgess in the latter half of the succeeding century. It is the familiar note-book of an educated merchant, the representative of a notable family, moving in the best local society of the time, with a large business connection in Norway, the Low Countries, France, and Spain; and it shows what he exported and imported, how he managed his foreign traffic, the method whereby he conducted his ordinary sales in the burgh, the weights and measures of the period, the forms of charter-party in use for shipments sent abroad, the currency of the time, and many other details which throw a flood of light upon the commerce of his day, and afford information upon a subject that has hitherto been wrapt in shade. Previous to the issue of this volume, there was no authentic publication upon the subject between Halyburton's date (1503), and the Report, by Thomas Tucker, upon the harbours of Scotland, written in 1656 for the information of Cromwell, and published by the Bannatyne Club. It will thus be seen that the Wedderburne book fills a wide gap in the commercial history of Scotland, and covers a period of great interest. Indirectly, also, it shows the progress of the secularisation of ecclesiastical property. Wedderburne was factor for the Scrymgeoures of Dudhope, so far as some of the chaplainries were concerned, which had fallen into their hands; and the accounts he rendered, and his lists of documents connected with these properties, are full of instruction upon an obscure subject.

While the editor was engaged upon the Wedderburne manuscript, it occurred to him that the book gave only one side of the trade of that time. The exports sent to foreign lands are detailed with considerable fulness, and the imports are shown by numerous entries. But to understand fully the import trade at a leading seaport of the period, it was necessary to have more than the record of one merchant's transactions. Researches made by the editor in the charter-room of Dundee, for another purpose, had enabled him to discover volumes which gave the Shipping Lists from 1580 till 1700, and he thought that the printing of a selection from these Lists, in which the contents of each cargo are detailed, would show, upon indisputable evidence, what were the imports to Dundee; in fact, would supply exactly the information which Professor Cosmo Innes had desiderated. With the sanction of the Council of the Scottish History Society, application was made to Sir Thomas Thornton, Town Clerk of Dundee, and with his courteous consent the editor transcribed the Shipping Lists, beginning with 1580, the date of the earliest volume extant, and continuing chronologically till 1618. It was not deemed necessary to carry the transcription further than the latter date, as the thirty-eight years included give a fair idea of the imports. Taking the two portions of this volume together, it is possible to have an adequate notion of the imports, exports, and home trade in a thriving Scottish burgh before and after the Union of the Crowns.

The Wedderburne manuscript contains 102 leaves, measuring 7 inches by 5 inches. The paper is made up in nine bundles of five double-leaves, stitched with twine, and fixed within a parchment cover (not lined), having a flap which covers the front edge of the book and extends about half-way over the back-cover; that is to say, the parchment is one piece of skin measuring 17 inches by 7 inches. The paper is uniform in quality, having a rough surface, and some of the sheets bear a flagon water-mark such as was common on Dutch paper of the period. The insides of the cover have been written upon, and thus the book contains 104 folios, as shown in the marginal pagination given in the text. That pagination, it must be understood, does not exist in the original, and has only been adopted by the editor for ease in reference. The book has not been used chronologically, but has been written from both ends, and entries have been interpolated at various times where a blank space could be found for a jotting or memorandum. Hence it might seem at first difficult to decide which is the beginning and which the end of the book.

The Compt Buik of David Wedderburne (pdf)


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