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James Stuart of Dunearn (1775–1849)

by Virginia Napoleone

Jean-Siméon Chardin, The Young Schoolmistress (NG 4077)

James Stuart was the first son of Dr Charles Stuart of Dunearn (1743–1826), a Scotsman who was for some years minister of the parish of Cramond in Linlithgowshire, and from 1795 to 1826 was a physician in Edinburgh.1 James Stuart studied at Edinburgh’s High School from 1785 to 1789 and graduated in law at the University in 1797, becoming a writer to the Signet the following year. In 1802 he married Eleonor Maria Anna (died 1868), the only daughter of Dr Robert Moubray of Cockairnie.

Stuart was a prominent Whig supporter and achieved notoriety for his part in one of the last legal duels held in Scotland. This took place on 26 March 1822 with his vehement Tory opponent Sir Alexander Boswell.2 Stuart fatally wounded his rival who died the next day. Following the suggestion of friends, he went to Paris and there surrendered to the British ambassador. He returned to Scotland to stand trial for murder and was acquitted on 10 June 1822.3

Stuart spent the next years at his countryside residence at Hillside, near Aberdour, in Fifeshire. This house was built on the site of a seventeenth-century building.4 Now a school, at the time it was a great mansion served by gate lodges to the south and the north. Nineteenth-century maps show three avenues and a walled garden to the north of the house, and it is known that Stuart greatly improved Hillside’s grounds.5

In the following years Stuart became crippled by the expenses of his continuous political activities and of overgenerous hospitality.6 Further extensive, but unsuccessful, speculations in land, and the 1825 England stock-market crash and consequent bank panic, led to his bankruptcy in 1828.7 His house was sequestrated and his art collection sold the next year. He then decided to leave Scotland, and his creditors, for America, reaching New York on 23 August 1828 and returning in 1831. Two years later he published Three years in North America, a two-volume account of his stay.8 The book’s success led to its being reprinted in the following years and ensured him a small profit.9

In the spring of 1831, when the Whigs had been in power for a few months, Stuart asked his friend Henry Brougham, then Lord Chancellor, for a job as consul in New York or in Europe, but a section of the Whig ministries refused to give a government office to an undischarged bankrupt.10 He had to take refuge in Jersey until he could pay for his discharge, which he did thanks to an estate he anticipated inheriting on the death of an uncle.

In 1832 Stuart returned to London and became editor of the Courier (1792–1842), an influential London evening newspaper initially edited by James Perry. In 1809 it had became a leading Tory paper under T.G. Street. However, during his editorship Stuart strongly supported the Whig party. During that time the Courier was not prosperous, and he tried to increase its popularity by publishing a double number of eight pages once a week, with one page devoted entirely to reviews. In fact many of the reviews were merely reprints of the morning papers.11 He was editor of the Courier until 1841, when it returned to supporting the Tory party.

In 1833 Stuart at last obtained a government job, becoming temporary assistant commissioner for Scotland on the royal commission for the employment of children in factories. From then until his death he held the role of factory inspector in Scotland and Ireland. He also became chairman of the North British Assurance Company in London in the late 1830s. He died of heart disease aged 74, on 3 November 1849, at 4 Boyne Terrace, Notting Hill, London, without issue.

There are two portraits of James Stuart of Dunearn by Sir Daniel Macnee (1806–1882), one of which is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and was possibly exhibited in 1844 at the Royal Scottish Academy.12


1 Basic information about the life of James Stuart of Dunearn can be found in Michael S. Moss, ‘Stuart, James (1775–1849)’, ODNB.

2 See Anonymous, ‘Duel between Sir A. Boswell and Mr. Stuart’, The Examiner, 744, 7 April 1822, pp. 217–18; and Anonymous, ‘The late Scotch duel’, The Examiner, 745, 14 April 1822, p. 232.

3 Stuart 1822.

4 For more details see the British Listed Buildings website at and Hillside School’s website (, accessed 2013.

5 Ross 1885, p. 379.

6 Henriques 1971, p. 22.

7 See Dunbar, Dingwall Fordyce and de Maria 1838, vol. 8, pp. 392–4.

8 Stuart 1833.

9 Henriques 1971, p. 26, note 2.

10 According to U.R.Q. Henriques (ibid., p. 22), on his flight to America he had brought with him £2,000 from the Scottish Widows’ Fund of which he was treasurer.

11 Fenner 1994, p. 21.

12 Sir Daniel Macnee, James Stuart of Dunearn (1775–1849), inv. NP 1143. Given by M.V. Erskine Stuart, Esq., 1930.