James Wishart was born during 1845 in Muckly, a small cottage to the west of Abernethy that had been built almost entirely from the ruins of the Castle on Castle Law. He was the third child of David Wishart, a local weaver and manufacturer, and Janet Scott.
Generally remembered as being an industrialist and philanthropist, James was a partner in the firm of Ireland & Wishart, linen and woolen manufacturers, Kirkcaldy and Abernethy, and took an active part in the public life of the community, being for some time a member of Kirkcaldy Town Council and of Dysart Town Council, a member of Kirkcaldy and Dysart Water Commission since its inauguration, and for many years Chairman of Dysart School Board, besides being a member of the County Education Committee.
The Abernethy factory referred to was known as the Strathearn Works and was single-storeyed and powered by a steam engine. It had a tall factory chimney, which was demolished in the 1960s. On its power looms the factory produced linen, cotton and wool fabrics (mainly bed linen, table cloths and other domestic wares). The factory started operations about 1873 and ceased production in 1930. In its heyday it employed around 100 workers, mostly female. The Wisharts built two fine adjacent houses on Perth Road, Pittarrow and Pennyhill.
James’s personal life included three marriages and six children. His first wife, Janet Ireland, gave him a son and two daughters (his son David eventually wrote the book about the Wishart family, in which James is recorded, and was the last owner of the Abernethy factory.) After Janet died in 1876 he remarried to Jane Skinner in 1878, and they had two daughters named Christina and Jean. Jane died ten years later in 1888 and James married again in 1891 to an Agnes Latto, with a son named Andrew, being born a year later in 1892.
He died on 21 July 1917 of a heart attack at Strathearn Villa, the family home built during the early 1880’s in Dysart which was converted to a hotel between 1936 and 1945 and still operates to this day as such. A memorial to James also exists in Pathhead Baptist Church.
His great grandson Jim Pearce has transcribed the following obituary written about James for a local paper, and gives a great deal of information about his life and character:
The Late Mr. James Wishart, J. P.
It was with profound regret that the community learned on Saturday of the sudden death of Mr. James Wishart, J. P., Strathearn, Kirkcaldy, of the firm of Ireland and Wishart, Ltd., manufacturers, Kirkcaldy and Abernethy, a gentleman who has for a great number of years taken a prominent part in the business and social life of the community. He had been in his usual health the previous day, and no particular indication was given of his approaching end, his death occurring at an early hour on Saturday morning from heart failure.
Mr. Wishart first saw the light in the village of Abernethy at the end of the year 1845. He received the usual country school education of his day, and, at a very early age was apprenticed as a draper in the neighboring town of Newburgh. From that place he was transferred to Falkland and then to Kirkcaldy in this employment of Henry Horn and Son, and Co. where he met for the first time his senior partner, the late Mr. David Ireland whose son-in-law he became. Very shortly after his residence in Kirkcaldy the partnership of Ireland and Wishart was formed by these two gentlemen combining and taking over the small drapery business, which then belonged to the late Henry Horn in Falkland. At that time Mr. Wishart was only eighteen years of age. For two or three years the Falkland business was prosecuted successfully, and at an early stage the partners added handloom weaving to their business. Having been brought up in a handloom district, Mr. Wishart was conversant to a certain extent with this department, so that under his direction the manufacturing department became so important that the partners decided to relinquish the drapery trade and remove their business to Pathhead. This was done in 1868. In 1874 the powerloom factory at Abernethy was built, and in 1882 the present warehouse premises in Junction Road were erected, succeeded by the factory in 1864. These works have been extended from time to time as the business progressed, and now form the basis for an important industry.
Mr. Wishart from a business point of view, occupied a very distinguished position. Perhaps the most outstanding features of his character in this respect were his marvelous capacity for work, his mastery of detail, and his clear mental vision. No amount of work ever seemed to daunt him, and, in his early years, when the foundation of the business was his main concern, the astounding energy and ability thrown into this sphere of his life, were the admiration and wonder of all with whom he came in contact. In later life these characteristics were, perhaps, not quite so prominent, but up to the last they formed a striking feature of his character. Not only were these traits displayed in his business career, but outside, in the life of the community, they were equally manifest. For a short time he was a Town Councillor of Kirkcaldy; for practically his whole public life he was a Commissioner of Kirkcaldy and Dysart Water Works; but perhaps his public life and energies were never better exemplified than in his work in connection with Dysart School Board and the County Education Committee. He was a member of the Dysart Board under the chairmanship of the late Provost Beveridge and subsequent chairmen, and for a long series of years he occupied this important position himself. In all details connected with education he proved himself a master, and a tower of strength in advancing the educational interests of the community. When the amalgamation of the Dysart and Kirkcaldy Boards took place Mr. Wishart was repeatedly pressed to continue his work in the new area, but he did not feel that he was called upon to do so, and retired from active participation in the work when the amalgamation came into force. Latterly he was a member of the Dysart Town Council where his experience of affairs made his services highly valued. In recognition of his public services he was …. (text unreadable) …accepted the post of Justice of Peace for the County of Fife. About two years ago when he celebrated his business jubilee, his co-partners presented him with his portrait in oils, painted by Mr. Fiddes Watt, one of the most eminent artists of his day. His various employees at Kirkcaldy and Abernethy also took advantage of the occasion to testify their high esteem in beautifully illuminated addresses.
In Church matters Mr. Wishart was reared a United Presbyterian under the late Rev. John Clark of Abernethy, and to the last he had always a strong leaning toward the Presbyterian body, particularly the Abernethy Church. In early life he dissociated himself from the United Presbyterians, and became a very staunch and stalwart supporter of the Baptist Church, sustaining this attachment to the end. For a lengthy period he was a member of Whyte’s Causeway Baptist Church, but some years ago, recognizing the desirability of having a branch of the Baptist Church in Pathhead district, he took the matter in hand, and was chiefly instrumental in establishing the Church in Anderson Street, which since its inauguration, has been much indebted to his generosity. He … (text not readable)… In recognition of his valuable services he was asked by the Baptist Union some years ago to accept their presidentship, a position which he occupied with great acceptance and ability.
His successful business career enabled Mr. Wishart to be a generous supporter of all good causes, and many were the institutions throughout the country which received generous contributions from his hands. In our own community both institutions and individuals benefitted from his benefactions. He took a warm hearted interest in the welfare of his workers, and some years ago instituted a beneficiary scheme in their favour, which is still operative, while from time to time many liberal contributions were made by him and disbursed in St Clair Works, Kirkcaldy, and Strathearn Works, Abernethy.
He is survived by his widow, two sons, and four daughters. His elder son, Mr. David Wishart was associated with his father in business, while the younger, Lieut. Andrew Wishart, is at present serving with the forces. His eldest daughter is married to the Rev. Henry G. Hoare, Baptist minister in London, and his youngest daughter is married to Dr. Pearce in Cincinnati, U.S.A.
took place on Tuesday afternoon to Dysart Cemetery. A short service was conducted at Strathearn House by Rev. Mr. Ruthven and Rev. Henry G Hoare, and at the graveside the service was conducted by Rev. Mr. Ruthven and Rev. Principal M’Caig, LLD., London. The funeral was very largely attended, the various public bodies in Kirkcaldy and Dysart being represented, while in addition to many business and other friends, there was a large representation of the employees of the Sinclairtown and Abernethy works. The pall-bearers were Mr. David Wishart and Lieut. Andrew Wishart, sons; Mr. Robt. Wishart and Mr. Matthew Wishart, brothers; Rev. Mr. Hoare, son-in-law; Mr. C. Reekie and Treasurer Kilgour, partners; Mr. Henry Skinner, brother-in-law; and Mr. David Mitchelson and Mr. Thomas Pye, two of the oldest employees of the firm. Among a number of wreaths was one from the employees of the firm.
SERVICE IN CHURCH
In connection with the funeral a brief service was conducted at noon on Tuesday in Pathhead Baptist Church, where, since the church’s inception the deceased has been an office-bearer. Near to the close Rev. William Ruthven, the minister, said – It has been written of one – “God’s finger touched him, and he slept.” Without any sickness, death-bed, or pain, God took His servant to Himself. So with our dear and lamented friend, Mr. Wishart. On Saturday morning, from one dear to him, part of the news conveyed to me ran – But we are glad he did not suffer at all. After outlining some of the more prominent features which shown forth in Mr. Wishart’s character, and expressing the loss they had sustained as a church, and the nature of that loss to the community, and the home-circle at Strathearn, he concluded: – “May we each on our own measure be enabled to follow him, as he followed Christ.” The service closed with the playing of the Dead March in “Saul,” the people upstanding.
THE LATE MR. JAMES WISHART
As a former colleague on two public boards of the late Mr. Wishart, I crave a small space to express my own sorrow, as well as that of all who ever had the pleasure of being intimately brought in contact with one who had lived so fruitful a life, and who doubtless has died a death becoming one who in his day and generation has served his God and his brother man so faithfully. He was the most absolutely unbiased man that ever I knew, devoid of all prejudices, and as free from guile as poor human nature may approach to. He had no “side,” and would talk with as much gusto, animation and pleasure for an hour on end, to the man in corduroys as to the gentleman in broadcloth. In the educational world his zeal was all abounding, and was marked by only one shortcoming, an inordinate desire to keep down the rates, but he lived to see his folly in this respect, for he informed the writer on one occasion that nevermore would he be a party to the patching of schools, and the splendid Viewforth School is a monument to his conversion. One of the kindliest of men, he was adored by his workers, and it is well known that when through the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank he was in difficulties for a time, until the Court of Session exonerated him from all liabilities, many of his old workers in Abernethy threw all their savings at his feet in order to assist him to pull through. He never needed their help, but long years afterwards he never recounted the circumstance without feeling the deepest emotion for the kindly spirit evinced by his workers. As an educationalist I always ranked him with Dr. John Ross, Mr. Leishman, and Dr. Smith, as the four most powerful and potent influences behind the Scottish international system, but with the exception of his sterling honesty of purpose, he failed to achieve the least distinction as a member of the Town Council. I remember saying to him on one occasion on the way home from a meeting – “Everyone has their idol, Mr. Wishart, educationally you are mine, but I consider you an utter failure as a Town Councillor.” His innate modesty at once led him to belittle all the great work he had done for education in our parish. As to municipal work he said that his heart had never been in it, as next to his business, and sometimes at the cost of his business, educational affairs had dominated his whole life. While real religion no doubt actuated the every day acts of his life, he never wore his religion on his coat sleeve, and it was possible to be intimate with Mr. Wishart without finding out what Church or what sect he belonged to. One of the finest left-handed compliments we ever heard paid to anyone was paid to a member of the Dysart Town Council. It was his turn to retire, and he was stating to his colleagues that he did not think he would stand again. “Oh,” said Mr. Wishart, “you must come back again. We cannot do without one, but more than one would be a calamity.” Kindly and considerate, with strong opinions of his own, and with the deepest respect for the opinions of other men, he was the tongue that never uttered a single word calculated to give offence, or even to ruffle the finest susceptibilities of either man or woman. The friend of all, and the enemy of none, he was one of nature’s gentlemen. Our position today is not to mourn Mr. Wishart dead, but to thank God that he lived. The community, the world, indeed, is the poorer by his removal, but the influence of his noble life will be all enduring. “Tis such a life as his that makes the teaching of Shakespeare abhorrent to us when he declares that “the evil men do lives after them, the good is offtimes interred with their bones.”
We understand the late Mr. James Wishart has left the following bequests, viz: –
To Ashley Down Orphanage, Bristol………………………………………..£200
To Quarrier’s Orphanage, Bridge-of-Weir…………………………………..£500
To Larbert Institution for Imbecile Children………………………………£500
To the Baptist Union of Scotland for Minister’s Provident Fund………………£500
To the said Baptist Union of Scotland for Pathhead Baptist Church, Kirkcaldy….£500
To Kirkcaldy Hospital…………………………………………………..£500
To the employees of the firm of Ireland and Wishart, Limited, who have been in the employment of the firm continuously for three years, four weeks’ wages and similar bequests to his other servants.