About James Nicolas Sutherland Matheson, 1st Baronet
Inscriptions on the North Side
The history of Sir James Matheson is detailed in inscriptions on the monument erected in July 1880 by his widow. Lady Matheson herself died at the age of 77 on 19th March, 1896. On the north side, there are some detailed biographical details. "James Nicholas Sutherland Matheson, second son of Capt. Donald Matheson and Catherine Mackay his wife, was born at Shiness in the Parish of Laing.
The said Capt. Donald Matheson, who died AD 1810 was the last of numerous generations who for centuries held the lands of Shiness, The said James N.S. Matheson was educated at the Academy Inverness, and at the High School, Edinburgh. His class fellows there with whom he disputed the head of the class were The Right Honourable Sir David Dundas: David Lord Marjory-Banks; Sir Robert Christison, Bart: the Second Lord Brougham and Anthony Adrian, Earl of Kintore.
At the age of 17 he went to London and having spent two years in a Mercantile House, at 19 he left for Calcutta entering the Counting House of Messrs. Macintosh and Company.
After a short sojourn in that city, he proceeded to China, and was long resident at Canton and Macao and was one of the founders of the Eminent House of Jardine Matheson and Company.
During his and Jardine's partnership the house acquired that high repute for honour, integrity arid magnificent hospitality which gave a free passport to all using its name throughout the East With the exception of a short visit to his native land in 1835-36, he remained in China till 1842.
On the occasion of his departure he was presented by the Parsee Merchants of Bombay with a service of plate of the value of £15,000 together with address recording their thanks and their high sense of his energy and firmness by which alone they were enabled to surmount the commercial difficulties which had arisen in consequence of the War between England and China. In 1840 he became the owner by purchase of the estate of Achany and Gruids in his native Parish.
In 1842 he became a Member of the Legislature by being elected the representative of Ashburton in Devonshire which seat he vacated in 1847 on being unanimously returned for the combined counties of Ross and Cromartie, which high position he continuously held till 1868 when he retired into private life.
In 1843 he married Mary Jane, the daughter of Michael Henry Perceval, Esq., of Spencer Wood, Quebec; Member of H.M. Legislative Council, by Ann Mary his wife, eldest daughter of Sir Charles Flower, Bart. In 1844 he added to his Highland possessions the Island of Lewis which henceforth became his chief place of residence, devoting the remainder of a long and useful life to ameliorating the condition of the inhabitants of that Island. H.M. Queen Victoria in 1850 testified to her sense of his noble benevolence during the Famine of 1845-46 by creating him a Baronet of the United Kingdom.
Sir James was appointed Lord Lieutenant for Ross-shire in 1866, was likewise a Fellow of the Royal Society, J.P. and D.L. for native county Sutherlandshire. He died at Mentone, France, December 31st 1878, aged 82.