The history of Bank of Scotland
Bank of Scotland is Scotland's first and oldest bank, and post-dates the Bank of England by just one year.
Bank of Scotland was founded by an Act of the Scottish Parliament on 17th July 1695. It is Scotland's first and oldest bank, and post-dates the Bank of England by just one year.
The Bank was set up primarily to develop Scotland's trade, mainly with England and the Low Countries. It began business in February 1696, with a working capital of £120,000 Scots (£10,000 sterling).
The 172 original shareholders (including 36 based in London) were largely from Scotland's political and mercantile elite. They hoped to create a stable banking system, which would offer long-term credit and security for merchants and landowners alike.
Understanding our past
A lot has changed during the 300 year history of our brands and while we have much within our heritage to be proud of, we can’t be proud of it all. Like any institution that is so interwoven with our country’s history, we must acknowledge and learn from our past.
There’s evidence in our archive of some links to slavery.
Here's what we know:
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville was Governor of the Bank of Scotland from 1790-1811. As well as governor, he was also Home Secretary in William Pitt the Younger’s government. During this time, he was instrumental in deferring the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. It is estimated that more than half a million Africans were enslaved as a result.
George Watson (Bank of Scotland’s first Accountant, 1696-1697), invested in a London-based venture for trade with Africa that included enslaved people.
Sir William Forbes, James Hunter & Co. - bank had mortgages on properties in Tobago, including some with enslaved people. Customers had connections with plantations with enslaved people.The firm’s origins stretch back to 1723. They merged with the Glasgow Union Bank in 1843, which became part of BoS in 1955.
Ship Bank (founded 1749 in Glasgow, successor bank taken over by BoS in 1955). Five of the six founding partners were wealthy Glasgow merchants involved in the tobacco and West India trades, which depended on slavery and the slave trade. One, William McDowell II, inherited a vast commercial empire in sugar and rum, and estates in the West Indies with enslaved people.
Thistle Bank (founded 1761 in Glasgow, successor bank taken over by BoS in 1955). Five of the six founding partners were wealthy Glasgow merchants involved in the tobacco trade, which had strong links to slavery. One, John Glassford, was a prominent Glasgow tobacco merchant. He owned tobacco plantations in Virginia and Maryland, which used enslaved people.
Glasgow Bank (founded 1809, successor bank taken over by BoS in 1955). James Ewing of Strathleven, one of the bank’s founding shareholders, was a substantial West India merchant, He received compensation for 286 enslaved people on an estate in Jamaica.
Glasgow Union Banking Company (founded 1830, successor bank taken over by Bank of Scotland in 1955). A number of its early founders and directors were involved in the West India trade, with links to slavery. James Anderson, the bank’s first manager, acted as an executor for an estate owner in Jamaica.