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Sillerton - The origin of the Sillerton House name is not clear, but it is believed that, in Robert Gordon's lifetime, he was known as Gordon of Silverton (siller being Scots for silver), and on a 1746 map, the school is identified as Sillerton Hospital. An earlier map shows Silverton Hospital in the area of Schoolhill.
Is it not a most strange and unaccountable circumstance, that the very grave of the most distinguished of the benefactors of Bon-Accord is not so much as known at that comparatively short period after his death? The most important sources of information respecting the life of Robert Gordon was then sealed for ever, it was idle to indulge in fanciful conjecture on the subject; we confine our notice to a record of the few facts which we are able to furnish from contemporary knowledge. Robert Gordon was supposed to have been born about the year 1665. His father, Arthur Gordon, was an Advocate of some repute in Edinburgh, and 9th son of Robert Gordon of Straloch, the eminent Geographer and Antiquary. It is probable that the subject of this memoir received an education suitable to his situation and prospects in life. His father is said to have left him a patrimony of £100 a considerable sum in those days. This patrimony, it would appear, he had squandered away during a youth spent in thoughtless extravagance on the Continent. He afterwards carried on Business as a Merchant in Danzig, (Gdansk) where he realised a considerable fortune. He subsequently returned to Aberdeen, where he spent the remainder of his days. As if to atone for the extravagance of his youth, his habits, in the decline of life, were parsimonious in the extreme. His usual fare was of the coarsest quality, and, in quantity, barely sufficient to satisfy the demands of nature. His wardrobe was scanty, seldom renewed, and the furniture of his solitary chamber was of the homeliest description. Several stories about his penurious way of living have been handed down, some of which it may amuse readers to relate. In the various shifts which he made in the matter of "what he should eat, and what he should drink, and wherewithal he should be clothed," Robert Gordon displayed a share of ingenious pinching which might well vie with the achievements of the most celebrated of misers.
Milk was a luxury in which he did not always indulge; as a substitute he used the water in which his pitiful allowance of butter had been squeezed. It is said that the dealers in butter and oatmeal in the markets regarded him as a rather "ugly customer," from finding that his tastings of their saleables were too much on the principle of "cut and come again!" He had discovered the secret of deriving warmth from coals without consuming them as fuel; for, although the grate in his cheerless chamber was always filled with them, yet they were never wastefully kindled, but merely kept in their own place as a matter of propriety. Their calorific virtue he derived from carrying a bag of them on his back, and thus pacing about his room, at a brisk rate, until he had walked himself into a comfortable glow! If any one happened to call on business at night, when artificial light was necessary, a single shabby candle lent its feeble ray on the occasion; but, as soon as business was despatched, even this "darkness visible" was denied; for Robert Gordon used coolly to remark, that "one could see to speak in the dark!" His dress displayed a struggle between his pinching propensities and some ambition to appear in a habit suitable to his rank as a Gentleman. Gloves he allowed himself; but he knew that they would last all the longer for being never put on, and so always carried them in his hand. No brush ever touched his shoes, and boot-black was out of the question; yet he was careful to wipe them on the grass! His upper garment, a sort of gown, or cloak, might indeed, at one time, have been "fitting for his wear;" but when, in the course of long service, it had become so notoriously and obtrusively thread-bare, as to provoke the remarks and remonstrations of his friends, he promised to get a new one if they would only suggest how the old one might be usefully employed. He was advised to lay it as a coverlet on his bed, which was by no means overloaded with bed-clothes; the hint met his approbation, and he forthwith purchased a new gown. In the matter of personal purity, he was not particular to a shade.
Soap he did not consider indispensable in the arrangements of his toilet, or a comb as an essential, and "Sure his linen was not very clean!" Although Robert Gordon thus "pinched both back and belly too," yet he had no ascetic objections to good living, when the feast was not at his own expense. Owing to his station as a Gentleman, his intelligence, the idea of his great wealth, and perhaps too, in pity of his self-imposed system of starvation, he was a frequent and a willing guest at the tables of many of the more respectable Aberdonians. These golden opportunities he took special care to improve; not content with the more dainty viands of his host, it is said that he used to find his way into the kitchen, and there cultivate an intimacy with the plainer dishes appropriated for the menials. It would appear that he had studied the gastronomic maxims of Ritt-master Dugald Dalgetty, of Drumthwacket memory, and that he had, when living at free quarters, a steady eye to the provant. It is said that a surfeit, occasioned by thus over-eating himself, at the house of a friend, was the cause of his death.
This event took place in January 1732. He was honoured with a public funeral, his body lying in state in the Hall of Marischal College, where every one who was inclined to view it, received the refreshments usually presented on such occasions. His remains were then interred, with great pomp, somewhere in Drum's Aisle (St Nicolas), but in what particular spot is not known. The place of his interment is now recorded.
There is in the Hospital an original half-length portrait of the founder, from which the painting in the Hall, by Mosman, was taken. In his person Mr. Gordon was rather tall, of a gentlemanly appearance, with an intelligent countenance, and a calm, expressive eye. He appears to have been a man of more than ordinary shrewdness, of considerable information, and of a cultivated taste. As the founder of Gordon's Hospital, his memory is justly entitled to the veneration of all who are alive to the feelings of gratitude inspired by such a benevolent design, or who can appreciate the worth of one, who, whatever may have been the eccentricities of his character, was capable of forming and maturing a scheme for the lasting benefit of friendless youth. It is impossible now to ascertain how or when Mr. Gordon formed the benevolent design of founding his Hospital. In the preamble of the Deed of Mortification, dated 3 years before his death (1729), he says that he had intended thus to dispose of his substance "for several years bygone." Some have ascribed his self-imposed penurious life to his laudable desire to accomplish this benevolent purpose. It is not unlikely that this may have been one of the determining causes; but mankind generally act from mixed motives. The parsimony of his latter years may have been at 1st adopted to atone, in some measure, for the thoughtless extravagance of his youth. His design of founding the Hospital may have been formed when his fortune, accumulated beyond his exigencies, had warranted the hope of its becoming ultimately adequate to the charitable disposal of it afterwards made; same excusable vanity, too, may have inclined him to an act which should convey his name with honour to succeeding generations; while the nature of the design itself must certainly oblige us to believe that it was partly inspired by principles of genuine benevolence. His parsimonious mode of life, arising at first from various motives, may have been afterwards confirmed by custom into a habit which maintained its sway independently of its original causes. The preamble of the Deed of Mortification runs thus:
"For as much as I have deliberately and seriously (for these several years bygone) intended and resolved, and am now come to a full and final resolution and determination, to make a pious Mortification of my whole substance and effects presently pertaining, resting, and owing to me, or which shall happen to pertain and be resting to me at the time of my decease; and that towards the erection of an Hospital, and for maintenance, aliment, entertainment, and education of young boys whose parents are poor and indigent, and not able to maintain them at school, and put them to Trades and Employments. Which resolution purely proceeds from the zeal I bear and carry to the glory and honour of God; and that the true principles of our holy and Christian religion may be the more effectually propagated in young ones; and that the knowledge of letters and of lawful employments and callings may flourish and be advanced in all succeeding generations." The sum originally bequeathed for the Hospital was £10,000. The Executors appointed are "The Provost, Baillies, and the remnant members of the Town Council of the Burgh of Aberdeen, and the 4r Ministers of the Gospel in the said Burgh of Aberdeen, commonly called the Town's 4 Ministers of the old and new Churches who exercise the pastoral charge there, and to their successors in their respective offices"
Does not the last clause of this sentence determine the question relative to the election of the Clerical Governors which arose out of the recent division of the town into parishes? Are not the ministers of the East, West, North, and Greyfriars' Churches alone properly eligible as Governors? The Deed next ordains that "This Hospital shall be called, in all succeeding generations, Robert Gordon's Hospital, founded by his appointment for entertaining and educating indigent male children and male grand-children of decayed merchants and brethren of Guild of the Burgh of Aberdeen, of the name of Gordon, in the first place, and of the name of Menzies in the second place (the nearest relations of the Mortifier of the names of Gordon and Menzies being always preferred to any others), and the male children of any relations of the Mortifier, that are of any other name, in the third place, to be preferred to others; and then the male children or male grand-children of any other merchants and brethren of Guild of the said Burgh." The Hospital, then, is chiefly intended for behoof of the sons and grandsons of Burgesses of Guild. The Deed, however, afterwards runs thus: "And in case it shall happen that there be not so many boys (as before specified) as the said Hospital can contain, then and in that case, I appoint and ordain the said Patrons and Governors to elect and choose so many boys of the sons and grand-sons of tradesmen of the said Burgh of Aberdeen, being Freemen and Burgesses thereof; and failing these, so many boys as have been born and educated in the said Burgh, and are the sons or grandsons of persons who are, or have been residents in the said Burgh of Aberdeen, who are indigent and cannot maintain themselves, as the said Hospital and revenue thereof can conveniently contain and admit of." The proper objects of the Institution, then, are the children or grand-children of the indigent alone, who are required by the Deed to bring certificates of their indigent circumstances from the Minister and kirk-session of the bounds where they reside "And the consciences of the Governors are strictly charged not to choose any but such as are proper objects of the charity." It is scarcely necessary, after this, to remark that the Governors ought not, in any instance, to be swayed by motives of private partiality or convenience in the election of boys, lest they should incur the reproach of frustrating the benevolent views of the Founder. For many years, owing to the great number of Burgesses of Guild made at a certain period, no sons or grandsons of Trades Burgesses could be admitted into the Hospital. This was the more to be regretted, as the hardship of the case fell most heavily on those who were least able to bear it.
The Deed of Mortification next directs how the money shall be laid out on the building of the Hospital : "And the house, and other accommodation for the said Hospital, shall be erected, built, and finished out of the annual rents and profits of the said sum of Ten Thousand Pounds Sterling money, or such sum or sums as are hereby mortified by me, and shall be recovered and made effectual, of my effects, after my decease, upon any fit place within the said Burgh of Aberdeen, where the Patrons or Governors shall think fit, or upon the piece of ground called the Blackfriars, lying upon the north side of the Schoolhill of the said Burgh of Aberdeen, to be feued for that purpose, or to be purchased, if it can be done legally; but the principal or capital stock, is still to remain entire; and no children to be entered or received into the said Hospital, until such time as the annual rents of the said capital stock have defrayed and discharged the whole expense of the building, and the price bestowed in purchasing the ground where the said Hospital is to be built, and year and day thereafter at least." The spot where the Hospital is built was Mr. Gordon's favourite walk during his lifetime, a circumstance which may account for his pointing it out as the site of the building. His plan of allowing the surplus of the money which remained, after defraying the expense of the House, to accumulate until sufficient for maintaining the boys, does not appear to be very judicious. It would have been better to have allowed the original sum to have accumulated until fully adequate to all necessary expenses, and then to have commenced the building. As it was, the building lay vacant for a good many years, and, of course, required to be kept up, at some expense, while no immediate advantage was derived from it. The original Hospital was built in 1732, after a plan by Mr. William Adam, of Edinburgh. The expense of the erection was £3300. It was not open for the reception of boys until 1750.
It is a singular fact, that the 1st inmates of Gordon's Hospital were part of the King's Troops under the Duke of Cumberland. The Hospital was fortified, and received the name of Fort Cumberland. The kitchen was converted into a stable. In various places of the old back-wall the remains of loop-holes were to be seen. Some of the rooms of the house bore faint traces of the numbers with which they had been distinguished at this period. Government allowed the Governors the sum of £300 for the use of the Hospital.
After the cost of building the Auld Hoose, the Governors had to allow the value of Robert Gordon's investments to return to £10,000 before they could afford to admit pupils. Because of this, when the Duke of Cumberland was on his way north with his army to fight against the Jacobites at Culloden, he found the Hospital building empty and decided to use it as a garrison barrack for his troops. While the officers stayed in the more luxurious Provost Skene's House, 200 of Cumberland's soldiers were billeted in the Auld Hoose. The Hospital was converted into a temporary Fort, surrounded by a ditch and earthen ramparts protected by a palisade. The garden walls were taken down and a well was dug in the grounds. While they were living there, the troops did quite a lot of damage to the building and the Governors had to put in a claim for damages to the King. This was paid in October 1747. Finally, after 2 years of repairs, the Hospital was able to open on 10th July 1750. In 1971, a Well under Room 7 was excavated by pupils. This probably dates from the time of 'Fort Cumberland'. While the foundations for the new College Library were being dug in Spring 2000, a team from the City of Aberdeen Archaeology department discovered part of the Fortifications from Fort Cumberland in the back playground. They dug out part of the ditch, which they were able to date because of pottery, clay pipes and bricks that they found.
The management and administration of the affairs of Gordon's Hospital are vested in the Provost, Bailies, Town-Council, and 4 Ministers of Aberdeen, for the time being, each of them having a separate vote in all matters relating to the Hospital and its members. The Provost is the ordinary Preses of their meetings. None are allowed to enter upon office before having taken a solemn oath, de fideli, as follows:
" I, A. B., do solemnly swear and promise before God, that to the best of my knowledge and power, I shall carry and demean myself faithfully and honestly in all matters which concern the election of the officers or children, or any thing else belonging to Robert Gordon's Hospital, founded and erected for the maintaining and educating the male children and grand-children of decayed merchants and brethren of Guild of the burgh of Aberdeen ; and if I know any going about at any time to defraud or prejudge the said pious work, I shall obstruct it to my power, and reveal it to the Governors."
The old Governors remain in office till the 3rd Monday of November yearly. The new Governors meet the old, on that day, in the Hall of the Hospital, and, after having the above oath administered to them by the old Preses, they enter immediately on their office. On the occasion of a change of Governors, the old Preses is required to exhort the new Governors to the faithful discharge of their important duties. Some one of the ministers, too, who chance to be present, is required to give the masters, boys, and servants, suitable admonitions. This praiseworthy practice is not, however, now observed. The Governors have a discretionary power of making by-laws and rules for the better administration of the Hospital, provided they interfere not with the fundamental laws of the Institution, or with the original regulations of the Deed of Mortification, except when just grounds appear for altering these. In the latter case, such alterations must be concluded and agreed upon by 3/4ths of the whole members, to meet for that purpose, after the same has been under their consideration in 2 several sederunts, the one at the distance of at least a month after the other, and be approved by the Preses, and these alterations no ways infringing upon the fundamental articles of the Hospital viz. That the same is for the maintenance and instruction in the principles of the Protestant faith, and education in learning, of the various classes of boys heretofore enumerated; that the Hospital shall always be called by the Founder's name, or in conjunction with others who shall bequeath sums to a certain amount; and that the right of managing the affairs of the Hospital shall be vested in the Patrons and Governors before mentioned; and that no part of the funds of the Hospital shall be otherwise appropriated than the deed provides. All these are fundamental statutes of the Institution, over which the Governors have no discretionary power of alteration. With regard to the management of the funds of the Hospital, the Governors have power to take up the principal sums, to re-employ them, to carry on the buildings and all necessary repairs, and contract for everything for that purpose. In placing their funds out at loan, the Governors are, however, laid under certain restrictions. It is appointed that no money belonging to the Hospital be laid out or employed, but by warrant of an act by the Patrons and Governors, voted by way of balloting, and that either for purchasing lands, or upon real security of land, reputed free of encumbrances, or to the Town of Aberdeen, upon the public security, or to any 2 or more responsible persons bound conjunctly and severally, providing the sum lent to these 2 or more persons do not exceed £500. Much praise is due to the Governors of Gordon's Hospital for the prudent management of its funds. They are chiefly invested in lands which yield an increasing revenue. At one period, we believe, a great portion of the funds was in considerable jeopardy. A proposal was made for vesting a large sum in the hands of the Town's Treasurer. One of the Clerical Governors, the Rev. Hugh Hay, Minister of the East Kirk, was the person who resolutely opposed this reckless scheme. The firmness of his conduct on this occasion is the more to be admired, when we reflect that he was a very young man, and that he held the office of a Governor for scarcely 1 year.
All meetings of the Governors for transaction of Hospital business, are usually held within the hall of the Hospital. There are 4 great quarterly meetings viz. on the 3rd Mondays of November, February, May, and August. Besides these, there are 3 other meetings, for the Election of boys, the Visitation of the schools, the Auditing of the Accounts, and any contingent business. These meetings are all called by the Officer of the eldest Baillie, who may be required to make a judicial declaration, in presence of the meeting, of his having warned the Governors to attend. It is ordained that whatever shall be concluded upon by a plurality of voices of the Governors, at these meetings, shall stand in full force, and be a final act and deed, there being always present at these meetings no less than 11, who, with the Provost, are declared a quorum; and, in absence of the Provost, the eldest Baillie of Aberdeen; and, in his absence, the next eldest Bailie to him; and, in the absence of the Baillies, any other chosen Preses by the meeting, for that occasion. The Preses and Governors must sign all acts passed at their meetings. In the case of an equality of votes, the Preses has the casting vote. The deed next provides for the election of 4 Auditors of accounts in the following manner: The new Governors choose, out of their own number, on the 3rd Monday of November, 4 auditors of the Treasurer's and all other accounts belonging to the Hospital, who, or any 2 of them, jointly and met together, shall peruse and consider the Treasurer's quarterly accounts, the 4th day after the end of each quarter, or sooner if they can with convenience; and the Treasurer and Auditors shall deliver to the Body of the Governors assembled, at their quarterly meeting, their accounts of the last 3 months past fairly written in a book, containing all the sums, less or more, paid during that space, with their report subscribed, which shall be read publicly, and there either comptrolled or allowed; the allowances thereof shall be made under the hand of the Clerk of the Hospital, and subscribed by the Preses and other Governors present; which book of accounts of 3 months, so allowed, shall lie open for the space of 8 days thereafter upon the table, so that if any of the Governors, or those who may have given donations, or their heirs (but none else), have a desire to peruse them, they may; and if they find any oversight or fault therein, the discoverers thereof are charged, on conscience, to reveal it to the Governors, who shall take care to correct and amend it. The 3rd Monday of November, yearly, the auditors shall deliver to the body of the Governors assembled, the whole preceding year's accounts, where they shall be comptrolled or allowed, every man as is expressed in the quarterly accounts. The election of auditors shall be by plurality of the suffrages of the Governors, or their quorum, and they shall give their oaths de fideli in presence foresaid; and if any of them shall happen to die, or not accept, the Governors shall, within 10 days, elect 1 in his place. And for making the auditing of the accounts more expeditious, it is expressly provided, that before the Treasurer pay any particular accounts of merchants, tradesmen, or others, excepting the stated and settled provision for the diet of those in the Hospital, which is to be regulated by the Governors, the said accounts shall be laid, at least, before 2 of the Auditors met together, who shall visit the work, consider the account, and report their opinion thereafter to the Governors, who are to approve or restrict, as they shall see cause, and shall give warrant to the Treasurer for payment of such a sum, in satisfaction thereof, as they shall see just. The Deed next provides for the Election of the Clerk of the Hospital. He is chosen by the Governors, and continues in office during their pleasure only. His office is fairly and faithfully to keep in order all the evidence and other papers whatsoever belonging to the Hospital, and to attend the Governors at their meetings, to draw all orders and resolutions made by them, and to keep a clear and distinct record or digest of all their proceedings, marking down upon the margin of each sederunt the material thing transacted that day, and to make up an alphabetical index pointing to the particular sederunt or statute where every matter concerning the Hospital is treated of. He shall, likewise, have the sole benefit of drawing and composing of all manner of evidence, securities, and writings, which shall be made betwixt the Hospital and any person. "It being also expressly provided, That, in case it shall please God, that any of the boys, one, or more, shall at any time, after their departure out of the said Hospital, attain or succeed to any considerable fortune or stock in the world, that each boy attaining to such a condition shall be obliged to pay back to the Hospital what was laid out and expended on them during the time they were in the Hospital, and putting them to a Trade, or otherwise; and the Governors are hereby required 'to pursue for, uplift, and receive the same from them, according to the following rule, viz. If they acquire and succeed to 2,000 merks Scots money, of free stock, they are to payback one half; and if they acquire and succeed to 4,000 merks money foresaid, of free stock, then they are to pay back the haill that was bestowed on them." In the appendix to the deed we find this clause referred to, with the following addendum : " I hereby declare, and will and ordain, that such sums to be recovered, shall be added to the capital stock of the said mortification."
It might reasonably be expected that feelings of gratitude would induce those who were brought up in the Hospital to endeavour to make some return to an Institution which had been the means of enabling them to acquire a competency in life. It will be seen, however, by the above extract, that the matter is not left to their better option, but that it is their imperative obligation. The Governors are empowered to pursue for reimbursement of the expenses of the maintenance in the Hospital of such as may afterwards acquire or succeed to certain specific sums. Such strong measures have never been resorted to by the Governors, although instances, not a few, have occurred which might have justified such procedure. Of all those who have been educated in Gordon's Hospital, a considerable number have risen to comparative affluence in the world, and yet, to their shame be it told, only a few of its adopted sons have had the common gratitude to make a return for the benefits they there received.
A good many years ago, a person, whose name we forbear to mention, died in Leith, worth £60,000; and, although he made bequests to almost every Charitable Institution in Aberdeen, yet to Gordon's Hospital, where he was brought up, he left not one farthing. What can be the cause of such unnatural conduct? Are those who get lip in the world ashamed to bequeath anything to the Institution, lest they should thereby betray the lowliness of their origin ? This were surely one of those cases " Where 'tis a shame to be ashamed t' appear! " We suspect, however, that there is too much of this discreditable feeling among those \vhose circumstances in the world are such as to contrast rather strongly with the poor and friendless condition of a "Sillerton laddie? Nay, there are some so utterly destitute of common sense and common gratitude, that they are offended, forsooth! if you make even slight allusion to the circumstance of their having been brought up in the Hospital! If they feel the obligation irksome, let them forthwith partly rid themselves of it by paying back to the Institution the expenses of their education. But, even when they shall have found grace enough to do this, let them still remember that they owe that institution a debt of gratitude which they can never repay. We envy not the contemptible creatures who allow the better feelings of the soul to be stifled by poor pride of all kinds of pride the most pitiful. In making these remarks, we mean nothing personal; but, if any should choose to take offence at their truth and appropriateness to their own particular cases, they are very welcome to do so. They need not whine about feelings, etc., until they have shown that they really do possess feelings entitled to respect. We suppose they would readily boast of their having been brought up in Gordon's Hospital if they could derive any advantage by the boast; but as long as they are ashamed of the circumstance, we would just hint, for their special edification, that they have more credit by the Hospital than the Hospital has by them! If there is no legal claim, there certainly is a moral one; yet up to this date 12 old scholars only have shown their respect to the wishes and request of Robert Gordon, by repaying the cost of their education to the Institution.
Gordon's aim was to give the poor boys of Aberdeen a firm education, or as he put it to "found a Hospital for the Maintenance, Aliment, Entertainment and Education of young boys from the city whose parents were poor and destitute". At this point all pupils at the school were boarders, but in 1881, the Hospital became a day school known as Robert Gordon's College. In 1903, the vocational education component of the college was designated a Central Institution (which was renamed as Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology in 1965 and became the Robert Gordon University in 1992). Boarding did not return until 1937 with the establishment of Sillerton House. In 1989 RGC became a co-educational school.
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