Lawrence Dundas was born in 1712, the second son of Thomas Dundas of Letham and Fingask. His elder brother inherited the estate and title and Lawrence became a man of business dealing in stocks and shares and the wine trade. During the Jacobite Rising in 1745-46 and later the Seven Years War (1756-63) he acted as Commissary General to the British Army supplying goods and services in Scotland and Flanders. He made a great fortune which he invested in property like the estate of West Kerse in 1752 which included a part of the land on which Grangemouth now stands .
Over the next few years he acquired Aske House in Richmond which is still the Dundas family home, Moor Park in Northamptonshire, Marske House in Yorkshire and a luxury house in London’s fashionable Arlington Street which he filled with a huge collection of old master paintings and tapestries. Among his other investments were two slave run sugar plantations in the West Indies. In 1762 he was made a baronet.
In Scotland he purchased New Merchiston from the Napier family and renamed the village Lawrie’s Town or Laurieston. In 1766 he bought Orkney and Shetland from the Earl of Morton for £63,000 and when his grandson, also Lawrence, was raised to the peerage in 1838 he chose to be Earl of Zetland, the old name for the islands.
The year 1768 was very significant. Lawrence was elected MP for Edinburgh and had a magnificent town mansion built in the New Town. Known then as Dundas House it is now the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland in St Andrews Square, Edinburgh. In the same year he dug the first spade of earth in his greatest venture, the Forth and Clyde Canal. Not only did it start on his land but he was the major shareholder. It was a huge success and he made a second fortune making him one of Britain’s richest men. He was known to some as the ’Nabob of the North’.
When he died in 1781 he left a fortune to his son Thomas which is estimated at £1 million pounds which at today’s prices must equate to nearly £200 million!