Attributed to Sir Henry Raeburn, 1756 - 1823
Portrait of John Kennedy, Laird of Knocknalling, New Galloway (1769-1855), textile manufacturer
John Kennedy
oil on canvas
50 x 40 cm. (20 x 16 in.)


John Kennedy, (1769–1855), textile manufacturer, was born on 4 July 1769 at Knocknalling, Kirkcudbrightshire, a small farm 6 miles from New Galloway which had belonged to the family for over three centuries. John's father inherited the estate from his own father; his mother came from Stirling. Both parents had some education, his father having attended college in Edinburgh. There were seven children, five sons of whom John was third eldest and two daughters. The father died when the children were young. Distance from the local school meant that the children received only occasional teaching from tutors training to be schoolmasters. Through contact with one such occasional teacher, Kennedy recognized his enthusiasm for mechanics, and this was encouraged by his mother who believed that such skills were the key to an independent life. The eldest son took over the running of the farm, and the others had to seek employment elsewhere. In February 1784 John Kennedy moved to Chowbent, near Leigh in Lancashire, to be apprenticed to William Cannan, who came originally from the parish of Kells, and was the son of a neighbour of the Kennedys. Kennedy's training covered the manufacture of textile machinery including carding engines, jennies, and water frames. On completing his apprenticeship in February 1791, he moved to Manchester and formed a partnership with Benjamin and William Sandford, fustian warehousemen, and James M'Connel, a nephew and former apprentice of Cannan, to manufacture textile machinery and undertake cotton spinning. This partnership lasted for four years, the active management of the business being undertaken by M'Connel and Kennedy, the latter taking charge of the machine department. For some years the firm was virtually the only business using Crompton's mule. Kennedy was a skilled and inventive engineer, and has been credited with devising a crucial improvement to fine spinning machinery, called double speed, which enabled much finer thread to be manufactured. This made possible the mechanization of fine spinning, marked an important advance in the quality of production, and formed the basis for the success of the business.

In March 1795 M'Connel and Kennedy formed a new partnership with their share of the profit from the previous partnership, and a little additional capital of their own, in sum £1770, and moved to a new factory in the same Canal Street, where they remained for six or seven years. Then they built the first of their three mills in Union Street. This new partnership formed the basis for the rest of Kennedy's working life, which spanned the next three decades. Initially the firm continued to make cotton-spinning machinery for sale, but this part of the business ended around the turn of the century, although it still manufactured for its own requirements. Thereafter the spinning side of the business became the sole activity, concentrating on the production of the highest quality cotton yarn. In 1815 a survey of firms in Manchester showed that only nine companies employed over 400 workers, the largest being Adam and George Murray with 1215 workers followed by M'Connel and Kennedy with 1020. In 1798 the firm's inventory showed that it had almost 7500 spindles at work valued at £1107. By the time Kennedy retired in 1826 the number of spindles had increased to almost 125,000 and the valuation to £28,540. In 1804 John Kennedy married Mary, daughter of John Stuart of Manchester; they had one son and several daughters. The family lived in Ancoats Lane until 1806, and in Medlock until 1822, when they moved to Ardwick Hall.

M'Connel and Kennedy was thus one of the major pioneering firms in the early phase of the Lancashire cotton industry. John Kennedy- did more than survive and prosper. He also helped shift attitudes in the cotton industry, which had been protectionist in the eighteenth century, towards an embrace of Adam Smith’s economic theories, actively promoted the Liverpool and Manchester railway, rubbed shoulders with Thomas Malthus and Charles Babbage in the British Society for the Advancement of Science and was father in law to Edwin Chadwick, reformer of the Poor Laws and sanitary improver.

Lit by gaslight and powered by steam, by 1815 the cotton spinning mills of Ancoats in Manchester represented technology at the leading edge of the industrial revolution. Side by side on the Rochdale canal, two huge cotton spinning factories dominated Ancoats, each employing over 1000 workers (Kidd, 1993, p.24). Remarkably, the founders of these two mill complexes, partners John Kennedy (1769-1855) and James McConnel (1762-1831), and brothers Adam (1767-1818) and George Murray (1761-1855), all came from Kells parish in the Glenkens district of Galloway. The industrial revolution, which transformed Britain between the 1780s and 1830s, drew many thousands of people from similar rural backgrounds into fast growing towns and cities. Very few, however, were able to succeed and prosper by mastering the technological and economic challenges of these new environments. Why were the Glenkens group able to do so? To answer this question requires an understanding of the social and economic background from which they emerged. A key argument will be that the development of the cattle trade with England led to the early advent of capitalist farming in Galloway. By the later eighteenth century, the social and economic environment of Galloway had been shaped by market forces’for the best part of a century. Although this was a form of agricultural rather than industrial capitalism, it meant that when Kennedy, McConnell and the Murray brothers began their businesses in Manchester, the market place was a familiar rather than alien environment.

On 8 February 1827 John Kennedy, a successful Manchester manufacturer, sat down to compose some recollections of his early life for his children. The date was personally significant since it was on 9 February 1784 that Kennedy had left Knocknalling in Kells parish for Chowbent near Leigh in Lancashire to become an apprentice to William Cannan who manufactured carding engines, spinning jennies and water frames. Cannan was also from Kells parish where his father James farmed Sheil and Darsalloch (Reid and Cannon, 1953, p.118). Originally trained as a carpenter, in the 1760s Cannan left the district first for Whitehaven, then Liverpool before finally settling at Chowbent where he became a textile machinery manufacturer. Adam Murray became one of Cannan’s apprentices in 1780 followed by James McConnel of Hannaston (who was Cannan’s nephew) in 1781. George Murray was another of Cannan’s apprentice’s and married Cannan’s daughter Jane.

After serving their seven year apprenticeships with William Cannan, Kennedy, McConnel and the Murray brothers made the short journey to Manchester where their newly acquired skills were in great demand. The first to complete his apprenticeship was Adam Murray. After three years building up his capital in Chowbent, he moved to Manchester in 1790 where he leased land and premises in Ancoats. Here Adam took up cotton spinning as well as machine making. In 1797 he was joined by his brother George and together they established the firm of A & G Murray. In 1798 the brothers began construction of a purpose built, 8 storey high steam powered cotton mill in Ancoats. The steam power was supplied by Boulton and Watt and the new factory was connected by a short branch to the Rochdale canal (Miller and Wild, 2006, pp. 62-66).

James McConnel moved to Manchester in 1788. After working briefly for a cotton twist dealer, like Adam Murray, McConnel began his own business. McConnel also began spinning as well as machine making, using two spinning mules he had been unable to sell. McConnel still had these mules in 1791 which, valued at £70, became part of the capital he and John Kennedy contributed to their partnership with the Sandford brothers. In his ‘Early Recollections’, Kennedy (1849, p.17) gave an account of the partnership.

I formed a partnership with Benjamin and William Sandford, who were fustian warehousemen, and James McConnel, and we immediately commenced business as machine makers and mule spinners - I taking the direction of the machine department. Our first shop was in Stable Street or Back Oldham Street and our capital was not more than £600 to £700. Here we made machines for others as well as ourselves, putting up our own mules in any convenient garrets we could find. After some time we removed to a building in Canal Street, called Salvin's Factory - from the name of the owner who occupied a portion of it himself, letting off the remainder to us. Here we continued to the end of our partnership which lasted four years, terminating in 1795.

McConnel and Kennedy then began a new business in 1795 with an initial capital of £1700. Of this, £1632 came from the profits of the previous partnership plus £105 from James McConnell and £33 from John Kennedy (Lee, 1972, p.12). By 1802, McConnell & Kennedy had become prosperous enough to begin construction of their own steam powered cotton mill, on land adjacent to the Murray brothers’ factory.

Using the records of McConnell & Kennedy, Lee (1972) was able to trace the development of the firm between 1795 and 1840. Most significantly the firm (along with A & G Murray) specialised in the production of fine cotton yarn. This was measured in ‘counts’ based on the number of hanks (840 yards) of yarn spun from one pound weight of raw cotton. While the average count for cotton spinning up until 1833 was only 40, from their beginnings in 1795 onwards McConnel & Kennedy produced yarn counts ranging from 80 to 250. Up until the early 1830s, the main market for McConnell & Kennedy’s was in Scotland where hand-loom weavers in Glasgow and Paisley concentrated on fine cotton spinning. By 1808 ‘McConnel & Kennedy and their rivals A & G Murray had a powerful hold over the Scottish fine yarn market because of the superior quality of their product.’ (Lee, 1972, p. 27). Lee goes on to suggest that the larger, steam-powered, spinning machinery used by McConnell & Kennedy and A & G Murray ‘enabled Manchester firms to produce better yarn and in greater quantities than their counterparts in Scotland.’

McConnell & Kennedy also exported to Europe. The ‘most advantageous’ period for these exports (Lee, 1972, p. 67) was during the Napoleonic Wars and the immediate post-war boom when the prices of fine cotton yarn were at their peak. Some of this trade involved the smuggling of cotton yarn into France and areas controlled by the French before 1815. Although this was risky, the profit margins were very high. Other markets supplied by McConnell & Kennedy were in the north of Ireland, Nottinghamshire and the south-west of England. Of these, the Nottingham lace thread market became the most important in the 1830s, replacing Scotland as the firm’s largest market. (Lee, 1972, p.44).

When John Kennedy retired from the partnership in December 1826 his share of the business was £85 000 (Kennedy, 2016, pp. 213-4). The business, now called McConnel & Company, was continued by James McConnel and his sons Henry and James junior. After James McConnel’s death in 1831, his third son William joined the company. From 1861, when his brothers retired, William ran the firm on his own. In 1878 his son John took over the business. In 1898 the firm became part of the Fine Cotton Spinners and Doublers Association. This Association initially included 47 separate businesses and over 60 mills. McConnell & Company were one of the largest businesses in the Association. However, after John McConnel retired in 1914, McConnell & Company lost its independent identity as it became more closely integrated within the Association (Lee, 1972, pp.151-3).

Turning to McConnell & Kennedy’s neighbours and rivals A & G Murray, after Adam Murray died in 1831, George Murray managed the firm until 1854 by which time he was 93. From 1854 to 1878 his sons Benjamin and James ran the firm after which Benjamin’s sons George and John briefly took over until Herbert Dixon became managing director in 1880. Herbert Dixon was instrumental in setting up the Fine Cotton Spinners and Doublers Association which absorbed A & G Murray in 1899 (Miller and Wild, 2006, p.86).

The firm was also distinctive in concentrating on the fine-quality market, selling their product mainly in Scotland and Ireland, and later supplying the Nottingham lace trade. Its rise demonstrates one route through the potential minefield of business growth in a volatile market situation propped up by a network of interconnected credits and debits, which brought many businesses to a speedy and inglorious end. The key to the success of this firm appears to have been risk aversion. Manufacturing their own machinery, and initially renting premises, enabled the partners to limit debt by offering discounts for cash or short credit. Vulnerability to market fluctuations was thus minimized. Ironically, such caution allowed the partners to enjoy the massive windfall gains from highly speculative ventures during the Napoleonic wars, when blockades confined trade with Europe to smuggling. This promised substantial gains if successful, but total loss if the cargo was discovered and confiscated. The capital so carefully accumulated allowed M'Connel and Kennedy to venture into this trade, and to profit substantially from it. This mixture of technical expertise, financial prudence, and commercial opportunism brought success and considerable prosperity, and allowed Kennedy to retire from the business while still in his fifties. His only son did not follow him into the firm, which was carried on by M'Connel and his sons, and the Kennedy name disappeared from the business in the 1830s.

Kennedy devoted much of his time subsequently to following his technical and mechanical interests. He was consulted about the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, on the issue of the relative merits of stationary or moving engines, and was an umpire at the Rainhill engine trials in 1830. He was an active member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, and had four papers published in the transactions of the society on the state of the cotton trade (1815), the poor law (1819), and the influence of machinery on the working classes (1826), and a memoir of Samuel Crompton (1830). Although Kennedy was highly successful in business, Fairbairn's memoir depicts him as a rather retiring individual of a nervous disposition, prone, like his father, to depression, and whose greatest enthusiasm lay in the search for mechanical improvement.

The most exceptional of this exceptional group was John Kennedy. After joining the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society in 1803, he read several papers to the Society. The first was ‘On the Rise and Progress of the Cotton Trade’ in 1815, followed by ‘An Inquiry into the Effects of the Poor Laws’ in 1819, ‘The Influence of Machinery on the Working Classes’ in 1826 and ‘A Brief Memoir of Samuel Crompton with a Description of his Machine Called the Mule and its Subsequent Improvement by Others’ in 1830 (Kennedy, 1849). In addition to these papers, Kennedy also wrote a 30 page booklet On the Exportation of Machinery (Kennedy, 1824).

In 1822 Kennedy joined the Provisional Committee of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company (Carlson, 1969, p. 49). In 1824, Kennedy was one of four members of the Provisional Committee who examined existing railways and reported in favour of the use of steam locomotives on the proposed railway (Carlson, 1969, p.64). With the railway nearing completion and with his argument for steam traction having prevailed, in 1829, Kennedy was chosen as one of the three judges at the Rainhill Locomotive Trial which was convincingly won by George and Robert Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ (Carlson, 1969, p.219).

For Wrigley (2016, p.145), the 1829 Rainhill Trials and the opening of the Liverpool Manchester railway in 1830 ‘symbolised the achievement of a definitive release from the constraints that had always limited the growth possibilities in organic economies.’ By ‘organic economies’ Wrigley means all preceding traditional societies which had relied on renewable sources of energy- wood, wind and water- plus animal and human labour human to sustain themselves. In contrast, all modern societies are what Wrigley calls ‘mineral economies’ which rely primarily on fossil fuels- at first coal, then oil and natural gas- as energy sources (Wrigley, 2010).

The water-powered cotton mills of late eighteenth century Gatehouse of Fleet were, despite their sophisticated use of current technology, still part of Wrigley’s ‘organic economy’. The steam powered cotton mills of McConnel & Kennedy and A & G Murray were part of Wrigley’s ‘mineral economy’. Cotton production in Gatehouse was ultimately limited by the flow of water from Loch Whinyeon above the town. To increase production in a steam-powered cotton mill, all that was required was the purchase of a more powerful steam engine. While a more powerful steam-engine would need more coal, until the later nineteenth century (Jevons, 1865) it appeared that reserves of coal were practically inexhaustible so there would be no physical limits on economic growth.

In reality, as John Kennedy was very aware, the imperatives of the market economy with its constant cycle of expansion and contraction act as a check on economic growth. The technological improvements he made to his firm’s spinning machines increased the quantity and quality of the cotton yarn they produced but the market could not always smoothly absorb the yarn McConnel & Kennedy produced. In 1812, Kennedy had provided information on English cotton exports to India to the Committee for Free Trade to China and India. This was a campaign against the East India Company’s monopoly led by Kirkman Finlay, Lord Provost of Glasgow, who became an MP in 1812. Finlay was a cotton manufacturer and his firm was suffering from the loss of European markets during the Napoleonic wars, hence his interest in breaking the East India Company’s monopoly on trade with India where he hoped to find an alternative market for his company’s products (Chapman, 1992, p.95).

Up until the 1820s, Scottish cotton manufacturers including Finlay and Company, provided the main market for McConnel & Kennedy so it was in John Kennedy’s interest to support Kirkman Finlay’s early advocacy of the free market. In 1830, Kennedy was called before the Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company where he gave evidence on the growth of cotton exports from England to India since 1812, based on the figures he had provided to the Committee for Free Trade to China and India in 1812 (Lee, 1972, p.51 and Select Committee, 1830, pp. 434-439).

Significantly, both Berg (1980, p.195) and Parthasarathi (2011, p.110) draw attention to a further development found in Kennedy’s 1815 paper ‘On the Rise and Progress of the Cotton Trade’ where he applied Adam Smith’s concept of the division of labour to the origins of the cotton industry. As Parthasarathi notes (2011, p. 111)

The adoption of a Smithian framework to understand the rise of the cotton industry coincided with the growing acceptance in Lancashire of the free trade prescriptions of Smithian political economy. In the final quarter of the eighteenth century, the cotton men of Lancashire were unreceptive to the arguments for free trade and they favoured protection from imports of Indian cloth.

Although in his 1830 paper on Samuel Crompton, Kennedy did observe that eighteenth century manufactures copied ‘fabrics from India which at that time supplied this kingdom with all the finer fabrics’ (Kennedy, 1849, p.70), by then his earlier ‘Smithian’ account of the origins of the British cotton industry had become accepted as fact. That Kennedy was a manufacturer rather than a political economist is likely to have given extra weight to his acceptance of Adam Smith’s economic theories.

Kennedy was also a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, founded in 1831. In June 1833 he was present at a meeting of the Society in Cambridge when a new Statistical Section was formed by Charles Babbage, Thomas Malthus and others. In September 1833 Kennedy was one of the founders of the Manchester Statistical Society and became vice-president (Cullen, 1975, pp 79 and 108). It was probably through the Manchester Statistical Society that sanitary and poor law reformer Edwin Chadwick met Kennedy since Chadwick drew on the Manchester Society’s work for his privately published Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (1842). In 1839, Chadwick married Kennedy’s daughter Rachel.

That a group of young men who had left Kells parish in the Glenkens of Galloway as teenagers in the 1780s were able to found businesses in Manchester in the 1790s which survived and prospered for the next hundred years is noteworthy. It is possible that James McConnel, John Kennedy, Adam and George Murray were simply lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the textile machine making skills William Cannan had taught them. Certainly it was very helpful that they were able to build their own spinning machines and were able to adapt their mules to harness the power of steam engines. However, to succeed in the new environment of industrial capitalism required the additional ability to work within a market based economy. If Galloway still had a ‘traditional’ rural economy and society in the 1780s a group of young men from the region would have struggled to survive and prosper in Manchester’s market centred economy.

He died on 30 October 1855 at home at Ardwick Hall, Manchester, and was buried at Rusholme Road cemetery, Ardwick, Manchester.

C. H Lee DNB


McConnel & Kennedy Mills are a group of cotton mills on Redhill Street in Ancoats, Manchester, England. With the adjoining Murrays' Mills, they form a nationally important group.

The complex consists of six mills, Old Mill built in 1797, Long Mill from 1801 and Sedgewick Mill built between 1818 and 1820. A further phase of building in the early 20th century added Sedgewick New Mill in 1912, Royal Mill, originally the New Old Mill built in 1912 but renamed in 1942, and Paragon Mill also built in 1912. Paragon Mill at eight storeys high was the world's tallest cast iron structure when it was built.

The first phase of mills in Manchester such as Garratt Mill (1760), Holt's Mills, Meredith's Factory (1760), Gaythorn Mill (1788), Wood Mill (1788) and Knott Mill (1792) were water-powered, taking their power from the River Medlock. Salvin's ran a room and power mill (1780) on the Shooters Brook in Ancoats, and here the partnership of Sandford, McConnel and Kennedy was formed. Salvin's factory failed to get enough power from Shooters Brook, so he improved the head of water with a Savery type steam-powered pump. In 1793 John Kennedy directly connected a spinning mule to a steam engine. On 2 March 1795 the partnership was terminated, McConnel and Kennedy moved to other premises in Derby Street. Kennedy manufactured and sold spinning mules until 1801.

The next phase of mills was powered by Boulton and Watt double-acting beam engines. Though flowing water was no longer required, a considerable amount of water was needed for the engines' condensors which was provided by a mill lodge, canal or brook. The first Boulton and Watt engine in Manchester was bought by Drinkwater's Mill in Piccadilly in 1789, and installed by the Birmingham company's prizefighting engineer, Isaac Perrins.

James McConnel, served an apprenticeship with William Cannan in Chowbent, and moved to Manchester in 1788 to work for Alexander Egelsom a weft and twist dealer with a cotton spinning establishment on Newton Street, Ancoats. The Murrays probably used the same building. In 1791 McConnel joined the partnership with Sandford and Kennedy. By 1797 McConnel and Kennedy had built a mill with steam powered spinning mules. This was Old Mill, powered by a 16 hp Boulton and Watt engine in an external engine and boiler house. The seven-storey mill was 16 bays long and 4 bays deep and had a cupola on the roof.

Murrays' Mills and McConnel & Kennedy Mills, from the canal bank

Between 1801 and 1803, Long Mill was built, it was eight storeys high, 30 bays long by 4 bays deep, its 45 hp Boulton and Watt engine was placed in an internal engine house on the south side of the mill but the boilers were external. A tunnel and a bridge connected it to Old Mill. The Green Dragon public house on the corner of the plot, was left in situ. In 1809, a gas making plant was built on the site, and Long Mill became one of the first gas-lit mills. There were six gasometers and 1500 burners were fed by a 19mm pipe.

Colonel Sedgewick sold adjacent land to McConnel & Kennedy in 1817 and the four blocks of Sedgewick Mill were erected between 1818 and 1820. The largest, facing Redhill Street (Union Street), was eight storeys high and 17 bays long. The blocks were of fireproof construction. The mill's main drive shaft ran in a tunnel under the ground floor from the internal engine house which contained a 54 hp Boulton and Watt beam engine with a 24 feet (7.3 m) flywheel. William Fairbairn and James Lillie, designed and installed the shafting, which was unusual as the wings of the mill were offset at 15 degrees to the right angle. The main drive shaft powered a vertical shaft in each bay that ran to each floor. The company was the largest employer in Manchester at the time. John Kennedy retired in 1826, and the firm traded as McConnel & McConnel Co.

Alexis de Tocqueville, described Redhill Street Mill in 1835 as "... a place where some 1500 workers, labouring 69 hours a week, with an average wage of 11 shillings, and where three-quarters of the workers are women and children". During the Cotton Famine, the company obtained rights to Heilmann's combing machine.

As the century progressed, bigger and bigger machinery was used. The Fairbairn Engineering Company were employed to modify the structure of the mills in the mid-1860s. This involved replacing the old cast iron columns with new ones, each floor used a different technique.

Sedgewick New Mill, was an unusually narrow five-storey L shaped mill by A. H. Stott, designed for doubling sewing thread. It was Stott's second commission and neither party was satisfied with the result. McConnel became part of the Fine Spinners' and Doublers' Association Limited in 1898. Paragon Mill and New Old Mill were built in the Edwardian Baroque style by H. S. Porter using Accrington brick and terracotta. They had cast iron columns supporting transverse steel beams and reinforced concrete floors. Initially they were built with five-storeys and nine bays but a sixth storey was added later. The machinery was electrically driven and a new electricity substation was built in 1915. At the same time, Sedgewick New Mill and Long Mill were virtually rebuilt to take heavier equipment (usually this meant ring spinning frames).

The mills were visited by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1942. New Old Mill was renamed Royal Mill, it was extended, and cut Cotton Street with a new entrance arch claiming Royal Mill had been first built in 1797.

Spinning ceased in 1959, and the frames were sold. The buildings were bought by Leslie Fink who let out the space. The Long Mill was rented by the Flatley Drying Company, manufacturers of the Flatley clothes dryer invented by Andrew J. Flatley. In February 1959, the mill burned down and the site was redeveloped in 2001.




Artist biography

Raeburn was born the son of a manufacturer in Stockbridge, on the Water of Leith: a former village now within the city of Edinburgh. He had an older brother, born in 1744, called William Raeburn. His ancestors were believed to have been soldiers, and may have taken the name "Raeburn" from a hill farm in Annandale, held by Sir Walter Scott's family. Orphaned, he was supported by William and placed in Heriot's Hospital, where he received an education. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to the goldsmith James Gilliland of Edinburgh, and various pieces of jewellery, mourning rings and the like, adorned with minute drawings on ivory by his hand, still exist. Soon he took to the production of carefully finished portrait miniatures; meeting with success and patronage, he extended his practice to oil painting, at which he was self-taught. Gilliland watched the progress of his pupil with interest, and introduced him to David Martin, who had been the favourite assistant of Allan Ramsay the Latter, and was now the leading portrait painter in Edinburgh. Raeburn was especially aided by the loan of portraits to copy. Soon he had gained sufficient skill to make him decide to devote himself exclusively to painting. George Chalmers (1776; Dunfermline Town Hall) is his earliest known portrait.

Portrait of James and John Lee Allen, early 1790s

In his early twenties, Raeburn was asked to paint the portrait of a young lady he had noticed when he was sketching from nature in the fields. Ann was the daughter of Peter Edgar of Bridgelands, and widow of Count James Leslie of Deanhaugh. Fascinated by the handsome and intellectual young artist, she became his wife within a month, bringing him an ample fortune. The acquisition of wealth did not affect his enthusiasm or his industry, but spurred him on to acquire a thorough knowledge of his craft. It was usual for artists to visit Italy, and Raeburn set off with his wife. In London he was kindly received by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the president of the Royal Academy, who advised him on what to study in Rome, especially recommending the works of Michelangelo, and gave Raeburn letters of introduction for Italy. In Rome he met his fellow Scot Gavin HamiltonPompeo Girolamo Batoni and Byers, an antique dealer whose advice proved particularly useful, especially the recommendation that "he should never copy an object from memory, but, from the principal figure to the minutest accessory, have it placed before him." After two years of study in Italy he returned to Edinburgh in 1787, and began a successful career as a portrait painter. In that year he executed a seated portrait of the second Lord PresidentDundas.

Raeburn's portrait of Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry(1812)
Raeburn's portrait of Sir Walter Scott (1822)

Examples of his earlier portraiture include a bust of Mrs Johnstone of Baldovie and a three-quarter-length of Dr James Hutton: works which, if somewhat timid and tentative in handling and not as confident as his later work, nevertheless have delicacy and character. The portraits of John Clerk, Lord Eldin, and of Principal Hill of St Andrews belong to a later period. Raeburn was fortunate in the time in which he practised portraiture. Sir Walter Scott, Hugh BlairHenry MackenzieLord WoodhouseleeWilliam RobertsonJohn HomeRobert Fergusson, and Dugald Stewart were resident in Edinburgh, and were all painted by Raeburn. Mature works include his own portrait and that of the Rev. Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood, a bust of Dr Wardrop of Torbane Hill, two full-lengths of Adam Rolland of Gask, the remarkable paintings of Lord Newton and Dr Alexander Adam in the National Gallery of Scotland, and that of William Macdonald of St Martin's. Apart from himself, Raeburn painted only two artists, one of whom was Sir Francis Leggatt Chantrey, the most important and famous British sculptor of the first half of the 19th century. It has recently been revealed that Raeburn and Chantrey were close friends and that Raeburn took exceptional care over the execution of his portrait of the sculptor, one of the painter's mature bust-length masterpieces.

It was commonly believed that Raeburn was less successful in painting female portraits, but the exquisite full-length of his wife, the smaller likeness of Mrs R. Scott Moncrieff in the National Gallery of Scotland, and that of Mrs Robert Bell, and others, argue against this. Raeburn spent his life in Edinburgh, rarely visiting London, and then only for brief periods, thus preserving his individuality. Although he, personally, may have lost advantages resulting from closer association with the leaders of English art, and from contact with a wider public, Scottish art gained much from his disinclination to leave his native land. He became the acknowledged chief of the school which was growing up in Scotland during the early 19th century, and his example and influence at a critical period were of major importance. So varied were his other interests that sitters used to say of him, "You would never take him for a painter till he seizes the brush and palette."

The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, better known as The Skating Minister (1790s)

In 1812 he was elected president of the Society of Artists in Edinburgh; and in 1814 associate, and in the following year full member, of the Royal Scottish Academy. On 29 August 1822 he was knighted by George IV during his visit to Scotland and appointed His Majesty's limner for Scotland at the Earl of Hopetoun house.He died in Edinburgh.

Raeburn had all the essential qualities of a popular and successful portrait painter. He was able to produce a telling and forcible likeness; his work is distinguished by powerful characterisation, stark realism, dramatic and unusual lighting effects, and swift and broad handling of the most resolute sort. David Wilkie recorded that, while travelling in Spain and studying the works of Diego Velázquez, the brushwork reminded him constantly of the "square touch" of Raeburn. Scottish physician and writer John Brown wrote that Raeburn "never fails in giving a likeness at once vivid, unmistakable and pleasing. He paints the truth, and he paints it with love".

Raeburn has been described as a "famously intuitive" portrait painter. He was unusual amongst many of his contemporaries, such as Reynolds, in the extent of his philosophy of painting directly from life; he made no preliminary sketches. This attitude partly explains the often coarse modelling and clashing colour combinations he employed, in contrast to the more refined style of Thomas Gainsborough and Reynolds. However these qualities and those mentioned above anticipate many of the later developments in painting of the 19th century from romanticism to Impressionism.

Sir Henry Raeburn died in St Bernard's House Stockbridge, Edinburgh. He is buried in St. Cuthbert's churchyard against the east wall (the monument erected by Raeburn in advance) but also has a secondary memorial in the Church of St John the Evangelist, Edinburgh.