Sir Lawrence Dundas

 

  • Richest of the Rich position: 134
  • Birth/Death: c 1710-1781
  • Origin of wealth: Land
  • Wealth: £900,000
  • Net National Income: £188m
  • Net National Income Percent: 0.47%
  • In Today’s Money: £5.216 billion

One of the great eighteenth century pillagers of government contracts, Lawrence Dundas started out with few prospects. He was the younger son of an impoverished branch of the Dundas family. Born in Scotland, he worked in his father’s drapery shop setting up in business as a merchant contractor.

Realising that the key to contracts for the army was to have political clout, Dundas spent vast sums on trying to buy his way into parliament. He failed in 1754, but recouped his losses with contracts to supply troops in Germany during the Seven Years’ War. He was able to build up a considerable reputation and a fortune estimated then at between £600,000 and £800,000. Using his financial clout, he lent money to the Earl of Shelburne, who had the ear of the Prime Minister, Lord Bute, and in return Dundas was raised to the baronetcy.

Next he started buying up estates in Yorkshire with a view to obtaining their parliamentary representation. But Dundas was not finished. In 1763, he spent £40,000 on an estate and London home fit for a man of his position. But his greed over the German ‘pillage’ during the war led to questions by the Treasury and disputes over his accounts. Nothing seems to have come of this, presumably because Dundas was canny enough to build up his political power base and become a useful ally to have, with at least six seats in his pocket in Scotland and Yorkshire.Of course the old Scottish and English aristocracy treated him with contempt as an ‘upstart.’ They liked his money but would not give him a peerage. But like so many self-made men, Dundas wanted to be one of them and continued making speeches in the Commons and manoeuvring his group one way and another

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