To the memory of Alexander Riddoch, Esq., many years provost of Dundee, and one of his Majesty's Deputy-Lieutenants of Forfarshire, who died 9th December, 1822, aged 78 years.
A man of strict integrity, a sincere and constant friend, a magistrate whose firmness and moderation in times of difficulty and danger were of great benefit of the community.
Claiment: Heirs of Alexander Riddoch Esq, Nethergate.
For nearly half a century after the date of his enrolment as Burgess, ALEXANDER RIDDOCH was the most prominent leader in the civic affairs of Dundee; and though he was frequently made the object of most virulent attacks both during his life and afterwards, there were few men of his time who more distinctly left traces of an improving hand on the Burgh. He was born in Crieff in 1744, and came to Dundee at an early age, where he began business as a merchant. His energy and activity soon brought him into notice, and he was introduced to public life while yet a young man. The first office which he held in the Council was that of Treasurer, and to this post he was appointed at the date of his admission as Burgess 26th September, 1776. In this important capacity he served the Burgh till 1781, was made Bailie in 1782, 1784, and 1786, and was elected to fill the Provost's chair in 1788. From the latter date until 1818 the position of Chief Magistrate was held either by himself or by some one who submitted to his dictation; and he held almost undisputed sway in the Burgh during a most critical period of its history. The foundation of his fortune must have been laid at an early part of his career, for in 1779 he was in a position to lend £300 to the Town at a time when money was raised to an exceptional value by its scarcity. He foresaw an advancement in the value of building sites within the burgh boundaries, and he acquired apparently by perfectly fair means, as shown by the Minutes of Council of that period many of the vacant pieces of ground and a number of the ruinous houses in what is now the centre of the town, at very reasonable rates. Castle Street was projected and opened up by him, after he had secured the ground on both sides of it; Crichton Street was laid out by his advice for the purpose of providing a ready access to the Harbour from High Street; and Tay Street was projected and carried through whilst his rule in the Council was almost absolute. He has often been accused of only bringing forward his proposed improvements after he had become proprietor of the ground which was to be enhanced by them; but it must be allowed that in many cases he sold the property which he had acquired to the Town at the price he had paid for it, and his profit was more frequently prospective than immediate.
The system of election to civic offices prevalent at the time tended to throw the full control of the Burgh into the hands of the Provost, and MR RIDDOCH availed himself of the power thus legally bestowed upon him; but when an attempt was made to reform the abuses that had arisen through this close system, he gave his opinion upon this point most frankly. A Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed in 1819 to consider the subject of Burgh Reform, and PROVOST RIDDOCH was called before them as a witness. In the Report of this Committee, which is engrossed in the Council Minute of 21st September, 1819, the following passage occurs
"Provost Riddoch closes his evidence by declaring that, on mature consideration, and after an experience of forty years, it is his opinion, that a legislative enactment to enable the Burgesses of Dundee to chuse their own Magistrates would give general satisfaction, and be a very, very great benefit, both to the town and the country."'
His own actions in his capacity of Councillor and Provost were severely condemned by several of the other witnesses examined by this Committee. The Town Clerk, MR WILLIAM SMALL, said: "I believe that previous to last election no person, however fit for office, would have been elected, without it had been understood that he would support Mr RIDDOCH. The persons admitted have accordingly almost always voted with him. If they opposed him, which they never did effectually, they were not re elected." This is a very high though unintentional testimony in favour of Mr RIDDOCH; for it is impossible to believe that anyone could have found a Council subservient to his wishes for thirty years if he had not been possessed of rare ability.
Mr RIDDOCH'S last appearance in the Council was at the election on 23rd September, 1819, forty three years after he had first taken his seat as a Councillor. He did not afterwards officiate in a public capacity, though he was unfortunately involved in a dispute with the Harbour Commissioners regarding a part of his property at the foot of Castle Street, which interfered with the Dock that they were then constructing, and for which he asked what was considered at the time an exorbitant price. That dispute was not entirely concluded when his death occurred, on 9th December, 1822. His character is thus summed up in an obituary notice of him which appeared in the Dundee Advertiser of 19th December in that year:
"He was shrewd, subtle, prudent, courteous, dexterous in the selection of persons fitted to act under him, admirable in the art of attaching them to his interests."
Mr RIDDOCH was buried in the Howff, where his tombstone bears the following inscription:
To the Memory of Alexander Riddoch, Esq.., for many years Provost of Dundee, and one of His Majesty's Deputy Lieutenants for Forfarshire, who died 9th December, 1822, aged 78 years. A man of strict integrity; a sincere and constant friend; a Magistrate whose firmness and moderation, in times of difficulty and danger, were of great benefit to the community."
By a deed of settlement, executed 19th March, 1822, PROVOST RIDDOCH directed that £500 should be invested on heritable security, the annual interest to be applied for the purpose of defraying the cost of maintaining such poor insane patients in the Lunatic Asylum near Dundee as should not have sufficient means to do so themselves.
Source: Eminent Burgesses of Dundee - A.H. Millar 1887