Research uncovers romance of Gunsgreen House

Gunsgreen House in Eyemouth, where the romance is thought to have bloomed.
Gunsgreen House in Eyemouth, where the romance is thought to have bloomed.

By Cara Sulieman

RESEARCH into the history of an 18th century smuggler’s house has uncovered a romance between a Scots girl and a Colonel of the British Empire.

Gunsgreen House in Eyemouth has long been connected with the wealthy middle classes of the area.

But it’s now been discovered that Colonel Alexander Dow, an influential colonial merchant and relative nobody Isobel Renton met for the first time in the grand building.

And now Derek Janes, the administrator of the Gunsgreen House Trust is looking for a missing ring that connects the two.

Colonel Dow left his humble Perthshire roots behind and became a powerful and wealthy man in the East India Company.

Having written the first history of India in English, entitled ‘The History of Hindostan’, he went on to campaign for the country to become an independent colony.

And this exotic figure is thought to have had a romance with Miss Renton, a resident of the tiny fishing town.

When Isobel died, she left a gold and diamond ring inset with a lock of the Colonel’s hair to her brother, James, in her will.

It is this ring that Derek is trying to track down.

He said: “The ring could be anywhere now. There was no mention of it in the will of James Renton.

“It is possible that the family moved or emigrated. The people who have it now may even have another name, if it was passed down to a female who then married.

“We just have no idea where it is, but it would be fantastic if we could track it down.”

The colonel’s connection with the area goes back as far as 1750s when he was good friends with John and David Nisbet, who built Gunsgreen House.

David Nisbet, who made his money from smuggling, helped Dow flee the country in 1757 on a private ship of war, the King of Prussia.

And to repay him, Dow left his fortune to the Nisbets, totally £682.80 – a substantial amount of money in those days.

Although David Nisbet had died before his successful friend, the money helped pay off debts the family had inherited after Nisbet had lost his fortune and the house.

But the exact connection between the Colonel and Miss Renton is yet to be discovered, and Derek hopes that finding the ring will lead to answers.

He said: “The colonel’s servant produced a memoir in which he wrote, ‘my master spent so much money on women that I was tired of waiting on them.’

“This makes it clear that he was an attractive and romantic figure.

“When the colonel visited his old friend’s the Nisbets, perhaps Miss Renton was one of the company invited to meet the famous visitor and fell under his spell.

“Miss Renton may have asked for a lock of his hair as a keepsake and when she died, still unmarried, over sixty years later, she left it to her brother for safekeeping.”

What is clear is that Isobel Renton didn’t see Colonel Dow after his last visit to Scotland in the early 1770’s.

With many unanswered questions, Derek is hoping to find the ring and solve the mystery of the Gunsgreen House romance.