Thomas Davidson, auctioneer (Scotland, 1792-1865)

Article Covers
Year range
1792 - 1865

Thomas Davidson’s early life is shrouded in mystery — there’s no marriage record, but he and his wife Mary Johnston had the first of their eleven children in 1819. Around 1840 the family settled in Edinburgh where he spent the next 25 years as an “auctioneer and appraiser.”

We have no picture of him, but from his occupation alone we can be pretty sure that he had a strong, carrying voice and knew a lot of people. The advertisements he placed in the Scotsman newspaper in those years show that auctions were somewhat different in 19th- century Scotland. Sometimes he held going-out-of business sales. More often he sold wood, or farm crops in the field — 20 acres of various kinds of turnips on October 10, 1845, or three acres of “growing potatoes . . . quite ready for lifting” on the south side of the Edinburgh Cemetery on August 8, 1848. Sometimes he’d auction off a year’s rental of certain pastures — in February 1853, the “Ravelston Grass Parks . . . from 4 to 17 acres; are all fine old pasture, well sheltered, fenced, and watered.”

The times were changing and his business showed it. At 1:30 pm on August 9, 1848, 1:30 p.m., he commenced the sale of some “very superior horses, carts, harness, &c.” belonging to Mr. Machell, at Charles Street Lane, on the north side of George Square. The reason: “In consequence of the opening of the Hawick Railway to Bowshank, all must be Sold.”

Railroads soon become an integral part of his own business. When he announced an 11 am sale of wood at Melville Castle for February 6, 1852, he included the information that “A Train for Dalkeith leaves Edinburgh Terminus at 20 minutes past 10 o’clock.”

His last advertised auction was on August 11, 1864, a “Sale of natural Hay.” Just five months later he was dead, of bronchitis, at the age of 72.

Thomas and Mary’s children included an artist (John — we have a litle Christmas engraving of his), a bookstore clerk (Thomas James), a minister (Walter), and the wife of a school teacher (Allison Ramsay) – just the sort of middle-class Victorian family it would have been interesting to know, and who might well have left letters or photographs. So far we’ve had no luck finding living descendants in Scotland.


born 18 August 1792, Stow Parish, Midlothian/Selkirk, Scotland

married Mary Johnston around 1818?

died 15 January 1865 Edinburgh

ANCESTORS: We know his parents and his mother’s father only, with a guess as to his father’s father’s name..

COUSINS: He had five brothers and a sister, but we haven’t tried to trace any of them! Besides our ancestor Elizabeth, we know that his children John, Allison Ramsay, and Thomas James had descendants. (By the way, Allison Ramsay was probably the full maiden name of Mary Johnston Davidson’s maternal grandmother.)


  1. Barbara Mitchell Says:
     April 3rd, 2007 at 1:57 pm e
     I read this with interest while doing research on the British artist Thomas Davidson who was active from 1863 to 1903. Do you think this artist could be a descendent of your Thomas Davidson?
  2. Harold Says:
     April 3rd, 2007 at 2:14 pm e
     Barbara, I have no knowledge of any descendant who could be this artist, but Thomas the auctioneer has at least one son, a minister named Walter, whose descendants I have not been able to trace. Thomas the auctioneer also had five brothers born 1796-1808 whose later lives I know nothing about. But Davidson is such a common name, I’m afraid that even though Thomas’s children showed some artistic bent, any connection is unlikely without more evidence.