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James Duncan 'The Copperman' 1796-1874

by John A. Duncan of Sketraw, FSA Scot.


There is not much known about James Duncan, locally known in Rothsey, Bute as ’The Copperman’, partly because of the effigy on his tomb in the High Kirk Cemetery in Rothsey and partly that James was believed to be involved later in life in the re-introduction of copper coinage by the Royal Mint.

James was born at Ardnaho Farm, Isle of Bute, Scotland to James Duncan or McConechy; born 10 Nov 1770, death unknown and Janet McNeill; born; 26 Mar 1774, death unknown. According to the inscription on his tomb, James was born on the 16th January 1796. However, another account shows it to be on the 16th May 1798. It must be noted at around this times many families with the name McConechy on the island changed their name to its anglicised version Duncan. For what ever reason, this is at present unknown.

James left Scotland in the mid to late 1820’s and landed in Valparaiso, Chile  where  he  made  his  fortune  as  a  merchant.


Tomb of James Duncan - 'The Copperman' - Click here larger image


Tomb of James Duncan - 'The Copperman'

Although it is unknown what commodity he traded in, one could assume that this may have been in Copper. Chile at that time had some of the largest copper mines in the world and was a great opportunity for any young go ahead entrepreneur.

While in Valparaiso, Chile, James had a son Hilarion Duncan; born Oct 1831 to an as yet unknown Chilean mother and they remained in Chile as a family until the late 1850’s but by 1856 both James & Hilarion had moved to the Bay Area of San Francisco, California.

Although still owning property in both Chile and California, James returned to the UK alone in 1860. He died an extremely wealthy man in London on the 21st Oct 1874. On his death certificate James was described as a banker. He was later interned at his birthplace of Bute at the High Kirk, Cemetery in Rothsey. Hilarion became US citizen and except for foreign travel, he lived in the USA for remainder of his life.

If anyone has further information to expand what is known about James Duncan please contact the Society.

  Acknowledgements: Bute Sons & Daughters, Notes by Ron White and Genealogical Information from Mrs Una D. Fisher Rothsey, Bute. © John A. Duncan of Sketraw, FSA Scot  

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