HON. BARON OVERTOUN
JOHN CAMPBELL WHITE, the future Lord Overtoun, was born at Hayfield, near Rutherglen, 21st November, 1843. His father, the late James White of Overtoun, was, to begin with, a writer in Glasgow, and married in 1836 a daughter of Mr. A. Campbell, Sheriff of Renfrewshire. Fifteen years later, however, he retired from the legal profession, and joined the firm of John & James White, chemical manufacturers, which had been founded by his father and uncle at Rutherglen in 1810. He was chief administrator of the fund for the relief of the sufferers by the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank, and after his death the citizens erected a statue to his memory in Cathedral Square. Lord Overtoun was fourth in a family of seven, of whom the other six were daughters. He received his schooling at Stow's Academy in Glasgow, and entered Glasgow University in 1859. He took prizes there both in Logic and Natural Philosophy, of which the professors were respectively Robert Buchanan, familiarly remembered as "Logic Bob," and William Thomson, afterwards Lord Kelvin. With the latter he came into close personal contact, working in his laboratory for a year, and when in 1866 the famous scientist was preparing to sail in the Great Eastern to lay the Atlantic cable, his student applied for a post as assistant electrician on board, and but for some delay in making the application would have had a share in the famous enterprise. Meanwhile he had graduated M.A. in 1864, and had spent a year in the office of his uncle's firm, Messrs. Mackenzie & Aitken, accountants, and a year and a half in the office of Messrs. Leisler, Bock & Co., continental merchants; then he joined his father's business and was assumed a partner in 1867. In the same year he married Grace, daughter of the late James H. McClure, solicitor, Glasgow, and settled at Crosslet, near Dunbarton, a house built by his grand-uncle, Humphrey W. Campbell, Sheriff-Substitute of Dunbarton, The adjoining estate of Overtoun had been purchased by his father in 1850. Overtoun Castle ad been built to the plans of James Smith, father of the unhappy Madeline Smith, and the grounds had been laid out under the direction of Edward Kemp, the well-known landscape gardener of Birkenhead. At that time Overtoun estate comprised some 900 acres; it has now about 2,000.
Two years after his marriage the future Lord Overtoun took his wife with him upon a business mission to the East. Instead of the expected six weeks, the tour lasted six months, extending through Greece and Turkey, where Lord Overtoun came into close contact with the Government of the Sultan, and on the island of Negropont ran a narrow escape of capture by brigands, After the death of his father in 1884 Lord Overtoun and his cousin, Mr.William J. Chrystal, remained till recently the sole partners in Shawfield Chemical Works, which are now the largest of their kind in the world. His nephew, Mr. H. H. Barrett, was lately assumed a partner. Some five hundred men are employed, and the chief product is bichromate of potash.
From an early age Lord Overtoun took a strong interest in religious matters. His father and mother "came out" at the Disruption in the year in which he was born, and he himself was always a strong supporter of the Free Church, and afterwards of the United Free. He was an elder in the United Free High Church of Dunbarton, to which he gave a large mission hall, and, along with a brother elder, a fine organ. He took a prominent part in bringing about the union of the Free and the United Presbyterian Churches, and the troubles that afterwards arose through the claim of the dissenting minority to the church property he stood in the law courts and before the House of Lords as the responsible representative of his denomination. He was a member of several committees of the Church, and took especial interest in its Home and Foreign Missions. He was Chairman of the Livingstonia Mission in Central Africa, in the founding of which his father had a leading part.
During his college days, in 1859 and 1860, the time of the "Irish Revival," he received strong impressions of evangelistic religion, and in 1874, seven years after his marriage, both he and Lady Overtoun were strongly influenced by the Revival conducted by D. L. Moody. On Mr. Moody's departure the committee which had managed hismeetings was formed into the Glasgow United Evangelistic Association, of which Lord Overtoun early became President. In the thirty years of its existence this Association has raised, apart from gifts in kind, a sum of over £380,000. Lord Overtoun took a leading part in the building of the handsome pile in Bothwell Street at a cost of over £100,000. Under the roof of that building are housed the Bible Training Institute, where a hundred and eighteen young evangelists are being trained, the Young Men's Christian Association, Young Men's Christian Club, and other institutions. Under the same auspices, evangelistic work, in which Lord Overtoun was deeply interested, is carried on in the Tent Hall in Saltmarket, the Bethany Hall in the east-end, the Mizpah Hall near the Central Railway Station, and the Bonar Mission to the Jews. There is also the Sabbath Morning Free Breakfast, at which some fifteen hundred poor are fed; the Glasgow Poor Children's Sabbath Dinner, which has a usual attendance of some two thousand; the Poor Children's Day Refuges, at which children are cared for while their parents are at work, and the Cripple Children's League of Kindness, in which West-end children are individually linked with East-end cripples. There are also the Weary Workers' Rest at Dunoon, the Homes for Destitute Children at Saltcoats, and the Poor Children's Fresh-Air Fortnight Homes, twelve in number, where some 8,000 children each year are entertained in the country for two weeks each. Lord Overtoun was an active member and munificent supporter of all the committees by which these various undertakings are carried on. He was also an active supporter of most of the other philanthropic enterprises of Glasgow, being a Vice-President of the National Bible Society of Scotland, etc., etc. For many years, in connection with the U.F. High Church which he attended at Dunbarton, he personally conducted a Bible class of over five hundred members. He was no stranger either to the pulpit, and again and again preached in London and through the country, as well as in thechurches near his home.
At Rutherglen, where most of his workmen lived, he founded an institute, with baths, gymnasium, reading rooms, etc., and in 1904 he presented to the burgh twelve acres of land for a public park. His Lordship was always a strong supporter of the Liberal party in politics, and at the split over the Home Rule Bill of 1886 he followed Mr. Gladstone. He was Chairman of the Dunbartonshire Liberal Association, and a Vice-President of the Scottish Liberal Association. In 1889 he declined a request, signed by three thousand electors, to stand as a Liberal candidate for Dunbartonshire, but in 1892 he took an active part in the effort which broke the fifty year record of the Conservatives and returned Captain Sinclair as member for the county; and at the General Election of 1900 he saw his nephew, Mr. Dundas White, LL.D., returned as member. In 1893, at the instance of Mr. Gladstone, Queen Victoria conferred upon him the honour of a peerage, and in 1907, on the death of Sir James Colquhoun, His Majesty appointed him Lord Lieutenant of the County of Dunbarton.
For a number of years Lord Overtoun was Chairman of Dunbartonshire County Council, and in view of his many services and the benefits conferred by him on the county and burgh, Dunbarton made him a Freeman of its privileges in 1903. The Burgh of Rutherglen paid him a similar honour in 1905, on the occasion of his presenting it with a public park. Still more recently he presented a public park of 17 acres, beautifully situated, to the Burgh of Clydebank, which during the past few years has become a place of some 40,000 inhabitants.
Lord Overtoun, after a brief illness, died at his residence, Overtoun Castle, near Dunbarton, on 15th February, 1908, amid national expressions of regret.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)