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  James Finlayson (1772?–1852?), by unknown artist James Finlayson (1772?–1852?), by unknown artist
Finlayson, James (1772?–1852?), engineer and cotton manufacturer, was probably born on 29 August 1772 in the parish of Penicuik, near Edinburgh. Of his early life in Scotland nothing is known, and it is in St Petersburg in Russia at the end of the eighteenth century that he first makes his appearance, as a master machinist at the Kolpino workshops near that city. According to Finnish sources, he spent twenty years building up the textile industry in St Petersburg, and became acquainted with Tsar Alexander I through a mutual interest in Quakerism.

However, Finlayson's health began to fail and he had to give up his job as master machinist. On a trip to the grand duchy of Finland in 1819 he saw the potential for hydraulic power in the fierce Tammerkoski rapids between lakes Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi at Tammerfors (Tampere) and determined to set up his own factory there. With the personal help of the tsar, who actually visited the site in 1819 and shortly afterwards granted Finlayson all the facilities necessary, the factory was duly constructed.

Finlayson's original plan to manufacture machinery failed, however, and after several other false starts he focused on cotton goods. In 1828 he began to manufacture cotton yarn, but was not to be in charge of manufacturing at Tampere for very long. By the time he had established his factory properly, he was already in late middle age and he and his wife, Margaret, had no children nor, it would seem, any relatives who could inherit. He may also have been in financial difficulties and in 1836 he sold his factory to two St Petersburg financiers. He remained for a further two years as an adviser and in 1838 he returned to Scotland.

During his time in Russia and Finland, Finlayson first befriended and later corresponded with Daniel Wheeler, a Quaker missionary active in Russia, whose projects were also supported by Tsar Alexander I. Yet although Finlayson attended Quaker worship, he did not actually join the Society of Friends at this time. In 1820, when he left Russia for Finland, he was described in a letter from Wheeler to a friend as a solid man, between forty and fifty years of age. Correspondence between Wheeler and Finlayson provides evidence of the philanthropic work of Finlayson and his wife. In the aftermath of natural disasters, they made efforts to help the local people (Wheeler MS 88). Finlayson also established an asylum for orphaned children, and such actions have caused his name to be remembered in Finland as a philanthropist.

Little is known about Finlayson's later life in Scotland. He appears to have lived at Govan, Glasgow, until 1846. Quaker records hint at continuing financial difficulties, and also suggest an unstable temperament. He became a member of the Society of Friends in 1846, only to resign. Minutes of a Quaker meeting in 1852 record a letter in which he begs forgiveness for his behaviour, asks to be readmitted to the society, and anticipates his imminent death. Although the date and place of his death are not known with certainty, he may be the James Finlayson who died at 8 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, on 18 August 1852 and was buried in Newington cemetery.

Although largely unknown in Scotland, Finlayson's reputation in Finland lives on. A vast factory building in the centre of Tampere carries his name above it, recording his part in the Finnish textile industry. He played a vital role in the creation of Tampere as a major industrial city—today the largest inland city in Fennoscandia. As a result of Finnish–Scottish co-operation, a bronze plaque to his memory was officially unveiled in Edinburgh in October 1988.

Brian D. J. Denoon

Sources  

V. Voionmaa, Tampereen kaupungin historia, 2nd edn (1929), 2.136, 145, 170, 171 · F. A. Fewster, Finlayson, 1820–1970, [1]–[14] · minutes of South-East of Scotland Monthly Meetings of Society of Friends, 1669–1930, NA Scot., Ref CH 10/1 · R. Scott, Quakers in Russia (1964), 79 · RS Friends, Lond., Wheeler MS 88 · parish registers (baptism), Penicuik parish, Midlothian, 20 Sept 1772 · register of deaths and burials, Newington cemetery, Edinburgh

Archives  

Oy Finlayson Ab, Tampere, Finland, MSS


Likenesses  

portrait, Oy Finlayson Ab, Tampere, Finland [see illus.]