Mackie, Sir Peter Jeffrey, first baronet
- W. M. Mathew
Mackie, Sir Peter Jeffrey, first baronet (1855–1924), distiller, was born on 26 November 1855 at Corsepatrick, St Ninians, Stirlingshire, son of Alexander Mackie (1821–1884), farmer, grain merchant, and distiller, and his wife, Janet Simpson-Brown. His grandfather and great-grandfather had been proprietors of the Dunmore Park estate in Stirlingshire; other earlier Mackies had worked in the wine and spirit trades. James Logan Mackie, an uncle, co-owned the Lagavulin distillery in Islay, and it was to his firm, James L. Mackie & Co., that Peter Mackie was recruited in 1878, some years after the end of his formal education at Stirling high school.
Lagavulin, a dark, island malt of great distinction, sold well as a ‘self’ (or unblended) whisky. It was, however, through blending—the dilution of taste and cost through mixing partly malted grain spirit with traditional wholly malted barley liquor—that wider marketing lay. In the mid-1880s Peter Mackie became a partner in the new firm of Mackie & Co., which had offices in London with the objective of increasing sales of Lagavulin and other producers' blends. The two businesses amalgamated in 1890 to form Mackie & Co. (Distillers), and made the critical decision to use Lagavulin (with additional purchased malts) for a blend of their own—called White Horse after an inn on the Edinburgh Canongate, adjacent to property owned by the Mackie family since the seventeenth century. In 1895, on J. L. Mackie's retirement, the firm became a private limited company under Peter Mackie's chairmanship. He remained in charge until his death in 1924, his last years being marked by an abortive bid (1920–23) to unite with Buchanan-Dewar, and the decision (1924) to convert to a public company, White Horse Distillers Ltd.
In a conservative trade like whisky, with premiums on tradition and predictability, success lay less with technical innovation (where Mackie certainly experimented) than with effective organization and marketing. Mackie remained cautious organizationally, favouring independent status and related opportunities for personal authority and family recruitment. In sales promotion, however, he worked with vigour, widening the range of blends (Gaelic Old Smuggler, Logan's Perfection, Greyhound, and others), building a name for quality and reliability, and coming to rank in the industry's ‘big five’. The company declared in 1914 that it 'never … used nor ever will use second-rate materials' (Field, 14 Feb 1914), refusing to 'cater for the cheap trade' (Daily Mail). Mackie's efforts, aided by costly advertising, were particularly successful in imperial markets, most of which he inspected for himself. He also extended his distilling base, adding an old-fashioned malt mill at Lagavulin, and moving into Speyside, where he took control of Craigellachie-Glenlivet between 1890 and 1900 and secured half-ownership of Craggenmore in 1921. The Hazelburn distillery at Campbeltown, Argyll, and Holloway's gin distillery at Kennington, London, were bought shortly after the First World War. More extreme diversifications—all abandoned when ‘restless Peter’ died—produced carragheen seaweed, tweed, concrete slabs, and BBM (brain, bone, and muscle) flour.
Outside the whisky business, and in line with his paternal ancestry, Mackie assumed the perspectives of the landed classes. In 1889 he married his cousin, Jessie Lockett Abercrombie, and their two surviving daughters, Isobel and Mary, took husbands from the lesser aristocracy (Logan, their only son, was killed in action outside Jerusalem in 1917). Estates (and accompanying magistracies) were acquired at Corraith, near Symington, Ayrshire, and Glenreasdell, in north Kintyre, the one at Corraith holding a modest library and an art collection of catholic taste. In 1903, with A. Stodart Walker and some additional contributors, he produced The Keeper's Book, a substantial volume on the duties of a gamekeeper, which had gone through fourteen editions by 1920. Since his Islay days Mackie had maintained a strong interest in highland affairs, inclining towards tariff reform as a means of checking depopulation. He was a determined tory, serving briefly as president of the Scottish Unionist Association. Socialism he dismissed as 'a clever device of weaklings and dupes of Society, whose heart instead of their head rules their actions' (DSBB). In 1909 he rounded on Lloyd George's raised duties on spirits, and later held office in both the Whisky Association and the Licensed Victuallers' Association. Imperial sentiment underlay his gift of pedigree cattle to Rhodesia and his sponsorship of the Mackie anthropological expedition to central Africa. In 1920 he was awarded a baronetcy.
Peter Mackie was a tall, sparely built man, favouring highland dress at home and a monocle and 'low-crowned “topper” of a slightly rakish cut' in London (Evening News). Robert Bruce Lockhart describes him as a mix of genius, megalomania, and eccentricity. By his own testimony, 'efficiency' was his motto, 'grit' his favourite word, and 'hard and long work' his explanation for White Horse's success (Daily Sketch; Walker, 9; Distillers Co. Ltd, 45). He died at Corraith on 22 September 1924 after a long illness.
- White Horse MSS, United Distillers Archive, Leven, Fife
- Daily Mail (7 Feb 1914)
- The Field (14 Feb 1914)
- Evening News (8 June 1920)
- Daily Sketch (13 July 1920)
- N. J. Morgan, Heritage notes: the Mackie family, Peter Mackie, and the development of the White Horse brand, 25 Sept 1991, United Distillers Archive, Leven, Fife
- United Distillers Archive, Leven, Fife, Photocopies of Mackie family letters and photographs
- White Horse sales figures, United Distillers Archive, Leven, Fife
- M. Moss, ‘Mackie, Sir Peter Jeffrey’, DSBB
- A. S. Walker, James Logan Mackie Younger of Glenreasdell, lieutenant Ayrshire yeomanry: a memoir (1919)
- A. S. Walker and P. J. Mackie, The keeper's book: a guide to the duties of a gamekeeper (1903)
- Distillers Company Ltd, DCL and Scotch whisky (1966)
- Sir R. B. Lockhart, The whisky of Scotland in fact and story (1951)
- B. Spiller, The chameleon’s eye: James Buchanan & Company Limited, 1884–1984 (1984)
- R. Weir, ‘Rationalization and diversification in the Scotch whisky industry, 1900–1939: another look at “old” and “new” industries’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 42 (1989), 375–95
- United Distillers Archive, Leven, Fife, White Horse MSS
- photographs, 1901–12, repro. in Walker, James Logan Mackie Younger of Glenreasdell, lieutenant Ayrshire yeomanry, 7
- photographs, United Distillers Archive, Leven, Fife, White Horse MSS
Wealth at Death
£525,641 14s. 1d.: confirmation, 18 Dec 1924, CCI