The Madras College Archive


Former Pupil Biographies

Sir Robert Balfour (1844 - 1929)


He was born in Pilmuir, Largo, Fife in 1844, a son of James Balfour. He was educated at Madras College, St Andrews. He married Josephine Maria Beazley of Liverpool. They had two sons.

In 1863 he joined the merchant firm Balfour, Williamson & Co. From 1869 to 1893, he was stationed in San Francisco. From 1893 to 1899 he was based in Liverpool and then in London from 1899.

  • In 1906 he was elected Member of Parliament in Glasgow;
  • He was re-elected at the following election in January 1910
  • He was re-elected at the following election in December 1910
  • At the following General Election in 1918, he supported the Coalition government of Lloyd George, and was awarded the 'coupon';
  • He retired from parliament just before the 1922 General Election.

The 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for New Year 1911 reported:

"We are pleased to observe that Mr Robert Balfour, an old Madras boy, has been elected M.P. for Partick. Some years ago no fewer than six Madras boys held this distinguished honour. Nearly all of them have been removed by death, and Mr Balfour is the only old boy who now bears that distinction. His father was, for some years, tenant of the farm of Milton, near Leuchars, when Robert and his brother came daily to St Andrews to attend the College."

He was created a Baronet on 3 February 1911.[7][8] The baronetcy became extinct on his death in 1929.

The 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for Easter 1911 reported:

"Old Boys would be pleased to see one of their number included by the King in the New Year list of honours, and we heartily felicitate Sir Robert Balfour, M.P., on his baronetcy.  Sir Robert is the third son of the late Mr. James Balfour, farmer, Pilmuir, Largo, under the late Admiral Wemyss of Wemyss, and was born in 1844. Records show that the ancestors of the Balfour family have been engaged in farming in Fife since 1650.

Sir Robert was educated at Madras College, St. Andrews, and in 1862 entered as a clerk the firm of Messrs. Balfour, Williamson & Co., merchants, London and Liverpool, of which company he is now one of the principals. Along with Mr. Alexander Guthrie, a son of the late Rev. Dr. Guthrie, he founded in 1872 the firm of Messrs. Balfour, Guthrie & Co., San Francisco, trading in wheat and oils. Sir Robert is chairman of the California Company, and remained in California till 1893. In 1906 he wrested the representation of Partick from the Right Hon. J. Parker Smith, the former Unionist member, and retained the seat after two stiff contests last year."