The Final Years in Spain

José María Halcón y Mendoza, Retrato de John Downie, 1819. Óleo sobre lienzo, 60 x 47 cm, Madrid, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.

Portrait by José María Halcón y Mendoza (1819) in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid

Though a portrait of Sir John painted in 1819 by José María Halcón y Mendoza is in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernand in Madrid, nothing has been found in contemporary newspapers from 1816 until the Morning Post of 19 May 1823 reported that the Spanish Cortes had dismissed General Sir John Downie from his post of Keeper of the King's Palace at Seville. This was a time of great political unrest, and worse was to follow. The Morning Chronicle of 9 July 1823 printed the following extract from a letter from Cadiz:

"June 14.—A conspiracy has been discovered, of which an old friend of mine, Sir John Downie, was at the head, which conspiracy was to excite the Royalists to rise to prvent the King from being carried away by force. The plot was discovered quite by a casualty. In the Alcazar of Seville, a person belonging to the Palace, was accidentally passing, and heard some tumultuous expressions from under him ; he immediately proceeded to the place to discover what it was, when he found seventeen persons sitting in Council, with several papers, which, on seeing him, were immediately huddled up. The person was fearful of something, and immediately retreated to the door, and gave the alarm by crying out. "Guardia ! guardia ! traidores al Gobierno !"—["Guard ! guard ! traitors to the Government !"]—They were all taken. Sir J: Downie, and a nephew of his, named Barrie, are now on their way to Cadiz, under a strong escort ; they will be tried there, and no doubt shot.

The nephew in question was Benjamin Barrie, son of John's eldest sister Janet and Andrew Barrie, born on 5 April 1795 in Paisley. He survived and remained in Spain, where Fraser's Magazine [p. 229] found him in 1845 in the British Embassy in Madrid as consul; the article identified him as the nephew of Sir John Downie, who had obtained a commission in the Spanish guards before leaving to join the embassy. A footnote gave the information that he had gone to Alicante six weeks later as British Consul there.

Whatever Wellington's earlier feelings for John Downie, The Morning Chronicle of 23 August 1823 carried the following:

We have heard from Cadiz, that the trial of Sir John Downie is suspended, in consequence of some secret and confidential communications from Sir William A'Court, who has made the Spanish Ministers sensible, that to condemn this Officer would seriously affront his friend Lord W--ll--m.

The same newspaper printed the text of a petition to the King, sent to the Spanish Minister at War on 28 June, asking for him and his fellow prisoners to be treated with distinction and respect, that some financial assistance be sent, and that an order should be made to terminate the inquiry as soon as possible.

Finally, The Morning Chronicle of 16 October 1823 carried the following report following the French taking of Cadiz and the full restoration of the Spanish monarchy:

General Downie, Col. Browne, and many other Officers confined with him, have waited upon his Majesty and the Duke, and have experienced the most flattering reception. The General has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General as a reward for his services and sufferings, and the others have been attended to in proportion.

An unsympathetic items appeared in the same newspaper on 21 November 1823:

General Downie is reaping large harvests of despotic honours. His Majesty, pleased with his services in leading the conspiracy here, has made him "Gentil hombre de camara con exercision" Gentleman of his Bedchamber on service.

The Caledonian Mercury of 22 November 1823 was more sympathetic:

Sir John Downie, who was dispossessed of his place of Alcayde or Governor of Seville by the Constitutional Government, and kept in close confinement in Cadiz from the 14th of June to the time the King left that city, has been restored to his office, and is in great favour at Court. It is supposed that Sir John will possess sufficient influence to procure the liberation of his brother, Colonel Charles Downie, who was severely wounded in the action of the 13th of September, near Jaen, and was taken prisoner, but afterwards allowed his parole, with a passport to proceed to Malaga.

The Morning Chronicle of 29 January 1824 printed an announcement from Madrid dated 17 January that the King had appointed Brigadier-General Don Juan Downie second in command in Andalusia, in consideration of his loyal services.

The Caledonian Mercury of 5 July 1824 reported that the King had offered command of his intended expedition to reclaim the Spanish colonies in Central and South America to Sir John Downie, whose health had been in a very precarious state for the previous four or five months. The expedition never set out and the same newspaper on 25 October 1824 reported that Sir John Downie had read his recantation from the Presbyterian to the Catholic faith, his Sovereign, the 'beloved Ferdinand' having stood sponsor. The Morning Chronicle of 26 November 1824 noted that Gen. Don Juan Downie had been mentioned with particular praise in the Madrid Gazette for having displayed extraordinary zeal and activity in the organisation of the Royal Volumteers of the province of Andalusia. The same newspaper on 30 December 1824 noted that "Downie, the Englishman [sic], who is Inspector General of the Royal Volunteers, is at Cadiz, for the purpose of forming a body of these troops, but it appears ... not one man has yet enrolled himself." In its issue of 6 January 1825, The Morning Chronicle reported that General Downie was manoeuvring on Andalusia to advance on the volunteer corps, succeeding in some villages.

No more is heard of John Downie until his death notice in the Glasgow Herald of 7 July 1826:

At the Royal Palace, Seville, on 5th ult., his Excellency Sir John Downie, Major-General in the army of His Catholic Majesty, Commandant-General of the Province of Andalusia, Governor of the Palace of Seville, and Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of St. Ferdinand. His remains were interred on the following day, with all the honours corresponding to his civil and military rank.

He left a widow, Agnes Gibson (Lady Downie) who was living at High Street, Paisley at the time of the 1841 Census, accompanied by a maid. She did not survive much longer:

Caledonian Mercury Thu 3 Mar 1842 page 3
At Paisley, on the 22d ultimo, Lady DOWNIE, relict of Brigadier-General Sir John Downie, K.C.H.


Memoranda and Mementos of Madrid in 1845. Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country Vol. XXXIV. August, 1846