Robert Gordon lived from 1668 to 1731. Born in Aberdeen, he made his fortune as merchant trader in Danzig on the Baltic. He was later responsible for founding a residential school for educating young boys in Aberdeen that went on by lines of development that diverged in the 1800s to become both a private school and a University. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Robert Gordon was born the only son of Arthur Gordon, a successful Edinburgh advocate, and Isabella Menzies of Balgownie. His grandfather, Robert Gordon of Straloch, had made his name as a map maker. In 1680 the 12 year old Robert's father died, leaving him an inheritance of 20,000 merks, which equated to around £1,100 at the time and in today's terms was a very large sum of money.
By the age of 16, Gordon had become a Burgess of the City of Aberdeen, dividing his time between his activities as a merchant and his studies at Marischal College, from which he graduated in 1689. He then travelled extensively through northern Europe before settling in Gdansk (Danzig) and setting up business as a merchant trader. At the time it was estimated that there were up to 40,000 Scots living and working in what is today known as Poland.
Gordon became very wealthy very quickly. By 1692 he could afford to make a considerable donation towards an appeal to rebuild Marischal College. And by 1699 he was running a very lucrative business lending money to Aberdeenshire lairds who wanted to develop their estates (or just build grander houses).
Little is known of the detail of Robert Gordon's business dealings in Danzig, but it seems he returned to Aberdeen some time around 1720 and retired. Gordon never married and had no recorded children and it seems he decided that his fortune should be spent on founding "a hospital for maintenance, aliment, entertainment and education of young boys". Work got under way in 1730 and was able to continue after Gordon's death the following year as he had left his entire estate to the project.
Robert Gordon's Hospital was physically complete by 1745, just in time to be first put to use as a barracks (and called "Fort Cumberland") by the army of the Duke of Cumberland, in pursuit of Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobites. In 1750 it opened as the school its founder had intended. Over time the Hospital became a College. In the 1881 this split. One part remained a school and went on to become today's Robert Gordon College. The second part became, in turn, a technical college and an institute of technology before becoming Robert Gordon University in 1992.