Findlater, Alexander (1797–1873), merchant and philanthropist, was born 9 March 1797 in Glasgow, Scotland, third son among seven sons and four daughters of John Findlater (1758–1809), supervisor of excise at Greenock, Renfrewshire, and Janet Findlater (née Dempster). Owing to the early death of his father he began working in his early teens at Greenock with his elder brother, William Findlater (1792–1831), a shipbroker based at Greenock and later Derry (1822). He subsequently travelled to Canada (1813), to become a clerk in the Newfoundland offices of Shannon, Stewart & Co., shipbrokers, later being appointed official agent and manager (March 1816) to the firm in Ferryland, Newfoundland. However, the bankruptcy of the company the month after his appointment forced him to seek employment in Quebec (July 1816) and Montreal. On returning home to Scotland in 1817 he worked for Blarvey distillers.
He moved to Dublin (1823) to trade in whiskey and by 1826 was trading as the Irish & Scotch Whiskey Stores at 7 Burgh Quay. By 1828 he had accumulated premises at Hawkins St., the North Wall, and North King St., as well as a store around the corner from the latter in Halston St. Two years later (1830) a branch was also opened in Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire). On combining the Hawkins St. operation with the Burgh Quay operation (1832) he began trading under his own name. In 1835 he took a lease on a property at the upper end of Sackville (O'Connell) St., originally trading as Findlater, Lennox & Co. Tea merchants; it was to become the flagship store of the business for more than 130 years.
During the 1830s the export of porter had become a significant part of his business. The porter was brewed by Guinness's and then bottled at Burgh Quay for export. By 1836 porter exports had expanded to include Quebec, New York, New Orleans, and Brazil. Domestic sales also increased, due in part to the success of the temperance campaign against spirits. To take advantage of rising demand, in 1852 Alexander co-founded Findlater's Mountjoy Brewery on Russell St., and by 1865 it was the second largest exporter of porter after Guinness's.
He was involved in numerous partnerships with other eminent businessmen both in Britain and Ireland. Through a partnership with William Todd and Gilbert Burns, he co-founded Todd Burns department store (1834), located on Mary St. till the 1960s. Two years later (1836) he co-founded the Dublin & Glasgow Sailing and Steam Packet Co. with, among others, Benjamin Lee Guinness (qv), Arthur Lee Guinness (qv), John Jameson (qv), William Todd, and William Burns. He extended his business interests to the wine trade in Britain by forming a partnership with Ivie Mackie to trade as Findlater & Mackie wine merchants, opening stores in both Manchester and the Strand, London, in the same year (1838). Nearly two decades later he formed another partnership (1856) with Ivie Mackie that also included Bruce B. Todd, to trade as Findlater, Mackie, Todd & Co. from a store in Dooley St., London. The store then (1863) moved premises to a prime location under the viaducts at London Bridge. Two years later he became a director (1864–71) of the Royal Bank of Ireland.
Having amassed a personal fortune of more than £220,000 (1865), he donated considerable sums to disparate charitable causes. Most notably he solely financed (1862–4) the construction of a new church for the presbyterian congregation of St Mary's abbey. Commonly known as ‘Findlater's church’, it was built in Rutland (Parnell) Square for more than £13,000 on what was originally the site of Headford House. Substantial donations to both the catholic church in Monkstown (1866) and St Andrew's Church of Ireland parish church in Suffolk St. (1869) show that his charity extended beyond the confines of his own denomination. His contributions also included an endowment for a Findlater scholarship at Glasgow University (1866) and £1,000 of railway stocks to fund two scholarships at the Presbyterian Theological College of Belfast (1870). In addition to being a generous benefactor to the Royal Hospital for Incurables, he sat on the investment committee of the Hospital. Together with fellow committee members he helped to raise the income of the hospital from £583 (1862) to £1,454 (1872). For the last twelve years of his life he donated an average of £1,500 a year to 150 different charities.
On arriving in Dublin he initially resided at lodgings in the house of Mrs Catherine Dawes at 5 Gardiner St. South. Although he never married, he was responsible for the children of his deceased brothers, William Findlater and Capt. John Findlater (1802–36), as well as the two sons of his widowed sister Helen Corscaden. Among these nieces and nephews were William Huffington Findlater (qv), son of William (who had moved to Derry in 1822), and John Findlater (qv), son of Capt. John. To accommodate this extended family he took a lease (1841–60) on Johnstown Farm, Knockmaroon Hill, Chapelizod, Co. Dublin. After the children had grown up he purchased (1860) The Slopes in Monkstown, Co. Dublin, where he lived for the remainder of his life.
He died 8 August 1873 in Harrogate, England, where he had been taking the waters for his health. The major beneficiaries of his will were his nephews William Huntington, who became sole proprietor of Findlater's Brewery, and John, who received Alexander's holding in Alex. Findlater & Co. He is buried in the Findlater vault at Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. The monument over the vault reads: ‘the family burial place of Alexander Findlater’.
His youngest brother, Adam Seaton Findlater (1808–79), merchant and philanthropist, was born in January 1808 at Greenock. The early death of his father meant that, like his brother Alexander, he had to begin work at an early age. He left (1824) Scotland for Brazil when he was just 16 years of age. By 1830 he was a partner in Miller & Findlater, which operated as both shipping agents and general merchants in Rio de Janeiro. After the Brazilian revolution in 1831, during which the firm's premises were burned down, the partnership relocated to Bahia (Salvador), where the business exported cotton and sugar to Europe and imported fabrics and textiles. At its peak the partnership ran ships to and from Liverpool, Falmouth, and Hamburg.
From 1832 Adam began importing porter and ale from Alexander's firm in Dublin. Bearing the label ‘Findlater's Pure Porter’, the bottles were packed in straw in barrels and loaded on to ships beside Alexander's premises at Burgh Quay. By 1835 Adam was importing more than 1,000 bottles a year. In 1839 he left Bahia for Dublin, where he became his brother's largest partner in his various Dublin-based enterprises. In the year that he arrived he set up commercial premises in the centre of Rathmines at 9 Rathmines Terrace (later 302 Rathmines Rd). Trading in wines, whiskies, spirits, and dry goods as S. Findlater & Co., the shop remained part of the family business for the next 130 years. In addition to being a partner in the main business of Alex. Findlater & Co., based at O'Connell St., he was a co-founder of Findlater's Mountjoy Brewery in 1852.
Adam was also a generous benefactor to a wide range of charities and institutions. By 1866 he was donating more than £3,000 a year to three hundred different charities. His most significant single benefaction was to the Presbyterian College in Belfast. In 1876 the college set up a professorial endowment fund to meet the salaries of the teaching staff. Adam was asked to make a donation and originally offered £1,000 on the condition that four donations of the same amount were raised. After two years it appeared as though the condition would not be met. However, while speaking with the professor of biblical criticism, J. L. Porter (qv), Adam learned that in addition to the £10,000 required for the endowment fund, the college needed £10,000 for new buildings. On hearing this he made a new agreement with the college. He promised to complete the remaining buildings (staff residences, a chapel, and student chambers) at his own cost if the church raised the money for the endowment fund by 30 June 1878, and on the condition that his name was not disclosed. The church succeeded in meeting its end of the bargain and as a result Adam funded the completion of the buildings at a cost of more than £10,000.
On moving to Dublin he lived over his premises in Rathmines. In the 1860s he lived on Adelaide Road and later (1870) built a house in Monkstown called ‘Melbeach’. On Alexander's death he moved into his house, ‘The Slopes’. Adam died 12 October 1879 at home and left interests worth more than £200,000 in his will.
He married (1846) Jane Martin Johnston, daughter of John Johnston, miller, of ‘Trenton’, Ballsbridge, Dublin. They had no children. After his death his widow donated two windows bearing his coat of arms to the chapel of the Presbyterian College, Belfast.