James McDonald (1843-1915)
Scottish-American oil magnate whose mausoleum is watched over by angels.
James McDonald left Scotland for America aged just 15. He went on to make his fortune in the oil industry, and was hugely influential in the oil and petroleum trade around the world. By the time he died in 1915, James was worth four million dollars.
The McDonald family emigrated to America in about 1858. James went to school in Ohio and then attended a Military Academy in Maryland. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, James became a clerk in the Union Army. He was part of the Quartermasters Department, supervising stores and supplies, for General Sherman’s invasion of Georgia – a bitter series of battles against the Confederates in 1864.
After the war, James went into business with his older brother Alexander. They set up an oil company in Cincinnati, which was so successful that it was bought for a great deal of money by the Standard Oil Company (later known as Esso). James came back to Britain in 1895 and set up the Anglo-American Oil Company, a subsidiary of Standard Oil, which helped enable the US to compete successfully in Europe.
James was incredibly hard-working, and so dedicated to his work that it affected his health. Heart problems forced him to retire, and he spent the remainder of his life travelling the world, looking for somewhere to settle that would improve his health. He died in Washington DC in 1915.
James was married twice, and had a son. When his wife, Carre (Caroline) died in 1900, she was laid to rest temporarily in Brompton Cemetery’s catacombs while the family mausoleum was being built. When James died in America in 1915, his body could not be brought back to Brompton until the First World War ended. The third family member buried there is James Briggs, Carre’s son by her first marriage.
The elegant mausoleum, designed like a small chapel, is guarded by two life-size angels. You can peek inside, through the floral metalwork of the door, to see a miniature altar. Above it is a rose window, with stained glass panels featuring palms, lilies and crowns.