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The Playboy from Scotland

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

“Why is it that Scotsmen have a penchant for stirring up trouble on these islands?” Henry Gordon Veitch was the British consul on Madeira from 1809 until 1834, a considerable time to make his mark! Which he duly did!

“Veitch was born of a noble family in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders ”

Veitch was born of a noble family in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders and came to Madeira early in his career where he prospered in the wine trade, shipping supplies, a spot of tea planting and even a bit of smuggling tossed in for good measure. Through his long years on the island, he amassed a goodly fortune and built several impressive properties on the island’s south side.

Now the ‘Madeira Wine Institute’, this was Veitch’s townhouse overlooking the centre of the city of Funchal

To the west of the city, Veitch’s former beachside property is dwarfed by modern hotels and is now part of the Clube Naval of Funchal.

But the property dearest to his heart was the countryside quarters of ‘Quinta do Jardim da Serra’ sitting high above the fishing village of Câmara De Lobos. Here he developed a large estate with beautiful gardens, planting many exotic species of trees. Veitch insisted that only the local women should be allowed to plant the trees because, he believed, their hands

conveyed fertility. His trees were not his only interest in the local ladies’ abilities.

Quinta do Jardim da Serra was Veitch’s favourite rural retreat where he came to enjoy a number of local ‘attractions’. It is now a very comfortable 5-star hotel - if you can put up with the pink blancmange!

Flying the flag for Scotland

“Bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘nailing your colours to the mast”

Judging by photographs, Veitch wasn’t much of a ‘looker’ yet at Quinta Jardim da Serra, he would invite a different girl from the surrounding area to enjoy the comforts of his boudoir on a very regular basis. He went as far as devising a coloured flag system to alert the lady-of-his-liking for the evening, bringing a whole ne meaning to the phrase ‘nailing your colours to the mast’.

They reckon he had as many as 30 diff erent girls at his beck and call. Of course, this wasn’t an uncommon practice amongst the elite and nobles of the time who felt entitled to ‘sow their wild oats’ among ladies stationed beneath them so to speak. And they still say on the island, ther e’s still a predominance of blue-eyed blondes in the Jardim da Serra area thanks to Veitch’s nocturnal pursuances.

As for his more legitimate family lineage, Veitch’s roots are traced all the way back to King Edward III. His grandsires were the Lairds of Traquair House and Dawyck Castle in the Scottish Borders and Veitch’s son, also Henry Gordon, became a prominent captain and surveyor in the Royal Navy. Veitch Jnr also turns out to be the grandfather of Sir Noel Coward, the famous English playwright, composer, director, actor, and singer

Napoleon’s Hat

“Do you realise that when this wine was vintaged, Marie Antoinette was still allive?”

- Sir Winston Churchill

Veitch was, if nothing else a r ambunctious socialite. When the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was on his way to e xile on the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic, his ship, the HMS Northumberland called in to Madeira to restock on basics. Veitch, being the British Consul was the only person allowed to board the vessel bringing with him gifts and provisions including a barrel of Madeira wine. That barrel was never opened and after Napoleon’s death on St Helena in 1821, it was r eturned to Madeira where some 200 bottles were filled solely from Napoleon’s barrel. These bottles are now extremely rare and valuable. One was presented to Sir Winston Churchill when he visited the island in the early 1950s, staying at Reid’s Palace. Sir Winston insisted on pouring a glas s for his guests, commenting “Do you realise that when this wine was vintag ed, Marie Antoinette was still alive?”

The HMS Northumberland took Napoleon to his final exile in St Helena far out in the South Atlantic Final resting place

The beautiful gardens of Quinta do Jardim da Serra

Following his death in 1857, Veitsch was initially interred in the British Cemetery in Funchal where the Catholic hierarchy permitted non-Catholics to be buried. Previous to this they were tossed off the cliffs at Garajau or unceremoniously dumped at sea. But his wife knew Henry would not be happy away from his beloved Quinta do Jardim da Serra so she built a mausoleum, surrounding it with heather, trees and shrubs to block it off from prying eyes and had her husband’s remains relocated. Apparently, during the night of the ‘‘move’, they used torches to light the way and today the locals still share stories of ghosts being seen near the Quinta.

Veitch wanted to be buried at Quinta do Jardim da Serra, with his beloved dog so his widow, Carolina built a mausoleum on the property and secretly had his earthly remains relocated.


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