ONE of the greatest scandals of the 18th century surrounded John Johnstone of Alva House and Estate.

Johnstone was born in Edinburgh on 28th April 1734, the fifth son of Sir James Johnstone 3rd Baronet and MP, and his wife Barbara Murray, who in all had eight sons and six daughters.

In 1751, Johnstone went to Bengal as a writer to the East India Company. Five years later he was taken prisoner at Dacca where he befriended fellow prisoner Mrs Warwick who, presuming the death of the family heir, bequeathed £100,000 to Johnstone.

However, the heir turned up alive and well, so Johnstone returned the money.

Once released, and due to his brother Patrick’s death in June 1756 at the jail known as Black Hole of Calcutta at Fort William, India, he volunteered to join the company’s military arm and fought under Robert Clive at the Battle of Plassey.

He returned to civilian work a year later. Around 1760, he was sent to Midnapore and due to his success, was transferred in 1762 to Burdwan where his private business ventures got him in trouble with the Governor of Bengal Henry Vansittart as gifts over a certain amount had to be approved by the directors.

Early in 1764 he was dismissed from the company, but the board of directors reinstated him in March the same year.

Clive, who succeeded Vansittart as governor in 1765, began an inquiry into the £50,000 worth of gifts Johnstone had received from the ruler of Bengal Najimuddin Ali Khan.

Johnstone was charged with disobedience and was forced to resign, and subsequently sailed for Britain in October 1765. His fortune was estimated to be £300,000 and with it he bought several estates, including Alva from James Erskine in 1775.

The East India Company meanwhile decided to prosecute Johnstone, but nothing came of it.

In 1768, Johnstone unsuccessfully stood for parliamentary election at Haslemere in Surrey but later won the seat for Dysart Burghs in Fife in 1774 by bribing delegates.

During his time in parliament, he was an advocate of the Americans during the Revolution and voted with the opposition on many occasions. At the 1780 election he lost his seat.

Johnstone had Robert and James Adam design and build a mausoleum for himself and his late wife Elizabeth Caroline Keene, whom he married in Calcutta in 1st September 1765.

He died at Alva House on 10th December 1795 aged 61. They had two surviving children, James Raymond Johnstone, born 4th June 1768, and Anne Elizabeth Johnstone, born 1st March 1776.