James Gilliland,a Parliament Square goldsmith and jeweller, was the brother-in-law of the publisher John Murray, for whom he acted as his Edinburgh agent, negotiating on his behalf with Edinburgh publishers and book sellers and collecting debts. In return Murray sold Gilliland’s jewellery in his London shop in Abermarle Street. Gilliland is chiefly remembered for his association with the artist, Henry Raeburn, who was apprenticed to him at the age of sixteen in 1772. Raeburn may have lived with the Gillilands, for he had recently lost both his parents and it was quite usual at that time for apprentices to live with their masters. The young Raeburn demonstrated his artistic ability by producing water colour miniature portraits on ivory of high quality, including those of James Gilliland and his wife Elizabeth, who was John Murray’s sister.
Another skill which Raeburn acquired while working with Gilliland was creating memorial jewels containing hair of the deceased. In 1777, Charles Darwin , uncle of the Charles Darwin of evolutionary fame, and a medical student in Edinburgh, died. Dr Andrew Duncan an eminent physician and family friend, with whom Darwin had studied, allowed his body to be interred in the Duncan family vault. Duncan described how he obtained memento of the young man:
I was anxious to retain some slight token in remembrance of my highly esteemed young friend; and, for that purpose, I obtained a small portion of his hair. I applied to Mr Gilliland, at that time an eminent jeweller in Edinburgh, to have it preserved in a mourning ring. He told me, that one of his present apprentices was a young man of great genius, and could prepare for me in hair, a memorial that would demonstrate both taste and art. Young Raeburn was immediately called, and proposed to execute, on a small trinket, which might be hung at a watch, a Muse weeping over an urn, marked with the initials of Charles Darwin. This trinket was finished by Raeburn, in a manner which….afforded manifest proof of very superior genius, and I still preserve it, as a memorial of the singular and early merit, both of Darwin and of Raeburn.