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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter VII - Provost Walter Gibson and his Troubles


AT the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth the population of Glasgow was still almost entirely what it had been since the time of St. Mungo, Cymric or British in blood and spirit. The invasion of Highlanders, Gaelic and Norse, from the glens of the north and the western isles, which forms so strong and valuable an element to-day, had not yet begun. In the lists of provosts who filled the civic chair from 1649 till 1707, Campbell is the only Highland name. Names like Wallace and Porterfield, Bell and Barnes, Peadie and Napier and Montgomerie, sufficiently attest descent from the ancient natives of Strathclyde. [Charters and Documents, ii. 633.] The kinship of the citizens was mostly with the stout folk—farmers and shepherds, Covenanters and Whigs, of the shires of Lanark, Renfrew, Ayr, and Dumfries. They were probably, therefore, not so greatly moved to indignation as some writers have supposed at the news of the massacre by King William's Government of some thirty-eight of the Macdonalds of Glencoe. They might even regard that massacre as no very unjust retribution, in the fashion of the Highlanders themselves, on a tribe of cattle thieves and outlaws, who were, besides, adherents of what they considered the idolatrous faith of Rome.

Glasgow folk were probably much more deeply stirred to wrath by King William's treatment of the Darien Expedition, in which so large a part of the hard-gotten savings of the citizens had been lost. It was by the influence of King William and his English Government that the Dutch and English stockholders had withdrawn their money from the enterprise, and it was by the definite commands of that same King and Government that the English colonists in Jamaica and Virginia refused to sell provisions to the starving Scottish colonists in Panama. [After the Union of the Crowns the Scots were permitted to settle in the plantations, and enjoy the privileges of English natives. From the time of the Darien adventure they began to be rudely treated. Many of them in public offices, justices of the peace and members of the council, were turned out, and sometimes they were rejected upon juries, etc. The goods and ships of Scotsmen were confiscated in the plantations, and this was sometimes done when the owners of them resided in London.—The Case of Scotsmen residing in England and in the English Plantations, pp. 4, 5 (Edinburgh, 1703). The History of Great Britain during the Reign of Queen Anne, by Thos. Somerville, p. 149.] There was no doubt also that the Spaniards who finally extinguished the settlement at Darien were encouraged by the knowledge that the Company of Scotland was disapproved of, and unsupported by, the English King.

The disaster of Darien, there is reason to believe, threw a darker cloud over the fortunes and lives of many of the citizens of Glasgow than has yet been fully understood. One noted merchant of the city whose fortunes were already in difficulty at that time was the enterprising Walter Gibson. This great trader's original business of malt-making had brought him fortune, and his later industry of red-herring curing at Gourock has often been referred to, along with his astonishingly successful traffic with France for brandy and salt. McUre gives Walter Gibson's as the first name among the partners of a great company trading to Virginia, Barbadoes, New England, St. Christopher's, Montserrat, "and other colonies in America." When disaster in the end overtook him, no doubt there were many who shook their heads, and attributed his troubles to the hand of Providence as a punishment for his part in transporting in his ships large numbers of Covenanters taken in the battles of Bothwell Bridge and Ayr's Moss, who were sentenced to slavery in the American plantations. Whatever his methods, Gibson accumulated a great fortune and acquired a goodly estate. His various possessions included a piece of ground at Dunduskie Point, Gourock, which was probably the site of his fish-curing enterprise, for it contained "a tower, houses, salt-pans, and fishings." He also owned "that great new-builded tenement, high and laigh, back and foir, on the west side of the Saltmercat Street,"  [This magnificent structure, admired by all foreigners and strangers, standing upon eighteen stately pillars or arches, and adorned with several orders of architecture (McUre's History, McVean's ed. p. 126) collapsed with a mighty crash on Sunday, 16th Feb., 1823. The occupants had previously been warned out, and only one man was killed.—Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 414. The mansion was the work of the famous architect, Sir William Bruce, designer of the Merchants' House in Briggate and the later part of Holyroodhouse. From it the thoroughfare at whose corner it stood, the modern Prince's Street, took its original name of Gibson's Wynd.] and, along with salmon cruives and fishings on the Kelvin and coal seams and pits at Camlachie, he was laird of nleikle Govan and Bellahouston, Balshagrie, Whiteinch-meadow, Balgray, Hyndland, Partick, Partick Bridge-end, and Clayslap or Overton, on which Glasgow University is now built. [Burgh Records, 30th June, 1704.] His politics, apparently, were not those of the Revolution party. He was the second of the provosts—John Barnes was the first—who were imposed upon the city by the direct action of James VII. But he was evidently no partisan, for at news of the landing of William of Orange and flight of King James, he drew up an address from the magisstrates to the Prince which the Town Council entrusted to his discretion to despatch or retain. [Ibid. 24th Jan. 1689.]

The first intimation that the affairs of the ex-provost were embarrassed occurs when the attention of the magistrates was drawn to the fact that certain considerable debts which he owed to the town, and which he had been allowed ample time to pay, had not been settled. Several other creditors, it appeared, had taken legal action to secure payment, and to protect the city's interest the Town Council resolved to do the same. [Burgh Records, 19th Oct. 1695.] Gibson somehow managed to stave off the evil day for nine years. The magistrates proceeded to put in force a decree of the Lords of Session, and, for payment of the debt-5000 merks Scots—to dispose of all the late provost's properties to two purchasers, Mungo Cochrane, merchant, and Andrew Gibson, tenant in Hillhead of Partick. Final action, however, was still delayed, for the deed was not to be delivered till it was signed by the consenters and the 5000 merks had been paid. [Ibid. 30th June, 1704.]

Worse was still to follow. Four years later still the debt had not yet been settled, and Walter Gibson was a prisoner in the Tolbooth. As there was some prospect that, if he were released from confinement he might be able to arrange certain difficulties with Mungo Cochrane which stood in the way of a settlement, he was allowed out on giving sureties to re-enter prison when required. Finally, after meetings with him, the Town Council agreed to accept 4500 merks as payment in full of the debt of 5000, and the disposition of the ex-provost's lands and properties was accordingly completed and handed over to Mungo Cochrane and Andrew Gibson. [Ibid. 20th June, 1708; 1st Jan. and 13th Sept. 1709. Curiously, though the Town Council obtained its decree of adjudication in 1697, the lands do not appear to have actually gone out of Gibson's possession. In 1720 he disponed Whiteinch to Robert Bogle and Balshagray to Matthew Crawford. These purchasers, however, fortified their titles by further dispositions from Andrew Gibson of Hillhead and Margaret, daughter of Mungo Cochrane. A similar series of transactions occurred a few years later in the case of John Walkinshaw, the Jacobite, and the disposal of his estate of Barrowfield.]

Gibson was still active in 1713 when some interference with the flow of water to the town's mills on the Kelvin brought him again into debate with the magistrates, but the account of his difficulties already detailed is enough to show the unhappy change of fortune which befell some even of the most substantial citizens in those uncertain years.

Only two new industries of any importance appear to have been begun in Glasgow in those years. In 1696 a company secured a "Tack" or lease of the whole of the Old Green, except a part at the eastern end reserved for a timber yard, for the purpose of establishing a rope manufactory. The rent, curiously, was to be 10 sterling if the dykes about the Green continued to be maintained by the magistrates, or 100 Scots (8 6s. 8d. stg.) if the company undertook the upkeep. The magistrates retained the right of public walking on the Green, of drying clothes there, and of holding the annual "roups" or auctions of the town's dues and customs on the ground. [Ibid. 29th Nov. 1696; 17th April, 1697.]

The second enterprise was a glass work " for makeing botles, window glasses, and others." For this purpose James Montgomerie, younger, and his partners, merchants of the town, were granted a lease, for three times nineteen years, of the ground between St. Enoch's Burn and the Broomielaw, and they proceeded to set up a factory whose chief feature, a kiln known as "the Bottle-house lum," formed an outstanding landmark of the city for a hundred years. [Ibid. 19th June, 1700.]

The outstanding industries of Glasgow then comprised "suggaries, roapary, soapary, and glassary." To these four must be added the still older industry of malt-making. This business must have been fairly extensive, for ale was made, not only by the brewster wives who kept taverns, but by large numbers of the private citizens, by whom it was used both as a beverage and as an accompaniment, in the scarcity of milk, to the universal dish of oatmeal porridge. It was to follow this business that George Buchanan, younger son of the laird of Gartacharan, near Drymen, came to Glasgow during the "killing times" of the last Stewart king. He had his maltkiln on St. Theneu's gait, near the foot of the present Buchanan Street, and was deacon-convener and visitor of his trade in 1691, 1692 and 1694. [Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, p. 3; The Making of Buchanan Street; p. 41.] The other "incorporations" of the Trades House were rather crafts than industries.

The state of trade in the town led to considerable murmuring in 1701, the inhabitants complaining that certain direct taxes were being levied upon them, and urging that the revenues of the burgh from its "Common Good," or civic properties, dues and tolls, should be enough to pay all its expenses. By way of reply to this complaint the magistrates caused a statement of revenue and expenses to be drawn up. This showed the revenue for the past year to have been 21,175 13s. 4d. Scots, while the expenditure had been 3113 7s. more, or 24,289 0s. 4d. The heaviest item on the side of expenditure was 8722 of interest upon the town's debt, which amounted to the substantial sum for that time of 158,584 Scots or 13,215 6s. 8d. sterling. [Burgh Records, 21st Nov. 1701.]


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