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History of the Town of Greenock


The first battery that was raised for protecting the town was in 1763. It was of rude architecture, and got up hurriedly, in consequence of various reports of armed vessels having been seen approaching the Clyde; it mounted twelve 24 pounders, and was situated near the Ropework Quay. On the breaking out of the war between Great Britain and the American colonies, in 1776, Lord Frederick Campbell, with the Western Fencibles, were ordered to Greenock, and in a short time made various additions to the fort. The loyalty of the town at this period was aroused to a very high degree; every man stood forward In condemning the rebellion; and Mr. Thomas Moore, the accomplished poet, in his late travels, proved from facts which have never been contradicted, that self-interest on the part of many of the colonists, and French jealousy, were the means of wresting this growing state from the sceptre and authority of Great Britain. The fertile valleys of France soon felt the fearful retribution ; for when La Fayette and his soldiers returned, the word Liberty was fresh upon their lips, and the tyranny of Louis and his nobles was quenched in an ocean of blood. Britain, under the guidance of Providence, has resisted every effort of her foes, and stood the fiery ordeal almost single-handed, till her greatest enemy perished 011 the bleak island of St. Helena, while her shores have never been traced by the foot of a foreign enemy. We have already said that, oil breaking out of the American var in 1776, the People of Greenock rallied faithfully around their Sovereign; and, in proof of this, the following placards were posted on the corners of our streets, from the two great bodies which then composed the most important part of the population:-

Greenock, 23rd January, 1776.

"Sundry Merchants in Greenock, being desirous to promote the manning of his Majesty's Navy with able seamen, having raised by subscription a sum of money for that purpose, do hereby offer a Reward of One Guinea, over and above his Majesty's Bounty, to each of the first Sixty able Seamen belonging to the towns of Greenock, Crawfordsdyke, Gourock, arid Inverkipp, not above Fifty nor under Eighteen years of age, who shall voluntarily enter to serve in his Majesty's Navy with Lieutenant Henry Constobadie, or the Commanding Officer in Greenock for the time, betwixt and the twenty-ninth day of February next ; to be paid by Joseph Tucker, Merchant in Greenock, upon a Certificate from the said Lieutenant Constobadie, or the Commanding Officer for the time."

"The Buss Herring Fishing Society of Greenock, impressed with a just abhorrence of the unnatural Rebellion in America, tending to the subversion of the present happy establishment, under the wisest and most moderate Government, do therefore offer One Guinea of Bounty, over and above his Majesty's royal Bounty, to the first Hundred able Seamen, who shall betwixt and the first day of March next, enter under Lieutenant Henry Constobadie, of his Majesty's Navy, now at Greenock, from whom proper Certificates must be procured and lodged with Mr. James Taylor, Merchant in Greenock, who will order immediate payment of the Society's Bounty."

The town also gave a bounty; and, in a short time, a number of enterprising and excellent seamen were added to the navy.

When the gallant and humane Frenchman M. Thurot entered the channel with his squadron, a universal alarm was given, not only to Greenock but to the surrounding country. And this received a great impulse from the fact of his having captured a vessel off the Craig of Ailsa. It was at this period that a temporary fort was erected containing twelve 24-pounders, and in addition to this, brass field-pieces were stationed along the road leading to the fort, and on the Hopework quay. It was not, however, till after the breaking out of the revolutionary war that this place underwent a complete change, and Fort Jervis, with its magazines, &c. was completed in 1797. Prior to this, and in 1793, Roger Stewart, Esq., who took a keen interest in the town, wrote Lord Adam Gordon concerning the state of the battery, and to have it properly provided; and the following answer will show the manner in which these places of defence were kept up, as also the sentiments of government on this interesting subject.

Abbey, Edinburgh, 27th May, 1705.

Sir—When batteries were erected for the protection of the different towns on the coast of Scotland, a rule was established, that the guns, shot, and small stores, should be furnished by the Ordnance; and the powder, and the expense of placing the platforms for the guns, should he defrayed by the inhabitants of the towns. As this rule is still to be adhered to, I am now to desire that you will report to inc the quantity of shot and small store you now have for the use of your Battery, which I shall transmit to the Board of Ordnance, that whatever is wanting may be supplied by them You will also be pleased to report to me the number and size of your guns; the quantity of gunpowder now in your possession; with the state and condition of the guns, carriages, platforms, and storehouses; that whatever articles are wanting may be provided, and repairs ordered where necessary, that your Battery may be put in a proper state of defence.

I have the honour to be,
'' Sir,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
cc AD. GORDON, General.
Chief Magistrate, Greenock."

When Thurot's little squadron was captured, which gave so much alarm to Greenock, the guns were fired, as a signal for rejoicing; but d tiring the hours of merriment a gun unfortunately  burst, which killed two men; and a piece of the shattered ordnance, weighing about 4 pounds, flew over the Hopework, and stink in the Glebe, three feet deep. This fort continued, till about 1808, bristling its loud-mouthed cannon towards the wave, but was dismantled in 1809; and in 1812 the fort, about two miles from the town, was erected. What gave rise to this erection, was the audacity of some American cruizers coming far up the channel, and the fact of a number of merchant vessels having been captured two days after leaving the port.

This fort was dismantled in 1809, in consequence of the disturbed state of the country, by an order received from Government to the Lord of the Manor. The guns now lying in Dumbarton Castle, with all their mounting, and the ammunition, were also transported to the same place.

Few places, during the war, evinced more loyalty to Government than Greenock; Volunteers were raised; the Mass Regiment formed; and, in addition to this, the Artillery and Rifle Corps were established. A very large subscription was procured to aid the Government in prosecuting the war; and the following subscription to assist the country in establishing a military force was entered into. As it may be curious, as a document, the names are given, with their amount.

"WE, Subscribers, hereby promise to pay to the Collector of the Land Tax of the County of Renfrew, the sums annexed to our respective Subscriptions, for the purpose of establishing a Military Force for the Internal Defence and Security of the County of Renfrew, as fixed by the Minutes of a Meeting of the Landed Proprietors, held at Renfrew, the Twentieth day of June, Seventeen Hundred and Ninety-four."

On receiving this Subscription, Mr. M'Dowall, M. P., wrote as follows: "The town of Greenock has been held out as remarkable for assisting the country, with much liberality, independent of their own Volunteers."

The raising of the men, when "Mother Casey" paraded the street in a boat, seemingly rowed by many who are still alive, shewed the active spirit which prevailed and when the alarm was given, in consequence of a Dutch frigate, which Captain Crawford steered into the Clyde, having reached the Tail of the Bank, every man was ready to ''seek the bubble reputation in the cannon's mouth." But the most conspicuous instance was in the well-known ''Battle of Armady," when an alarm had been given, that some French frigates were coming up to burn the town; and the whole of our forces, consisting of the Volunteers, &c., were shipped on board a frigate, and the private ships, Neptune, St. Andrew, and Mercury. The willingness to encounter the enemy, on this occasion, was beyond all praise; and Government felt and acknowledged their alacrity. The public rejoicings, when any great battle was fought, were also a proof of how deeply the inhabitants felt for the glory of our country. The illumination for the battle of Trafalgar, which closed the glorious and eventful life of the gallant Nelson, was as universal as the event called for. It is a fact, not generally known, that it was in the arms of a Greenock seaman (a seaman who had been in almost all his victories) that this hero was conveyed to the cockpit, after receiving his death-wound on the quarter-deck of the Victory. This noble fellow presented himself to an audience at the Theatre, a few months after the battle, and stated the fact to the audience, as an apology for his calling the orchestra to play up ''Rule Britannia." A similar scene occurred at Covent Garden Theatre about the same time, only with a greater variety of interesting incidents.

The loyalty of Greenock was never questioned, till the fortunate 8th of April, 1820; and, then, through misrepresentations, the ''fair name" which existed for a Century, was attempted to be sullied. In Blackwood's Magazine, Vol. vii. p. 91, are the following remarks:- ' In at least three places, the King's standard is assaulted by rebels, prepared for a regular campaign. We write on 19th April, 1820, and allude to Bonnymuir, Greenock, and Huddersfield." To say the least, this is a false and most gratuitous assertion. An event occurred here at that period, which had a most unfortunate result; but how did it occur? On the day in question, the Port-Glasgow volunteers, who had been doing duty in Paisley during the reign of Radicalism, were returning to their homes, and were entrusted with three poor fellows, who were placed in a cart, to escort to Greenock Jail. This was known from an early period of the day, and crowds of tradesmen assembled in the street. About two o'clock the party entered the town; and, in place of showing sympathy to the individuals under their charge, they came with a drum and fife, playing martial tunes. This certainly excited the indignation of the crowd, and it is to be lamented that stones were thrown at the military. This increased, and more particularly on their leaving town; when, without reading the Riot Act; without the orders of any Magistrate; and also against the orders of Mr. C-----H, their commanding officer, they fired into the midst of the crowd at different periods, till many lives were lost, and a number of individuals severely wounded. On this occasion, a miller, always esteemed a quiet individual, with a boy of about 12 years of age, behaved with bravery. They followed the soldiers to the Bottle-work, and when they observed any musket levelled, always attacked the individuals, to injure their aim, or otherwise intimidate them. Though frequently fired at, they escaped unhurt, and returned to the town together, recounting their exploits. The miller was obliged to escape, in consequence to America. Some have attempted to question the loyalty of the town from the resistance made to the Impress Service; and it is well known that various mobs have arisen against those employed in this unpleasant duty. The earliest on record is known by the name of ''Gentles' Mob," when Lieutenant Gentles was attacked, and took refuge in the Guard-house, foot of Cowgate; and the boat in which he came on shore was dragged up to the same place, and broken to pieces. Other serious riots occurred, but no lives were lost. To call in question the feelings of a community on this score, amounts to nonsense. The Impress Service is one of cruelty, and cannot fail to excite the feelings in an extraordinary degree. Are men to be dragged away from the bosom of their families, and from their homes, without exciting the sympathy of those around them Is a system of kidnapping, which have condemned and abolished on the shores of Africa, to be practised in Britain, the land of boasted liberty? It is the legislature who can answer the question; and among the last acts of the benevolent Quintin Leitch, was a series of resolutions, recommending the legislature to adopt other measures, and which were read, along with other remarks, at a Meeting in the Town-hall, three years ago, on this important subject.

The rendevouz was kept at the Tar Pots for a short period, and was usually at the West Quay, from the window of which the British Union was always hung out.

Although the men of Greenock were always at their post at the hour of alarm, yet their courage was often brought up unnecessarily to the ''sticking point," through the waggery of a few who had indulged in the second bowl after dinner. The "man with the horn," on horseback, blowing through the town, and depositing his large packets at the Post-office, was an instance of this kind. Similar was the mistake of a Jamaica fleet for a French squadron, and which was contradicted by Mr. Scott giving the true state of the case. Anecdotes of this kind might be multiplied; but as many of them relate to individuals still alive, or to those whose relations are amongst us, we avoid mentioning them, lest the motive might be misunderstood, and pain given, where every care in compilation has been taken to avoid this, either o private or public grounds. It is much better to be accused of withholding a little information, when the giving it is of no great importance, and might only revive, in the breasts of some, feelings and emotions, which are viewed differently in hey-day of youth from what they are on old age.


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