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A History of our Firm
Appendix VI. Letter from Mr. Davie, successor to John Laird and Sons, Port Glasgow


The following was written by Mr. Davie in his 83rd year. He was the successor to John Laird & Sons, Port Glasgow, who from their situation attended to all the port work for Pollok, Gilmour & Co. :-

I knew all the P. G. ships and their Captains that traded to Port Glasgow in my younger days. I remember the Oxford, Mariner, and Henry Hood. They were secondhand ships which had been bought. The Mariner was a brig, the only one P., G. & Co. owned ; all their other ships were three- masted, so far as I know. But the ships built by or for themselves were larger, and as time went on they continued to build still larger. For instance, the Ann Rankin (474 tons) was the smallest vessel built for themselves. Then came the Miramichi, Faside, St. John, Ant, Bee, Can/on, Canada, Quebec, Wolfe's Cove, Hibernia (all about 580/600 tons). After these came the Indus, Renfrewshire, Pollok, Gilmour, Rankin, Mearns, Euxine, Lochlibo, Ritchie (700/800 tons). Following these came Argo, Ronochan, and Marchmont (1,000/1,100 tons). Then there were four new vessels came home in one year—two large and two small—viz., Acme (1,241 tons), Adept (1,199 tons), Arthur & Arran (900/1,000 tons), and after these the Advice (1,422 tons), and last of all the Advance (1,610 tons).

From the first these ships were built of a model and construction specially suited for the trades in which they were to be employed, viz., the timber and cotton trades. They were not ships that would take the eye, having no figurehead nor fancy gilding; they were plain but substantial, bluff, round bows, with four extra large cargo ports for the easy loading and discharging of cargo. On deck they had four ranges of ring-bolts (which was not common in most ships), two on the starboard and two on the port side (one along the waterways and the other along the line of main hatch combings), to which the spare spars and the deck load were lashed. The lashings used were the dog chains (which all P., G. ships carried) for bringing the timber from the coves to the ship at Quebec. Each ship was amply supplied with all requisites for loading and discharging of cargo, such as crab winches, gins, crowbars, cantbars, dog chains, etc., etc., thereby saving the expense of hiring them at Quebec. P., G. & Co.'s ships were not classed at Lloyd's, but were built far in excess of Lloyd's requirements. From keel to gunwale everything was of a much larger scantling than usually put in vessels of similar size.

Those ships which were not metal sheathed were laid up during the winter. The captains, officers, and apprentices were all kept on, and employed cleaning every nook and corner, beating the rust off the anchors, chains, and other ironwork, overhauling the sails, standing and running gear. Periodically the standing rigging was taken down and carefully overhauled. The 'tween deck was converted into a rigging loft, where the rigging was carefully stripped, re-tarred, parcelled with new canvas and spunyarn, which was an excellent education for the apprentices, of whom there were from four to six in each ship. P., G.'s ships always carried apprentices, and a fine set of officers and sailors they turned out. They also carried a painter and cooper, in addition to the other petty officers. The latter was a necessity in these days, as the supply of fresh water was carried in casks, and therefore a cooper was required to attend them. Iron tanks had not been introduced then.

When the Arthur was abandoned it was not an ordinary tug that was sent out in search for her, but the Dom Pedro, a screw steamer belonging to Messrs. Henderson Bros., and the salvage crew was composed of all the P., G. shipmasters and officers who happened to be at home at the time. She returned unsuccessful from her first adventure, but in the interim the Arthur had been again reported. Captain Alex. McArthur, the overlooker, at once sent them out again, instructing the salvors of the position in which she was last seen, and ordering them to take up a certain position, from which they were to describe a circle round the place where she was last seen, narrowing the circle each round, which proved successful.

The cause of the water-logging was not a leak in the hull, but in the deck. She had a deck-load of timber, and to save the deck as much as possible deals for sleepers were laid on the deck on the line of the deck beams, but meeting with heavy weather the deck-load shifted, as did also the sleepers, the result being that the sleepers landed BETWEEN the line of the beams, and the weight of the deck-load stove in the deck --hence the water-logging.

The Oxford was a quaint looking old ship. She had been a Government transport at one time, and was built of oak. She was very round sided, and the planking of her bends was cut anchor-stock fashion, like this :-

lines

Her steering wheel was in front of the poop, and had a very comfortable shelter for the man at the wheel. She made the record passage of 93 days from Port Glasgow to St. John, N.B., which I don't think has been beaten yet. She had been driven as far north as Iceland. Captain Jas. Burns, who commanded her, was very forgetful, and in case he should neglect to wind the chronometer he had painted on a piece of tin the words 'Wind the chronometer,' which the steward placed on his plate every morning before breakfast.
I remember the Elierslie being put into the Port Glasgow graving-dock to receive a general overhaul, which included boot-topping (or rather in her case, doubling on the bends, as the planks were 2½ inches thick), which increased her breadth by 5 inches, and the result was she was too broad to get out- Consequently, one of the gates had to be taken off before she could be released.

I remember the Broom loading cattle for Australia. Captain Alex. McArthur was overlooker, or ship's husband,, and was known as the 'Commodore.' He was a little stout man, very active and attentive to his duties.

Captain John McArthur, eldest son of the Commodore, was Master first of the Ann Rankin; afterwards of the Rankin.. He and Captain Purdon were the two swell Masters of the P., G. fleet. They carried pennants on each of their ships, which reached from the truck on the main masthead to near the deck, which only H.M. ships were permitted to carry. On one occasion they met in Bombay, and of course hoisted their pennants, but before long a message came from the Commander' of the warship on the station to haul them down or he would fire into them. When Captain John McArthur retired from the sea he was appointed Dock Master of the Surrey Commercial Dock, through the influence of Mr. Strang.

Captain Purdon's widow is still living here (Port Glasgow) in her 98th year.

Captain Mitchell of the Argo was, as you say, a loveable old man. When in port he regularly attended church, and the pew he occupied with his wife and daughter was immediately behind ours.

Captain Sommerville of the Acme was another fine old man. He died on board the Marion (under my management) on the passage home from Quebec in 1865.

Captain John Burns was transferred from the Renfrew- shire to the Adept when she was launched.

Captain Wm. Smith did fine work with the Lady Falkland. He was very fortunate in making fast passages. He emigrated to the States, and for a time sailed on the Lakes. I spent a. day with him in Detroit in 1872.

Captain Jas. Smith of the Mearns was a brother. Captain Williams, of the Ant, shot a crimp in Quebec with coffee beans, but never went back to the St. Lawrence afterwards.

I remember Miss Gilmour arriving at Port Glasgow from Miramichi on board the Oxford. She afterwards married Mr. Jas. Anderson, younger son of Mr. Jas. Anderson junior. Highoim, Port Glasgow. He commenced shipbuilding in Quebec under the firm of Provan & Anderson, but was not successful. He returned home, and was appointed local agent here for the Royal Bank of Scotland. Mrs. Anderson died here about three years ago.

Another story of the figurehead is, that one of the shipmasters asked Mr. Gilmour senior to put a cutwater and figurehead on the ship he commanded. Mr. Gilmour's reply was short and to the point: 'It's a figurehead on the poop I want.'

Mr. John Wood, shipbuilder, purchased a mast piece from P., G. & Co., but in the dressing it was found to be rotten, so Mr. Wood demanded a reduction of the price, but Mr. Gilmour replied: 'Your eye was your merchant, had you found a diamond in it you would not have brought it to me.'

In 1874 I saw a quantity of teak timber in the West India Dock, London, marked Ann Rankin. Captain John McArthur who was Master of the A. R. on that voyage, told me that he brought that timber home a great many years previous to that date.

No doubt you are aware that John Laird & Sons were P., G. & Co.'s agents at Port Glasgow from the time they (P., G. & Co.) commenced business until they retired. J. L. & S. not only acted as their agents, but took charge of and measured all their imports. They were also joiners, block-makers, and blacksmiths, and as such did all the necessary repairs to the ships in these branches, and further provided all the outfit in these departments for the new ships built at Quebec, including the iron knees, breasthooks, etc. etc.

I knew Mr. Allan Gilmour senior by sight only. He was a man over the average height, strong and muscular, bronze complexion, carried his head well forward, with a purpose and determination in his looks. He took long steps and walked quick.

I now occupy J. Laird & Sons' old office, and am writing this in the room where Mr. Allan Gilmour transacted his business when in Port Glasgow.

ROBERT DAVIE.

Port Glasgow,
30th December, 1909.
(Written in his 83rd year—a fine bold hand).


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