FERGUSON, RANKIN and CO.
Founded about 1832
Transferred to resident partner 1870
There would not appear to have been assigned a separate title to this firm
till 1842. In the deed of retirement of Allan Gilmour senior the firm is
alluded to as a 'branch of Gilmour, Rankin & Co. of Miramichi, at
Bathurst.' The deed provided for his share in the branch house being
divided between Mr. Robert Rankin and Mr. Allan Gilmour, and further power
was reserved to Mr. Alexander Rankin to allot a partnership
to Mr. Francis Ferguson. This power was not acted upon till 1842—after
James Gilmour's withdrawal from G.J. R. & Co. in 1841.
Whether Gilmour, Rankin & Co. followed Cunard Bros. from Mirarnichi to
Bathurst or preceded them there, I do not know; but I find them in the
same rivalry, not to say antagonism. The tactics of either were to oppose
everywhere and in everything, in season and out of season. At first the
business was—besides the ordinary stores
business —the production of square timber, but, as at
the other ports, sawn soon predominated and eventually entirely ruled.
In 1836 Francis Ferguson was joined by his brother
John. The latter's function was the outdoor work—prospecting, supervising
the lumber parties and the milling operations. It was under his direction
that the present wharf was built. As subsequent events showed, the office
was in no way his forte. Soon he came home for a winter to superintend the
making of the machinery for the new saw-mill. He spent another winter in
the Quebec shipyard and drawing office, and yet another at Mr. Russell's
yard on Beaubear's Island at Miramichi, a valued client of Rankin, Gilmour
& Co. Notwithstanding the Cunard competition, fair results attended the
business down to the fifties. In 1852 John Ferguson was admitted to
partnership, on the occasion of Francis Ferguson's removal to St. John to
assume partnership and management of Robert Rankin & Co. The shipyard was
not a large one, turning out generally one craft each season. I don't
think the business did much or any good after 1850, but it did much worse
in later years, when the control slipped from John Ferguson's hands into
those of his son John, whose methods and practice were considered so
unsatisfactory that stringent measures had, in 1870, to be adopted.
Undoubtedly, at this period John Ferguson was much of a nonentity.
Mr. Alexander Harvey, a nephew of the Fergusons, in whom I recognise a
Mearns schoolboy of a later generation, was for some years with Robert
Rankin & Co., and subsequently with Ferguson, Rankin & Co., but the
employment was neither congenial nor remunerative; nor were the prospects
good, and he wisely transferred his action to India, where we had, at one
period, business relations with him.
Most winters the
accounts brought or sent home only showed a loss on the year's working.
Perhaps Mr. Rankin and Mr. Gilmour were only too considerate, and it might
for the concern have been better had they acted with less charity and
closed it earlier. Such a course would certainly have avoided the drastic
measures that had ultimately to be adopted. The partnership closed, and
the sponge (as it already many times had been) liberally applied to the
debit balance; and at a very moderate valuation attached to the stock,
timber lands, mills, etc., the business was taken over by the father and
son. They were even allowed to retain the old name, and notwithstanding
that liberal facilities and finance were accorded them by Mr. Gilmour and
Mr. Rankin's executors, they did no good, and the ultimate forced
realization was disastrous. Mr. Hill had thrice to go out from Liverpool
on their affairs, viz., in 1877, 1878 and 1879, and on each occasion .a
most difficult and unpleasant task awaited him.
Born 18 February, 1807
Married Ann E. Munro,
14 December, 1836
Died 9 September, 1875
Born 20 November,
Married Mary Munro
(Ann's sister) 22 December, 1847
Died 21 August, 1888
Possibly the Mearns was getting exhausted of its young men; be that as it
may, these recruits came from Dunlop, Ayrshire, and were related, though
not closely, to Messrs. Alexander and Robert Rankin; more nearly to my own
Francis Ferguson had some business experience
first at Glasgow, but not in Pollok, Gilmour and Co.'s office. In 1829, at
the age of twenty-two, he was drafted out to Gilmour, Rankin & Co.'s
office; thither, too, came John a few years later, after making a tour in
Upper Canada and through New Brunswick. Thence John proceeded to Bathurst
in 1836. Francis was a big-boned, large-hearted, cheery, generous, and
most likeable man. A man who knew his Scott, Burns, and Campbell by the
page, and who unobtrusively, but visibly, had a delight in them, could
hardly be otherwise. During the cholera scourge in St. John he worked most
indefatigably and fearlessly, his example doing much to mitigate the
panic. John was not less bulky, indeed was of Herculean
frame, and of nature most stolid. He became Senator at Ottawa for his
county of Gloucester, but achieved no more there than at Bathurst. His
widow, active and abounding in such good works as her straitened
circumstances would permit, survived at Bathurst till December, 1914;
truly a contented, godly woman.
Probably had Providence allotted these gentlemen a
competency, small or great, and nothing to do, they would have done credit
to the situation. As it was, they as nearly as they could accepted the
position as if Providence had so acted. Unambitious and placid, they had
tact enough so to hold themselves, that people regarded them as
authorities. They inherited these qualities from their father, my
grandfather, who was a small landowner near Dunlop —an uncle of the
original Wark, of our correspondents Borthwick, Wark & Co. of London. When
about thirty he let his land, and with a small competency, did nothing,
while all around were plodding and clodding; had the sons acted
similarly—retired early—it would have saved the home partners much money.
In the language of his district, he was much 'respeckit' and looked up to.
He put neither his hands nor his brains to any purpose, wore a gentle,
dignified mien, and at an early date had worn His Majesty's uniform of
Volunteers. On the one occasion on which I visited him, in 1855, he showed
me the said uniform, much moth-eaten, also his old flint musket (now, through the courtesy of Mrs.
Ferguson, Bathurst, in my possession) and told me of the scare and
preparations in Ayrshire for Napoleon Buonaparte's threatened invasion,
and the warm reception they had in store for him in the county. Be it
said, the little Company at Dunlop provided entirely their own equipment
and accoutrements. I give a short account of it in Appendix IV.
writing as I have done of the two gentlemen above named I want to be
impartial, not disloyal, for both my mother and my grandmother on my
father's side were Fergusons. Their generation was not devoid of men of
force and ability, e.g., their brother Alexander Ferguson, one of the
most advanced of agriculturists, who had studied his subject abroad as
well as at home. His services were recognised and secured by the
Government to initiate and carry out the plans for the reclamation of
Dartmoor by the employment of convict labour. But in that generation as
a whole, I think the sisters shone brighter than the brothers.