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A History of our Firm
Chapter VIII - Ferguson, Rankin & Co., Bathurst, Francis Ferguson, John Ferguson


FERGUSON, RANKIN and CO.
BATHURST
Founded about 1832
Transferred to resident partner 1870
Closed 1878

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.

FRANCIS FERGUSON
Born 18 February, 1807
Married Ann E. Munro, 14 December, 1836

Died 9 September, 1875

JOHN FERGUSON
Born 20 November, 1813
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 branch.

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.
 
In 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.


 


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