A History of our Firm Chapter
- Rankin, Gilmour
& Co., Liverpool (now Rankin, Gilmour and Co., Ltd.), Robert Rankin II,
RANKIN, GILMOUR and CO. LIVERPOOL FOUNDED 1838-1839 NOWRANKIN, GILMOUR and CO., Ltd. (1st
Until 1839 Mr. Duncan Gibb had been for many years Liverpool Agent for
Pollok, Gilmour and Co., and a lucrative agency it must have been for him.
There was no unpleasantness connected with the change; the most friendly
relations were maintained; and the opening of the house was merely a
natural development that could not be retarded.
Hither Mr. Robert Rankin came in 1838, and opened his office in King
Street at the corner of South John Street, opposite to Messrs. Leyland and
I am indebted to the courtesy of Mr. Bellew of the Underwriters' Room for
sundry extracts from Gore's Advertiser, showing the early activities of
the firm. Among others in 1839 there are advertisements for outward cargo
for the Quebec for St. John, the Wol/e's Cove for
Quebec, and the Lord Sandon for Miramichi; and on ig December, 1839, the
following advertisement appears :-
'ON SALE The barque Lord Sandon,
Of the burthen per register of 407 tons new, and 404
tons old measurement: built at Richibucto, New Brunswick, in June last, of
the best materials, her top timbers being hackmatack, and planking red
pine: her canvas, cordage and outfits are of superior Clyde manufacture.
She carries a large cargo on a light draft of water, shifts without
ballast, and sails fast. Her dimensions are—
For further particulars apply on board, Brunswick Dock,
or to RANKIN, GILMOUR & Co.'
On 12 March, 1840, Messrs. R., G. & Co. loaded the
Mearns, 756 tons for St. John, N.B.
On 13 August, 1840, the following Sale Notices appear
The fine new ship Countess of Loudoun, 785 tons new,
702 tons old measurement: built at St. John, N.B., by Mr. George Thomson,
on contract for the present owners, under the daily inspection of Lloyd's
surveyor and Captain James S. Lindsay. Her timbers and plankings are well
seasoned and of the best material; her outfits are superior, and ample to
send her to sea. She is thoroughly copper fastened, and a beautiful model,
carrying a large cargo on alight draft of water. Her dimensions are :-
Length aloft: O.M. 137ft. 10-12ths, N.M. 134 ft.
2-10ths Extreme breadth: 33 ft. 7-12ths, N.M. 30 ft. 2-10ths Depth
of hold: 22ft. 10-12ths, N.M. 22ft. 7-10ths
For further particulars apply to Captain Lindsay on board, Union Dock, or
to RANKIN, GILMOUR & Co.
Also the new brig Mary Alice, 247 tons register, built at New London,
Prince Edward Island, by her present owner. Her timbers and plankings are
of hackmatack, red pine, spruce and birch, and have been seasoned eighteen
months: her sails, cordage, and outfits are of the best description, she
carries a very large cargo on a light draft of water, and is in every
respect well worthy the attention of purchasers.
Length aloft 86ft. 7-10ths
Extreme breadth 20ft. 7-10ths Depth of hold
15 ft. 1-10th
For further particulars apply to Mr. McKenzie, the owner, on board, or to
RANKIN, GILMOUR & Co.'
In 1841 a number of arrivals and sailings are mentioned, amongst which are
8 April, Importer, 734 tons, for Miramichi.
22 April, Henry Hood, 309 tons, for St. John, N.B. 30 September, Pallas,
520 tons, for New Orleans.' In 1842-3 a number of arrivals and sailings
are noted, and in addition the following Sale Advertisement :—
(9 February, 1843). 'ON SALE The barque Augusta, in the Brunswick
Dock, 599 tons new, and 512 old measurement. Length 122 ft. 3-10ths
Breadth 27 ft. Depth 20 ft. 2-10ths
Built at St. John, N.B., and has only made one passage, her hull is
composed of the best materials, and thoroughly copper fastened; her
rigging and outfits are ample, and of the best Liverpool manufacture. She
has a poop and forecastle,
The barque Gilnwur, of Glasgow, built in Quebec in 1834.
These vessels were built by ourselves, expressly for our own use, and no
cost spared either in their construction or outfit; they are exceedingly
suitable for the timber trade in which they have been employed, and they
can be sent to sea immediately at very little expense. The ships will be
shown by Messrs. William Cross & Son, Bristol, and for further particulars
POLLOK, GILMOUR & Co., Glasgow, or to RANKIN,
GILMOUR & Co., Liverpool.'
1849-8 March, the following advertisement appears (being the first
observed regarding passengers) :-
Loading in the Queen's Dock, and will be despatched with the first Spring
For Montreal, the regular trading and remarkably fast sailing barque
Coverdale, J. Benson, Commander (who is well acquainted with the
navigation of the St. Lawrence).
Burthen per register 312 tons, copper fastened and newly coppered for the
voyage, well known in the trade for her remarkably quick passages and the
invariable delivery of her cargoes in first rate condition. For freight or
passage apply to Messrs. Rankin, Gilmour & Co., or to
WAINWRIGHT, LEA & Co., 13 Rumford Place.
First Spring Ship—Now loading in the Brunswick Dock and will have early
despatch for Quebec, the remarkably fine fast sailing ship Barbara, J.
Houston, Commander (who is well acquainted with the trade), A r at
Lloyd's, coppereci and copper fastened, and in all respects a most
eligible conveyance. For freight or passage, apply to
This passenger business had, I believe, been carried on for some little
time previously from Glasgow, and to a greater degree
from the Irish ports; the firm's vessels from Glasgow calling at Belfast
or Londonderry, and those from Liverpool at Galway. It must have been a
sorry business for the emigrant.
The above looks very dry reading, but it affords
interest. Rankin, Gilmour & Co., or Pollok, Gilmour & Co., were of that
period eminently up-to- date shipowners. During those years the largest
craft that is noted as passing through their hands here was the Countess
of Loudoun, dimensions approximately 145' X 31' x 19' 3", register about
700 gross, say deadweight capacity 1,000 tons.
In 1845 Mr. Rankin had the present office built, or
rather a block of buildings now numbered 65 to 69 South John Street
inclusive (our original number was 55). At that time the Post Office was
within a stone's throw, also the Custom House and Dock Offices, and the
Board of Trade Offices for paying off and engaging crews; the Bank of
England, with which the firm banked, was in Hanover Street near by—the
building now occupied by Messrs. Evans, Sons, Lescher & Webb. Before my
time the Bank had gone to Castle Street. To-day the Post and Telegraph
Office are up town, so too the bulk of the business houses that at one
time abounded in the neighbourhood; the Dock Office has also removed, and
the Custom House will probably soon follow. Leyland and Bullins' Bank
recently became a branch of the North and South Wales Bank, which in turn
was swallowed up by the London Joint City & Midland Bank; and the Board of
Trade Offices are practically all that remain of note of what in 1838 was
the strongest business centre of Liverpool. In mitigation of what most
people consider our remote, isolated and forlorn situation, which view I
do not share, we no longer have so imminently near us that last resort,
the Bankruptcy Court.
With the march of improvement, the miserable cells of
the unhappy ones adjudged debtors by the Court were only removed in 1906.
One hopes they were for use for a night only before removal to Lancaster,
for as I saw them in June, 1906, they were not such as the sanitary
authorities of to-day would pass for dog-kennels; they had not been
utilised for many previous years.
The Docks then only extended about one-third of the
distance North, and half of the distance South of the Custom House that
they now do, and it was to the most southerly dock, the Brunswick, that
the firm's ships went. There the timber cargoes were handled in summer and
autumn, and the cotton cargoes in winter and spring, on an open quay.
There Mr. Rankin himself attended to the sale of the timber, Dempsey,
Frost & Co. doing the measuring. Fringed round the Brunswick Dock were the
offices and yards of the timber trade—now all cleared away, the dock
having been re-modelled and the trade removed entirely to the extreme
North-end. There I found it, and Farnworth & Jardine (successors to
Dempsey, Frost & Co.) both measured, and as brokers sold. Rankin, Gilmour
& Co., and other firms imported; vending to the wholesale merchants, who
in turn supplied the retailers. Now the merchants import direct and sell
indifferently, wholesale or retail.
In those days we had a large business in cotton, also
in timber, then a very powerful trade in the town, and very carefully
catered for by the Dock Board.
In Mr. Hill's reminiscences (Chapter XV) the changes in
the staff and some of the men who formed it, are discussed.
Merchants' business, Agency, Shipowning, Banking for
Colonial clients, all were transacted.
The staff in 1861 consisted of Mr. Rankin, Mr. Hoghton,
Mr. R. Rankin ii, partners; Chas. Hill, Alexander Farrell, Wm. Alexander,
Mr. Rankin, except when the Dock Board called for him,
was always at the office, initiating and directing—seeing and knowing
almost intuitively all that was going on. Rarely a day passed without him
coming round the outer office. He seldom uttered a word, but were there an
error in your work his quick eye was sure to spot it—a pencil X went down
and he moved on.
G. W. Hoghton devoted himself so far as his share of
correspondence permitted, to work on the flags.
All letters were written by the principals. R. Rankin
II - cashier—general management and supervising.
Chas. Hill - invoices - account sales - bill book, etc.
Wm. Alexander—Custom House—still a fairly heavy and
intricate quantity, and general utility, in which I shared, and a
hard-working team we were; indeed, all had to take a hand in the last
Mr. Andrew Harvey, after early business experience at
Paisley, had a seat in the office for a short time, and thereafter in the
London office till its close, when he opened his own office at 16 Mark
Lane for the conduct of his firm's business in India. Elsewhere, and at
considerable length, I have discussed matters bearing on the general
business of the home firms, so that I do not consider it necessary here to
enter particularly into R., G. & Co.'s share therein.
ROBERT RANKIN II Born 28 December, 1830 Married 4 September, 1862,
Miss Catherine Currie Died 20 January, 1898
My brother passed the earlier part of his business career under Mr. Robert
Rankin before named, and to avoid confusion I style him throughout Robert
He was born in New Brunswick. Our parents, who had formerly lived at
Broom, Mearns, transferring themselves to New Brunswick with their two
elder children and James Rankin (Miramichi), had been wrecked in the Allan
Gilmour, in 1830, on the Grand Manan rocks in the Bay of Fundy; their
lives were only saved by life-lines established with the shore. With the
wreck disappeared my father's accumulations, also a complete outfit of
farming implements, and a considerable quantity of valuable livestock. In
1843 Robert, with his brother Alexander, went to Alexander Rankin at
Miramichi, and to school there. On 16 October, 1845, they left Miramichi
in the * barque Coverdale, Captain Benson (mentioned hereafter), to the
Clyde to go to the Collegiate Institution here—now the Liverpool College.
They had there as compeers Sir Thomas Royden and George C. Dobell. Thomas
Royden & Sons' old shipyard, Queen's Dock, now
disappeared, was their especial playground.
He came to the office 23 June, 1847, four months after
Mr. Hill's entry. If painstaking effort and long toil merited success, he
eminently deserved it. For some years he lived with Mrs. Strang in Upper
Stanhope Street, which was then on the confines of the city. When Wm.
Strang went to open the London Office, in 1852, he succeeded him as tenant
of a small house, 88 Lodge Lane, now taken down. With fields on two sides
it might be said to have stood quite in the country—though the din of
Hutchison & Jarvie's rope-works on one of the other two sides certainly
did not contribute a rural sound; the house belonged to that firm. It was
for Liverpool historic, having been the residence during his later days
(and previous to the Rope Works) of Wm. Roscoe—merchant, banker,
philanthropist, historian, and poet. Here a faithful old soldier-servant
alone ministered to Mr. Rankin's wants, nor found his duties so laborious
but that he could unostentatiously double his income by judicious canary
breeding, pairing and marketing stray pigeons, and generally cultivating
animal life. Shaw was his name. He had been the soldier-servant of my
brother-in-law, Major Webster, 1st Royals, on whose demise my brother had
been able to buy him out of the Army—a most useful man and with better
education would undoubtedly have made his mark. He did all the work of the
little house—cook, housemaid and butler—and my brother's small dinners
were much esteemed by his neighbours and, on the accounts they took home,
correspondingly deprecated by their wives.
When, in 1862, Robert Rankin ii married Miss Catherine
Currie—sister of Mrs. David Jardine and of Sir Donald Currie—he moved to
72 Upper Parliament Street, four doors above where his uncle Robert had
lived. Mr. Jardine occupied No. 70, a house built by Sir Thomas Royden's
father. It was there his only child was born, 22 January, 1865, and within
a couple of years-13 October, 1866 --the greatest sorrow of his life
occurred in the death of his wife. About ten years afterwards he bought a
house in Fulwood Park, which, with his love for the old traditions, he
christened 'Broom.' Mr. Jardine, with whom from earliest days to the last
he had maintained the most intimate relations, had meantime gone to reside
Like Mr. Strang, to whose position in the office he had
fallen heir, Robert Rankin II was of active habits, and like him he had in
his early days the visitation of the docks before reaching the office, but
unlike Mr. Strang, his bent was not so much for the outdoor as for the
Directness and straightness characterised all his
actions: he cultivated a brusqueness of manner and a seeming intolerance
which those who knew him did not fail to see through, or to see behind it
the genuine kindness, indeed softness of heart. He had his own way of
doing much that was very considerate. There were many angularities in his
composition, and at times he was choleric, much more so than his uncle,
for whose abilities and methods he had an intense admiration. At the time
of the Plimsoll crusade against shipping, or rather shipowners, he, on the
earnest solicitation of his brother shipowners, and especially on that of
the late William Rathbone, gave elaborate and valuable evidence before the
Unseaworthy Ships Commission. Plimsoll was an enthusiast, and whatever I
may have thought then, I now believe he was honest. He, however, was made
a tool of by those who were not. Liverpool had nothing to fear from such
an enquiry, but much of prejudice and inexactitude had been imported into
the question. The older one grows the more one would desire one's
foresight to be in ratio to one's backsight. Had Plimsoll been allowed to
accomplish more he would have done more good. He eradicated the bad
shipowner; he would have eradicated the undesirable shipowner—I mean the
man who risks more of other people's money than his own, too frequently
other people's money only.
R. R. II was a director of the Standard Marine
Insurance Company from its inception, also, from 17 October, 1884 till his
death, of the Midland Railway, in which he took much interest. He was
elected a member of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in 1875, and for a
time was Chairman of one of its most important Committees—the Docks and
Quays. His other engagements pressing, he resigned from the Board in 1891.
What engaged his attention most was the Pacific Steam Navigation Company.
In the midst of a crisis in its affairs he joined the Board. The Company
had been indulging in an inflated building programme, and had got over-
weighted. After serving under two Chairmen, he had, all unwillingly, on
their demise, to accept first the Deputy-Chairmanship and then the
Chairmanship. It was largely by his efforts and management that the
Company got into smooth water again. Perhaps his satisfaction at such a
result led him to follow on with too cautious a policy.
He had been in somewhat bad health throughout 1897.
Towards the end of that year dropsy supervened, and he died 20 January,
JOHN RANKIN Born 14 February, 1845 Married 1
September, 1875, Miss Helen M. Jack
I was born at Greenbank, New Brunswick, 1845, and came
over in the Actaeon (Captain Benson already mentioned) with my brother,
Arthur Rankin, from Miramichi and Mr. James Rankin, of Miramichi, in 1854,
to go to school at Dr. Ihne's, Liverpool, thereafter to Madras College and
the University— St. Andrews, N.B.
I entered the office 1 September, 1861. R. R. ii was
still away on his tour of inspection of the foreign houses. He returned
shortly afterwards, and I remember representing to him that I thought the
office hours somewhat long. He expressed surprise. It was the 'nine hours'
movement, not the 'eight hours,' that was then being discussed throughout
the country. He said he advocated it if it meant g a.m. to g p.m., which
he thought was long enough, unless on Saturdays, when the week's work must
be closed up whatever the hour, and he grimly added that we always closed
My writing then, as now, was execrable. I do not know
how many times I that winter made fair copy of Mr. Hill's Account Sales of
'1,002 Bales Cotton ex Adept' before Mr. Rankin would pass it and allow it
to be sent to Glasgow. There was quite enough to do. During that, and for
many winters, the hours were late, especially round the New Year. On
Saturdays, replies to English letters were often only undertaken after
8-30 p.m., when the American mail had closed.
About April, 1865, I was appointed cashier, and
signalised the event in my first week by losing £15, and thereby my summer
holiday. It was a memorable and cheap experience; for the ten or fifteen
years succeeding I lost little or nothing. In 1872 I handed the post over
to my nephew Alexander Rankin and assumed the control of the outer office,
though whether I controlled Mr. Hill or Mr. Hill me, I have always felt to
be a moot point. I think he left me to handle most of the business while
keeping a watchful eye upon me, and particularly my expenditure—the more
so when, after Alexander Rankin left, he assumed the cashier's post.
On 1 January, 1871, I became partner in Rankin, Gilmour
& Co., Pollok, Gilmour & Co., and Gilmour, Rankin, Strang & Co., and on
the same day in 1906, Director and Chairman of the surviving firm
thenceforward to be known as Rankin, Gilmour and Co., Limited.
I have held various positions, as shown in the
following list, but for whatever honours thereby conveyed I have more to
thank the name handed down to me than any merit of my own :-
RANKIN, JOHN, LL.D., D.L., J.P. (Westmorland). High
Sheriff 1910; born New Brunswick 1845; educated Dr. Ihne's, Liverpool, and
St. Andrews University; Shipowner; Chairman Rankin, Gilmour & Co., Ltd.;
Member Mersey Docks and Harbour Board 1900-1912; Director Bank of
Liverpool 1900, Chairman 1906-1909; Director Royal Insurance Company 1892,
Chairman 1909-1912; Director British and Foreign Marine Insurance
Committee 1909; Pacific Steam Navigation Company 1898-1910; Member of
Committee of the Liverpool and London Steamship Protection Association
1896-1911; Lloyd's Registry of Shipping (Liverpool) 1880-1910. Chairman
1890-1892; Member of London Committee 1884-1910; Member of Liverpool
Shipwreck and Humane Society i88o-i896, Chairman 1891-1896; on Council of
Liverpool University 1902-1907; Governor of Sedbergh School iii; Chairman
Soldiers' and Sailors' Club 1915-1919. Residences, St. Michael's Mount,
St. Michael's Hamlet, Liverpool, and Hill Top, Kendal.
Looking back I account my most valuable office
experience to dunning at other offices for freight balances or rent
accounts, etc. The view you get from the outside of an office counter is
materially different from the one you have from inside your own.
It is a pity the Government Office young men cannot
have a similar experience.
The following did not happen to me, but I believe it
did to Mr. Strang in his early days. He had made repeated calls for some
account, and on each occasion was met by one of the principals with 'It's
not our cash day.' Eventually enquiring which was their cash day, he got
reply, 'Find you that out, my good lad.'
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