The book is an attempt to collect some memorials of
the co-partnerships of the firm of Pollok, Gilmour & Co., and its numerous
connections and offshoots. The Company has witnessed the many changes and
developments of nearly 120 years, among which are the complete
transformation of the conditions of commerce which has been brought about
by the introduction of the steamboat, the replacement of the stage-coach
by the railway, the reduction of the Atlantic passage from four weeks or
more to little over four days, the marvellous acceleration of
communications produced by these changes, as well as by the introduction
of the telegraph, the telephone, the submarine cable, the motor, the
aeroplane, the submarine, the seaplane, and much else. The story of a firm
which has had to adapt itself to all these changes is worth telling,
especially if I could hope to trace in detail the alterations in business
methods which they involved.
the task is undertaken under manifold
difficulties. The original partners have long
since passed away, as have also their immediate successors, and loquacity
was not a weakness of either generation.
Consequently much that might have been conveyed
from father to son has been lost, and the
founders of the firms have left few written
records behind them. I have always felt an
interest in the subject, and regret not having
taken fuller advantage of the opportunities which
were—but are no longer—at my disposal. Much
that I did hear I have forgotten, and I can only put
together loose notes of what information is yet
available. The pity is that the writing was not
undertaken some thirty years ago, when the memory
of some predecessor could have furnished greater
stores. If fully told I believe the firm's career
would furnish one of the romances of commerce.
Of the men who led the concerns I have
heard more than of the actual working and details
of their business, for they were stirring men with
well-marked characters. Hence my pen is more
readily attracted to gossip and the discussion of
individuals than to the analysis of business methods.
It is a fault I fear I am unable to correct, for my
fixed material is not great. It is, however, enhanced
by the records of two lawsuits—going to law was
ever a luxury dear to our Scottish forefathers, and
to have what was termed "a guid gauning" law
plea was only a sign of their respectability, and lent them prestige. I
have also some partnership dates and other particulars kindly furnished by
Messrs. A. & G. Young, who under that title, or until 1872 as G. & A.
Young, were ever our Scottish solicitors.
In these circumstances the
method I have followed has been, in successive chapters, to sketch briefly
the history of the parent firm and of each of its offshoots in
chronological order; following each sketch I have given some account of
the principal members of each firm. Where, as has often happened, the same
man has belonged to more than one of the firms, I have written about him
in connection with the firm which he founded, or with which he was most
closely associated. I have added a chapter on ships and captains, and in a
chapter headed 'Retrospective and Discursive' have gathered up sundry
memories and reflections which had not found a place elsewhere. Finally, I
have, in part, printed in an appendix an interesting narrative of a
business tour in America made by Allan Gilmour senior in 1828-9.
It may be convenient at the
outset to avoid confusion by setting out the names of all the allied
The original firm was
Pollok, Gilmour & Co., Glasgow.
The others were
Arthur Pollok & Co. (existed
previously, but continued on), Grangemouth, Scotland.
Gilmour, Rankin & Co.,
Miramichi, New Brunswick.
Robert Rankin & Co., St. John,
Allan Gilmour & Co., Quebec.
William Ritchie & Co.
(afterwards Gilmour and Co.), Montreal, Canada.
Gilmour & Co., Ottawa, Canada.
J. Young & Co., Hamilton,
Arthur Ritchie & Co.,
Restigouche, New Brunswick.
Ferguson, Rankin & Co.,
Bathurst, New Brunswick.
Rankin, Gilmour & Co. (now
Rankin, Gilmour- and Co., Ltd.), Liverpool.
Hoghton, Rankin & Co., New
Pollok, Hoghton & Co., Mobile,
John & William Pollok,
Gilmour, Rankin, Strang & Co.,
One of the most remarkable
features in the history of the firm is that for two generations almost all
the partners, both of the parent firm and of its branches, came from the
same parish, where they had been taught by the same schoolmaster and
preached to by the same minister. Some account of this background to the
firm's history seems appropriate to this place.
The parish of Mearns in
Renfrewshire is about eight miles from Glasgow, in undulating country and
with good soil ; yet even to-day it is untouched by the railway. It is and
was peopled by small lairds and tenant-farmers with their dependants, and
the few craftsmen—smith, carpenter, and the rest who are to be found in
every village. In the district, a century ago, there were to be found
families of Polloks, Gilmours, Rankins, Ritchies and Hutchisons, long
planted in this and the neighbouring parishes, and linked together by many
intermarriages, and by the universal clannishness of Scottish districts.
They were a long-living, shrewd, hard-headed, hardworking, thrifty race,
attending assiduously to their own business, and little disturbed by what
passed in the growing city near-by, or in the greater world beyond. But
when one or two of them went out into the world and began to prosper, it
was natural that they should find places for cousins and nephews and
brothers; and so it was that in the first half of the century men from the
Mearns were spread out in the New World, organising new outlets for
business, and starting to make fortunes for themselves, with which they
came back to buy estates in their native land, with the homing instinct of
The chief centre of population
in the Mearns was the village or hamlet called The Newton, which lay in a
corner of the parish, at a junction of roads. To-day, and I do not think
there has been much change; it consists of a modest inn, a post-office, a
branch of a Glasgow bank, open for a few hours in the week, a joiner's
shop, a smithy, a small purveyor's shop, and a few detached buildings. The
village contains neither the church nor the school. These lay some quarter
of a mile nearer the centre of the parish, and no doubt represent the site
of the 'old town' of the Mearns, before The Newton grew up by the
The church is a square-built,
quaint, rather ugly building, like most Scottish churches. Here for
thirty-five or forty years the parishioners enjoyed the ministrations of
the Rev. Mr. McKellar. His congregation was no doubt a critical one, and
consisted not only of the heads of houses and all their families, but 'the
man-servant and the maidservant' who faithfully attended every 'session of
worship.' All arrived early—the women-folk decorously taking their places
forthwith in the Heritor's Pew attached to their farm; while the men
discussed parish affairs, and the state of crops and markets, outside the
church door until they were assured the minister had ascended the pulpit
stairs and awaited them.
Mr. McKellar was a courtly,
cultivated gentleman, and his interests did not cease with his clerical
duties. Especially was he in close sympathy and touch with the adjacent
parish school, and with its master Mr. Jackson.
To the latter should be
assigned a prominent place in this history, for though he was not of the
firm, yet had it not been for him there would probably have been no
justification for this writing. To him came the hopefuls of the parish,
and not a few were attracted from adjoining parishes. Tall, erect, an
iron-grey man, he was a disciplinarian, yet had something in his manner
that attracted. He was a student of character as well as of books and of
his art, and it was his work on the crude material which furnished the
greater number of the striking characters, that built up the early
fortunes of the- firm of Pollok, Gilmour & Co. and its branches. He may be
said to have moulded two generations of the firm. Among those whose work
and character will be subsequently described, he trained, wholly or in
part, Allan Gilmour senior, John Pollok, Arthur Pollok (the original
partners of the firm), James Gilmour, Alexander Rankin, Allan Gilmour
junior, Robert Rankin, John Rankin, William Ritchie, Arthur Ritchie,
Robert Ritchie, Richard Hutchison, James, John, and David Gilmour (A. G.
junior's brothers). He was a schoolmaster of the excellent type that
Scotland then produced for her village schools, a scholar himself, with an
apt faculty for imparting knowledge to others. While he instilled into his
pupils the three R's and dipped with them into the classics, he was not
one to spare the rod and spoil the child. I have heard my uncle tell of
the skill with which he could throw the 'tawse' from one end of the
class-room to the other, to alight with unfailing accuracy before the nose
of the offending boy; then followed, in injured tones, the order, 'Bring
those tawse here, sir '—an order to be obeyed not without apprehension.
Almost under the shadow of his
old school there lived, until 1914, Mr. James Pollok, Laird of Blackhouse
and several other adjoining properties —a fine old Scottish gentleman,
modest about his age as about all else, he did confess with a twinkle to
being over eighty. As a boy he knew several of those who contributed their
lives to P., G. and Co., and was at school with James Gilmour. Of his old
schoolmaster, Mr. Jackson, he writes, 'As a teacher he was exceedingly
competent; was well up in all the branches of education of his day,
including the classics; and he had that magnetic influence which does more
to bring boys on than severity.'
My resources do not enable me
to chronicle the achievements of those whom he sent to the University.
Doubtless there were several, for the custom of Scottish country life of
that period enacted that every 'lad of parts' should be given his chance
to bring credit on the family, even though his parents had to stint
themselves, and his brothers bide at the plough-tail all their lives. It
was a law the chief merit of which lay in the splendid sacrifices which
its faithful fulfilment involved: its vital principle, well-meaning but
misguided philanthropy is now endeavouring to dole out of existence.
I have put Mr. Jackson and his
work in the forefront of my story because it would ill become a Scotchman,
in telling how a group of country-bred youths built up a great business,
to forget the village schoolmaster who trained them.
It is fitting, perhaps, that
the following letter from one of Glasgow's leading shipowners should find
a place in the introduction to the second edition of this book, for Mr.
Nathaniel Dunlop was a contemporary of many of the men who appear in this
history, and as eminently a St. Lawrence and British North America man,
was competent to pass an opinion on them.
20th May, 1909.
Dear Mr. Rankin,
completed the reading of the History of your firm, and now have the
pleasure of returning the book to its owner.
I gave the leisure of the whole
time since it came, to its perusal, and I think I may claim to have had
more enjoyment in it than any other reader, apart from yourselves, is
likely to have had. This because, when I entered business over óo years
ago, I was placed in the midst of your firm's business activities; I was
acquainted with some of its leading members, and familiar, too, with much
of its history. It has been like living again through that wonderful
period of my young life when so many great chiefs of industry filled the
ground around, and the future was full of promise.
I have nothing really to add to
or take away from the story you have told. It was a wonderful time when
men from Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, and Argyllshire—all mostly of the same
stock—men with big heads, full of courage and enterprise, abounding
energy, and the highest integrity, went out into the fields of foreign
trade that were waiting to be opened up, founded great industries, and
spread themselves out in every direction. Among these were not only those
of whom you write—the Gilmours, Polloks, and Rankins, with their immediate
relatives and friends—but there were the Allans, who founded the business
with which I am connected, establishing themselves in Canada as pioneers;
the Gillespies from this neighbourhood, who founded the Gillespie-Moffat
firms of London and Canada, and the timber-trading houses of Quebec which
bore their name. There were the Patersons and the Greenshields from
Ayrshire, the Smiths and Workmans who first in Ireland opened up the linen
trade, and later became great warehousemen and shipowners in Glasgow,
founding the City Line of sailing ships and steamers to India; the Burnses,
who became coasting and foreign steamship owners associated. with the
Cunards in the great Atlantic Line; the McKenzies, McKinnons, and Halls
from Kintyre, who founded the British India Co.; the Kidstons, shipowners
and iron merchants, and a host of minor men filling up the intervening
spaces in trade —men of individuality and force.
I was, as I have said, plunged
more than 60 years ago into the heart of this work, and had an
opportunity, afforded to few, of seeing the rise, the culmination, and
alas, the setting of some of these honoured names. I think you fairly well
describe the characteristics of the Glasgow house of your old firm. I did
not expect that the bit of temper which distinguished the Gilmour lot had
been noticed by any but myself. The- 'Allan ' of my time sometimes
exhibited it, but he had it in beautiful subjection in dealing with his
fellows. He was a lovely character in business, though perhaps severe in
his private dislikes.
George Sheriff, who has not
stood high in your esteem for initiative and ability, had good parts, but
was completely overshadowed by Mr. Gilmour, and any force that might be
native to him had no scope. He looked after the sale of the timber, and
when P., G. & Co. resolved to wind up the business he was too old to
strike out afresh for himself. His eldest son —one of the big family—and
the partner he took into business with him to carry on the timber agency,
had not the opportunity to make their mark: times had changed.
Speaking of temper, I mentioned
at my club to-day, at lunch, to an old legal friend who was near me, that
I was reading with interest your book and the history of P., G. & Co.,
when he exclaimed, 'It is curious; I have to-day been engaged on a
question relating to the Eaglesham Estates of a later generation of the
Gilmours of Eaglesham,' and without a word from me he said, 'they have a
bit of the temper for which the old folk were distinguished.' Such
incidents as these are very curious.
It is also, as you say, strange
to think that your firm, so closely associated with Canada in its early
history, should be entirely separated from it now. But many similar
changes could be pointed to. To me the pleasure of having lived among and
known so many of these fine old men is great indeed. But, alas, it is
chastened by the thought how completely many of them have passed away.
You have done a good service in
writing the history of your firm, and your trade review, which is at once
accurate and comprehensive, is excellent. What a fine example some of your
grand old men have set to the younger generation.
John Rankin, Esq.,
John Street, Liverpool.