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A History of our Firm
Chapter XII - Characteristics

It is a somewhat difficult and delicate matter to discuss the characteristics of men who were so much my seniors. In the earlier generations they were not lacking in characteristics. If the Polloks were of the suaviter in mock type, there was no deficiency of the fortiter in re with Allan Gilmour senior, or, indeed, any of the Gilmours. The balance of force, ability, and direction would seem in each generation to have been well adjusted—perhaps adjusted itself. Dealing, then, with the home partners only—


Allan Gilmour senior was a man, in one sense, to act first and think afterwards, to drive, to look only in one direction—towards the end he desired to achieve. Sanguine and tenacious of purpose, he was not a man to take denial or admit failure for himself or tolerate it in others. He was always anxious to have his own way, was impatient of contradiction, and imperious of tone. Possibly a powerful, but not an attractive man.

The Polloks were men who pre-eminently thought first, and whether they acted afterwards was a matter for further consideration. On their work as allotted, John came probably more in contact with men. They were both more pleasing in manner than Allan Gilmour. Arthur Pollok was the more courtly figure of the two, and his was probably the greater brain. Unobtrusive both, they did not lack initiative, and it would seem probable that from one or other many of the suggestions would come that A. Gilmour senior worked upon. Either of them most efficient office men, upon Arthur Pollok devolved the greater part of the desk work. He took a personal interest in even the smallest details, was an admirable head of the office, and rather gained than lost in efficiency by making use in a manner which at times savoured of adroitness, of a slight natural deafness.

Alexander Rankin, of Miramichi, it is difficult to place in either the first or second generation. He seems to have occupied a position betwixt and between, but was a personality that could not be omitted. He had a quiet but most prevailing influence. To his tact and knowledge of character, and the careful education he gave to the first chief actors in the firms abroad, the early successes of these firms were probably due in a great degree. Had his life been prolonged it is probable that there would have been greater touch maintained between the foreign and the home concerns, and there would have been greater knowledge of each other and more mutual sympathy. His work was never-ending, and his life almost pathetic, for he always seemed to think so much of others and so little of himself.


Allan Gilmour was undoubtedly esteemed by his uncle as the most able of the young men he had sent abroad, and he nearly all his life intended him to be his heir. He was quite active. Of rare determination, impetuous, passionate, but generally only momentarily so (though he could be obdurate), he, too, was a man of action, preferring out-of-door to office work. He was fond of undertaking the supervision of the shipyard, going on lumber, superintending the handling of cargoes and inspection of ships. Some of this work might possibly have been left to competent servants whose time was not so valuable, but his desire to be thorough, and his liking for the active life were such that he did not readily delegate such work. It is not to be inferred that he did not keep a very close and constant eye upon his office and the management of the firm's affairs. Of course, I had no intimate knowledge of Mr. Gilmour, but I believe those who did intimately know him will admit that he had not a few corners against which it was unwise to rub.

Robert Rankin possessed a calm, judicial mind, not prone to excitement, and was beneficent of temperament. After office hours he was fond of his farm, and devoted to the 'beasties,' but during office hours he was still more devoted to the pen, the duties of management, study of facts and figures, and the deductions therefrom. This he did from choice rather than of necessity. He practically left responsibility as regards the P. G. ships with Mr. Gilmour—i.e., their active management, repairs, and accounts. Their freighting and employment was a matter jointly conducted. For many years after coming to Liverpool he, while closely attending the desk, inspected and himself sold all timber imports; he also examined and reported to Mr. Gilmour on the condition of the ships, and in doing so nearly met with a fatal accident; but in my idea he preferred the office. His opinion on matters of produce and purchase, investments, etc., carried great weight with Mr. Gilmour, who largely left to him these matters, and, indeed, all of the financial control.


George W. Hoghton.—In another page I allude to the important position—relative to to-day-held by the Custom-house clerk of a shipping firm in the 1840 decade. It was as such that Mr. Hoghton came to the office. But it was not in that capacity alone that he made his usefulness felt, and when in 1843 it was decided to open a house in New Orleans, it was an excellent selection which sent him to such a community. In 1854 he came home to reside permanently in Liverpool, and from that date to transact the business and look after the interests of the New Orleans firm. On becoming partner in the home concerns in 1861, the calls upon him of course became much more various. But his sphere had been among cotton and he would have wished it to remain so. He had the most consummate facility in letter writing—his productions were at all times graceful in their composition, and, when circumstances required it, highly diplomatic. Of considerable ability, he was by nature impatient of detail. Mr. Hoghton was a good speaker and knew his Shakespeare well. He had not much time for public affairs but took some part therein. From 1861 till his retirement he was very fully employed on the Cotton Market—in the earlier years in the upward movement in prices, in the later in its fluctuations. He was a man of very considerable parts.

William Strang from his first coming to Liverpool had an active part to play. In 1843 he succeeded Mr. Hoghton as head of the office. While there was plenty of work for all to do he seemed to have the faculty of aggregating around his position as much of the responsibility as Mr. Rankin would let pass. How he managed withal to see so much of the outside work and obtain so much practical knowledge of ship construction, and ship management at sea and in port, it is difficult to understand. It seemed to come to him with a natural facility. On the decision being taken to give up wooden ship- owning and acquire iron ships, it was he who arranged the first contract and followed the ship up when she met with her first slight disaster. Whether from disinclination to any further move, or owing to advancing years, he did not take any active part in the transition to steam; indeed, he was very luke-warm. A sailing- ship he loved, and as long as he could readily move about there was nothing he liked better than to have a day at the docks.

Robert Rankin II, like Mr. Strang, was brought up under Mr. Rankin, imbibed Mr. Rankin's methods, and till years brought some relaxation, was a very hard worker. When Mr. Strang went to London in 1852, all his work fell into the hands of R. R. II. He had an infinite capacity for taking pains. On Mr. Rankin's death and Mr. Gilmour's retirement, his was the protracted task of arranging how the necessary funds to pay them out were to be gathered together, an arduous work very successfully accomplished. Like Mr. Rankin with Mr. Gilmour, he recognised that Mr. Strang knew more about a ship than he did, yet the freighting and employment of the fleet lay with him. Of course they consulted freely together. A keen and judicious buyer, neither he nor Mr. Strang had the faculty for taking a small profit or cutting a loss. Like his uncle he took great interest 'in the books,' and not only in the office; he loved his books at home. He had his favourite authors, Scott's writing pleased him most. He lived through and was the last of three generations.

George Sheriff, although my senior partner, I only met once. I believe, however, he was not a man to make his personality felt. Being the father of a very large family may have somewhat cramped any ambition he, in earlier days, may have entertained. 'A safe man,' Mr. Gilmour once described him, and safe he was, but in business a man who too steadfastly bases his line of conduct on not making mistakes, achieves nothing. In every respect kindly, respectable, and trustworthy, I venture to think that the years had rolled past before the opportunity was his of showing his mettle, and when the opportunity came he had not the nerve.


Recalling the many that preceded me, here I am reminded of the man waiting outside a small Northern country church. Meeting the verger, he asked whether the congregation had dispersed; the verger promptly replied, 'Yon's him,' at the same time pointing to a solitary figure disappearing over the hill. Well, after the advent of the fourth generation and my brother's death, I was the sole survivor of P., G. & Co., till Mr. T. F. Harrison signed the firm.

Mr. Harrison, born 1852, at Windermere, entered the office 17 November, 1886, after nearly twenty years of hard work in the Inman Line office, and brought with him his devotion to strenuous effort. He became a partner as from i January, 1898.

My son, Robert Rankin III, born 1877, joined the office staff 7 April, 1896, and was admitted a partner i January, 1904. Sir James Rankin's youngest son, Robert, joined the staff 1 September, 1903, but after two years there, preferring another sphere, he is now barrister-at-law, London. I fain would have had him for Robert Rankin iv in future history.

On 1 January, 1906, the name of the firm I am glad to say the name only—was altered to Rankin, Gilmour & Co., Ltd. Our combined forces make but a poor show in comparison with the crowded figures of past generations. However, if our operations are not of the magnitude they once were—and we do not adopt the 'rest and be thankful' policy—we have the comfort of experiencing that it is much easier to turn a small wheel than a large one. To Mr. Harrison's business tact, capacity, and unwearying attention is largely due the measure of success we to-day enjoy. For myself, with many outside interests to occupy my time, I claim to be little more than the lodger—and the lodger is sometimes a detrimental, sometimes a useful factor in a menage. Mr. Harrison and Robert Rankin in may add or have their record added at a later date. For myself I claim no more than to have endeavoured to the best of my ability to maintain the old traditions of rectitude and fair dealing handed down to me.


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