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A History of our Firm
Chapter XVI - Retrospective and Discursive
Some Personal Notes


An old practice, one rarely heard of now, was that of the foreign partners being granted a hospitality allowance. Theirs, of course, was the big house of the district and thither the traveller with the slightest claim to hospitality would direct his steps; and there the ship captains would be entertained to dinner on Sunday.

If some, or indeed all, of the earlier partners were severely Spartan in their living and habits, it is not to be denied that some of the middle distance relaxed a good bit. Some paid the penalty; but most having the advantage of an almost open-air life, endued their clay with much moisture and were able to do so without outward visible effect, nor apparently did it interfere with their longevity. It is to be remembered that there was not much except work that was elevating in their surroundings. Early colonial ideas of hospitality called for a drink at every meeting, indeed, did so on the occasion of my visits. There were, therefore, only two courses—either rigid abstemiousness or the hospitality of one day tending to become the practice of the next. The partners that returned to this country were certainly of the abstemious order.

I have been told, and I believe there is truth in the tradition, that in the earlier periods the young men sent out to America were forbidden to marry without the consent of the home partners, breach of this regulation vitiating their agreement. Possibly this may have been one of Allan Gilmour senior's edicts, and may have been due to his brother James at Miramichi having contracted a marriage there of which he by no means approved. One can imagine him inveighing against the deteriorating and relaxing influence of matrimony, and it must be remembered, too, that of the five partners of that generation, three were bachelors. The similar restriction is, for junior Dons, in operation to-day at Oxford and Cambridge, and I presume for a similar reason, viz., that the authorities consider marriage would distract the man's attention, and so detract from his value as an expert on his subject. The seniors were undoubtedly autocrats. As for the junior partners, when their busy summer and shipping season was over, they were expected still to be busy visiting the camps, inspecting the adjacent timber grounds or possibly, making prolonged tours further afield. As in many other ways, Alexander Rankin would, on this subject of matrimony, hold the confidence of the home partners, and exercised on their behalf the veto, which he apparently specially relaxed in favour of the daughters of Mr. John Strang, St. Andrews. I fear that among his multifarious cares and work he had little time and less opportunity of himself cultivating ladies' society. However, he did know the sterling qualities of Mrs. Strang, of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, whose trustee he was, and the merits and attractions of her daughters, for they were an exceedingly handsome family.

With one eye on the prize and the other on Cerberus in the form of Alexander Rankin, what wonder if four of the young partners stated their case, and better still successfully pleaded it in both quarters. I have very good grounds for believing that a fifth failed in his suit—he died a bachelor.

Robert Rankin married Miss Ann Strang (the eldest) ; Allan Gilmour married Miss Agnes Strang;, Wm. Ritchie married Miss Mary Strang; John Pollok married Miss Margaret Strang. No wives ever afforded their husbands more loyal support or instilled them with more worthy ambitions.

Of the Misses Strang who did not throw in their lot with the firm, one married Mr. Ritchie, an eminent lawyer in St. John, who eventually became Chief Justice of Canada; another married Mr. John Jaffray, of William & John Jaffray, who for some time were the firm's London agents. I believe all, except one, were married while still in their teens. After these marriages Mrs. Strang left St. Andrews and came to reside in Liverpool, at Upper Stanhope Street, and for some time at the Cottage, St. Michael's Hamlet. She was, I have heard, a clever, capable lady.

Mr. Strang, who died in his thirty-ninth year, had for epitaph :-

'By all the wise admired, the good esteemed,
For what he really was, not barely seemed,
Form'd upon virtue's amiable plan,

An honest, upright, candid man.'

The English military were much more in evidence in the Canadian colonies then than in later years. Naturally the officers and the Misses Strang were mutually attractive. Mrs. Strang did not favour the subaltern, and if she observed any dangerous indication on the part of any of her daughters, I have heard her tart comment was: 'Well, I suppose you want to ride on the baggage wagon,' and indeed when the route came there would at that period be no other means of distance travel available for either the officer's lady or the private's wife. As regards the firm I have been told she tersely expressed her views: 'As much better as you like, but no worse.' She had need to be capable, as some, at any rate of her daughters had undoubtedly strong wills of their own. She died at Mr. Gilmour's house, 18o St. Vincent Street, Glasgow, on 29 May, 1853. There always lived with her the remaining daughter, Miss Elizabeth, who had been as beautiful a girl as the others, but in early womanhood had been disfigured by small-pox. But her beauty of character remained; loyal, unselfish, patient, ever thinking of and ministering to the welfare and needs of her relatives and others. Where illness or trouble was there she was to be found—no finer instance of the utility of the old maid in a connection. She led a strenuously busy life. At a ripe old age the spinster sister passed away, in 1896, adored by two generations of nieces and nephews, among which latter her heart was large enough to count me as one.

It is a coincidence that John and David Gilmour married sisters, so also Francis and John Ferguson, all ladies who, if of different types, were undoubtedly women of capacity. It would almost appear as if the right to marry were not much vetoed, but that the area of choice was circumscribed.

In the early part of last century, there would appear to have been much intermarrying between the Polloks, the Gilmours and the Ritchies. I have to go a good deal further back to trace any alliance between the Gilmours (then Gilmorris) and the Rankins.

There was, however, an intermingling of the Rankins and the Fergusons.

I do not think that those who succeeded the first generation turned out many men of mark, of light and leading in commerce. In fact whatever success may have attended the first generation in their other operations that of incubating was not one, though perhaps the proportion of failures in their brood is not altogether singular.

I can trace a good many of those who embarked on their own account after training in our various establishments from 1838 onwards:-

John & William Boyd, from Miramichi and Bathurst, became J. & W. Boyd, St. John's, Newfoundland; they earned a living, but not much beyond.

David and John Ritchie, from Dalhousie, formed the firm of Ritchie Brothers, of Liverpool and Miramichi, much respected, and eminently successful.

Robert W. Crookshanks, St. John, from St. John office, did little business.

Alexander Morrison, Miramichi, from Miramichi office, did little business.

James Douglas and James S. Westcott, from Liverpool office, got an unpretentious living.

William Main and John Lindsay from Liverpool office, did well as Lindsay, Main & Co. at Adelaide.

Henry North and Robert Nairne from Liverpool office, started jointly and severally North, Ewing & Co., and Ewing, Nairne & Co., Liverpool, about 1860, and were unsuccessful.

John Carmichael, from Glasgow and Liverpool offices, son of Daniel Carmichael, may be classed among those who did not much more than get a living.

John Graham and Andrew Herbertson, from Glasgow and New Orleans offices, did little business.

Kenneth Smith, Stornaway, from Bathurst office, did not much more than get a living.

Paul Lacombe, from New Orleans office, a failure.

Edward G. Price and James Hutchison, both from London office, in their several businesses have done well.

William Alexander, from Liverpool, achieved very little.

Wm. M. Jaffray, also from Liverpool office achieved little.

I think the strong individuality and unconsciously dominating influence of the seniors made their subordinates merely executive, and checked their initiative.

I do not think either of the home firms contributed much to sports. I know my request to R. R. ii for occasional cricket met with some sarcasm. With the advent of Allan Strang in the office things altered; he was good at most things, but at Rugby Football best. He played forward and was a most reliable place-kick. In his first year for Liverpool he converted twenty-seven out of their first twenty-nine tries; at Cooper's Hill the previous year he missed only eight or nine out of ninety. His brother John, who followed him in the office, was a very fine forward. I have heard those who were competent to judge, say that he was the best in England. Both played for the county, and John was invited more than once to play for England, but on account of temporary illness on each occasion was unable to do so.

The firm had old and very valued clients in Andrew Low & Co., of Savannah, and to mutual profit. A strange incident occurred during the Southern War to the two partners, Andrew Low and Charles Green. Both men well up in years. they in the earlier part of the War had come with their families to this country. Here some bitter quarrel arose and they agreed to dissolve partnership. Each wanted to get back to Savannah. But how to get there was the rub. Savannah was blockaded by sea and invested by land, and both men were proclaimed. They had parted here in very hot blood, the wish that they might never meet again, mutually and feelingly expressed. One tried to get out by crossing the extended Canadian frontier, the other by running the blockade via Nassau. Neither knew the other had any intention of going out. Both were captured, and their next meeting took place in one of the cells of Lafayette Prison. Judge of the surprise of Andrew Low when— it is said within an hour of his arrival there—his quondam friend and partner was unwillingly precipitated upon him. Each was credited with having a variety of quaint not to say forcible language at his disposal. The unexpected meeting brought no reconciliation. Andrew Low died not long after his release. Charles Green, the war over, started a business under his own name. Our firm continued its relations with John Hopkins under the old title of Andrew Low & Co. This John Hopkins had held the per pro. of A. L. & Co., was a Covenanter of the Covenanters, and had fought through the War with Stonewall Jackson, of equally ascetic temperament. As I remember him, most devout, honest and straightforward of men, whether rightly or wrongly, regarding slavery as heaven sent, John Hopkins deserved greater worldly success. The capital necessary had been withdrawn, and it was fatuous to attempt, as he did, to conduct the business on the lines it had hitherto been conducted upon, and the old firm of Andrew Low & Co. came to grief.

Allusion to the American War reminds me that once the Secession banner floated over the rostrum of the old News Room. Liverpool was very pro-Southern in its sympathies.

During the War we acted in an uncomfortable fiduciary capacity in many ways. Jewels, old silver, relics and heirlooms reached us by strange and devious routes from many of the old Southern families with which we were or had been doing business, or from friends of Mr. or Mrs. Hoghton. In some instances we had no indication whence they came or to whom they belonged. Eventually all except an old flint-lock gun were claimed, though we were not without applications for things that never arrived. I remember spending some very cold days in the vaults of the 'Queen's Warehouse' weighing and inventoring piles of old silver belonging to the Watt family. We had held their cotton business for years. The war over, they were denuded of everything except the realisations of their cotton in our hands at its opening. Mr. Rankin had farmed this so well that the residue was very considerable. Everything was mutually most satisfactory except for Mr. Watt's contumacy over one point. He contended that for the year 1864, being leap year, on the considerable balance brought forward from 31 December, 1863, 366 days' interest should be credited. They waxed warm. Which was right? Can a year be a year and a day?


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