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A History of our Firm
Chapter IX -
Rankin, Gilmour & Co., Liverpool (now Rankin, Gilmour and Co., Ltd.), Robert Rankin II, John Rankin

FOUNDED 1838-1839
(1st JANUARY, 1906)

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 Bullins' Bank.

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 :-

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—

Length aloft 107ft. 5-10ths.
Breadth 26ft. 3-10ths.
Depth 18ft. 5-10ths.

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 the following:-


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).
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 apply to-

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 ships :-

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

Messrs. RANKIN, GILMOUR & Co., or to— WAINWRIGHT, LEA & Co., 13 Rumford Place.'

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, and myself.

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.

Alexander Farrell—book-keeper.

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 named.

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.

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 Rankin II.

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 at Woolton.

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 office management.

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, 1898.

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 on Sundays.

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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