I came across this
interesting gravestone in Greenock's old cemetery in Duncan Street.The name on the stone is Burridge Purvis - it
didn't sound like a local name, so I decided to do a bit of research to find
out more about Mr Purvis and his family.The results are fascinating, and lead from Scotland to South Carolina in
the United States.
The wording on the stone
near this monument
lie the remains of
Burridge Purvis Esq
Of Glassmount Fifeshire Merchant.
To perpetuate the memory of so
beloved a husband and parent
his disconsolate Widow
has erected this frail memorial
of veneration for his virtues
and faint testimony of her grief
for alas a misfortune indelibly
engraved on her heart.
He died at sea on the 17th July
1816 aged 46 years on his return
home from South Carolina after
an absence of about 10 months.
The first thing that struck
me about this is that his remains were "buried near this monument"and yet it is also recorded on the stone that
he died at sea.Were his remains, like Nelson's
preserved in a barrel of brandy and spices and landed when the ship docked at
Greenock ... I wonder?!
What had Burridge been doing
in South Carolina?I discovered that he
was one of many sons of John Purvis and Elizabeth Thomson.Some of the brothers went to South Carolina
and purchased a cotton plantation there as well as ships to transport the cotton
back to Britain.Burridge was involved
in this family business, and seems to have travelled between Scotland and South
Carolina on a regular basis.
Burridge Purvis (born 1770) was
indeed married to Mary Brown.They had (at
least) four sons and four daughters - many of them were born in Scotland at
their estate of Glassmount in Fife (between Burntisland and Kirkcaldy).Mary Brown was born in Georgetown, Carolina, the
daughter of Stephen Brown, an army captain and his wife Mary Jennings and went
on to outlive her husband by many years, dying in St Colme Street, Edinburgh on
24 January 1861 at the grand age of 82.
This is a fascinating family
and I'll be writing more about them next week.
Tenements have been a feature of Scottish towns and cities
for centuries.Sharing a common entry
way and stairs (in Scotland called the close), generally there are six or eight
apartments in each building.They come
in a variety of styles, but perhaps the nicest tenements in Greenock are those
on the Esplanade.
Sandringham Terrace, built of red sandstone about 1900, takes up a whole
block between Margaret Street and Fox Street.With uninterrupted views across the River Clyde to the hills of Argyll,
they are highly desirable residences.
They are also full of interesting features.These intricate structures top the little
towers at each corner.
One of the closes (common entryway) has this lovely ceramic
mural on the wall.The scene is of the
River Clyde with the hills in the background and a steamer making its way
The tiles were produced by the Glasgow company, James Duncan
Ltd who provided the tiles for many shops and business all over Scotland.There's an interesting paper on the subject
Sandringham Terrace is a beautiful feature of Greenock's
On the 18 June 1908, the tug
Belmore sank near Ras Gharib and eight
men, six of them local, died. The
tug, formerly the Flying Scout which was owned by the Clyde Shipping Company
had been bought by the Australian company J Fenwick & Co. Fenwick had renamed it Belmore after the area where he
lived. It was on the
journey back to Sydney, Australia that the tragedy happened.
The Belmore had taken on coal at Malta
and having passed through the Suez canal, met heavy seas and foundered off Ras
Gharib in the Gulf of Suez. Of the crew of twelve, only four
survived. The survivors
were Donald Robertson 2nd mate, seaman Samuel Campbell, James Hepburn and
Callaghan both firemen. In a letter to his wife, which was reported
in the Greenock Telegraph on 9 July 1908, Robertson tells the amazing story of
his fifteen hours in the water clinging to wreckage before managing to get
ashore across a reef, and alert the lighthouse keeper at Ras Gharib. The
survivors suffered from cuts, bruises and the effects of the sun. One man, John Bowie, had a lucky escape. He had signed up for the voyage but did not sail.
Robertson tells the awful tale of his
shipmate, Hugh Gray who was spotted in the water near the shore clinging to a
hatch. One of the lighthouse keepers swam out to get to him but was
thrown back by the strength of the sea - he had been within five yards of the
man. Unfortunate Gray had no strength left and was drowned. There
were also reports that he had been attacked by a shark. His body was
washed up the next day. He left a widow and young son in
The captain, Charles Murchie (formerly
of Lochranza) was an employee of Fenwick & Co and lived in Dawes Point,
Sydney he left a widow and son. The mate Robert Booche of
Lochwinnoch died. A Gourock man, John M Gallaugher (55) died. He
seems to have been well known in the area.
All the other men came from
Greenock The Chief Engineer, James L Blue was one of those who
died. His wife told the local paper that he had intended to remain
in Sydney and try to find work there and would have sent for her and their
children once he was settled. Hugh Russell left a widow and two
young children. Donald Douglas was 28 years of age and worked for
the Clyde Shipping Company. He lived with his widowed mother and
Perhaps the saddest death is that of
Martin Oliver (45). He had served in the Navy and on the Clyde guard
ships Aurora, Superb and Benbow. Months before the fateful voyage he
had been in hospital for some time, having broken his leg. He left a
widow and eight children, the youngest of whom were twin boys. He
would never know his little daughter who was born months after his death and
only lived for a year.
The Board of Trade inquiry into the sinking recorded a verdict that the tug had
been overloaded when she left Port Said and that the Plimsoll marks had been
The overloading had affected the
stability of the vessel.
Such a sad tale from 105 years ago, but
unfortunately not uncommon in those days in ports like Greenock. The
people of Greenock responded generously to the fund that was set up to assist
the widows and children of the men who had lost their lives.
I ended my last post wondering about the stories Customhouse
Quay could tell.Perhaps this is one
escapade from August 1859 it would be
better to forget!
Yes - the unfortunate woman's crinoline became detached -
how embarrassing!But how funny that
some little scamps captured it, and attached it to a steamboat to be towed away
goodness knows where!
The fashion for crinolines reached its height (or should I
say width) by the mid 1860s.While they were
fashionable, they attracted a lot of criticism - mainly from male commentators.One imaginative writer in 1858 wrote an amusing, and decidedly tongue in cheek, article entitled "Crinoline for Criminals" in which he condemns
crinolines for encouraging their wearers to theft, explaining that items could
be easily concealed under the skirts!
One paragraph in particular caught my attention:-
"Concealed beneath the
skirts of a fashionable dressed female were, the other day, discovered by a vigilant detective the
following choice proofs of her propensity to plunder;"
Death by crinoline was not uncommon, the unruly items could
be caught in machinery and drag their unfortunate wearers with them - fashion
victims indeed!Boating accidents and
high winds were also detrimental to crinoline wearers, as can be imagined.
I suppose the only people to gain from this particular fashion, aside from the satirists, were
the fabric manufacturers - yards and yards of the stuff must have been used for
each dress to cover such wide hoops!
On Friday I described the top part of the Beacon clock tower at
Customhouse Quay in Greenock, designed by William Clark, marine artist.There was
a weather vane, a fog bell, a fog light and clock.Today it is the turn of the lower section
which is just as interesting and contains an amazing amount of detail.
This was a drinking fountain with a beautiful lion's head
and crest with the words "God Speed" - very apt considering many there would be going on a journey, as well as being part of Greenock's own motto.
There was also a letter box.I wonder how many tear-stained last words were sent from here before
folk went off to different lives in far flung corners of the globe.