Thursday, 28 June 2018

Cecil Brooks - foully murdered?

A few words on a grave marker in Greenock Cemetery led me to discover a rather interesting story. 

In Loving Memory of
Commander Cecil Brooks DSO RD RNR
Born at Stourbridge 14th January 1873
Foully Murdered in Holland June 1933
Beloved Husband of
Alice Jane McInnes
Born 5th November 1877
Died 25 November 1965 

In  June 1933 Commander Cecil Brooks, after a business trip to Rotterdam, booked a passage on the channel steamer Prague from the Hook of Holland to Harwich.  He was seen on board on the evening of 16 June.  When the ship arrived at Harwich his luggage was still in his cabin and his bed had not been slept in.  
Cecil Brooks had disappeared!

His wife, Alice Jane McInnes Brooks made extensive inquiries abroad to try and find out what had happened, but returned to their home at Beechcroft Avenue, Golders Green without any explanation of events.

On 17 July 1933 a body washed up on Terschlling Island in Holland, it was believed to be that of Cecil Brooks and was buried on the island (100 miles away from the Hook of Holland).  Eight days later his wife had the body exhumed and returned to London for examination, the body was identified by Dr Hugh Paterson, surgeon with the P & O steamship company.  A post mortem was carried out by Sir BernardSpilsbury and an Inquiry was held.  Mrs Brooks was represented by Henry Flint. 

Commander Cecil Brooks had retired from service with the P & O line in February of that year.  He had been at sea for 43 years and had latterly had command of SS Ranchi of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company.  However he had been asked to act as marine adviser to the Egyptian Government in respect of buying ships for their merchant fleet.  It was in connection with this business that he had been in Rotterdam.  Mrs Brooks was convinced that her husband's death had been in connection with this work. One newspaper reported that -

     "Brooks himself had hinted that his work was being checkmated by certain circles in central Europe interested in making metal deliveries to Egypt."

The inquest confirmed that Captain Brooks, an experienced mariner and teetotaller, was unlikely to have fallen overboard.  But because of the time the body had been in the water and then hastily buried at Terschlling, it was difficult for the coroner to establish a precise cause of death.  It was noted that there was an indentation at the back of the skull, but this was put down to a previous injury.  After the Coroner's summing up, Mrs Brooks' counsel intimated that she wished to speak as she was convinced that there had been foul play, but this was not allowed and an open verdict recorded. 

The body was then conveyed from London to Leith by steamer and then by train here to Greenock for burial in Greenock Cemetery.  Cecil Brooks and Alice Jane McInnes had been married in the Mid Parish Church, Greenock in 1908 and Alice still had family in the town.
A newspaper reported - 

     "At the graveside a simple but impressive service was conducted by the Rev W J Nicol Service.  The chief mourners included Mrs Brooks, the widow and her sister Mrs McInnes, Mr Arnott representing the P & O Company and Mr Andrew Nimmo Town Clerk of Greenock."

However, it is obvious, from the wording on the grave marker, that Alice Brooks did not give up her views that her husband had been murdered.

That might have been the end of the story ….. but!

Five months later in November 1933 a Canadian journalist, Lukin Johnston (born in Surrey 1887) who had just interviewed the new German Chancellor, Adolph Hitler, boarded the steamer Prague for a trip from the Hook of Holland to Harwich.  On the afternoon of 18 November he was seen asleep on deck.  When the ship docked at Harwich, Johnston was not on board. 
Lukin Johnston too had disappeared!  

Once again, the family suspected foul play - in fact they have written a book about it -
"Rufus: The Life of the Canadian Journalist Who Interviewed Hitler" by Colin Castle (2014).
It's a very strange coincidence, but I don't suppose that either of these deaths will ever be explained now.

McInnes Family
Alice Jane McInnes was the daughter of Dougald McInnes (died 1908 aged 74), spirit merchant of Charing Cross, Greenock and Elizabeth Barr Clark who died in 1914.
Brooks Family
Cecil Brooks was the son of Benjamin Brooks of Stourbridge, West Midlands (then Worcestershire) and Georgiana Grazebrook of Pedmore who were married in 1869.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Fire Brigade Museum in Greenock

If you are travelling to Greenock you must visit the Fire Brigade Museum, or to give it its full title -
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Museum and Heritage Centre.

It is open when cruise ships visit Greenock and has welcomed firefighters from all over the world.  It is staffed by volunteers, former firefighters and is also open on the second and last Sunday of the month, but check the website for details of opening times.

It is situated on Dalrymple Street just off Wallace Place in Greenock - right where the old fire station used to be when the Municipal Buildings were opened.

There's so much to see - old fire engines and equipment, lots of old photographs and some short films, and fire marks (showing that a building had fire insurance) from all over Britain. 

The staff are wonderful and if you have any questions they are happy to answer.

It really is one of the best places to visit in Greenock.  You can find their website here.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Gourock Coat of Arms

This is a representation of Gourock's coat of arms on a lamp post outside the Gamble Halls, Shore Street, Gourock.  It combines the arms of the Stewarts of Castlemilk and the Darrochs whom I've written about in a previous post.

Gourock was created a burgh in 1694 and this is shown by the castellated top of the device.  As you look at the picture, the left side is an adaptation of the arms of the Stewarts of Castlemilk with a hand grasping a dagger.

The Darroch side (right as you look at the picture) shows a three-masted ship with three oak trees.  The name Darroch is supposed to be a form of the Gaelic word for oak 'darach'.  This also includes a figure holding a club - a reference to an old legend of the warrior Macgille riabhaich (son of the brindled man) who brandished an oak club and was a fearsome fighter.  Duncan Darroch was extremely proud of his roots and his links to the Macdonalds of Jura.  You can read the legend of Macgille riabhaich here.  The "wild man" was a popular symbol in heraldry.

Gourock's motto a combination of those of the two families - 'Avant' (Stewarts of Castlemilk) and 'Be Watchful" (Darroch).

This photograph is some of the detail of a beautiful fireplace what is practically all that remains of the main residence of the Stewarts of Castlemilk - it can be found at Castlemilk Stables in Glasgow.  You can seem more photographs of this wonderful place and read some of the story of the Stewarts here on my other blog Shortbread & Ginger.

There was a time when decorated lamps showing town coat of arms like this were to be seen outside the residence of the local provost (mayor).  Port Glasgow still has its town lamp which you can see in this previous post.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Alexander Allason - slave ship captain

Another Allason brother was involved in the trans-Atlantic trade - Alexander (Sandy) Allason (1739-1769) was the master of the ship Dalrymple part owned by the Liverpool merchant and slave trader William Davenport.  Alexander kept up correspondence with his brothers in Port Glasgow and Virginia.  He made several voyages for Davenport, but died on the Dalrymple's fifth voyage in 1769 he was succeeded as captain by Patrick Fairweather.

Detail from sign at Greenbank House, Clarkston
The Dalrymple would sail from Liverpool with a cargo of beads, cloth, iron, cowrie shells, guns and other goods which were traded for slaves, ivory (often called elephant's teeth) and palm oil at Old Calabar in what is now Nigeria.  These slaves were then taken to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations.  They were sold in exchanged for rum, sugar and molasses which would be taken back to Liverpool and sold there.

William Davenport, Liverpool
William Davenport (1725-1797) was apprenticed to William Whaley Liverpool merchant, becoming a freeman of Liverpool in 1749 trading as a grocer and wine merchant.  He later went into partnership with members of the Earle family of Liverpool.

View of Liverpool
Davenport immersed himself in business becoming involved in the slave trade.  He traded in glass beads from Europe, at that time Venice was an important centre in the production of beads and these were highly prized in trading ventures with the west coast of Africa.  Cowrie shells from the Maldives were another important trading commodity, they were used for decoration and as a form of currency in certain parts of Africa.  Copper rods and fancy fabrics like silk and chintz were also in great demand.  Each trading port had its own particular needs which were eagerly supplied by British merchants in return for slaves.

Davenport was part owner of the slave-ship Dalrymple on which Alexander Allason was master, he also part owned other ships such as the King of Prussia.  Many Liverpool merchants were involved in the slave trade either directly or through partnerships with those who were.  Old Calabar was an important African port for trade in slaves who would then be packed into ships to be sold in the West Indies for plantation work.  There, cargoes of rum, sugar, coffee and indigo would be bought for the return journey to Liverpool and other ports in Britain.

slave ship
Slaves were shackled and forced into overcrowded hold for the journey to the West Indies.  Disease was rife and many tried to commit suicide by jumping overboard.  Women and children were held separately from the men, but in equally appalling conditions.  However sick slaves did not make for profit and many ships carried surgeons on board to deal with outbreaks of disease.

Here's a description of a slave ship on the Mersey by Ramsay Muir -

     "This was the slaver, with its rakish build designed for swift sailing so as to minimize the loss by death among the human cargo during the horrors of the middle passage from West Africa to the West Indies, and with its low 'tween-decks fitted with close-set benches and chains, and its loose chain across the deck, under which the ankle-chains of the slaves were passed when they were brought up for exercise to the music of the whistling lash.

William Davenport was just one of many British merchants involved in the slave trade.  Slavery was finally abolished in Britain in 1833.

The Davenport Papers, held by Liverpool Maritime Museum were brought to light in an episode of the BBC's Antiques Road Show in 2001. 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

William Allason tobacco trader of Virginia

William Allason's correspondence with his brother Robert (based in Port Glasgow) discussed in the previous post, indicates that they were involved in various trading enterprises with many of the leading Scottish tobacco merchants of the day.

One of these was Robert Bogle (1735 - 1808), the eldest son of prosperous Glasgow 'Tobacco Lord' George Bogle (1701 - 1782) of Daldowie, he was also a West Indies sugar trader.  Robert Bogle had moved to London and started the firm Bogle & Scott of Love Lane.  Another son, John served as a plantation factor in Falmouth, Virginia for Colin Dunlop & Co.  Robert Bogle's company failed in 1772.  He moved to Mount Craven sugar plantation in Grenada later returning to Glasgow.  (Much more information on the people mentioned can be found at the UCL (University College London), Legacies of British Slave-ownership database.

In a letter dated 25 February 1763 William writes about the end of the Seven Years War (known in America as the French and Indian War) 1754 - 1763, hoping that there will be an increase in trade.  He also refers to 21 hogsheads of tobacco he is sending to Bogle on the ship Carlyle, hoping it will be of good quality.  Writing to Bogle & Scott on 29 July 1764 he remarks that it is dangerous travelling inland and asking them to send him -

            "… a pair Pistols about 30/- Price. let them be small, for the conveniency of carrying in a side
Pocket, and as neat as the Price will admit of …"

This is a wonderful example of how just about anything could be bought and sold by Scottish trans-Atlantic merchants.

Books seem to have been in great demand in Virginia.  William Allason sent an order to Glasgow bookseller James Knox on 3 November 1769 for 'sundry' books and stationery.  However because of a tax on imported paper, he tells Knox -

            "… it will be necessary that the Package be said to contain only printed books, which you can   inform the Person who ships it off …"

On 22 July 1771 Allason sent a more detailed list of books he wishes Knox to ship to him.  Bibles, dictionaries, hymn books, books of sermons and spelling books are top of the list, but some specific titles are also mentioned - Pilgrims Progress, Robinson's History of Scotland along with other Scottish histories, Chattham's Political Conduct, various books of memoirs and magazines.  He also asks for various stationery items to be sent to him.

In 1772 William Allason married Ann, the daughter of Captain John Hooe.  After the death of her father, Ann inherited property called 'North Wales' in Fauquier County which William called their 'summer retreat'.  William oversaw the construction of a new mansion, work on which began in 1773, the house itself was not completed until after the Revolution.  The couple had one daughter (Polly) Mary Seymore Hall (1773 - 1853) who married Captain Robert Rose and inherited the property on her father's death in 1800.

North Wales House - Photo courtesy of the Fauquier Historical Society
William had been a prudent businessman but was continually trying to recover money owed to him by his various business associates.  He grew corn on his plantation and built mills on his estate which became extremely profitable during the War of Independence (1775–1783) when overseas trade was limited.  He owned slaves who worked the plantation and mills.  It was most likely slaves who transferred the goods to and from the ships to his store in Falmouth.

As well as trade, William also occasionally acted as factor for Lord Fairfax (Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, 1693 - 1782) of Greenway Court in Virginia, buying and selling slaves and importing household and luxury items from Europe.  Fairfax was a friend of George Washington and had extensive land holdings in Virginia.

William Allason also acted on behalf of Lord Dunmore (Lord John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore) 1730 - 1809, Scottish peer and the last colonial Governor of Virginia who returned to Britain in 1776 after defeat in the Revolutionary War.  Dunmore owed William money and was in no rush to pay up.  In 1883 William writes to Dunmore requesting payment of his account and also payment to Ninian Wyse stone mason, "... an honest poor man and has a large family altogether depending on his labour ...".  By 1888 he had still not recovered the debts!
William Allason corresponded with many important merchants and politicians in Virginia and elsewhere in colonial America.  His letters and accounts are an invaluable witness to events at such an exciting time in America's history and in the history of the west of Scotland.  They also reveal just how well informed merchants in Port Glasgow and Greenock were with what went on across the Atlantic.

My thanks to The Fauquier Historical Society for permission to use the photograph of North Wales.
Visit their website at the Fauquier Historical Society.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Port Glasgow's tobacco trade

This simple memorial stone in the wall of a Port Glasgow church bears the name Robert Allison.  Born in 1721 in Glasgow, he was a baker in Port Glasgow, the son of Zacharias Allason, a master baker in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, and his first wife Janet Grahame who were married in Glasgow in 1718. 

On 16 April 1747, the Glasgow Burgh Records show that Robert Allason, listed as a baker in Port Glasgow, petitioned for a feu right to build on a piece of ground in the town lying -
            "…bewest of the church yeard dyke and on the south side of the Beggar Raw street, bounded  backward by the march or burn …".
He was awarded the land.  The church in question, the churchyard of which contains his memorial stone, was at that time the parish church in Port Glasgow and is now known as St Andrew's Church, the present building dates from 1823.  Beggar Raw (or Row) was situated behind Princes Street.  In 1752 Robert purchased an old house for 20 guineas on behalf of the Glasgow authorities in order that the one of the streets in the east end of the town could be extended.  In 1757 he applied to feu some land facing the West Quay in the town.  This purchase is probably in connection with his business partnership with his half brothers, the sons of Zacharias and his second wife Isabel Hall (married in 1827 in Glasgow).  His brothers were William and David Allason who were merchants in Virginia.

William Allason had gone to Virginia as a supercargo (the person responsible for selling a ship's cargo at the destination) on a ship belonging to Baird & Walker (a small firm of tobacco importers).  After selling the cargo and travelling extensively in Virginia, William, as an agent of Baird & Walker, opened a store (in around 1759) in the town of Falmouth on the north bank of Rappahannock River in Virginia.  Of course, he indulged in a little trading of his own with the help of his brother in Port Glasgow.

William Allason, like many of the tobacco merchants, worked a "store system".  Tobacco was bought from planters in exchange for goods such as tools, household goods, clothing, luxury goods, foodstuffs etc.  Credit (again in the form of goods) was often given to planters in advance of the tobacco harvest, which of course could often lead to debt if the harvest was not as good as expected.  The goods sent to William Allason's store in Falmouth would be sourced by Robert in Glasgow, using his contacts locally, and other parts of Britain.  The ship would be loaded and sent out, the goods deposited with William who would then load the ship with tobacco and other produce from his contacts in Virginia.  Once the tobacco ship arrived back in Port Glasgow, some of the cargo would be re-exported to Europe, or stored at Port Glasgow until a buyer, or better price could be achieved.  Many of the Glasgow 'Tobacco Lords' had storage facilities (cellars and warehouses) in Port Glasgow at this time.

source McLean Museum & Art Gallery, Greenock
The Virginia State Library holds a collection of William Allason's letter books and accounts.  Some of these have been published elsewhere and give a fascinating glimpse into his relationships with family members here in Scotland and also into how trade was arranged across the Atlantic.  Important news about the cost of tobacco and other produce as well as what goods were required on the American side could influence what was then sent in the next shipment out of Port Glasgow.  Family business relationships were an important part of many Scottish trading enterprises.  The Allasons were no exceptions.

William's letters to Robert in Port Glasgow and later, Glasgow contain not just trade news, but details of events going on in Virginia at this time.  In a letter to Robert dated 5 October 1758 he writes -

            "There never was so poor times in Virginia as is at present, there wonnt be above 5000 hhds Tobacco made this present Crop, … Inclosed is an accot. of a Battle between part of our Army and the French, in which the last got a Victory, it possibly may be the first accot. of it at your place …"

The quantities of tobacco refers to hogsheads - large wooden barrels which when filled with tobacco weighed 1000 pounds. The 'Battle'  probably refers to the failed British expedition against the French at Fort Duquesne. 

However, tobacco was not the only Allason export.  In 1762 William travelled to Antigua and St Christopher (St Kitts) in the West Indies sourcing a supply of rum.  In 1763 he wrote to Robert concerning a supply of pig-iron from the Tubal Works in Virginia.  He reports that he could not buy it for the terms Robert was offering and that it had fallen into the hands of "Hucksters" who could afford to offer a higher price. 

In 1765 the Stamp Act was the subject of  many of William's letters.  The Act, passed by the British Parliament in March 1765, required all American colonists to purchase (in British currency) and use special revenue embossed "stamped" paper for newspapers, wills, official documents and even playing cards.  As you can imagine this was not a popular move.  It was repealed in 1766, but there was continued dissatisfaction with British authority over colonial America which, just ten years later led to revolution.  William writes to Robert -
            "Tis but a few days since that a neighboring Town took the example from a northern Government and burn the effigy of the Person appointed for the distribution of the stamps here, tho' he is not yet arrived from England, and a native of Virginia …"

Stamped paper was scarce and William was concerned about ship's papers and port clearances -

            " … Ships are in danger in Crossing the Sea, notwithstanding all the Clearance that the Governour & Custom house officers can give them they are subject to be seized by the first Kings Ship they meet with, and also in the first Port they put into at home, for want of their Clearances being on stamped Paper, which is not now to be had …"

Greenbank House, Mearns
Later letters to Robert are mainly concerned with the tobacco crop and the various items he wants Robert to send to Virginia.  Robert using the profit from his business ventures, bought land in Flenders, Mearns (probably where the earlier Allasons originated as farmers) and built the magnificent Greenbank House (Clarkston).  He later lost his fortune and gave up Greenbank in 1773.  He died in 1785.  He and his brother John are buried at Port Glasgow.

The trans Atlantic links of the Allason family highlight a very important part of Port Glasgow's early trading history.  Tobacco and sugar from Virginia and the West Indies grown on plantations worked by slave labour provided profitable cargoes for merchants trading out of Glasgow's port.  The Allasons had links with many of the big names, like Robert Bogle, of the tobacco trade on both sides of the Atlantic.

Detail from Greenbank House

There were many merchants trading out of Port Glasgow (and Greenock) with links to the slave-worked tobacco plantations in America and also the sugar plantations in the West Indies.  Ships sailed regularly across the Atlantic from the Clyde supplying home produced goods to the colonies and returning with valuable cargoes for the home market and re-export.