Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Provost John Black of Greenock

John Black was elected Provost of Greenock in 1899.  He was a well-loved and well respected Greenockian.  This photograph shows him, an imposing looking man, in his official Provost robes and with his chain of office.  He died in 1901 at his home, Copthorn, Eldon Street in Greenock.  He had lived most of his life in Greenock and had been active in a successful law practice first with his father, also called John Black and then with his son – George Hedger Black.  The story of the Black family of Greenock goes back much further.

Photo courtesy of Greenock Burns Club

There are two gravestones in the Inverkip Street Cemetery in Greenock in memory of members of the Black Family of Greenock.  One reads -

Erected by John Black, writer in memory of Archibald Black Harbour Master, and Isabel Douglas his spouse.  Elizabeth McPherson spouse of John Black Ship Master, Archibald Black their son.  John Black Ship Master died 26 January 1841 aged 74 years. 

This stone mentions three generations of the Black family.  The first of the Greenock Blacks was Archibald Black, Harbour Master of the town.  Archibald was married to Isabel Douglas and they lived at 3 Crawford Street in Greenock.  (Crawford Street ran parallel to West Blackhall Street and now just a short stretch remains beside the old Glebe Sugar House and Aldi.  Check out this old map to see where it used to be.)  As Harbour Master, Archibald Black would have had a demanding job controlling the arrivals and departures of ships coming from all over the world to the port of Greenock.  He would also have had responsibility for the upkeep of the quays and ensuring access for ships to discharge their cargoes. 

Also mentioned on the stone is Archibald and Isobel's son John Black.  He is described as a Ship Master.  He was born in 1767.  He married Elizabeth McPherson and they had two sons - Archibald (b1795) and John, born in 1797.  John Black, Ship Master died in 1841.  His wife Elizabeth and their son, Archibald are also mentioned on the stone.

The next generation of Blacks did not take to a seafaring life.  John Black (1797-1856) became a writer (lawyer) in Greenock.  In 1820 he married Jane MacNaughtan (1798-1876) who was the daughter of Peter MacNaughtan (clothier) and Amelia Buchanan.  The family lived at Shaw Place in Greenock, which would have been handy for John's legal office in Cathcart Street.  The couple had four sons - John (1821-1902), Patrick MacNaughton Black (1823-1883), Robert Stewart Black (1826-1842) and Andrew Inglis Black (1828-1868).  As well as being involved in public affairs John Black was a freemason and member of Lodge Greenock St John. 

Patrick MacNaughtan Black and Andrew Inglis Black became brewers in Greenock and owned the Holmscroft Brewery in Captain Street taking over from David Buchanan.   

Patrick MacNaughtan Black started his working life in the office of James Fairrie & Co, sugar refiner.  He worked for them in Liverpool for a while.  He married (1869) Isabella Campbell, daughter of the Reverend George Campbell of Tarbat in Ross-shire.  The couple lived at Union Street in Greenock.  Brother Robert Stewart Black died aged just 16.  Andrew did not marry and died in 1868.  He is buried in Inverkip Street Cemetery.

John Black (who would later become Provost), the eldest son followed his father and studied law - serving his apprenticeship in his father's office.  He became a partner in 1842.  The company was named John Black & Son.  In 1856 John Black senior died at the age of 59.  He was buried in the Old West Kirk graveyard - a large number of townspeople followed his cortege (according to the local newspaper) - "The company which followed was large and included most of the clergy, magistrates, members of the Council, and other influential inhabitants of the town."  

His gravestone can still be seen in the grounds of the Old West Kirk in Greenock.  This church once stood at the very north end of Nicolson Street but was moved in the 1920s to a new site at the east end of Greenock Esplanade.  The bodies in the churchyard were removed and reburied at a site in Greenock Cemetery, South Street.  The gravestones no longer mark where there are burials.  Jane (MacNaughtan) Black was buried alongside her husband.  The stone reads –

John Black writer in Greenock, born 28 May 1797.  Died 31 Aug 1856.  A loving husband.  A fond father.  A generous friend.  Jane MacNaughtan, wife of John Black.  Born 8 April 1798.  Died 1 December 1876. 

After his father's death, John Black carried on business as a lawyer in Greenock.  In 1849 he had married Frances Hedger (1828-1888), daughter of George Hedger a London diamond merchant.  The couple had two sons and three daughters.  In 1884 his son George Hedger Black joined him as a partner in his legal practice.  He handed it over to George in 1892.  Baillie John Cameron joined the practice a couple of years later and it was known as Black & Cameron.  Frances (Hedger) Black died in 1888.

Provost John Black
John Black was very involved in local matters.  He was a member of the Parochial Board and became a member of the town council in 1887.  He was Chief Magistrate in Greenock became Provost in 1899. 

He died in 1901 at his home at Copthorn, 8 Eldon Street.  His elder son John Robert Black born in 1850 and who was a doctor in Greenock had died just a few months earlier and it was said that the shock of this had led to his decline. 

Provost Black was buried in Greenock Cemetery with full civic honours.  The service was held in Union Street United Free Church and a Masonic service was conducted at the graveside.  Like his father, John Black was an office bearer in Greenock St John's Lodge 175 and many of his fellow Masons attended in full dress.  All flags in the town and on ships in the harbours were flown at half-mast.  Many shopkeepers closed their shops from 1 till 3 as a mark of respect.  The town bell tolled at minute intervals.  The funeral cortege was led by the Volunteer Pipe Band.  The Greenock Telegraph reported that the cortege was so large that took nearly half an hour to pass the church door.  Provost Black left a widow, a son and two daughters as well as grandchildren to mourn his loss.  His home of Copthorn was sold not long after his death. 

As Provost, John Black had also been Chairman of the Greenock Harbour Trust, a position I'm sure his great-grandfather, Archibald Black, former Harbour Master would have approved.

My thanks to Greenock Burns Club for permission to use the photographs of members of the Black family.

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