Sunday, 8 August 2021

One week's shipping in Greenock - 1787

From the Caledonian Mercury of 4th October 1787 comes a fascinating glimpse into what went on in Greenock's harbours the previous week.  Ships arrived from Ireland, the Caribbean, the Baltic and many other ports bringing a variety of goods into this busy port.  This gives us just a small example of Greenock's domestic and overseas trade in the those far off days.  Much of the spelling in the original newspaper report is very different and place names have changed over the years.  I have tried to give modern spelling where necessary.

The busy international port of Greenock.

Here's a list of the ships arriving in port in just one week -

28 September 1787 - Peggy, Captain Lamont arrived from Belfast (Ireland) with goods.

29 September 1787 - Home, Captain Peterson from Grenada (Caribbean) with sugar and rum.  Greenock’s first sugar refinery was started in 1765 and was at the north end of Sugarhouse Lane.  Sugar refining was so important in the 19th century that Greenock acquired the name "Sugaropolis".  Sugar refining continued here until the 1970s.

John, Captain McLellan from the Highlands with kelp.  Kelp, a seaweed, was collected and burnt to form an ash which was used in the making of soap and glass, among other things.

Elizabeth, Captain Mackay from Konningsburgh (Baltic Sea port) with goods.  The Baltic was important in the area for the importing of wood for shipbuilding and hemp for the ropemaking industry which was important part of Greenock and Port Glasgow's economy.

Helen, Captain Mackellar from Sligo (Ireland) with goods.

Montgomery, Captain Julian from Conway with timber.  (Conway – not sure where this is, but the timber would be used in the shipbuilding industry.  Get in touch if you have any information.  I'd love to know more.)

Active, Captain Gray from Liverpool with goods.

Peggy, Captain Mackinlay from Ballachulish (Loch Linnhe, near Fort William) with slate.  Slate became important for roofing taking over from thatch which had previously been used.  Greenock’s rising trade meant the need for more houses and warehouses, so slate was needed for these.  From Greenock it would also be sent to Glasgow.

Four busses from the herring fishery .  Greenock stared off as a fishing port.  Herring were so important to the area that Greenock’s old coat of arms featured the fish with the motto “Let herring swim that trade maintain”.

Porcupine frigate.  Royal Navy ships were used a lot after the American Revolution (1775-1783) to protect convoys of merchant ships from Greenock, travelling to the Caribbean.  Ships ran the risk of attack from American Privateers as well as other pirates.

30 September 1787 - Little Kate, Captain Boyd from Barbadoes (Caribbean) with sugar.

Bell, Captain Mackellar from Drogheda (east coast of Ireland) with meal.

Two busses from the herring fishery

1 October 1787 - Recovery, Captain Baxter from Bordeaux (France) with wine and brandy.  Wine and spirits were brought into Greenock and from there sent out to other British ports especially Glasgow.  There were a lot of wine and spirit merchants in Greenock in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Jenny, Captain Lamont from Colerain (Ireland) in ballast.

2 October 1787 - Glasgow, Captain Slater from Kendal with goods.

Savage, Sloop of War. (See picture below.)

Prince William Henry, Cutter.  Often Royal Navy cutters were used in the war on smuggling which was rife on the Clyde coast.

Sailed from Greenock that week -

28 September 1787 - John, Captain Leitch for Belfast with good.

29 September 1787 - James and Peggy, Captain Miller for Barnstaple (North Devon), coals.

Jenny, Captain Green for Youghall (County Cork, Ireland), coals.

1 October 1787 - Hopewell, McArthur for Liverpool with goods.

2 October 1787 - Betsey, Forrest for North Carolina (America) in ballast.  Many local merchants had both trading links and family links with North Carolina.  Many of these continued even after the American Revolution.  Trade is trade, after all!

Nancy, Weir for Rotterdam with tobacco.

Hero, Denny for Rotterdam with tobacco.  The tobacco trade was of special importance in Greenock and Port Glasgow.  Before the American Revolution, Port Glasgow was the main receiving port in Britain for cargoes of tobacco.  It was then transported all over Europe.  Many Scottish merchants had “houses” in Rotterdam – receiving tobacco and other goods, especially from the Caribbean. 

This view of one week’s trade in Greenock shows just how busy the port was.  Harbour Masters like Archibald Black would have had a busy time organising the comings and goings of these ships and collecting harbour dues.  Customs Officers would have been busy keeping track of cargoes and receiving duties on cargoes.  Ships Captains – many of whom may have been based in Greenock would have meetings with ships’ agents regarding where cargoes were to be sent and where their next voyage would take them as well as taking time to visit family at home.

Along with the goods coming in and out it is also important to remember the sailors who would be getting some shore-leave after many weeks at sea.  With money in their pockets, no doubt those who did not have family in the area would be looking for a good time and head for Greenock’s closes and lanes where they would find ale houses and other places selling cheap drink - shebeens.  Brothels and gambling dens would no doubt also do good trade. 

Just looking at one week’s shipping in and out of here gives a wonderful insight into just how busy and bustling a port Greenock was.  

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