Thursday 7 October 2021

Plaque to W S Graham, poet

Greenock poet William Sydney Graham (1918-1986) is commemorated down at Greenock's Customhouse Quay with this lovely plaque.  It can be seen right beside the Beacon Theatre.  It has a quote from one of his poems etched into it.

I've already written about the plaque on the wall of his former home in Hope Street Greenock.  You can read about it here.

Plaque on wall of house 1 Hope Street, Greenock.

River Clyde reflected in the glass wall of Beacon Theatre, Greenock

He often mentioned Greenock and the surrounding area in his poems and you can read more on my blog post from 2017 - Greenock Poet's Plaque.

Greenock's former Custom House in background.

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Tuesday 5 October 2021

Joseph Dhanis, shipbroker

I came across some interesting information about Joseph Dhanis, shipbroker who lived in Greenock for a number of years (from about 1863 till 1871) with his family.  While in Greenock he lived at Mount View Cottage and later the 1871 Census shows him living at 21 Brisbane Street with his wife, an Irish woman – Bridget Maher and two children - Cornelin who was born in Australia in 1860 and Francis who was born in London in 1861.  The couple had four more children all born in Greenock – Marie Michael (born 1863), Athanase Louis (born 1866), Josephine Carol (born 1868) and Antoine Joseph (born 1870).  

Joseph Dhanis went into business in 1864 with Patrick Robertson Macdonald and Andrew Bryde Hood – Macdonald, Hood & Co Shipbrokers of Glasgow and Greenock.  He left the company in 1867.  (The company, later Guthrie, Macdonald & Hood went on to be a successful concern.)  

After their stay in Greenock, the Dhanis family moved to Dixon Street, Glasgow where Joseph carried on business as a shipbroker.  Later they moved back to Belgium.  But it was Dhanis' life in Australia which proved to be interesting.

Belgian by birth, Joseph Dhanis arrived in Australia in 1851 and by 1854 was working as a shipbroker and agent at 489 George Street, Sydney (later moving to 177 George Street).  His company - J Dhanis & Co bought and sold ships and cargoes.  In May 1855 he was appointed Royal Hanovarian Consul for Sydney.  A notice in the Sydney press states that “Mr Dhanis was the first merchant in this colony to introduce a direct importation from Holland to here ...”.  The company then moved to premises at Macquarrie Place in Sydney.

By February 1858, Dhanis was declared bankrupt.  However that did not stop him from marrying Irishwoman Briget Maher at St Mary's in Sydney on 16 July 1859.  Shortly thereafter they moved to Melbourne where, in October, Dhanis was arrested for “obtaining money by means of false representation”.  The amount involved was a cheque for £3, but Dhanis had no funds at the bank to honour the cheque.  He was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment at Parramatta Gaol with hard labour for twelve months.  

On his release from prison and after a few more appearances at insolvency hearings, Dhanis and family left Australia.  The couple and their child travelled to London where their son, Francis was born in 1861.  From there the next stop was Greenock and setting up business again as a shipbroker.  I wonder if his partners Macdonald and Hood knew of his background?  Perhaps that's why they parted company after a short time in business.

Source  Baron Francis Dhanis

After a year or so in Glasgow the Dhanis family moved back to Belgium.  Their son Francis Dhanis, just a schoolboy in Greenock, attended the Belgian Military Academy and volunteered to go to the Congo Free State where he fought against Arab slave traders.  His military career in Africa reads like an adventure novel.  In 1896 he was appointed Governor General and was later given the title of Baron.  In 1901 he married Baronesse Estelle de Bonhome.  He died in 1909.  It was said that he spoke English with a strong Scottish accent!

It is interesting to find out about the backgrounds of the very many interesting people who made Greenock their home - even if it was just for a short time.

Monday 4 October 2021

Rust and ruins

There's something missing from Greenock's skyline in the east end of the town.  The little steam crane that used to be visible just above the wall on the north side of East Hamilton Street at the bottom of Ratho Street is no longer sticking out above the wall.  On closer inspection I discovered that it had collapsed.  After all these years of standing proud, another of the few lasting remnants of Greenock's industrial past has rotted away.  You can still see what's left at the James Watt Dock Marina.

The crane before its collapse.

All that remains now is a pile of rusty twisted metal.

Built by Thomas Smith & Sons of Rodley near Leeds it was of a kind to be found all over the UK, especially on busy quays.  (You can see a much better photograph of the crane here.)

I used to love seeing the difference between this little crane and its nearby "big brother" - the Titan Cantilever crane which fortunately is still standing.

Another Greenock icon .......... gone!

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Sunday 3 October 2021

Greenock town drum

I recently visited the McLean Museum, part of the Watt Institution in Greenock.  One of my favourite objects in the Museum is the Greenock town drum.  It it beautifully illustrated with a picture of a sailing ship and men with barrels on the quayside.

This was an important item in Greenock's history.  Throughout Scotland many towns had their own drummer who would be employed by the town council to rally the inhabitants to a particular place to hear national proclamations and important news which the local council felt that everyone should hear.  The drummer could also be used to advertise travelling merchants coming to the town and other less important events.

From the town directory we know that in 1805 Greenock's Drummer was James Skinner who lived at Taylor's Close in Greenock.  Taylor's Close ran from Dalrymple Street south to Hamilton Street, very near where the Central Library is today.  The drummer was paid by the council and they also provided a uniform and paid when the town drum needed repaired.

The drummer would also alert townsfolk if there was to be a hanging or if a criminal was to receive a public punishment.  No doubt the sound of the drum would stir up great excitement in the town.  In the past there was a form of punishment called banishment, where wrong-doers were "drummed out of town" and banished from the area for their crimes.  

A man named John Smith was found guilty of stealing some candles.  His punishment was "to be taken from the court and be put into the jougs there to stand bareheaded for half an hour with some of the candles hung around his neck and a libel upon his breast with the following words upon it:- "Here I stand for stealing candles."  After his stance in the jougs he was to be drummed out of the town, and thereafter banished from the same for life."  (Dugald Campbell, Historical Sketched of the Town and Harbours of Greenock, 1879.)

Here in Greenock we have another link with the town drum - Drummer's Close.  It can still be seen today and runs south from Dalrymple Street at the side of the Municipal Buildings.  Anyone who was sentenced to banishment would be taken from the square with the drummer leading the way and from then on that person was no longer allowed to live in the local area.

Source - Watt Institution, Greenock

There's a curious incident related in Daniel Weir's The History of Greenock in which he states that when the Flesh Market and slaughter-house (situated funnily enough in Market Street) was rebuilt in 1815 the first cow to be slaughtered there (by James Bartlemore) was "paraded through the town dressed in ribbons with the town drum beating before it".

Being the Town Drummer must have been quite an interesting job!

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