Wednesday 29 March 2023

Dr James Wallace of Greenock

Dr James Wallace, Medical Officer of Health for Greenock and Justice of the Peace in the town died suddenly and unexpectedly of heart failure in October 1904 aged 79 years.  He was born in Edinburgh in 1826 and studied medicine at Glasgow University, qualifying in 1850.  He worked for a short while at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and then became house surgeon at Greenock Infirmary.  In 1852 he began his own successful practice in Greenock.  He married Mary Cecilia Williamson in 1857.  Mary was the daughter of Greenock lawyer George Williamson and his wife Jean McLean.  Her brother was Greenock historian, George Williamson.

Dr Wallace held many important offices in the town, becoming a member of the Parochial Board dealing with the “outdoor poor”.  In 1857 he was appointed in charge of the poorhouse which was then located in Captain Street.  When Smithston was built he was elected chief medical officer.  He was a tireless worker.  In 1873 he was appointed Burgh Medical Officer of Health “… a position which he filled with single ability and advantage to the town.  He never spared himself in promoting the public health of Greenock”. (Greenock Telegraph).  When legislation came into force which gave power to Local Authorities to insist upon householders reporting to the sanitary office all the cases of infectious disease in families, Dr Wallace was to the forefront in promoting this despite strong opposition. 

R M Smith in the “History of Greenock" states that “To him more than to any other single man were due the great strides in the application of medical and sanitary sciences and the immunity from epidemics that marked the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  He was involved with Craigieknowes Hospital (smallpox) for infectious diseases and the Sanitary Office in the town.

Source - Greenock Burns Club

In 1875  Artisans' and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act was brought into force and once again Dr Wallace was very active in this regard, giving evidence before Parliamentary Commissioners dealing with the matter.  He was greatly committed to improving conditions in the town.  Dr Wallace suggested “the widening of East Quay lane on the east, Low Vennel on the west, the whole line of Shaw and Dalrymple Streets lying between these two lines, and sweeping away many dens and rookeries which have been too long a reproach and standing danger to the community”.  This work was undertaken and led to the formation of Wallace Square now known as Wallace Place in Greenock taking over from the overcrowded and insanitary habitations.  R M Smith wrote -  Wallace Square is a testimony to the real desire of former civic authorities to leave the lower part of the town sweeter and better than they found it.

In 1902 on the occasion of his jubilee as the Parochial Board and Parish Council medical officer he was presented with his portrait in oils.  He worked tirelessly to help the people of Greenock, seeing them through epidemics of cholera, smallpox and typhus.  He also held the position of Admiralty Surgeon for Greenock.

However he also had many interests outwith the medical field.  He was a member of Sir Michael Street UF Church.  In politics he was a strong Liberal supporter  and President of the Liberal Association.  He “… was one of those men who would allow no official connection to stand between him and an honest manly expression of his opinion.   In 1872 he became a member of the first Greenock Burgh School Board .  He was one of the founders of the Greenock Choral Society and a member of the Philosophical Society as well as President of the Greenock Library in Union Street.

Source - Watt Institution

Central Library, Wallace Place, Greenock

Dr Wallace and his wife had two daughters – Ann Jane Wallace (1858-1913) and Mary Cecilia (1864-1939).  They also had two sons who were, in many ways, a tribute to their parents.  William Wallace (1860-1940), doctor and talented musician who married in 1905 Ottillie Helen McLaren, sculptor (daughter of Lord John McLaren).  The second son was George Williamson Wallace (1862-1952), barrister and Charity Commissioner.

The naming of Wallace Square, or Wallace Place as it is known today, is a tribute to a man who throughout his 50 years of service to the people of Greenock worked tirelessly to improve the sanitary conditions of the town.

Monday 20 March 2023

The Arbuckle window, Old West Kirk

This beautiful stained glass window is to be found in the former church known as the Old West Kirk, Esplanade, Greenock.  It was commissioned by George Arbuckle in memory of his wife, Margaret Arbuckle who died in 1865.  The window shows the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.

The words of the memorial read "In memory of Margaret Arbuckle died 19th December 1865 aged 49.  Erected by her husband George Arbuckle".

George Arbuckle was born in Kilmarnock in 1818 and married Margaret Arbuckle in Ayr in 1842.  They moved to Greenock where their son, James Arbuckle was born in 1843.  James Arbuckle was a successful butcher in business with his cousin Matthew Arbuckle.  They had premises in West Blackhall Street.  He also owned property locally.  He was a member of Greenock Town Council for several years and was also a member of the Prison Board.  He took an active part in local affairs.

Source - Greenock Burns Club

He took a large part in the restoration of the Old West Kirk in the 1860s and became an elder, trustee and at one time treasurer of the church.  After the death of his first wife, he went on to marry Jessie Harvie in 1867.  Jessie was the widow of Captain Archibald McIntyre of the ship Julia.

George Arbuckle died in 1879 at Eldon Villa, Eldon Street, Greenock.  His memory lives on in this wonderful window.

Source - Greenock Burns Club

Sunday 19 March 2023

Greenock's link to Tutankhamun's Curse!

In early January 1924 Sir Archibald Douglas Reid (1871-1924) had been invited to Egypt by Howard Carter in the hope that he could x-ray the mummy of King Tutankhamun.  Unfortunately before he could travel to Egypt, Sir Archibald Douglas Reid died at Chur in Switzerland on 17 January 1924.  He had suffered for several years from radiation dermatitis and had travelled to Switzerland in the hope of recovering his health.  His name is often listed among those who supposedly died mysterious deaths as a result of Tutankhamun's curse.  He had been ill long before the discovery of the tomb.  But what was the Greenock connection?

Source - Wikipedia

Dr Archibald Douglas Reid married Greenock woman, Annie Allan Clapperton in 1909.  Annie was the daughter of John Clapperton (1834 -1903), ship owner and produce broker and his wife Annie Miller Allan (1844-1936) who were married in 1864 at Greenock.  Annie was born in 1869, one of several children.  The family lived at Margaret Street in Greenock. 

Source - Greenock Burns Club

Archibald Douglas Reid was a pioneer of the new science of radiology.  During WWI he worked for British forces both at home and abroad.  Between 1914 and 1919 he was President of the War Office X-ray Committee.  In 1917 he was awarded the CMG and in 1919 the KBE.  He was the first President of the Society of Radiographers.  He worked at St Thomas’s Hospital in London.  He died in Chur, Switzerland in January 1924.  His widow, Greenock’s Annie Allan Clapperton, Lady Reid, died in 1959 at Hythe in Kent.

Saturday 18 March 2023

The first Crawfurd of Cartsburn

Thomas Crawfurd (1631-1695) was awarded the Barony of Cartsburn in 1669.  He was the second son of Cornelius Crawfurd of Jordanhill and Mary Lockhart.  

He lived in Glasgow and was  General Collector of Taxes for Renfrewshire during the time of Oliver Cromwell.  He managed to keep this office under Charles II.

Thomas Crawfurd also served in the Renfrewshire militia at this time when there was a lot of political and religious unrest in Scotland.  One of the more interesting adventures of the militia involved Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll (1629-1685).  The Earl had led an uprising to overthrow James VII because of his Catholicism.  After many adventures he was captured at Inchinnan and taken to Renfrew by members of the militia including Crawfurd.  Argyll was executed at Edinburgh in 1685.  

In the car park of the Normandy Hotel (Inchinnan Road) are the Argyll Stones which are said to be the place where Argyll was captured by the Renfrewshire militia.  The stones are fenced off and have other interesting stories attached to them in connection with St Conval.

It was reported that Argyll had a particular regard for Thomas Crawfurd and presented him with a silver snuff-box.  He was quoted as saying “Thomas, it has pleased Providence to frown on my attempt, but remember, I tell you, err long, One shall take up this quarrel whose shoes I am not worthy to carry, who will not miscarry in his undertaking”.  The snuff box was kept in the family for many years.

Thomas Crawfurd (1st) of Cartsburn (1631-1695) married firstly, Jean Maxwell (daughter of John Maxwell of Auldhouse, merchant burgess of Glasgow).  This marriage produced two daughters - Marion Crawfurd who married William Walkinshaw of Scotstoun, and Mary Crawfurd who married Alexander Yuill of Dalreith (Bonhill, Dunbartonshire).

Secondly he married Joan Semple (daughter of Andrew Semple of Milnbank).  This marriage produced - (not in order)- Thomas Crawfurd (who would succeed his father), George Crawfurd - destined for the church, but became a historian, Hugh (Hew) Crawfurd of Woodside near Paisley who married Jean Maxwell, daughter of Zacharias Maxwell of Blawarthill (Glasgow), Margaret Crawfurd who married John Forbes of Knapperny, Bethia Crawfurd who married John Leslie of Newlands and Jean Crawfurd who married James Schaw.

Thomas Crawfurd was the first of Cartsburn and his family would go on to play a vital part in the interesting history of Greenock.

Wednesday 15 March 2023

Westburn Parish Church, Greenock

Westburn Parish Church can be found on Nelson Street in Greenock.  Built in 1841 it has a wonderful history.  Over the years many other congregations have joined this church often bringing much of their important pieces of church furniture with them.  As a result of this, Westburn has over 24 memorial plaques within the building.  Most of them in memory of those whose families belonged to the church and lost their lives in World War 1 (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945).  Perhaps your ancestors are among them.

Download the Westburn Parish Church History and Memorial Plaques document (click on highlighted text) and you will find an alphabetical list of all those names as well as a photograph of the plaque on which they are mentioned.

You will also find an interactive plan of the church showing exactly where each plaque is situated.  You might be able to find out more about your family history from the site Inverclyde's Great War (click on highlighted text) which has details of many of the locals who lost their lives in conflict.  Often there are photographs and family details of the various local service personnel who served their country.  

Westburn Parish Church is still used as a place of worship and therefore is open most Sundays (check their website for details),

Tuesday 14 March 2023

Resources for Greenock family history research

I often get inquiries from people researching an Inverclyde connection in their family history.  Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow, as well as the villages of Inverkip and Kilmacolm were once part of Renfrewshire which makes things a wee bit confusing sometimes.  I've updated my Family History Research Leaflet because many of the links (especially those of Inverclyde Council) were no longer working or had been moved.

If you are interested in researching your family history, then here are a few online resources to get you started.  You can download my Family History Booklet here.  It contains more resources and information.

Inverclyde Council
Our local council have an incredible amount of online information available.
Check out the Inverclyde Council website.

Of specific interest is the Intimations section which contains all the birth, death, and marriage details which were posted in the local press from 1800-1918.

Another section contains Post Office Directories for the area from 1783-1912.  These list people, their occupations and addresses - a bit like a telephone directory.

Inverclyde Council have a huge collection of old photographs of the area which give an amazing insight into the old streets and living conditions of the area.

Inverclyde’s Great War - lots of information about local people who fought and died during World War I.  Some biographical details and photographs are included.

Old Local Maps
Greenock has seen many changes over the years and perhaps the street where your ancestor lived doesn’t appear on modern maps.  The National Library of Scotland has a site which has old town plans and maps for all of Scotland.

Modern Maps
Just type in the street and town and Google will find it for you and show you a map of the area.

Census Information
A good, free site for some census information for a lot of Britain (only certain years in some places) is FreeCen.  It has census information for Renfrewshire for 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871.

Family Search
Run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Family Search contains lots of information of births and marriages in Renfrewshire.

Local News
Our local newspaper is the Greenock Telegraph.
Inverclyde Now also provides local information.

Hope this helps!

Thursday 9 March 2023

A Wyllieum welcome to Greenock

Update - The Wyllieum art gallery in Greenock is now open.  

Check website for details of opening times.

Named after George Wyllie, artist who had a long association with the area.  You can see plans and more of how the building will look by clicking here on the Richard Murphy Architects site. The building is in Greenock's Waterfront area adjacent to the Waterfront Cinema.  Read more about Greenock Ocean Terminal by clicking on link.

The Wyllieum will welcome cruise passengers from all over the world here to Greenock and will be a great asset to the people of Greenock too.  There is going to be a restaurant on the upper floor which will have wonderful views of the River Clyde.  There will also be an exhibit of Wyllie's work.

You can see Wyllie's work - Caged Bird - in the grouds of the Watt Institution in Kelly Street in Greenock.

Wednesday 8 March 2023

Rum, the Revenue and a rammy

Smuggling was part of everyday life in a port like Greenock in the early 18th century.  Local seafarers knew all the best places locally to land some of their cargo before having to declare the goods to the customs officials or Revenue.  This report of rum smuggling and revenge appeared in The Scots Magazine of 1776.

Ninian Scott was a shipmaster of Greenock.  He and his father owned the brigantine Bell which returned to the Clyde from a trip to Barbados with a cargo of rum.  At Cape Clear in Ireland and at Arran in the Clyde quantities of rum were smuggled from the ship.  As the vessel approached Greenock harbour, Alexander Thomson, Customs Officer at Greenock boarded and discovered that not all the cargo was present.  He placed some of his men on board so that no more of the cargo could be “disposed of”.  He then went off to chase the boats which had taken the rum to Arran managing to seize one of them. 

After consulting the Collector and Comptroller of Customs at Greenock, he seized Scott’s vessel, put his own men in charge of her and took her into Greenock harbour.  Some casks of rum which did not appear in the ship’s books were seized.  Scott “threatened vengeance against Thomson and his men and returned to his ship on 12 August and demanded that his ship be returned to him.  He was told that the Board of Customs would have to agree to this, he again threatened violence.  Thomson went ashore to report Scott’s behaviour at the Custom House.  Scott followed him and “struck him two blows on the head”.  One of Thomson’s men on coming to his defence was also attacked and this started a “rammy” between the Scott's friends and the customs officers.

Greenock harbour

The Board of Customs called in the Sheriff and Captain Scott was charged with the offences.  Scott retaliated by bringing an action against Thomson.

Scott did not appear at the trial, which proceeded in his absence.  During the trial it was discovered that Scott had also managed to “persuade” two material witnesses for Thomson not to appear.  A warrant was issued for the apprehension of Scott and the witnesses.  The witnesses had disappeared, but Scott was found and taken to the court.  He stated that he knew who the witnesses were and had walked down the street with them, but denied that he had spoken to them about the trial.  On further questioning he admitted that the had “carried away” the witnesses and bribed them to “conceal themselves until the trial was over”. 

Thomson and his men were acquitted and found entitled to expenses of £100.  Scott was committed, but later liberated on “finding caution” – paying expenses.

It would appear that Captain Thomson, the customs official was not a popular man.  A year later in 1777, a report in the Glasgow Journal states that he and his men were attempting to board a ship that was smuggling spirits.  The crew assaulted them with sticks and stones and one of the customs men fell overboard and died, another had a broken arm and bruised head the rest of the men gave up and returned to their ship.  The article ends “It is thought that the perpetrators will be brought to condign punishment”.

Just a couple of the many smuggling stories from Greenock.