Monday 17 April 2023

Port Glasgow's Ayrshire family links

This picture, part of an information board at Irvine Harbourside, shows Scots poet Robert Burns with his good friend Richard Brown (1752-1825).  Burns once wrote about Brown – “He was the only man I ever saw who was a greater fool than myself when WOMAN was the presiding star;.” – not bad coming from a man who was well known as a womaniser.    Burns also acknowledged that Brown encouraged him to write poetry.  Brown was six years older than Burns and a seafaring man.  The pair used to go for long walks in Eglinton Woods and Brown would regale Burns with tales of his adventures at sea.

Irvine Burns Club

Captain Richard Brown married Eleanor (Helen) Blair daughter of David Blair.  The couple moved to Port Glasgow from Ayrshire.  Brown sailed from Port Glasgow to the West Indies for John Campbell Sen & Co of Glasgow.  Robert Burns and Richard Brown corresponded over the years.  While in Port Glasgow the Brown family lived at Bay Street.  They had five children.  They had two sons - Richard  and Alexander.  Richard was described as a merchant of Port Glasgow while Alexander was described as shipmaster, like his father.

Their eldest daughter, Jean Brown (1768-?) married James Cleland of Port Glasgow in 1806.  The couple had at least 12 children.  One of their sons, Richard Cleland became Captain of  Cunard Line ships.

Their second daughter, Ann Brown (1788-1827) married Port Glasgow merchant William Hamilton (originally from Ayrshire) in 1810.  William Hamilton left money in his will for a new "Free Church" in the town.  It was called Hamilton Free Church in his honour and built at Princes Street (since demolished).  There is still a church bearing his name in Port Glasgow - Hamilton Bardrainney Church.

Third daughter Eleonora Brown (1792-1858) married Captain Robert Gilkison of Port Glasgow.  The Gilkisons were another Irvine family of seafarers.  One of their sons, Robert Gilkison settled in Dunedin, New Zealand.  A daughter Eleanora Blair Gilkison (1821-1868) married James Allan (from another Ayrshire family) of the Allan Line (shipping).  Many of the Gilkison family are buried in the crypt of Port Glasgow Parish Church.

Through Richard Browns's daughters it is possible to see just how closely these Ayrshire families who moved to Port Glasgow were linked through marriage.  Almost all of them were connected with ships and trade.  Some remained in Port Glasgow, but many travelled far and wide, settling all over Britain and abroad.  Richard Brown's grandchildren were always reminded of their links with Robert Burns as this extract shows.

Richard Brown was an early member of Greenock Burns Club

Sunday 16 April 2023

Kings of Port Glasgow

This gravestone in Port Glasgow churchyard marks the burying place of many of the Kings of Port Glasgow (lair 27).  Murdoch King, a shipmaster married Ann Kelburn in 1753 in Port Glasgow.  They had 10 children - 6 sons and 4 daughters.

Two of their sons Daniel King and John King went to sea like their father.  The brothers married sisters, Ann and Maria Bird whose father, Thomas Bird owned the Sherwood Park Plantation on the island of Tobago in the West Indies.  The wives inherited part of the estate when their father died, bringing a lot of money to the King family. 

Daniel King and Ann Bird had three children - (1) Celia King who married Andrew Scott of Larchgrove. They emigrated to Australia in 1839 and settled at Mount Buninyong in Victoria.  The area of Scotsburn is named after the family. Celia and Andrew had four children, all born in Glasgow before they moved to Australia.  (2) Maria King (1800-1837) married in 1827 in Glasgow, John Park Fleming (a successful lawyer), they had four children.  One of their sons, John King Fleming (1837-1916) emigrated to Australia in 1858 and married Helen Hastie, the eldest daughter of the Rev Thomas Hastie of Buninyong (where his mother's sister, Celia had settled with her family).  He owned property in Australia and died at his residence Kelvinside, Aberdeen, New South Wales.  After Maria's death in 1837, John Park Fleming married (in 1839) Elizabeth Tennant, daughter of John Tennant of Wellpark, the famous Glasgow brewer.  (3) Anne King  married Isaac Toby, an officer in the Royal Marines and they lived in Portsmouth where he was Barrackmaster.  As well as spending time in Tobago, Daniel King also spent time in Dunkirk as a shipowner.

John King is described in marriage announcement as "master in his Majesty's royal navy".  John married Maria Bird in 1805 in Port Glasgow.  Their three children were all born in Plymouth, probably when John King was stationed there.  (1)  John Bird King (1806 -) born at Durnford Street, Stonehouse, Devonshire (now part of Plymouth).  The sponsors at his baptism were Celia McLeod, his grandmother, Captain Nathaniel Cole, Royal Marines and Thomas Savory, purser Royal Marines, proxy for Thomas Bird of Tobago, uncle.  (2)  Henry Curzon King (1811 - 1830) born at Stonehouse and died of a fever at Jamaica.  He was named after Admiral Henry Curzon who was one of the sponsors at his baptism.  The others were Ann Bird King (his aunt) and Normand McLeod.  (3) Thomas Bird King (1813 - ) born at Jubilee Street, Plymouth. Maria King (nee Bird) died in 1817 at Sherwood Park in Tobago.

After Maria died, John King married Margaret Foster of Carnegie Park in Port Glasgow in 1819.  Margaret's father was James Foster and her mother was Jean Carnegie, who had married in 1778 in Port Glasgow.  John and Margaret had five children - (1) James Foster King (1820) married in 1855 in Port Glasgow Maggie Park Turner, daughter of Douglas Turner of Alderwood.  (2) Murdoch Kelburn King (1822-1886) married in 1850 at Port Glasgow, Mary Burrell, daughter of Archibald M Burrell, Provost of Port Glasgow.  Kelburn King moved to Hull where he became surgeon.  He was also President of the Hull Philosophical Society.  The family lived at Sculcoates.  (3) John Carnegie King (1824).  (4) Patrick Allan Carnegie Foster King (1826).  (5) Jane Carnegie King married Dr Henry Llewellyn Williams of Beverley, Yorkshire in 1848 in Port Glasgow.

The names Kelburn and Carnegie are areas in the eastern part of Port Glasgow.  Check out this map to see more details.  The areas were named after the families who owned land in the area.  Much of their wealth came from trade with the East and West Indies.  The Carnegie family were associated with the island of Penang, or Prince of Wales Island as it was known at the time.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Sir Gabriel Wood and the compensation claim

This interesting notice appeared in many newspapers both in Britain and overseas in 1891 in connection with Sir Gabriel Wood (1767-1845), founder of the Mariners' Home in Newark Street, Greenock.

Former Sir Gabriel Wood Mariners' Home, Greenock

It reads:- HEIRS WANTED - Wanted, the next of kin, or heirs, of the late Sir Gabriel Wood, Commissary General of the Forces, some time residing in Greenock, in Scotland and latterly in Bath in England where he died without issue on 29th October 1845.  Sir Gabriel Wood was a son of Gabriel Wood, merchant, Greenock, who died in Greenock in 1822.  In 1796 he was Vice-Consul for the State of Maryland.  He afterwards resided in the West Indies, and before finally returning to Great Britain was resident in various places in Canada as Commissary-General of Accounts for British North America.  He had a number of brothers and sisters, some of who went abroad, and they may have descendants living.  Should any of the relatives of Sir Gabriel Wood be alive and will communicate with the subscribers they will receive information which will be of advantage to them.  J. C. Smith, Macdonald & Crawford, Solicitors, Greenock, North Britain.

In 1891 a firm of Solicitors in Baltimore had contacted the “Mayor of the town of Greenock” asking for information about a one time Maryland resident, Gabriel Wood.  Gabriel Wood is best known in Greenock as the founder of the Sir Gabriel Wood Mariners' Home in Newark Street, Greenock.  He was born in Gourock in 1767 to merchant Gabriel Wood and his wife Ann Stuart (Stuarts of Castlemilk, owned Gourock estate).  Gabriel Wood worked for the Government and in 1796 he accompanied Sir Robert Liston (1742-1836) to America where he was vice Consul for the State of Maryland. 

While in Maryland he set up business as Gabriel Wood & Co, owning several ships.  He was a partner in the firm of Findlay, Bannatyne & Co, running the Baltimore branch of the company trading between Britain, America and the West Indies.  Several of his ships had been captured by the French during what is know as the “Quasi War” with France.  A claim had been made by the American Government against the French Government for the value of all vessels owned by American citizens captured by the French.  Somehow Gabriel Wood was listed as due compensation for his lost ships.

From the Barbados Mercury 1810

He returned to Britain in 1806 and was shortly afterwards sent to the West Indies as Commissary General of Accounts.  In 1811 he was stationed in the Mediterranean, returning to Britain in 1816.  His next appointment was as Commissary General of Accounts in Canada, but had to return to Britain in 1823 because of ill health.  He received a knighthood in 1825.  In 1830 he married Louisa Augusta Fanning, eldest daughter of General Edmund Fanning (who had inherited land in Prince Edward Island from her father). The couple did not have any children.  After his marriage he resided mostly in Bath until his death in 1845.  In his will he bequeathed a sum to be used in establishing a Home for Mariners.  Lady Wood  and Sir Gabriel’s sister, Frances Ann Wood were responsible for the establishing of the Mariners Home.  Presumably, over the years, the compensation claim had been forgotten.

However, in 1891 the Baltimore solicitors were looking at unclaimed funds and had contacted authorities in Greenock.  When the notice of "Heirs Wanted" appeared none of the immediate family were still alive.  The beautiful Mariners' Home was their legacy in Greenock.  It was reported that the Solicitors dealing with the matter received over 200 letters from people claiming to be heirs of the Wood family.  Only one was true - a man named Gabriel Watson from Paisley was able to prove to the American Government that his great grandmother was a sister of Sir Gabriel Wood’s father.  The money, compensation for those ships captured almost 90 years previously, was split between Watson and the Mariners' Home.  The Mariners' Home received the sum of £778 from the American Government.

Wood Family grave in Inverkip Street Cemetery, Greenock

Sunday 9 April 2023

Greenock's East End in the 60s

Take a trip back in time to the 60s and early 70s when Greenock's east end was undergoing massive demolition and redevelopment.  Ingliston Street, Belville Street, Lauriston Street, Garvald Street and St Lawrence Street all underwent massive changes.

The tenements on Belville Street were replaced with "high flats" - now also demolished and several well known landmarks like Belville Place School and the East Congregational Church on St Lawrence Street were also closed.

Click the link to check out the video Greenock's East End in the 60s on The Greenockian You Tube Channel.

Saturday 8 April 2023

A succession of Crawfurds

As this memorial tablet shows, sometimes the laws of succession of lands and titles can be a bit tricky to work out.  The tablet has a prominent place in the former Old West Kirk on the Esplanade in Greenock, which houses the Crawfurd family vault.  The Crawfurds owned the lands of Cartsburn or Crawfurdsburn in the east end of Greenock. 

The tablet reads:- Here are deposited the remains of THOMAS CRAWFURD of Cartsburn who departed this life 3rd February 1743 in the 81st year of his age.  Also Ann, his daughter and Margaret Semple his fourth wife. Also Archibald Crawfurd of Cartsburn who departed this life 13th January 1783 in the 74th year of his age and Margaret Cunningham, his spouse who departed this life 23rd August 1787. And Thomas Crawfurd of Cartsburn their son, who departed this life 24 September 1791 In the 46th year of his age.  This monument was erected to their Memory by Christian Crawfurd of Cartsburn, Daughter to the first, and Aunt to the last mentioned Thomas Crawfurd 1792.

The Thomas Crawfurd (1662-1743) named on the memorial is the second of Cartsburn. He succeeded his father in 1695.  (Read about the first Crawfurd of Cartsburn here.)  He was married four times.  First in 1682 - Rebecca Barns (1659-1694), the daughter of Provost John Barns of Glasgow who had business interests in Greenock.  They had a daughter Marion (1688-?) who married Patrick Hunter of Hunterston.  Second in 1695 - Bethia Robertson (daughter of Archibald Roberton of Bedlay), Third in 1717 - Beatrix Clark and fourth in 1729 - Margaret Semple (daughter of William Semple of Cathcart).

Thomas Crawfurd and Bethia Robertson had the following children - (a) Thomas Crawfurd (d.1732).   He became and advocate and married Cecile Forbes (daughter of John Forbes of Knappernay).  Thomas died before his father and without issue.  (b) Archibald Crawfurd (1710-1783)- succeeded his father.  (c) Christian Crawfurd (1705-1796) - succeeded her nephew. 

Third of Cartsburn - Archibald Crawfurd (1710-1783) succeeded his father in 1743.  He married in 1739 - Margaret Cunninghame (daughter of John Cunningham of Caddel and Thorntoun, Ayr). They had one son, fourth of Cartsburn – Thomas Crawfurd (1746-1791) who succeeded his father in 1783 and died in 1791.  Read more about Thomas Crawfurd here.  He wrote to Scottish poet, Robert Burns, in 1788  inviting him to visit Cartsburn.  Thomas was unmarried and died without issue. 

Thomas was succeeded in 1791 by his aunt, fifth of Cartsburn - Christian Crawfurd (1705-1796), daughter of Thomas Crawfurd and Bethia Robertson.  She married Robert Arthur (d. 1779) in 1743 at Greenock.  Robert Arthur was a merchant from Irvine who had business dealings with George Moore of the Isle of Man (among others).  The couple had four children - Bethia (1744-), Thomas (1745-), William (1746-) and Christian (1749-).  Arthur Street in Greenock is named after this family.

At her death in 1796, her only surviving child was her daughter, Christian Arthur Crawfurd and that's where the story starts to get interesting!

Friday 7 April 2023

The death of the Comet 2023

Like a giant shroud, a white curtain surrounds the decaying remains of Port Glasgow's once proud replica steamship Comet.  The wreckage is being removed this week (April 2023).

The ship had been rotting away over the last few years (see previous post "Wreck of the Comet") and as nothing was done to try and remedy that, it became an eyesore and had to be removed.

You can read here more about the original Comet built in Port Glasgow in 1812 by shipbuilder John Wood and the replica which is now being removed, built in Port Glasgow in 1962 to mark the 150th anniversary of the building of the original.

Here's a reminder of how the smart the Comet replica once looked.

Thursday 6 April 2023

Robert Millar - Port Glasgow's first minister

The first minister of the parish of Port Glasgow from 1697 until 1709 was the Reverend Robert Millar.  At this time worship services were held in the “meeting house” (or sail loft) in the town near the harbour and the Minister was provided with a dwelling paid for by the feuers of the town.

Robert Millar  (1672-1752) was the grandson of Andrew Millar of Girvan and son of Andrew Millar (died 1686), minister of Dailly, Ayrshire who had been imprisoned in the tollbooth Edinburgh and Blackness Castle for refusing to read the Proclamation in connection with the Rye House Plot. He was liberated in 1685. 

Robert Millar was educated at the University of Glasgow and licenced by the Presbytery of Paisley. He was called to Port Glasgow on 22 March and ordained on 18 August 1697.  In 1702 Millar married Elizabeth Kelso (1679-1759). Elizabeth was the daughter of John Kelso of Kelsoland, Collector of Customs at Port Glasgow.  He had sold Kelsoland, Largs to James Brisbane of Bishopton. The couple had several children, some of whom were born at Port Glasgow.  After Port Glasgow, Robert Millar was translated to the Abbey Kirk, Paisley in 1709.   He was the author of the “History of the Propagation of Christianity and the Overthrow of Paganism” published in 1723.  


1.    Andrew Millar (1705-1768), born in Port Glasgow, bookseller in London and publisher of the first edition of Johnston’s Dictionary.  Married Jane Johnston, daughter of Andrew Johnston, engraver and print maker of London.  Her grandfather Alan Johnston was minister at Broughton, Edinburgh. Three children died in infancy. 

2.    Elizabeth Millar was born in Port Glasgow in 1708.  Married (1761) James Hamilton her father’s successor as minister of Abbey Church, Paisley.  Elizabeth died in 1798. 

3.    John Millar (died 1738) Minister of Old Kilpatrick.  Licenced by the Presbytery of Paisley in 1727.  Presented by Thomas Earl of Dundonald and ordained 1728.  In 1728 he married Lilias Clark (died 1737), daughter of James Clark minister of Tron Church, Glasgow and his second wife, Christian Montgomerie daughter of Sir Robert Montgomerie of Skelmorlie.  James Clark vehemently opposed the union with England and preached a powerful sermon which led to civil unrest in the city. 

4.    Henry Millar (died1771) Minister of Neilston.  Educated at the University of Glasgow.  Licenced by the Presbytery of Paisley in 1734.  Presented to Neilston by Thomas, Earl of Dundonald and ordained in 1737.  He inherited a large sum from his brother Andrew, publisher in London (see above).  He set up an inkle (linen tape) manufactory in Neilston.  In 1745 he married Robina (d1754) daughter of Alexander Cochrane of Craigmuir.  Children – Marion Millar (1746) married William Fulton, manufacturer at Maxwelltown in 1764.  William Fulton’s father was Humphrey Fulton who is credited with introducing silk manufacturing to Scotland.  His sons followed him in the business in Paisley.   Robert Millar (1749-1763).  Alexander Millar of Dalnair (1751-1790), advocate, married in 1783 Elizabeth Hamilton Edmonston.  Elizabeth Millar (1754) married in 1774 (at Walkinshaw) Alexander Napier (died 1801) of Blackston.  Alexander Napier was a captain in the foot guards.  On leaving the army he made many improvements to his estate of Blackston.  On his death his estate was inherited by his son William Napier, banker in Greenock.  On the failure of the Renfrewshire Bank he sold the Blackston estate to Thomas Speir. 

5.    William Millar (1718-1780), Walkinshaw & Antigua.  Bought Walkinshaw Estate in 1769 from James Walkinshaw.  Made his fortune in Antigua Millar Estate.  A description of him is given in the Cullen Project.  (Family later received monetary compensation for slaves.) 

6.    Archibald Millar (-1766), captain HMS Lyon. Smithhills, Paisley.

7.    Robert Millar - Trained as a doctor.  As a botanist, he was recommended by Sir Hans Sloan to travel in search of medicinal plants for an experimental garden to be set up in Georgia (1732) by the Trustees for Establishing the Colony of Georgia in America.  The project was designed with a view to discovering which plants grew well in that climate with a view to future agricultural successes. 

8.    Anna Millar married (1741) Peter Scott (1695-1753), Minister of Laigh Church, Paisley.  He was the son of John Scott, minister of the Outer High Kirk Parish, Glasgow.  Educated at the University of Glasgow. Licenced by the Presbytery of Glasgow 1731.  Appointed by the Town Council April and ordained (assistant and successor) 1740 admitted to the full charge in 1746.  Children – Elizabeth (1745-) married Robert Fulton, manufacturer (Maxwelltown), Grizel (1748-) married Archibald Davidson minister of Inchinnan. 

Port Glasgow's first parish minister certainly had a very interesting family with links to many other Scottish churchmen and important families.  Robert Millar was just a young man when he started at Port Glasgow and was obviously destined for greater things thus his translation to Paisley where he served for over forty years.  Meanwhile in Port Glasgow, an actual church building would not be provided until 1717 when the Parish Church was constructed.

Sunday 2 April 2023

Greenock Gaol

The prison at Greenock used to be situated on the west side of Bank Street behind what is now Wellpark Mid Kirk in the town.  This description of the prison was given by Prison Inspectors in the 1830s.  

"The building is old and ill constructed, and the propriety of either building a new prison or of making extensive alterations in the present one has been frequently considered.  The prison is situated in a central part of the town, and is near the bottom of a hill, the water that drains from which frequently causes parts of the prison to be damp."

Source - Watt Institution

"The prison is in a very confined situation, and persons without sometimes get on the surrounding wall and communicate with the prisoners, either by calling to the, or occasionally by throwing small packets in at the windows.  The prison is moderately secure, although escapes are sometimes effected.  The number of cells is generally sufficient … so far as to have not more than two prisoners in the same cell."

"The prison is kept in a very clean state, but it is very ill ventilated.  Most of the cells are dry, but some of them are damp.  Such as are heated artificially are so by means of open fires or a stove.  There are, however, but few that are heated at all, and the complaints of the prisoners respecting the cold appear to be well founded, for the employment to which they are put, viz. picking oakum and teasing hair, can do very little towards exciting animal warmth.  The same cells are used for working and sleeping."

 Prison staff consisted of five people – the gaoler, a turnkey, a watchman, a surgeon and a chaplain.  “The different officers appear to be well qualified for their situation and I received no complaint respecting their conduct.  The gaoler is not allowed to sell or let out any article to a prisoner.  He is the only officer who resides in the prison."

Greenock Sheriff Court, Nelson Street, Greenock

This building remained as the prison until a new prison was built behind the Sheriff Court in Nelson Street in the late 1860s.