Tuesday 28 May 2024

The original Glebe Sugarhouse

Greenock’s first Glebe Sugarhouse (and the fifth sugarhouse to be constructed in the town) was built sometime in 1811 or 1812.  It was situated around Ardgowan Street, Clarence Street, Nelson Street and Crawford Street as this advertisement for its sale in 1814 shows. 

The advertisement reads: -  The Glebe Sugarhouse in Greenock
To be sold by public roup, within the Tontine Tavern, Glasgow, on Wednesday the 28th day of September current, at 12 o’clock noon.
All and whole the GLEBE SUGARHOUSE, in GREENOCK, belonging to the sequestrated estate of ROBERT TAYLOR and Co, Commission Agents in Edinburgh, with the whole Utensils therein.  These premises extend to 230 feet in length, in front of Ardgowan Street, 136 feet in front of Clarence Street, 19½ in front of Nelson Street, and 140½ feet in front of Crawford Street; and, as the buildings were originally erected for a Sugarhouse, they are particularly well adapted for carrying on the trade of sugar refining.
For further particulars application may be made to William Mylne, merchant in Leith, the trustee; John Muir, writer in Greenock; or Thomas Johnston, 37 Albany Row, Edinburgh, in whose hands are the title-deeds and articles of roup.”

That may be a bit confusing at first, because today Nelson Street and Ardgowan Street are in the west end of the town, Crawfurd Street no longer exists, and Clarence Street is generally now known as Container Way.  So where was this Glebe sugarhouse?  It is all in the name – Glebe.  In past times, a glebe was “a portion of land assigned to a parish minister in addition to his stipend”.  So, from that we would assume that this Glebe had to be near Greenock’s main church.  That’s exactly where it is.  Check out the map below.  There you will see the Old West Kirk at the eastern section of the clip and the other streets mentioned in the advertisement.

The sugarhouse was started by William Leitch & Company.  In August 1828 many of the works in the town were “inspected” by Earl and Lady Cathcart accompanied by Sir Michael and Lady Shaw Stewart.  A newspaper report describes the reason for the visit was “to examine the progress of improvements in the town during the long period which he had been absent from it – no less than fifty years”!

In July 1834 the workers at the sugarhouse went on strike demanding higher wages.  They marched through Greenock stopping at all the other sugarhouses in the town conferring with the workers in these in the hope that they would join them.  Their employer, William Leitch demanded that they go back to work, threatening to bring in workers from Liverpool to take their places.  They eventually returned to work.  (The company also had a refinery in Liverpool.) 

By 1843 the Glebe sugarhouse was owned by Connal and Parker.  When Matthew Parker retired it became known as E Connal & Co.  Ebenezer Connal had previously been involved with the Finnieston brewery and distillery along with other members of his family. 

In 1849 disaster struck.  At four o’clock in the morning of Sunday 22 April, the alarm was raised that a fire had broken out at the sugarhouse in the Glebe belonging to Ebenezer Connal & Co.  Fire engines were quickly on the scene and quickly got to work hosing down the western end of the building where the fire had originated.  The building was a mass of flames the scene described as “one of terrific grandeur”.

After two hours ablaze, the roof collapsed on the three-storey building, taking all the sugar making equipment in its path down with it.  The firemen worked hard to contain the fire and successfully stopped it from spreading to nearby buildings.  150 puncheons of molasses were rolled out and stored safely away from the burning building.  Clarence Street, opposite the sugarhouse was covered with several inches of boiling molasses which had escaped from the building.  Barricades were erected in the event of the rest of the building collapsing and to prevent pilfering.  The total loss incurred was believed to be about £20,000 which included building, machinery, and stock.  Fortunately, everything was insured, no lives were lost and no injuries were incurred.  Unfortunately, the damage meant that many of the sugarhouse workers no longer had jobs to go to. 

The refinery was not rebuilt for some time.  In 1850 what remained was sold including: - “Animal Charcoal, Charcoal Cisterns, Steam Boilers, Melting Pan, Heaters, Steam and other Pipes, Brass Valves, a quantity of Copper, and a great variety of other articles used in the process of Sugar Refining …”.

In 1853 the ruins had been replaced by a large warehouse used by Thorne & Sons as a bonded store holding 3000 puncheons (a puncheon was a barrel holding 70 gallons).  The premises had obviously been enlarged as the dimensions are now quoted as:-“ It forms a square fronting the entire length of Ardgowan-street by about 235 feet, and of Nelson-street by about 195 feet, with a front to Clarence and Crawford-streets of about 140 feet”.  The building remained as warehouse accommodation.

Old West Kirk Glebe

Source - Greenock Burns Club

The Glebe took up quite a considerable space when it was laid out.  It is described as "commencing at the old manse, passing outside the burying-ground wall, crossing what is now Crawfurd Street, comprehending a portion of the area lying between Crawfurd Street on the north and West Blackhall Street on the south, then turning north-westward it meets what is now Boyd Street, down Boyd Street to Clarence Street, and thence turning east ward along the south side of Messrs. Laird & Co.'s ropework to the point first mentioned".  The original manse was much nearer the church at the east end of Clarence Street.
At that time there were eight streets in the Glebe.  Their names reflect both local and national interests.  As for the two main streets, Clarence Street was named after HRH the Duke of Clarence and Crawfurd Street named after Baillie Hugh Crawfurd.  Nelson Street so named after the famous Admiral Lord Nelson.  Ardgowan Street named as a compliment to Sir John Shaw Stewart.
To save confusion when the two Ardgowan and Nelson streets existed at the same time, they were identified as Ardgowan Street (glebe) or Ardgowan Street (west).

The "New" Glebe Sugarhouse
A sugar refinery stood on the site of what is now known as the Glebe Sugarhouse since 1831.  A syndicate of local businessmen known as the "Glebe Sugar Refining Company" under the leadership of Abram Lyle until 1873.  It remained a refinery for many years.
Exciting developments are taking place in the old building.  Creative Regeneration, have big plans for the old building, hoping to turn it into a wonderful space for the community.  They have a fabulous website with lots of information about plans and interesting information about the heritage of the building.  Click on link - Creative Regeneration.

Sunday 26 May 2024

What's in a name?

Passing this gravestone in Greenock Cemetery, it would be natural to think that Doctor Daniel Yeo had been a medical practitioner in the town.  The stone reads:- "To the memory of Doctor Daniel Yeo, died 7 May 1871.  Also Susan his wife died 10 April 1902".

Actually Doctor and Daniel were his given names, his occupation was painter, particularly a painter on velvet.  This is an entry from the catalogue of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 which is describes a piece of his work as a “Specimen of oil painting on white velvet, in which the velvet retains its elasticity and softness, and can be washed or brushed, without injury to the painting or fabric.  Adapted for chair-covers, and general decoration."

Doctor Daniel Yeo (1812-1871) and his wife, Susan Weyman (1819-1902) came to Greenock from Ashburton in South Devon in the early 1850s.  Yeo is the old name for the River Ashburn which runs through the town of Ashburton.  Doctor Daniel became the inspector and measurer of painter’s work in Greenock.  He is described as painter, paperhanger and oil and colour merchant in the local newspaper.  The couple lived at Brisbane Street.  He died in 1871.

After his death in 1871, Susan Yeo, his widow continued to live in the town.  She gave lessons in sewing, wax flower making and also painting on velvet.  Velvet painting seems to have been a popular hobby at the time.  She also seems to have run an employment agency for domestic servants.  Quite an industrious woman.

From a simple headstone in the cemetery lies an unexpected story!

Saturday 25 May 2024

Gregory Watt - the other son

Gregory Watt (1777-1804) was the younger son of Greenock born engineer, inventor and all round genius, James Watt (1736-1819) by his second wife Anne Macgregor (died 1832).  Gregory graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1795 and was cited for “Exemplary Diligence, and Propriety of Conduct, during the Session”.  During his time at the University, he also won prizes in mathematics, Greek, composition and for his essays.  He was said to have “all the genius of his father, with a great deal of animation and ardour which is all his own”.  

Thomas Campbell, Poet (source)

At Glasgow University he met the poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), and they remained friends.  Campbell described him as “a splendid stripling – literally the most beautiful youth I ever saw”.

After he left University, in 1797 he was made a partner in his father’s business, but he suffered from ill health, consumption.  He was sent to Penzance for his health by local physician Dr William Withering (1741-1799).  His father thought that while in Penzance, he could try to learn about the family business.  He travelled to Cornwall with William Murdock (1754-1839), an Ayrshire man who worked for Boulton and Watt at the Soho Works, Birmingham.  Murdock was an engineer and inventor of, among other things, coal gas lighting. He was in Cornwall on business as Boulton and Watt supplied engines for many of the Cornish tin mines. 

Sir Humphry Davy

At Penzance Gregory Watt lodged with Mrs Davy the mother of Humphry Davy (1778-1829).  The young men shared an interest in scientific subjects and conducted various experiments.  Watt was also interested in geology and minerology.  At Penzance he also met up with Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) and his family who were also there “for the air” especially for their son, Thomas Wedgewood (1771-1805).  Wedgwood was a friend of James Watt.

His health having somewhat improved, Gregory returned to Birmingham but did not work with his father and brother.  His interests were in experiments with gasses and air.  He then travelled for his health.  During the winter of 1801/1802 Gregory travelled to Europe.  In Paris he met the Scottish-American geologist William Maclure (1763-1840).  Born in Ayrshire, William Maclure travelled on business between Britain and the United States.  He was in Europe collecting geological specimens to send back to America.  On his return to the United States after his European tour, he produced “Map and Observations on the Geology of the United States”.  He is known as “the father of American geology”.   The pair travelled to Italy.  They reached Naples and, despite Gregory’s bad health, ascended Vesuvius.  This increased Gregory’s interest in geology and he conducted many experiments on basalt.  He also made a geological map of Italy.  In May 1802 in Naples he met William Thomson (1760-1806), a mineralogist.

William Maclure, geologist

Gregory returned home and in 1803 he wrote articles on geology and minerology for the Edinburgh Review.  Unfortunately, Gregory’s health deteriorated.  However, he continued his experiments especially in melting basalt and cooling it.  He took trips to Clifton and Bath with his father and mother in the hope of improving his health.  Dr Thomas Beddoes (1760-1808) attended him.  Beddoes was the leading physician of that time in treating tuberculosis and had attended Gregory’s younger sister, Jessie who had died of the same disease a few years earlier.  Later the Watt family travelled to Exeter.  Watt was very concerned for his son and wrote to his business partner, Boulton – “Ever since we left Bath ours has been a state of anxiety very distressing to us”.  Gregory Watt died at Exeter aged just 27 and was buried in Exeter Cathedral.

Thomas Beddoes

James Watt and his wife were devastated at the death of their son.  The contents of James Watt's workshop from the family home at Heathfield, Birmingham were transfer to the Science Museum in London.  Among the tools, papers and various other odds and ends was a travelling trunk.  It contained the schoolbooks of his beloved son, Gregory Watt.  He had been unable to throw them away.

James Watt's workshop

Gregory Watt's paper on basalt was published in the Philosophical Transactions Royal Society and read before the Royal Society of London in May 1804, just a few months before his death.

Gregory Watt - death notice

The Pneumatic Institute was set up by Thomas Beddoes in Bristol in 1799 for medical research.  Humphrey Davey was Superintendent and had been recommended by Gregory Watt.  James Watt made some of the equipment for the institute which experimented with gasses and their effect on health.

Sir Humphry Davy was related to the Shaw Stewart family and often visited their estate at Ardgowan.

Friday 24 May 2024

Recruiting at Greenock

This article appeared in the Caledonian Mercury dated 28 March 1792.  It gives a wonderful description of a Royal Navy recruiting squad in Greenock.  

The article reads:- "Our recruiting has begun today with spirit – a neat small boat, handsomely painted and ornamented, with ensign, pendant and jack, was mounted on a four-wheeled carriage, and manned with four handsome boys, dressed in white frocks and trousers, and black caps banded with blue ribbons, inscribed “Clyde Volunteers”.

"A Ship Master dressed in sailor’s jacket and trousers, with a huge hanger in his hand, and a fur cap on his head, sat as coxswain.  The boat was drawn through all the streets, the boys imitating the actions of rowers".

"It was preceded by the Commissioners with fiddles, playing “Rule Britannia” etc and followed by the Volunteers, with blue inscribed ribbons in their hats, marching with drums and fife.  The Ship Master harangued at proper stations.  Beef and biscuit were handed from the boat; and the air resounded with “God save the King, down with the French, huzza!”

Must have been quite a show!

Saturday 18 May 2024

Fire at the Ardgowan Distillery - river of burning whisky

The fire at the Ardgowan Distillery in Greenock in June1903 was one of the worse fires Greenock had ever experienced and resulted in the deaths of seven people. 

The Ardgowan Distillery had only been in existence for five years.  It stood at the top of Baker Street in Greenock and was opened in 1898.  It was a large building with a Coffey’s patent still, one of the largest of its kind at the time, capable of dealing with 8000 gallons of wash per hour.  The mash-house contained mash and maize tuns (casks) which held over 60 gallons.  Much of the grain for the works was brought into the James Watt Dock from the Black Sea ports such as Sulina.  There was also a six storey bonded warehouse attached, Russell & Spence were the consulting engineers for the building which was added in 1899.  The Ardgowan Distillery and the Adelphi Distillery in Glasgow were taken over by Distillers Company Ltd in June 1902. 

On Friday 12 June 1903 just after six o’clock, the police were notified that a fire had broken out in the Ardgowan Distillery’s store where the barrels of whisky were kept.  The Fire Brigade, under their chief William Taylor, rushed to the scene.  Bluejackets and marines from HMS Benbow (Clyde guardship) quickly arrived to aid the firefighters.  Within a very short space of time flames broke through the roof of the building and could be seen for miles around.  People gathered in Wellington Park and other vantage points to watch proceedings and the local Volunteers added their assistance in fighting the fire.  It was said that the heat from the fire could be felt as far away as the Wellpark.

The Distillery was in a densely populated part of Greenock and soon local householders in Ingleston and Baker Streets started moving their furniture and valuables outside, afraid that the fire would spread to their homes.  A river of burning whisky from the stores ran down Baker Street setting alight any furniture which had been left out in the street – “The burning torrent poured down Baker Street several inches in depth, and with the flames mounting into the air to a distance of about seven feet the crowd saw the imminent danger not a moment too soon … fortunately no person in the crowd was caught.” 

The Greenock Telegraph describes the scene – “About forty families in this neighbourhood took leave of their homes, and many pathetic scenes were witnessed as little children ran here and there looking for their parents, and equally anxious mothers bustled about with tearful faces looking for missing little ones.

However, as the burning whisky ran downhill it also got into the water system which fed the local foundries and mills.  An explosion took place at Muir & Sons Grain Mill at (Deerpark Mill) on the corner of East Stewart and Springkell Streets and the building collapsed.  This was where most of the casualties occurred.  Flames spread through what was left of the building.   Several people had been in this area when the building collapsed, and rescuers spent many hours clearing away the rubble in the hope of finding survivors.  One hundred bluejackets from HMS Benbow were marched to the scene to assist.  Nine people were rescued and sent to the Infirmary in Duncan Street.  Seven people, including women and children died that night. Among the dead were Archibald Nicol (15), Agnes Dunlop or Purcel (48), William Sloan (16), David Collins (8), Chrissie Buchanan (4), William Richardson (50) and an unknown boy.  Many more were injured.

The burning liquor, once in the water system got as far as Stanners Street to the east of the town and there was some panic there with people taking their belongings out into the street.  But there was little damage there.

As night fell, the fire continued to blaze, lighting up the sky and was visible for miles around.  Many people travelled to the area to view the scene and the police were kept busy containing the spectators.  The building collapsed and firefighters had a difficult job trying to stop the flames spreading from the store to the distillery itself. It was three o’clock in the morning before the fire was eventually contained.  It was estimated that a million gallons of whisky were destroyed.

During the blitz blitz of May 1941 the Ardgowan Distillery was once again set on fire during the heavy bombing by the Germans during WWII.

Thursday 16 May 2024

William Spence and logarithms

William Spence died in 1815 at the age of just 37.  Born in Greenock in 1777 he became an accomplished mathematician.  He was so well regarded that a subscription was raised to mark his life with a memorial in the Mid Kirk of Greenock.  There it can still be seen today, more than 200 years after his death. 

Picture source - Watt Institution

William Spence was the son of Greenockian Ninian Spence (1727-1797), coppersmith, who had married Sarah Townsend in 1766.  William was born in July 1777.  His father owned several properties in Greenock – their home in Hamilton Street, a tenement later the site of Gourock Ropeworks Stores facing Shaw and Cross Shore Streets (Spence’s Land) and another tenement at the head of William Street later the site of the British Linen Company and Provident Bank.  In 1793 Ninian Spence was the Town Treasurer.  William’s grandfather, John Spence, also a coppersmith was married to Jean Rowan (he married three times).  Ninian was their son.

 Aged just four, William Spence sent to the English School in the Royal Close and later to the Grammar School.  He also received lessons in arithmetic and writing in another school in the same building.  That’s where he met his lifelong friends, John Galt and James Park.  At the age of twelve he was interested in science, constructing brass cannons, making gunpowder and fulminating powder (explosive powder) to the extent of conducting experiments in the home and gaining the admiration of his young schoolfriends Galt and Park.  In his biography of Spence, Galt would later write – “His manners also were no less peculiar and his staidness was so remarkable, even before he became a mathematician, that about the age of fourteen he obtained from his companions the title of the Philosopher; and this title, although certainly not intended as a mark of respect, was undoubtedly bestowed from a sentiment of that kind mingled with something in ridicule of his constitutional gravity.

After receiving his education, Spence was sent to Glasgow and placed in the offices of a friend of his father a Mr Struthers who as well as conducting business, was interested in mathematics.  He passed that interest on to Spence.  He occasionally returned to visit Greenock but at that point he had outgrown his former schoolmates.  Galt writes - “By this time we had put off the carelessness of schoolboys and began to pay some attention to dress; but our friend was moving altogether in a different sphere.  His apparel was of the gravest hue and the most formal cut, and worn with a degree of negligence that might well have become a much older philosopher.”


He remained working with Struthers until 1797.  His father had died, and he returned to live with his mother in Greenock.  Once back in the town he joined the literary society. Spence was also interested in music, composing and playing the flute.  He and his brother John (an accountant) became subscribers to the Greenock Library which he presented with an autographed  copy of his essay “Logarithmic Transcendents”.  He also presented several books to the “Foreign Library” (foreign language library, Greenock) in 1808.

In 1805 he, along with Park, travelled throughout England and visited Galt who was living in London at the time.  In 1814 he again travelled to London and married Sarah Gardner at St Pancras Church, London on 12 September.  They returned to Scotland and he died in a hotel in Glasgow where they were staying for the night on 20 May 1815.

The following obituary appeared in the Greenock Advertiser – “in the 37th year of his age, a loss which the scientific world has reason to lament, and which will long be felt by a circle of friends in England as well as in Scotland, who knew and admired his genius, and to whom he was endeared by his many private virtues and amiable qualities.  Of his profound mathematical researches he had given some proof in a paper read a few years ago before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and which he afterwards printed in a more enlarged form for the use of his scientific friends and particularly of the few eminent mathematicians In Britain and on the Continent who alone were capable of estimating the value of his labours.  At the time of his death he had another work in the press of still greater promise, and he has left behind him a large collection of manuscripts which prove the zeal with which he had cultivated the science of mathematics, the boundaries of which he is understood to have materially extended.

Unfortunately Spence died intestate and without issue.  In 1817 his widow presented to the Greenock Library “the whole of the mathematical collection of her late husband for the purpose of founding a Mathematical Library for the use of the students of the town of Greenock, agreeably to her husband’s wishes and intentions expressed to herself”.  It was known as “The Spence Library” and contained about 200 volumes. 

In the New Parish Church (now known as Wellpark Mid Kirk) is a marble tablet.  The inscription reads – “In memory of William Spence, Esq.  His friends and fellow citizens have subscribed this tribute to his worth.  His mathematical works form a more lasting memorial of his talents.  He was born at Greenock on 31st July 1777 and died May the 28th 1815.  This was the church in which he worshipped when he was in Greenock along with this sister and wife.

In 1819 his mathematical essays were edited by John FrederickWilliam Herschel (1792-1871).  Galt wrote a biography of Spence for this publication.  The portrait of Spence which can be seen at the top of this post, was presented to the Greenock Library by David Agnew who also donated a likeness of John Galt.

Monday 6 May 2024

The Bell Entry, Greenock

The increase in trade across the Atlantic with America in the 1740s and 1750s made the need for more storage space for imported goods in Greenock particularly important.  The cellars (as the warehouses were called) that existed, did not provide enough accommodation for the rise in the amount of goods coming into Greenock.  Merchants in Greenock, as well as the Glasgow tobacco merchants urged the Magistrates and Council to build new cellars near the harbour.  

The Town Cellars, as the Bell Entry was originally termed, were constructed in 1750 at the entrance to the West Harbour near the bottom of the Vennel, a major street in Greenock at the time.  The stone for the cellars, (and many other buildings in Greenock at this time came) from quarries at Finnart – in the west of the town, which at the time was way out in the country. 

Picture source - Greenock Burns Club

A few years later many of those who worked around the harbour decided that a clock was needed in the area as well as a bell to indicate starting and finishing times for work.  In the book “Views and Reminiscences of Old Greenock” (James McKelvie & Son, 1891), is an extract taken from local council minutes of November 1754 – “It was proposed that a Bellhouse be erected upon the roof of the New Cellars, to be so executed as that a clock may be placed therein”.  A wooden bell tower, which some say was designed by James Watt’s father (a member of the council at that time), was erected above the archway which led to the passage through the building and a bell and clock incorporated.  The place then got the name “Bell Entry”.  

The bell was purchased in Glasgow and, as recorded in “Historical Sketches of the Town and Harbours of Greenock” (Dugald Campbell, 1879) weighed 2cwt 3qrs and 2lbs and cost 1s 2d per pound, the total came to £18 1s 8d”.  The clock, with four hands was bought from Jordan watchmaker, Glasgow.  This was the only public clock in the town until the spire of the Mid Parish Church in Cathcart Square was erected in 1787.

The passageway through the building had a very practical use.  An idea of why they were built in such a manner can be seen from Greenock Merchant James Scott on obtaining land in the area just before the town cellars were built, petitioned the Magistrates and Council – “In the event of Tobacco Cellars being built – there shall be a gate in the middle of the wall (enclosing the ground) through which the said James Scott and his foresaids shall have liberty to roll their tobacco into the closs belonging to the community immediately at the back thereof, and of dressing the same there…”.  At this time most cargoes were transported and stored in wooden barrels.

Picture source - Greenock Burns Club

The bell and clock were in use until 1839 when the bell tower was removed as it deemed dangerous.  The Bell Entry had a number of other uses over the years as more warehouses were built.  For a while a loft in the eastern part of the building was used as a chapel for the Seamen’s Friends’ Society.  Over the years as can be seen from these old photographs, the building became very run down and in 1880 the western part of the Bell Entry was demolished in the name of town improvements. 

Curiously, in 1880 when a new badge of office (costing £60), was being designed for the town’s Dean of Guild (the council official responsible for buildings in the town), it contained an image of Art on one side and an image of the Bell Entry on the other.  On presenting the badge to the Dean of Guild, Allan Bertram Smith, the Provost, Dugald Campbell, said of the Bell Entry that – “it was a relic of Greenock 150 years ago” and that he hoped that the Dean of Guild “will take measures, if not too late, to preserve a more substantial relic than even the view of it on the badge.”  The newspaper article goes on to say, “There are surely some of the old stones, which could be retained and placed, say somewhere about the New Corporation Buildings or better still, they might be presented to the Watt Monument Committee, if that somnolent body has not breathed its last.”  Another newspaper article commented on this badge being given to the Dean of Guild – “If every member of Council is to receive a golden badge, the sooner we see about the importation of Californian mines over to the old country the better”.  

Picture Source - The Watt Institution

Over the years, the Bell Entry changed from being a proud testament to Greenock’s trade to becoming an overcrowded and unhealthy place.  Crime was rife – assaults, theft, prostitution and shebeening (sale of unlicensed alcohol) just some of the examples.  Fortunately today there are still images of the Bell Entry as it was in its heyday.

Sunday 5 May 2024

John Galt - Steamboat tales

John Galt’s work “The Steam Boat” or as it was advertised – “The Steam Boat; or the Voyages and Travels of Thomas duffle, cloth-merchant in the Salt Market of Glasgow” was published in 1821.  It is a wonderful collection of short stories told by Galt's character, Thomas Duffle as he heard on his various travels by steamboat from Glasgow.  His fellow travellers provide him with fabulous stories of their own lives as they go down the River Clyde from Glasgow to various places on the steamboat’s route.

Port Glasgow former Town Buildings

Thomas Duffle himself narrates his own views on the various landmarks they pass and of special interest are his observations on Greenock and Port Glasgow and the perceived (or perhaps real) views of the differences between Portonians and Greenockians and what each thinks of the other.  Of course, Port Glasgow was where Britain's first commercial steamship "Comet" was built in 1812 at John Wood's Yard in the town which makes the stories even more interesting.

Dry Dock mural, Port Glasgow

At a stopover in Port Glasgow, Duffle narrates “I was thankful when the vessel reached the quay of Port Glasgow, where I went on shore to take my breakfast an an inn, being resolved to leave her there and travel by myself on to Greenock, which is situated about three miles to the westward.  This determination, as it proved, was most judicious on my part; for I found a comfortable house, and great civility in the attendance, facing the shipping in the harbour, with excellent warm rolls, piping hot from the baker’s, and fresh herring that would have been a treat at any time”. 

Comet passing Dumbarton Rock

Duffle then goes on a walk around the town – “The waiter, to be sure, as his wont doubtless is with all strangers, directed my attention to the steeple, telling me that it was higher than the Greenock one”.  The visitor then satisfies himself that the steeple is not, as was a derogatory comment doing the rounds at the time, crooked, but perfectly straight.  He continues – “I visited the dry-dock, a very useful place for maritime purposes of various sorts, especially for repairing vessels’ bottoms; and then I went to investigate that famous antiquity, the old castle”.

Newark Castle, Port Glasgow

He also has views on the local people - “I saw several of the inhabitants at their shop-doors, and some elderly characters standing forenent the inns, waiting for the London papers.  Upon the whole they appeared to be a hamely race …”.  So ends Duffel’s short stay in Port Glasgow as he then travels on by coach to Greenock. 

It is still possible to recognise several of the places named by Galt.  The steeple referred to is that of the former town buildings and now Port Glasgow's library.  In 1821 the only other comparable steeple in Greenock was that of the Mid Kirk in Cathcart Square.  Unfortunately the dry-dock is no more, but it used to be situated just at the back of the town buildings and it is possible to see what it would have looked like by examining the wonderful mural on the wall just to the east of the Health Centre car park.  “The old castle” – Newark Castle is fortunately still in existence.

 In January 1884 the Greenock Herald published extracts from the book.

Read more about John Galt and his Greenock connections - The Greenock Galts.  His friend and fellow Canadian explorer was William "Tiger" Dunlop - a fascinating man.  The Story of Bryce Gilliland is a fabulous sea-faring tale,

You can read more about the stories told to Thomas Duffel on the Steamboat on this blog – just click on links.

Buried Alive and a real life tale of experimental galvanism - Dead or Alive!  

The Coronation - a story about the Coronation of George IV - what a strange event!