Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

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Max
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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by Max » Thu Jan 07, 2021 11:20 pm

brian f wrote:
Thu Jan 07, 2021 9:53 pm
Enjoyed reading this. Not sure if am cracked in the head...What is a Herohouse?

The old Parish churchyard in Saltcoats may remind one of the city of the dead. I went one day to visit it and have a look round. I went to the Herohouse where the key at one time was kept. The good woman there said, “Mrs Armour next door keeps it.” I looked in to Mrs Armour's shop and asked for the key. She came with me to open the big gate. I saw in her the image of the saintly Robert Barr, the Sabbath School teacher referred to before. She would be the third or fourth generation down, but there was his image. She knew a great many people of the old times, and spake of them, and, coming out in the lane to open the door for me, she said—“Here is Hugh Higgin's weaver’s shop, and there is his beaming loft upstairs, and there is the Herohouse where he lived.” All this was of interest to me, for Hugh Higgins was a well-known figure in the old times about the Crofthead. I was shown into the churchyard. She said. " Close the gate to keep the boys out," and immediately I felt I was shut in. I remembered the Rev James Hervey and his “Meditations among the Tombs." I felt I was in the city of the dead. What a carrying out of homes to lay loved one’s there. When one wanders among the tombs one cannot help reflecting on the great day when the dead shall arise. Some years ago I met two sisters of the Rev. Mr Orr, of Fenwick. They wanted to see the old burial ground. I got the key and showed them in, and left them to their own meditations. It was my time now to wander among the tombs. The names of many on memorial stones are there. I will mention only a few. But the old church building, over a hundred years old, deserves a place in history. No wonder the Rev. Rossie Brown, the present incumbent of the Parish Church, is making an effort to have a new church put up. We had a look in through the window for the door was shut, and there things were as a century ago. There the ship hung as of old; it has never fallen down and killed anybody sitting below it yet. There the seats with the high backs are as they were long ago. The idea appeared to be that if the face was seen over the bookboard it was enough, or perhaps it was for comfort lest the hearers might get cold. There was the rope and the bell that Jack Ardrossan used to ring. Jock, the foundling, was bell-ringer, beadle, gravedigger, and everything connected with the church. He may have been a little cracked in the head, or simple as we call some people, but he was harmless and obliging.
I found a great explanation of where the name Hero House came from in Chapter 11 of Saltcoats Old and New.

Now the stile is replace by an ancient but unromantic gate. A little pathway led from the Crofthead to the Kirk Stile, to the southeast of which was a square plot. Around this lay the kirkyard and the yard dyke of a sailor. Here came to live and die one whose name will go down to posterity, Hugh Higgin, the occupant of the curious large building known as the "HERO-HOUSE". The name is a vexation to the antiquarians, but its origin is simple, the word "Hero" representing the name of the ship in which the daughter of one of its former occupants shared. It dates from 1783 and looks today much the same as it did when Hugh had his weaving shop and beaming loft here. Hugh lies in the churchyard almost in a straight line from its gable. One of the figures of the neighbourhood was Peter Kelly, the collier poet, born in the Eighteenth Century, who was living up to 1832 in an old building a stone's-throw from the manse. He thought himself equal to Burns, and preserved his dignity as Saltcoats Poet Laureate by his costume, consisting of Kneebreeches and white belt. On Sundays he was conspicuous in his red vest and blue coat. Of a later time was Robert Irvine, the great Freemason, one of the founders of St John's of Ardrossan, who died in 1859.

Here’s a link to a screenshot of an old OS map showing the Hero House name.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KCbbE ... p=drivesdk

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by brian f » Thu Jan 07, 2021 11:32 pm

Thanks- Max.

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by hahaya2004 » Fri Jan 08, 2021 8:58 am

Reminiscences of Old Saltcoats Sixty Years Ago [1840s].
By Captain John Smith.
From the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 30th October 1903

Sixth Article

These were the days of Burke and Hare; medical science was in its infancy, and the Faculty required dead bodies to work on. Saltcoats grave-yard was a resort for student thieves. After a funeral they came up the Kirk road, after the midnight hour, with carriage wheels and horses’ feet muffled, dug up the dead, and carried away the corpses. This was well known, and those friends who were of influence in the town might pay watchers to protect the dead, but oftener it was friends and relatives, who watched for at least two weeks after the funeral, night after night— not the same persons, but usually three or four volunteering to give one night or two nights in the week to sit up and watch. I remember the cudgel with a big heavy head that was kept in our house for the watchnight service in the churchyard, for my father did often that service for friends. We were told the church was their shelter in these nights, and they had games of draughts or cards, and a bottle of whisky to cheer up the weary hours of the night. We also heard of feats by the corpse-lifters watching those inside, who would come out and fire a gun in the air, and go in again to their game while the lifters were at their work, and they knew it not.

This doctrine of the resurrection is worth a thought. The friends in Saltcoats who laid away their precious treasure in the Parish Churchyard expected it would lie there till the resurrection, and expecting a happy union again that happy morn when the dead should arise and they would go in a crowd together to their mansions in the skies, little knowing that their treasure, the very night they parted with it, was carried away to Glasgow or Edinburgh to be cut up and dissected, and burned or buried and destroyed out of sight as they do to all other animal flesh.

I could not help my reverie in the Ardrossan Parish Churchyard, Saltcoats. It may fall to the lot of some other one some day to publish the names and epitaphs on so many of the stones erected there to their memory. One especially affected me not a little—my first captain at sea, Captain David Shanks. What memories it brought up! The kindness of that man to me was unbounded. The time we were together was like an oasis in the desert. So far this world could give happiness I think it did to me, for the sea-life turned out as ideal as I had anticipated it to be. Everything was new, and it was sightseeing all the time. I will not enlarge here; but some day, if spared, I may give another lecture on “The Sea and its Sailors”, and bring in ships and men I have sailed with myself.

The stones in the churchyard recalled many we had known. The M’Fee family are there. That was a race of men famous as sailors. I will not wait to tell all the interesting stories of Dougal M'Fee, the father of that race of sailors; but what rejoiced me most of all was to be told that old Dougal died a Christian death, and that young Dougal, the son, who sailed the “Jane and Grace,’’ so long out of Saltcoats in the Dublin trade, also died a Christian.

There is another family of seafaring men which should have notice, the Listons of Ardrossan. I think Mr Liston came from the East coast and settled in Ardrossan. He became pilot for the Ardrossan harbour. His four or five sons were like himself—hardy sons of the sea. We remember them manning the pilot boat and going out in heavy weather to meet a ship and bring her into port. The sons were thorough sea-going men, and most of them rose to be shipmasters; rough in the exterior they were, but I was glad to hear that Duke Liston, whom I met master of a ship in Bombay, died a Christian man. I take that race to be extinct, but there may be some of their descendants still alive, whom I know not.

There was yet another family of remarkable seamen in Saltcoats. Andrew Ritchie, the fisherman in Saltcoats, was, I believe, an importation. He and his homely and frugal wife must have come to Saltcoats in the early years of last century. They lived in Windmill Street opposite the Rev. James Ellis's manse. Mr Ritchie had several boats, heavy ones for bad weather and light ones for fine weather. He leased the hirst to lay down tons of mussels, which he kept there for baiting his lines. Mr Ritchie baited the long lines to be laid out at night and hauled in in the morning full of fishes great and small, chiefly large flounders. I speak of the time when his boys, five or six, were done with the school, and went with their father to the fishing. They went out and in by the back wall to the dock to their boats. Like the Listons at Ardrossan it was a sight to see such an able lot of men in a boat with their father, going out in coarse and fine weather. They all took to sea, and all became shipmasters in their day, some of them in the foreign and some in the home trade.

Writing about the graveyard in Saltcoats brings up a story that few alive to-day know about. James Wyllie, a watch and clockmaker, had his shop about the middle of Hamilton Street. He was unmarried and had three sisters. They all went to Mr Ronald’s church and were members there. James Wyllie was an intelligent, affable man, and his sisters were quiet, home-abiding people. The brother sickened and died. No one was allowed to enter to see him. The reply to every enquiry at the door for him was, he was a little better to-day. James was dead and hid away. They did not want him to be buried out of their sight. One of them, less eccentric, said their brother was dead, but she must not tell for fear of her sister. The neighbours came in force with a coffin and with Mr Ronald to the usual ceremony of coffining. But the friends were sooner out of the house than the sisters had the body out of the coffin and taken to the back window to see a ship passing up to Ardrossan. Next day, instead of the funeral, they had him hid away, and said he was a wee better for he blew the feather that they held to his mouth. At length there was nothing for it but to enter by force through a window and bring the coffin out and have the body buried. These three sisters went two and two every night for three weeks, sitting on the grave to watch lest anyone would come to steal away their brother. In time one of the sisters sickened and died. The same scene happened over this death. We lived next door, and Mrs Kerr, who lived under the Wyllie’s, came in to our house and said, “Mrs Smith, I think Margaret is dead; that cough so long troublesome had ceased; there is not a sound of any thing.” On enquiry at the door no one got in, but was told she was little better every day. A man the name of John Wilson was got hold of coming from potato digging to go up a ladder and enter the house by the front window. He could find nothing, but opened the door to let others in. A search was made and the body found hid between the mattress and the bed. She was just taken by force and buried. Then the two sisters went through the same operation, sitting on the grave and watching it, but not so long as for the brother. Then came a trouble. Their father had built the house and had a bond on it. No rent had been paid for long, and the bondholder wanted the house or his money. They could not understand that. It was their father’s house, and they would not go out. Mrs Robert Smith, of Glasgow, being a Saltcoats woman, had a number of pensioners in Saltcoats— some relatives and some not. The Wyllie’s being antiburghers belonging to Mr Ronald’s church, she generously took an attic for them in Manse Street, where they were removed to and provided for, for the rest of their days.

While I am writing in this vein, the founding of Saltcoats Female Benevolent Society seventy years ago is worth a reference.
Alexander Smith's school and schoolroom was next door to Mr Wyllie’s shop, and that was the end of the town. The schoolroom was used for meetings of many kinds. Here Mr Mather of Ardrossan held a weekly school. I may not be able to recall all the members of committee who formed Saltcoats Benevolent Society. They met in this schoolroom to organise the society about the year 1833, that is seventy years ago. I only write from memory; I have no data. The record will be somewhere for those who care to search it out. Miss Burns, Miss Ellis, Miss Smith were certainly on the committee, but other ladies of the town, and moving in their circle, were likely to be there—Misses Bolton, M'Nab, Currie, Thomson, Shedden, Workman, and Orr—those were intimate friends and likely to be on the committee, and perhaps many more.

Another sort of club was held in that schoolroom, and was called a menage. Those who joined it paid in so much weekly, and at a certain time the funds were divided, probably at rent time, which might have been a good way of at least securing the rent. Probably there are none alive of those ladies who started these benevolent schemes. We see in the papers the death of Martha Bolton, wife of Rev. James Giffen, Saltcoats, on 27th September last, aged 87, and last year the death of Jane Burns in Hamilton Street, Saltcoats, aged 97, was recorded. Had we known that Jeanie Bums was alive and living in Saltcoats we should have gone to see the once bright, buoyant figure that graced Saltcoats society in her father’s days.

I referred before to Mr Bums, the enterprising chemist, who started the works in Saltcoats, to manufacture salt, magnesia, and other chemicals. Saltcoats had a Mechanics’ Institution, and lectures were given by various speakers on different subjects. The Saracen Head Inn had the largest hall in the town, but it was only used for big occasions. The Crown Inn hall was in Bradshaw Street, not so large, and more convenient and less to pay for a night’s entertainment. Here most of the popular lectures were given. Mr Bums, on Chemistry, came oftener than any I remember. So wonderful were his experiments, he would have us all on the tip toe of delight. When bringing two gases together an explosion took place like to shake the place and frighten the whole audience. It was next to jugglery. He would take a bottle of clear water, drink a glassful of it or let the audience drink, then by coating a number of common dinner plates with some of his chemicals, so transparent that you could not see, and by throwing a little water out of the bottle on each plate, one became the colour of blood, another of port wine, sherry, or porter. The Mechanics’ Institute lectures were the most popular of lectures. I don’t remember many of them, but every lecturer would confine himself to his own business or his subject in hand. When Alexander Smith’s turn came round, his was on Navigation, as he was teacher of it and familiar with that. It was astonishing how a man who had never been at sea knew all the terms and sea phrases, as if he had been there all his days. He must have learned them from men with whom he was daily in contact. The subject of navigation would no doubt be of interest to a Saltcoats audience, women and all, whose fathers, husbands, or brothers were at sea. Mr Smith could always depend on a crowd of sailors with him to trim sails or tack ship. But the heaving of the log is fresh in my memory after so many years, the man holding the reel above his head as if he was on the quarter deck of a ship. One man held the seconds glass; two or three men below the platform pulled the line off the reel at the rate of ten knots. The log ship, an ingenious piece of wood, keeps in position to catch the water and pull the line off the reel. A stray line of six or eight fathoms is given to let the log ship be out of the influence of the wake of the ship. A white rag is a mark where the marking of fathoms on the line begin. As soon as the white rag is run out the operator calls out, "Turn," and the man turns the 14 sec. glass; as soon as it runs out he cries “Stop," and that instant gives the rate the ship is going. That was the old-fashioned way till the patent logs were introduced registering the speed of ships. Navigation is a beautiful science, and should be learned whether one goes to sea or not. It is easily carried about when known.

(To be continued)
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
George Eliot

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by hahaya2004 » Sun Jan 10, 2021 3:22 pm

Reminiscences of Old Saltcoats Sixty Years Ago [1840s].
By Captain John Smith.
From the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 6th November 1903

Seventh Article

I am sometimes asked, do you mind of a coal pit here or there? No; but I mind of the mouth of a pit and a beam across it in James Smillie’s park in Jack's road. It was filled up and the park that was once called the rocky park levelled. And I remember a pit mouth and beam of timber across what was called the Peasweep Park. That park was on the Ardrossan Road; westward it was poor sandy soil, never cultivated, infested with rushes, thistles, and Peasweeps. Either a quarry or the ground subsiding over a pit was in that field and a large lake of water, where in winter skating, curling, and sliding were enjoyed in a time of frost. When Ardrossan Road was feued to be built upon the pit and lake had to be filled up and levelled. Bay View Cottage garden will be on the site of the pit, and the South Beach Church and West Point House between them was the lake. On the other side of the railway opposite was a house called in my young days Jean Neil's house. It was said to have been the engine house to a coal pit there at one time. I never saw the pit. Mrs Neil had a cow or two and sold milk. There was a crossing of the railway there as in many other points on the line and required a man to attend. Ultimately the house was taken down and the wall of the railway built up, and there was no more a passage that way to the Kilbride road. There was what was called the Little Planting from Mrs Neil's house to the Stanley Burn walled off from the Big Planting, which extended to the Home Farm and Nursery. These were walled off to be a cover and hiding-place for hares protected by the gamekeepers to give sport for Eglinton's hounds. The little planting is long away, and the big planting is now laid out with walks for the public.

The late Mr Arthur Guthrie chose for a site to build his house the extreme end of Ardrossan Road facing the sea and the Stanley Burn. On the other side of the road where the little planting was the late John Tyre, who drove his coach daily along that road, said he always looked on that piece of ground as a splendid site for a house with the Stanley Burn running through the ground. It is not so desirable a place now, but the railway company keep it in their own hands lest they may one day require it. Stanley Burn was in old time a much greater and purer run of water than now. In school days there was one mighty strong lad, who afterwards was Captain John Crawford, of the Clyde Shipping Company, and who was the only boy who could jump over that burn. Another lad, able for many things, said, “If Crawford can, I can," and the crowd of boys went out to witness the test after school. The first to go was Crawford with a race and a leap and landed clear on the other side. Then came Angus Clark, racing three times to the brink and did not spring; the fourth and last time he sprang and landed in the middle up to the waist to the great merriment of the onlookers.

I may linger a little longer in reverie in Hamilton Street, for there was I born, and there I spent my youthful, and buoyant, and joyful days. I find so many in these days fond of recalling old scenes and memories of their early days, and I seem to have taken to that also. I am not given to sit much in neighbour’s houses and gossip, but in these articles on Saltcoats I give to people far and near a look at the past, for it may well be said that former things have passed away.

I recall that Rotherick Davidson in Hamilton Street, nearly opposite Mr Ronald’s Manse--now Mr Barclay’s shop—had a joiner's shop on the north side of the street. He may have been a cartwright, for he made carts. He made a machine, wagonette fashion, which was to run without a horse; and run it did, for I have been in it. I don't know what was its mechanism, but I know it had to be wound up. It ran to Kilbride. I fear it became like all the perpetual motion machines, got out of date, and did not work.

A few doors below Mr Ronald’s manse lived Peter King, the mason, a man who always built substantial houses, because he was a substantial man—a man with a name; his family history would be worth tracing.

Robert Reid, the lawyer, lived next door. He and his brother were sawyers. The saw pit was at the foot of Windmill Street, nearer the north pans, now the bathing-house. Here all the logs were sawed up into boards of all sizes. There was no machinery then—all hand labour—and what a labour! They earned their bread by the sweat of their brow. One above and one below, I think I see them yet perspiring. It was literally manual labour! It must have been another and slower age than this. Man has sought out inventions, and we look on with pleasure in these days to see a log of timber cut up in as many hours as it took days before.

Mr Ronald's manse was about ten doors below the school. Mr Smith and the minister—both anti-burghers—were on intimate terms. They leased between them John Ravey’s park, into which their gardens ran. They let it in squares to the people—chiefly Hamilton Street folks—and each had his potato plot. Mr Smith did the measuring and lifting of the rents; only Mr Ronald was with him on the lease, and both kept a big square for themselves. Mr Ronald had eight sons, all strong fellows, and many a time they turned to with a will and helped us in the delving, for I also had to do my share. John Ravey had a horse and cart and a cow or two. John always greeted my father as “The Laird” when he came along, as he had the half of that and the next field for grazing on which “Greenend" House was built. These potato plots did for the earlies. While at that, I may state the custom of old time in regard to potatoes. The townspeople gave the farmers their manure, which the farmers carted away, and gave in exchange as many drills as the manure would spread to plant potatoes in. The farmer would plough them up, but the people must weed and dig their own, and the farmer would cart them home. Perhaps we had as many planted in the fields as any townspeople had. Two pigs were bought from Arran on the Highland boat day, and we had hens, and they made plenty of good manure. The digging time of potatoes in October was a big day if managed in one day. It was a day’s outing, with lots of cheery fun, for lots of lads and lassies volunteered to help. The men digging and the women gathering, and there was feasting and fun at feeding time under the hedge. Young sailors were always glad of a job of that kind. Then came the carting home. Strong farmers’ sons or servants carrying sack after sack, and emptying them into the pit prepared for them, which was to serve for winter’s stock.

With two or three pits of potatoes and two pigs killed at different times and a barrel of salt herrings, it must have been an easy thing to keep a house. Captain Joseph Ritchie was in the Newfoundland trade then. I remember his cheery laugh on returning home. He always brought a sack of capelins—that was small dried fish which could be eaten as they were or toasted before the fire. I once asked at a salt fish store in Glasgow, where were the small dried capelins we used to get, and how don’t we get herring now with the fat melt that were to be had long ago? I was told that the former were not allowed to be killed in their infancy, and the latter were not allowed to live long enough to get fat.

I find so many people interested in reading about Old Saltcoats that I am constrained to go on, and for the sake of connection I will go away to the east end of the town for a friend, Mr M’Nab, the Baron officer, whose house was on the washing-house green—in the centre of it. I will not at present speak of the family, only Mr M'Nab himself. He was a strongly-made man, always with a strong staff, for I think be had a halt. Very often he was along at the school, waiting till the children were dismissed, and then would haul my father away to the country to measure fields on some of the farms. If in the neighbourhood of Kirk Ha’ they were sure to land on Laird Weir, and there they got a dram. There were no temperance societies in old time, and the way to show hospitality was to bring out the bottle. Laird Weir was a character; he was the father of the late Laird Hugh Weir, of Kirkhall. I cannot enter here into his peculiarities, but I believe they were marked. I know there was intimacy between the families. We were sometimes there, and Helen, the daughter, was a companion of my sisters. Not many years ago, when she was over eighty years and owner of Kirkhall, I called one day with a friend, when among her first words was, “Man, John, I have mind when you were born." Well, I had mind of her, the tall young woman, Helen Weir, with her golden hair, and there she was, though now old, with traces of what she had been.

At all the farm-houses we were intimate, probably from the children coming to school. There was coming and going among the families near the town. Miss Hogarth, of Whitlees, was spending the afternoon at our house, and my sisters and I—there may have been more—on one occasion gave her a convoy home on a dark night. There were two plantings at the corner of the cross-roads, at the end of High Dykes and Laigh Dykes farm; the high road to Ardrossan and Stevenston. Here the gipsies put up, made their tins, etc., and sold their wares in the town. They may have been harmless, but our boyish idea of them was that they were not canny to meet on a dark night. We had got on well, and past the Round Plantings, where we thought the gipsies were. Willie Hogarth and Geordie, a long and tried servant had been dispatched to bring the daughter home, as it was getting late. They saw us coming up the Sorbie Road; they said we will play a trick on them and give them a fright. Over the hedge they went, and when we passed they let out such a cry at us that we thought all the gipsies that lived were after us, to do us bodily harm, or carry us off. We took to our heels and ran—all of us. The young men, when they saw what was done, came out and cried after us to stop. That only increased our terror, for we thought it was the gipsies In hot pursuit. What a gallant young man I must have been! I was the first to arrive at the house, out of breath, to tell the tale that we were chased by the gipsies, and I only had escaped. Up came the rest, not less frightened than I, only they did not run so fast. Then came in the young men quite cool, and professed they did not know why we should have been in such a hurry.

Sorbie farm was further up. I was not so often there, but the two boys, and the two girls, came to school and brought their midday piece with them, left it up stairs, and ate it in our house in the interval. The beastie milk, and beastie milk cheese, that came from Sorbie are best remembered of all. Mr and Mrs Cummin retired and came into Saltcoats to live. The family was grown up. and there was rivalry among the sailors, who was to got Jennie Cummin for a wife. The prize was secured by Captain James M’Fee.

Among the farmers I might linger too long. I will come down and take one more before I leave them, the Laigh Dykes. Peter M‘Kinnon, the farmer, and his nice frank, kindly wife, had a large family of sons and daughters. The eldest son, Peter, went to New England when Mr Clark left. Mr M’Kinnon was great favourite with Lord Eglinton. When the Earl was a boy—that would be the Tournament Earl—Mr M’Kinnon allowed him to run about the farm and ride in his cart. That would not be the only reason, but none of the name of M’Kinnon would not want a farm on the Estate if he wanted one.

Adam M’Kinnon was a sailor, and I think, perhaps, Willie went to sea, but Adam was A.B. in the “St. James " with my brother in the Quebec timber trade. They loaded by the bow port, as they discharged by it. In taking in a log of timber, Adam was looking along the log to see if it was square, when it tilted up and squeezed his head to the beam, killing him in an instant. It was a sad coming home of the ship to Ardrossan for the friends at Laigh Dykes, and such stories had to be oft repeated in Saltcoats homes.

(To be continued)
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
George Eliot

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by hahaya2004 » Tue Jan 12, 2021 2:14 pm

Reminiscences of Old Saltcoats Sixty Years Ago [1840s].
By Captain John Smith.
From the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 13th November 1903

Eighth Article

I just follow my pen as my readers will see; I ramble for a topic, and one comes up. Captain Kelso, who lived at the foot of Hamilton Street on the north side, opposite Mr Ellis' Manse, had a fine little brig of his own—“The Lord Montgomerie.” On one particular voyage he went to Archangel, having shipped a Saltcoats crew. My cousin, John Miller, about my own age and a companion of mine, was one of the crew. On the passage home they put into Cape Wrath on account of bad weather. I remember writing to him there. I was newly converted and in my first love and zeal. I wrote a letter to him there—perhaps my pen has never been inspired to write another like it. He received it, and I was told he read it to his shipmates in the forecastle. Again they started for the Clyde, and arrived off the Runs of Islay, where currents are strong and the sea is high in a storm. About five p.m., as it was getting dark and the ship hove to, John Miller was at the wheel, the watch on deck standing to leeward of the galley. John Miller shouted, “Look out!" With that Captain Kelso came up from below to see what was the matter, when a sea broke on board and knocked him back into the cabin and took away companion, skylight, wheel and man, galley, and all the watch on deck. Those below who were left, heard the cries of the man Morrison long after, for he was a strong swimmer; but no help could be given. The ship was towed in, half a wreck. This is just one of the many tales of sorrow on the sea.

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History repeats itself, and young ladies are the same in all ages. In these days young ladies have their tennis, and even golf and bicycle and outdoor enjoyments in summer. I don't remember any of these things for ladies in my youth. Perhaps they could exist without them, and do as the ministers, who had no holidays, and had to preach three times on Sabbath when at home, and who if they went to preach elsewhere went on foot. But the young ladies had as much fun in them as they have now, and I don’t forget one of their merriments because I was their tool.

It was the 1st of April—fool's day. It would be Jane M’Farlane, who stayed with us,—for I don’t think my sisters would send me on a fool's errand,—who gave me a letter to go to Miss Farrow, who lived in Hamilton Street. Her father was lost in the “Trelawney." I was to wait for an answer. She gave me a letter to take to Annie Wilkie, who lived in Castleweerock, and she in turn gave me a letter to Margaret Heughan, another young girl whose father was lost in the ’’Trelawney”. While waiting for the answer, she took pity on me and said, “John, go away home; they are making a fool of you. All the letter contains is, ‘Send the fool further.’ How many houses have you been at?" "Three." I was a little obliging boy, and might have gone far enough and long enough, but for kind Miss Heughan. She lived in the Panbrae then. She afterwards became Laird Stirrat's wife. I never forgot, at the mention of her name, the 1st of April. That was Old Saltcoats. That generation has passed away, yet who can tell but that the same freaks are happening to-day?

Hallowe’en was a great time. I think that, like the Fair, there is only a semblance left of what it once was. We are more enlightened in our days, neither ghosts nor witches trouble the youths of the present day. We live in a different age. We have not time for witch stories round the ingle fire. Science, research, knowledge, books, missions, every thing of value crowd on the youth of our day to make them aspire for something higher than the cradle in which they were rocked.

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England was at war for twenty years—till 1815—when the battle of Waterloo finished it. No wonder that our people were great politicians interested in the state and those who ruled it. A man with a ten pound rent had a vote, and Whig and Tory may have been greater rivals than Conservatives and Liberals of to-day. My father was laid up with inflammation, and was ill able to go from home however eager a politician he may have been. Election time came round. It would be important to have the right men to represent them in Parliament. West Kilbride was the polling place, and the Rev. J. Ellis and the Rev David Ronald called with a carriage at the door. A number were going, and it was important that they should get every vote they could. I don’t know whether they were Whig or Tory, but no doubt they were voting to further their views.

These were Radical times; and now you shall hear what happened. John Sangster, who lived two doors from us, had voted the wrong way for some of the democrats, and they threatened to burn his house about him. About that time and long after the midnight hour a footstep was heard on our outside stair. The porch door was opened, and the inner door tried. It was barred. It was a strong two-leaved door. A hard knock at it wakened the house. One inside said, “Who is there? " “Me, let me in." “What is your name?” “Norman Morrison.”' "What do you want?" " Nancy Docherty." “She is not here; she lives in the Crofthead. Go away round the town end, and you will find the street. "Let me in or I will burst open the door." Two wooden stoups to carry water from the well stood in the porch under a shelf. The person outside took a stoup and with it belaboured the door with all his might, and left dents in it that are there till this day. By this time my father rose to speak to him, though he was very weak through his illness. The man pretended he did not know where he was, and wanted to be led to Nancy Docherty. He battered at the door for long, threatening to kill everybody if they would not let him in. At length it came out that he knew where he was when he cried out, “Smith, you------! I will burn the house about you if you don’t let me in." By this time my mother was up, and all the house. She raised the front street windows and cried for help. My brother looked over the window and saw a man coming to the front entry door. He called out, “Father, here is help now." The man at that, turned and ran. It was thought after, he would be an accomplice. However, Mrs Capt. Dick, our neighbour, heard the cries of my mother. She roused her husband, ran downstairs, and roused William Brown, then ran to Capt. Sangster’s next door, and with her slippers knocked at the door, crying "Rise, John Sangster, Mrs Smith is being murdered"; then to the next door, “Rise, John Sim, Mrs Smith is being murdered,” and then she finished at Mr Stewart's saying the same words. Mr Stewart was a retired Indian merchant living on his money—a bachelor and the type of a real gentleman. John Sangster had voted on the wrong side for some of the roughs, and they threatened to burn his house about him. He and all his house was in terror and did not come out, for he thought it was the work of destruction begun.

Mr Stewart armed himself with a sword, William Brown with a potatoe graip: Captain Dick had a kitchen poker— the first thing he could pick up. I don’t remember who else came, but I remember my father saying, “He will scheme drunk, as soon as help comes.” And it was so, for he schemed to be drunk now. Captain Dick led the way upstairs, and at the head he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He did so, and Captain Dick brought down the poker with some force on his arm, with the intent to cripple the man and prevent him doing harm. Now when the company was gathered my father opened the door, and they brought the man in and stuck him up against the kitchen dresser. Mr Stewart, a tall, splendid figure of a man, interrogated him on what he was doing here. All I remember of what passed between them was the man saying, “I have fought for my king and my country, and shall I not stand in my own defence." It is strange I should remember so much, for I must have been a very little boy, and was trembling, thinking we were all to be killed that night. I should be well able to sympathise with these Bulgarians, who are being massacred for no crime but for being Christians.

Well, the trouble was over when the man was taken away to the lock-up in the steeple, to be tried next day. He was sent to Ayr jail. He turned out to be the son of a widow in Raise Street, whom my mother was often helping. When spoken to about it she said, “Oh, Mrs Smith, if my son had known it was your house he would not have done it." That is simply a sample of old manners at election time.

(To be continued)
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
George Eliot

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by hahaya2004 » Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:28 am

Reminiscences of Old Saltcoats Sixty Years Ago [1840s].
By Captain John Smith.
From the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 20th November 1903

Ninth Article

Many I find, as old as myself, are moving about Saltcoats, and know as much as I do, but fail to give it out. Each of us walk in our own sphere, and incidents in the lives of different people may be different.

An incident comes to my recollection when the fare to Glasgow was sixpence. Seven and sixpence was the fare by coach, and a steamer was put on between Glasgow and Ardrossan, the fare being the same. It paid so well that an opposition company started another boat and reduced the fare gradually till it came down to two shillings and sixpence, and rivalry went on till the fare was one shilling and sixpence. Not to be beat, they opposed one another till it came down to sixpence. People went in crowds just for the sail, and came back the same day. On the Ardrossan pier the two boats’ officers met the people coming to Winton Pier, pulling them to their rival steamer, saying, "Come in this boat;" and, “Come in this boat.” Then came a crisis when one of the captains called out, “Come into this boat and I will take you for nothing!" the other captain called out, “Come into this boat and I will give you your dinner!" Every one knows that such rivalry could not last long.

That may have been about the year 1838. At least I remember being sent away a message to Glasgow alone when the fare was sixpence, to see my uncle and aunt who lived in Miller Street. On my return journey there came on board a crowd of sailors at Greenock, Saltcoats men. It came on a storm. The captain was afraid to take Ardrossan, and passed on to Ayr. Then the row began, for the men who had expected to get to their comfortable homes that night, were to be carried to Ayr. They were going to do all sorts of things. Some of the old salts—I will not name them—would take the wheel if the rest would back them up, and take the steamer into Ardrossan. It fell through like a sailor’s growl, and ended in big talk. Those who liked were to remain in the steamer all night, and would be taken to Ardrossan next morning. Most of these sailors hired a machine at the steamer’s expense and got home that night. Others came on board in the morning, and were landed at Ardrossan.

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There were two tanyards in Saltcoats sixty years ago. One in Raise Street, and one in the Rodden. I take the Raise Street one first. Robert Anderson, the proprietor, did the tanning, and his brother, Thomas, the currying. Both were strong antiburghers under Mr Ronald. Mr Hugh Baird, a prominent Saltcoats man, married Mr Anderson's sister, and now will come before us as a man of mark in Saltcoats.

Saltcoats weavers were a strong body—indeed the money-making community, and the flowering for the woman in the town brought a large revenue into a house, and always kept the pot boiling. There was no machinery then, it was all hand labour. Hugh Baird was agent for a Glasgow firm for webs, and also for the women's flowering pieces. His house was in Dockhead Street, a little west of Green Street on the west side. Here, often, weavers and women were waiting their turn to get served. Then came the pay day, when they went for their money—sometimes with a commendation for fine work, sometimes a reduction for scobs and coarse work. That was one branch of Mr Baird’s business. He had the Post Office too. It may have been a sinecure to what it is now, still it required attention. The mail gig came every morning from Kilmarnock, and returned every night.

John Scott, the post man, was as regular as the clock, passing up Hamilton Street with his post bag strapped on his back in the morning, and returning in the afternoon with West Kilbride letters. Those who knew William Quarrier of the Orphan Homes at Bridge of Weir, could see in him a striking resemblance to John Scott. Once a horse ran away, and was tearing up Hamilton Street at a terrific rate. John was coming down with his bag on his back. He stepped off the pavement, and right in the face of the beast, hoisted his umbrella, and brought the runaway to a standstill. Few could have attempted such an experiment.

This may not be the place to bring up all the Saltcoats men, besides the Allans and the Smiths, who have risen to wealth and place in the world, but it is the place to bring in the Honourable James Baird of Newfoundland, the youngest son of Hugh Baird in Dockhead Street. We remember him as a boy, no brighter or better than any of us. His brother Hugh, about my age, and my companion, was better known. He was a shipmaster when I was one. It would take too much time to follow the careers of all the school-fellows of other days. We picture not a few who rose to place, as far as this world is concerned.

James Baird went in his early years to Newfoundland, and step by step rose on the rung of the ladder of fame till be was head of a large firm in St. John's and owned a fleet of ships to carry his produce to other lands, chiefly dried fish, for which Newfoundland has been famed ever since it was “found." Mr Baird, having made a competency, has retired in favour of his son and nephews. A stranger entering St. John's harbour will not fail to see the large sign on the frontage wharf, Baird, Gordon, & Co., who manage the firm now.

Then I remember the boyhood of such men as Captain Archibald Currie, in Melbourne, and Captain Robert Craig, in Sydney—men on whom Fortune has smiled, and who are alive to-day, doing well. But I was among tanners a little while ago, and was not done with them.

That big two-storey house at the foot of the Rodden, near Windmill Street, or Castleweerock, is fresh in my memory from an incident which may have been a frequent occurrence. A very tall powerful currier wrought there, who, when he took drink, was destructive. Strong men laid hold of him and strapped him to the floor, for the devil in this man was for destruction. How many men wrought there I don't know, I only knew the names of two—David Tyre, brother of the coachman, and Daniel Love. The former went to California, and the latter became a currier in Glasgow. The two were early and tried friends, and when David had settled and prospered in California, he wrote his friend Daniel to send out a good Scotch wife. “I can depend on you,” he wrote, “for choice.” I rather think Mr Love came to Saltcoats in search of a wife. At anyrate he found one, and probably it was one he had known when he was a carrier. However, it was a suitable marriage. At length his wife died, and David Tyre sold his farm, came home, bought an annuity for himself, lived a quiet life in Rothesay, and died last April, aged 87. Daniel Love retired from business, and died lately at a good old age.

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Before proceeding further with my recollections of old Saltcoats, I would like to rectify one two slips that have appeared through imperfect acquaintance with the subject. Perhaps our friends of the “City Line” will forgive a very flagrant mistake. In my fourth article, when speaking of the death of Helen Workman at Portincross in July last, I was made to call her “Mrs John Brown.” I hope it was a printer's mistake. There never was a Captain John Brown in the “City Line," but Captain James Brown of the City Line was about as well known as George Smith himself. He was not a Saltcoats, but an Irvine man, and because he was made of the right stuff for a smart shipmaster, he was allowed to obtain the hand and the heart of Helen Workman, who was at the time in charge of George Smith's young family, who had lost their mother.

On their marriage, Mrs Brown went with her husband to Calcutta in the first “City of Benares." At the end of that voyage Capt. James Brown was kept at home, and became an absolute authority in everything outside of the office of the City Line.

In my second article, in the “Herald” of October 2nd, I say David Muir drove the Glasgow coach. I am told it should have been one Morrison. I stand corrected, if wrong; but what I thought made me so sure of the name, was a little incident that happened long after. A daughter of David Muir, one of the rosy girls of the town, was in service in Saltcoats. I learned sometime after that she was a matron in Gartnavel Asylum. There was a man in respectable society in Glasgow so afflicted with the disease of drink that he could not keep sober. It was a great affliction. His friends put him in the asylum to wean him off the drink, and afterwards applied to me to take him to the East Indies on a voyage as passenger to get him out of the way of temptation. I went to Gartnavel to see the man. On the way up the walks I met a company of women with their matrons coming along. They were in three groups. They all looked as sane as myself. I asked if there was a Miss Muir here. One started out of the company in great spirits and said, “Is it Mirren Mair you want?” and she shouts out, “Mirren Mair, Mirren Mair come here quick; here is a man wants to see you.” Up came Miss Muir, quite lady-like. It was that incident that made me think I was right in the name.

(To be continued)
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
George Eliot

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by hahaya2004 » Sat Jan 16, 2021 3:13 pm

Reminiscences of Old Saltcoats Sixty Years Ago [1840s].
By Captain John Smith.
From the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 27th November 1903

Tenth Article

I recall a day I spent with Frank M’Nab in Sydney, N.S.W., when he asked me out to dine at his country residence. He was of my age, and we both knew Saltcoats well. He had been some years out, and I was more recently from home. His enquiries for this one and that one were very many, and once I remember he said, “ and do you remember such and such a one was a thief?" Yes, there were thieves as there were drunkards in the town.

We kept hens as well as pigs, and often the hen-house was broken into and hens taken away. Sometimes they plucked them on the spot, or left their heads oftener than they were carried off—perhaps the half of them. Capt. James Dick brought to my father a beautiful large muscovey duck and drake, of many-coloured feathers. One day they were perched up on the top of a back-house. My sister said, “Father, I saw Jamie----- standing looking at the duck and drake to-day." That night they were away. Kate Skeoch lived in Manse Street. She missed a hen. She did not know who took it, but she went in search of a well-known thief. She found him, and took him by the collar. “Now Francie, you stole the hen, and if you don't get me the hen I will put you in the jail.” " Let me off and I will get it for you.” He said. "No, but I will go with you." He took her to his house, crept under the bed, and brought out the hen; and she let him off.

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A good many of my readers would hardly believe that I ran away from home to go to sea—the good little boy who was obedient to parents, who was a crack Sabbath scholar, who distributed tracts on Saturday afternoons in Hamilton Street to begin life with half-a-crown in his pocket and not even a little bundle under his arm as is usually the case with tramps. I was very loath to do it. I tried every fair means. I waited long. I think it a mistake for parents to cross a young life that is set on any honourable calling. My father would not teach my brother navigation lest it would give him a zest for the sea, but to the sea he went whatever was his education. Seeing that I was bent on the sea I was put into a navigation class. I was not an expert at figures, and in the school a few excelled me, but when I was put to navigation I just ran through the book from beginning to end and left all my companions behind because my heart was in it. There was no move at home to allow me to go to sea, so I began to gather up, to start out myself. It required only a sixpence In get to Glasgow, and if I was there I would surely get a ship. So. when I had gathered half-a-crown I thought that would pay my way, and I started off. The steamer sailed from Ardrossan at 5 a.m. on these summer mornings. I got up before the house was astir, and off I went in great haste to Ardrossan. When I was a good way down the quay I saw the steamer start off. I turned back very much disappointed that I had missed my passage.

There had been three precentors in Mr Ellis's church in my early days- Robert Steel. Daniel Kerr, and James Reid. James Reid was a particularly good reader of the line. He read the line in a singing tone and then sung it. All that, like many things more, has passed away. Well, James Reid was a cattle dealer, and the day on which I had missed the boat was Rothesay cattle fair day, and he was going thither. I was returning by a new railway that was being laid. He hailed me, ”Is the boat away? Were you for Glasgow?” “Yes." “Well, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll travel up to Portincross; we'll hire a boat there from the fishermen, and pull across to the shore on the other side of the Cumbrae, and then we will only have nine miles to walk to Rothesay, where you will get a steamer to Glasgow." I would not have thought of it, but I had my Sunday clothes on, dressed in best, and to have gone home meant being found out. So I up and told him I had only half-a-crown, and I could not go such an expensive way. "Never mind; you pay what you can, and I'll pay the rest."

So we two went on together, up Montgomery Street and along the Kilbride shore. When well on the way another man, a flesher, who had missed the boat overtook us. He also was for Rothesay. We came to Portincross. The fishermen had been out all night and had just gone to bed, and their wives were very loath to disturb them. Our men pleaded for a boat, and said they would pull it themselves if they just had somebody with them to bring it back. At length they prevailed, and the fishermen came out and rowed us across. We landed on the little Cumbrae, rested, and drank at a well, then started for the Bute where we arrived in safety.

There was a bay not far off where was an inn. There we halted for breakfast. It was composed of scones, milk, and whiskey. Sitting at that breakfast table I remember James Reid saying to our fellow traveller, “He will remember this day, some day when he is a braw Captain of a ship.” Yes, he was right. I seldom ever passed up by the Cumbraes without casting an eye to the bay in Bute and the white washed cottage on the shore, and remembering the kindness of James Reid, who gave me my breakfast in the little cottage and paid all my way that day. When he saw me off to Glasgow in the steamer at four o'clock from Rothesay he said, “When I get home to-night I will tell your father where I left you." I am sorry take up the time of my readers with so much about myself, but I had better finish this bit of it now. I landed at my uncle’s in Glasgow about 10 p.m. My aunt was my father’s sister. Although I was a runaway I got a welcome. I was in such a hurry to get a ship that I started away down the quay in the early morning, and uncle went with me. Not far below Jamaica Street Bridge I saw a brig called “Annie" loading. I went on board. The mate was Mr Smith, a Saltcoats man, and I believe Captain Brown was also a Saltcoats man. I asked the mate if they wanted a boy here. “Yes, we want two; but you must wait till after breakfast, when the Captain comes down.” That was an easy job. The mate put me to work in the forepeak. I was called up to see the Captain. “You want to go to sea?" he said. "Yes." "Well, go away home and get a letter from your father and you can come up and turn to as soon as you like.” There was no time lose, so I hurried off to catch the boat for Ardrossan and get on board. How the hours were put in till night I don’t remember, but on the way from Ardrossan to Saltcoats I felt as if I was coming home a sailor. I told father I had got a ship and Captain Brown of the “Annie" had sent me down for a letter from him. Quite coolly father said. “You will get no letter from me." Thus were all my bright hopes blasted. “I will gather up again, and you will not catch me the second time," I thought. When they saw It was no use, and that to sea I would go, then father spoke to Captain David Shanks to take me.

So I was sent off honourably this time, with chest and clothes and a thorough outfit for a sea life; and to Glasgow I went to join the “Margaret," schooner, in the end of 1842. I must here stop my story. That begins my sea life, and belongs to another subject. It was Old Saltcoats I was writing about.

(To be continued.)
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
George Eliot

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by Max » Sat Jan 16, 2021 4:49 pm

Interesting article.

I wonder what the inn on on Bute would have been that they had breakfast at, my wife was brought up on Bute so I know a few spots. I’m thinking of what is now the Kingarth Hotel, just up the road from Kilchattan Bay, which would have been a good landing spot heading over from the Cumbraes.

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by hahaya2004 » Sun Jan 17, 2021 5:02 pm

Reminiscences of Old Saltcoats Sixty Years Ago [1840s].
By Captain John Smith.
From the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 04th December 1903

Eleventh Article

Pigot’s “History of Saltcoats"[1] recalls many memories of the past. I will spend a little time over some of the names there. There are over twenty whose family name begins with Mac. Most of these came from Arran. There was no room for them on the island. They began to emigrate and landed at Saltcoats, a rising place in the early days and far enough from home. Tailoring was an easy business to learn, and most of our tailors were highlandmen. But more than Mac's came over from Arran, and whether it was a Henry, or a Hamilton, or a Howie, or Heron, or Shaw, they brought the dialect that could never wholly be overcome, however long was their stay. The shibboleth of Arran was noticed in them at all times. How remarkable is dialect to distinguish a man's country. The south of Ireland is different from Cork and the Cork dialect so different from Dublin. Dublin dialect is very pretty and not in any way pronounced. The Belfast dialect is born in Belfast people, and you can single out a Belfast man at the ends of the earth.

There are exceptions to all rules, and the dialect may not always follow one to another country. We had a servant, Annie M'Dougall, from a farm at Oban. Her English was perfect. She was home on leave for six I weeks, and when she came back she said she had not spoken a word in English all the time she was at home, and yet we could not detect, from her speech, that she had been in the Highlands.

That is exceptional. The Highlanders love the Gaelic, their native tongue. Sixty years ago and more the population so increased with Highlanders that a Gaelic chapel had to be built for them, and a Gaelic minister was got to attend to their spiritual wants The North Parish Church of to-day was built in my day as the Gaelic chapel; two things happened at that time to rivet it in my memory. One was that a workman fell down from the gallery through the lathing on the minister’s right hand of the pulpit and got his ribs hurt; the other was that another boy and I were on a plank after the workmen left, swaying as boys do, when the plank broke, and we ran and never looked behind.

The Gaelic Chapel was built by the Scott brothers of West Kilbride. They were two handsome men. They lodged at the foot of Hamilton Street while the chapel was building. They had to pass our house to and from their meals. We had little girl who boarded with us. She grew to be an attractive young lady. She must have been of the Highland race from her dark, Celtic appearance—dark hair, dark eyes, and long ringlets. Her name was Jane Macfarlane. She contrived to be at the front window with her seam when the Scott brothers passed to and fro. I don’t know all that passed, but I happened to be at the marriage of James Scott and Jane Macfarlane, that took place in our house in Hamilton Street and came about by the building of the Gaelic Chapel.

That was one of the Mac’s, although she did not get a place in Pigot’s directory. Alex. M’Gill was a mason. That family in Kirk Road had none of the appearance of the Celtic race about them; but the Macnabs had. I saw lately Mr Macnab, of Lochawe, who has a strong resemblance to the Macnabs of Saltcoats, and his daughter, now in the Southern Morocco Mission, has strong resemblance to the Saltcoats Macnabs in features—in hair, and eyes, and nose, and bones. The Macnabs, of Saltcoats, were a distinguished race. The old son William went out to Sydney, New South Wales, and entered into business. He sent for his brother Tom, who went out to join him. He was not long out when word came home that Tom was drowned in the harbour while out yachting. Frank next went out and joined the firm. At times there comes into one’s life a boom of prosperity. That boom came to the colonies in 1850 when the gold diggings started. Many made fortunes and retired. William Macnab was one of them. He left Frank in charge, came home, and settled down in Rothesay. Frank wrought away till the boom was over, when he retired, it is said, with £30,000. On his way home he spent so much of his time on the Continent that he never reached his native land, for on the Continent he sickened and died.

Robert Macnab, called Bob Macnab, served his time in the “Alpha" with Capt. James Crawford. He was a man of great strength, and there was not a goodlier looking man in the town of Saltcoats than he was at one time of his life; but what brought down many brought him down. I saw him in Sydney as mate of a ship in the colonial trade. Our custom house officer told me that that man Macnab was the terror of all the colonials. He ruled by physical force.

The head of the clan Macnab, according to tradition, was a branch of the great Macdonald family. The only relic of their ancient territories is a burial-place on an island in Loch Tay. More likely, says Thos. Smibert, they are descended from the Albionic race and of clerical descent. Macnab meaning the son of an Abbot. The head of the clan is described by Smibert in 1850 as Francis Macnab. Owning a small estate in Perthshire at the head of Loch Tay, his residence was near the beautiful village of Killin, which latterly has come to be a mere shadow of what it was. He was a man of gigantic stature and proportions and vast strength. Whether in his Highland garb on the hills or on the streets of Perth, or Edinburgh, he was held in wonder for his personal appearance. His education was defective, but he had wit and humour in a high degree. A gentleman called at his house and asked if Mister Macnab was in? The Highland chief ordered him not to be admitted. He remarked, “There are many Mr Macnabs, but may the auld black leg hae me if there's ony but ae Macnab.” The friend learned the lesson, that no laird must have Mister to his name, and he called next day and met a cordial reception. The old chief died sixty years ago at the age of eighty-two. The chief of the clan Macnab was no exception to other chiefs of the Highland clans. They are all proud of their descent, and at their annual gatherings, which many of them like to keep up, they rehearse the mighty achievements of their forefathers under Prince Charlie.

The clan Cameron, whose chief was Donald Cameron of Lochiel and M.P. for Aberdeenshire, presided lately at an annual gathering of the clan in the Queen’s Rooms, Glasgow, and Dr Chas. Cameron, M.P. for Glasgow, so well known as proprietor of the “North British Daily Mail," is of close descent, and spoke at another clan gathering. The chief of the clan Macfarlane lately called to see me as a foster brother of Jane or Jean Macfarlane, who was brought up with us and married out of our house. Many of the Macs are Irish, and Jane Macfarlane never lost a particular accent she had all her days, as she was brought to us from Ireland.

The Highlanders in general were powerful men. Their chief could call them out to follow him with the broadsword and the shield. If that is not wanted in warfare now, they are useful in the police force for handling evildoers. A lady one day said to me “Mind you don't forget Betsy Miller to give her a place in the history of Saltcoats.” “O yes, Betsy must get a place.” But let me speak of the living. When I was a boy, John Good was a man, and when the railway came through Saltcoats there were gates put on at the crossing of Raise Street, Jack’s Road, and the Ardrossan Road, and a man stationed at all the gates. John Good had his little sentry box at Jack's Road, and made wooden spoons with his knife out of apple tree wood between trains passing. That was more than sixty years ago, and he and Mrs Good were in Saltcoats last summer—as usual they like to visit the old place once a year. Mrs Good served in Glenhead in the early days of old Mr Hunter. John King still goes about, son of Peter King the mason. These men must be a great age. And we saw lately Mrs Stirrat (Elisabeth Reid), daughter of Robert Reid, the sawyer, aged 92 years. So much for the healthy climate of Saltcoats. People may live there to a great old age.

To be a Highlander did not require Mac to his name, for there were Murchies and Taylors and Hendries and Robertsons, and many others came from Arran and settled in Saltcoats. Many of them owned small vessels and traded with them.

John Robertson was one of those well-to-do Highlanders who owned a smack trading out of Saltcoats. He had a family of sons that turned out well. The late Captain John Robertson, of Manse Street, Saltcoats, when he thought he had a competent portion to live on, retired from the sea, built a house, and lived in it. A retired captain in Ayr built property and lived on his rents. He said a shipmaster should never have property to rent, for he just goes on in his houses as he used to do in his ship, ever repairing and making improvements. He was not far wrong. Captain Robertson was a genius from his youth. It is said the boy is the making of the man. When a boy, John Robertson built a clinker boat, just big enough to carry himself only. He sat in the bottom, looked out of the main hatch, and pulled himself about the harbour, and when the tide was in he rowed himself close up to Dockhead Street. I was told what my father said to him when he was learning navigation. "Well, John, I have had hard heads, and I have had soft heads, but your head beats them all, it is like a sponge, it takes in all.''

John M’Allister was another decent Highlander, who had a trading smack. One night, in a very thick fog, making for Saltcoats, he got on the rocks near the North Pans. The rocks went through the bottom of his smack. He knew when the tide made he must be drowned, or get help. The night, if dark, was calm, and the piercing cries that rent the air, were almost unearthly, and heard all over the town. A boat went off in the direction of the cries, and took the new crew off the wreck.

The M'Allister family did fairly well, as the saying goes, for seamen. Angus, the youngest, was a great swimmer. No boy could excel him in the water. He could dive, and where or when he would come to the surface we had to wait to see. He could sit in the water or float light. I only met two other men like him in my travels. It was when they had drink in that they took to the water, and they could sit there.

(To be continued)

[1] Pigot’s National Commercial Directory 1837 page 275
https://archive.org/search.php?query=na ... ctory+1837
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
George Eliot

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by hahaya2004 » Tue Jan 19, 2021 3:35 pm

Reminiscences of Old Saltcoats Sixty Years Ago [1840s].

By Captain John Smith.
From the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 11th December 1903

Concluding Article

Not all the men that ever came out of Saltcoats succeeded in life. Some became what is a legal term—flotsam, or like the Saragossa seaweed that every one trading to I-a is sure to meet, for there it is on the surface of the sea the whole year round, drifting about and cannot get away from a circling swirl of current unless some storm arise; it is not often met with in these regions. Ask any man, “What keeps you there where you are? ” The one answer is, “Oh, the drink.” Surely we will be forgiven for waging war against the drink curse. What an army of Saltcoats men I could bring up, who pass before my mind. Some succeeded fairly well; some did not succeed. Some, who shone in early life in Saltcoats, with fair prospects of a bright future, like the setting moon on a hazy night, they refused to shine.

I was in Sydney, New South Wales, in 1858. An American whaler was brought in. The crew had murdered the Captain, the second mate, and would have killed the mate, but he escaped into the hold with a pistol, and they were afraid to pursue him there. It was another case of drink. I learned from the mate and one of the men that did not join the mutiny, that the captain and officers were kind, and there was no ill-feeling in the ship till the demon drink got into the men, and then, like the devil, who would destroy men body and soul, they began the work of destruction. The circumstances were these. The captain sent forward a bottle of grog for the men to enjoy themselves on Christmas. That bottle went done. They sent for another and got it. When a third was asked for it was refused. By some means they got to the store room and stole more. After midnight one of the men (there is always a ringleader) led a band of men aft, armed for destruction. The leader proceeded to the captain's room with a tomahawk and killed him in his berth. The second mate came out of his room and share the same fate. They made for the mate, but he seized a pistol and escaped down the booby hatch into the 'tween decks, and was five days among the water casks, which were intended to be filled with oil when they got to the whaling ground. He said that when he was there he felt fit for any five men who would try to take him. All he lived on these five days was tearing a piece of his shirt, dipping it into a water cask, and sucking the rag. The mutineers could not navigate. They came to the hatch and called the mate that if he would come up and navigate the ship to the land, they would spare his life. He came out, and as soon as he was in the open air he was as weak as water, and could not stand. One of these mutineers took the carpenter's axe and began to chip his nose off, when the leader put his hand on the fellow's arm and knocked it up, saying, “Did we not promise him his life if he would come up.” They had full control of the rum cask and all the stores, and they lived on the best. The mate steered the ship for Australia, and in a few days made the land a little north of Cape Howe. They steered in close to the shore, launched a whale boat, took provisions, all the fire arms, cutlasses, money, clothes, and the captain's gold watch, then jumped in, shoved off, and made for the shore. They were something like the “Pitcairn" mutineers, who founded a colony in the Pacific, but our present crowd were not so fortunate, as we will see. Only about ten men left the ship. Although the rest may have joined in the orgies, they may not have been hearty in the mutiny. Every enterprise requires leader, and the leader and crowd had gone. The mate, now in command, brought the ship in to Sydney. What brought up that story was to introduce a Saltcoats man. He was in the police in Sydney, a place where sailormen drift into who don’t succeed in life. My friend was of a respectable family in Saltcoats. He served his time with Captain John M’Fee in the China trade. He was one of the swells of Saltcoats. When the whaler arrived an armed force of police was sent down the coast to scour all the bays, to try and trace the mutineers into the bush, where they were likely to be. They soon came on them, encamped in a quiet place, feasting and drinking. They neither showed fight nor flight, but submitted to their captors, and were brought up to Sydney. The trial came on. It was a crowded court. The men were condemned by British law, but being American subjects they must go to be judged in their own country. Their own ship was fitted up with a strong prison in the centre of it, in which the men were confined. A new crew were found for her, and away she went bound for America. What the sentence of these men was, I never heard.

It is more congenial to human nature to hear of success in life. Among the names of some already named I may mention two items. In the early days of emigration the two Hogarth sons of Whitlees Farm went to Australia, one died soon after he landed, the elder brother became an extensive farmer near Adelaide Colony. If a ship arrived in Adelaide with a Saltcoats man in command, Mr Hogarth was either sure to visit him, or have him up to his place to entertain him, and in this way kept in touch with the old country.

John Brown was another of the men from Saltcoats who succeeded in this world's wealth. He went out a young man to Natal, pushed his way, had a considerable store. He sent for his brother, James, who went out, and then the younger brother, William, went out- They all died in turn, and left their mines and wealth to others. Their relatives and friends live by their wealth to-day. Very many did well at home, who never went out to seek a fortune abroad, but wrought away at their own trade or in their own place of business, and made a comfortable living, although never becoming what we call wealthy. There were twelve master tailors according to Pigot. These were all well-to-do men, and had their own customers. There was a custom in old time, not known now, when tailors went out to sew; or, to reverse it, families got the tailors in. A Glasgow tailor and clothier told me, in the days when they went out to sew, it was called “Whip the cat day." I did not remember that term. Probably it might be that cats might be fond to play with bobbins, and dishevel their thread, and so were whipped out of the house. At any rate it was a big day when the men came in with their board and their goose, and their bag with their buttons, etc.

Among the old things passed away are the wells. When a man built a house he had to dig a well at the back of it, or be at the inconvenience of going to the public street well, and wait his turn. There were two wells in Raise Street, one at the head, another near the foot, opposite the Steeple, commonly called Cunningham's well, as Cunningham the carrier lived there, just beside Mr Ellis’ church. The big well on the Braes supplied very many. Quay Street, all the shipping, and the Pan Brae. One at the foot of Hamilton Street supplied that locality who had not wells of their own. Chapelwell Street had a good well, as the name of the street indicates. Manse Street had one about the centre of the street. The women of old time went forth with their stoups to draw water at eventide. How changed is all that now. The gravitation water runs into every house. All they have to do is turn the tap and there is the supply, as plentiful as from a living spring.

I have dwelt so long on old Saltcoats that readers may well think I should draw to a close and take a rest, and so I will, shortly; but a lady said to me one day in Saltcoats. “Now don't forget Betsy Miller in your stories of Saltcoats.” Oh, no, I must not forget Betsy. Well, having promised, I had better fulfil my engagement, if very many others are passed by. In Pigot’s directory, there is mention made of Captain William Miller, Sandylands. I take that to be Betsy’s father, who owned the “Clitus.” a large and commodious brig which went in the timber trade before Betsy took command. She would be the only known woman in Great Britain, or perhaps the world, who was the registered owner and master of a regular sailing ship. The “Clitus " was in the coal trade out of Saltcoats, but came regularly to Ardrossan. It would appear that when Capt. Miller, of the “ Clitus," died, there was a mortgage on the ship that the family could not pay off. Rather than let the ship go out of the family, that was the sole support of them all, Betsy, oldest of the family, would go master herself and save a master’s wage, and thereby be able to pay off the mortgage. So the female captain got a name, and she deserved it. She did her work well. She always had a good mate to navigate the ship, but she did all the shore business, handling money and entering and clearing the ship at the Custom House. The Miller family were very handsome. Hubert, when in command of the “ Warrior," was as big a swell as ever entered Saltcoats. I fear his greatness did not continue, for where was he when his sister had to take charge of their own ship? Betsy was the oldest of three sisters. She sailed in the brig many years, and when unable to go her sister Hannah took charge and did nearly as well. Betsy came through many a storm, for winter and summer alike she sailed in the ”Clitus " to Dublin. On one occasion a great storm arose, when a fleet of counters were inside the “Craig," and near Pladda none of them could bear up to it, and I think I am right in saying that twenty-one vessels were driven ashore on the coast between Troon and Irvine. The “Clitus" was one of them. Miss Miller, when she saw that her floating home was going on shore, went and put on clean underclothing. She said if she was to be drowned she would like to be found clean and respectable. All the ships were got off in due time, the “Clitus" among them. She was repaired and sailed a while longer, till the time came when the Board of Trade prohibited unseaworthy ships to leave a port, and the “Clitus" was among the condemned.

I cannot say what became of all the old vessels that sailed out of Saltcoats, but the time came when they were not allowed to go to sea. Capt. James Craig owned the big “Industry," and his brother John, the wee “Industry.” John had his brig towed out of Saltcoats and let adrift to go on the Sandyland shore at high water, where she could be pulled to pieces with no dues to pay.

There is one more Saltcoats story, and with it I must close. It concerns Mary King, of Hamilton Street, daughter of Peter King, builder. She was not fair, but dark in complexion. It might be in 1834 or there about, for then our prisoners were transported over sea to Van Dieman’s Land, Botany Bay, and Norfolk Island, colonies of England, but with very few people on them. These prisoners were sent out in ships chartered by Government and in charge of a surgeon. The captain had only to navigate the ship and take her to port. The doctor and the guards looked after the living crowd below, usually in shackles and chains, and treated more like animals than men. One day a surgeon of a convict ship came to Saltcoats, married Mary King, to the great surprise of the neighbours, and took her off to Australia in a convict ship. It is likely there would have been correspondence going on before a young woman would have taken a man for a husband without some knowledge of him before. However that was, Mary went off. Had the surgeon been Dr Colin Browning I should have liked to have seen a monument erected to his memory as high as the one for Dr Macfadzean on Ardrossan Castle Hill. But his name is written in history, and also written in Heaven, and the very name of Browning is like ointment poured forth. John King, brother of Mary King, still goes about Ardrossan, eighty-eight years of age. Mary died on the passage out, and never saw the foreign land which, as a young bride, she set out to see. This incident brings to mind some of my acquaintance with convicts and convict ships. If readers will allow my pen to get a rest, and let me leave Old Saltcoats, I may some day give them an account of a convict ship.

In saying good-bye to the readers of these articles in the old town, I may say that I have received many expressions of pleasure so many had in reading them; but more especially have they been written for the brethren scattered abroad, for the “Herald” is read in many lands, and I know how people afar off like to hear of their old home.
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
George Eliot

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by hahaya2004 » Tue Jan 19, 2021 5:32 pm

Correction.
From the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 10th June 1904


By way of preface, before beginning a history of “The Convict Ship," let me say I am glad to be corrected when wrong. Last year, when I gave an account of Old Saltcoats sixty years ago, in The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, I wrote from memory, not from books; and may have made mistakes in names, such as John for James, and Jeanie for Elizabeth. However, I am ready to stand corrected, as in the case of the driver of the Glasgow coach, which I rectified at once.

I have had many letters from far and near expressing delight at reading of the old place where so many spent their young days, but are now scattered abroad. It brings up old memories, and makes one feel young again. But I had one letter from England, for which I return thanks. It was to put me right about Mary King, and was penned by a grandson of hers. He said Mary King lived and died in Saltcoats, and was married to Captain Sim there. It was her step-sister, Jane Sim, who went off with the surgeon to Australia, and died on the passage out. I acknowledged the letter, and hoped to be able to rectify the mistake in another article. So here it is.
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
George Eliot

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Re: Reminiscences of old Saltcoats

Post by Hughie » Wed Jan 20, 2021 5:57 am

Thanks for taking the trouble to bring this to us, Irene - presentation was spot on. I've read up to part seven so far, and enjoyed Captain Smith's way of telling his story. I'm sure his lectures would have been well attended back then. :)

This is worthy of being a sticky topic!

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