Pollok & Gilmour

Pollok, Gilmour & Company

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pgThe extraordinary entrepreneurship of five Mearns families in the 19th century and their connection with the Canadian timber trade is now largely forgotten.

The families were the Polloks of Titwood and Fa’side, the Gilmours of South Walton farm, the Ritchies of Langton farm, the Rankins of Mainshouse and the Hutchisons connected with Middleton farm.

John Pollok (1778-1858) (pictured) and his brother Arthur (1781-1870) were born at Fa’side in Mearns. They were the youngest of three sons of Thomas Pollok, the laird of Fa’side, the eldest being Allan. The family tradition was that the estate passed to the eldest son so John and Arthur had to pursue their futures elsewhere.

They moved to Glasgow and served their apprenticeship with their uncle, Allan Pollok, a grocer in King Street. Having bought out the business they very soon changed to being wood merchants. In this enterprise, they were joined by Allan Gilmour (1775-1849), of South Walton who was then trading in Glasgow as a wright and joiner. All three had been educated at Mearns Parish School.

They set up their business in Stockwell Street in 1804  with a capital of £3000 but later moved to 19 Union Street, where the office remained until the closure of the company. Initially they traded mainly with the Scandinavian countries and Russia. Arthur opened an office in the port of Grangemouth to oversee the shipping arrangements. Around 1808, a change in fiscal policy caused the firm to switch trading from the Baltic to Canada.

In 1818, Allan Gilmour’s brother James and Alexander Rankin, another Mearns man, joined them as partners and subsequently younger members of the families and others connected with them joined the firm.

Within a few years the parent company became a major undertaking, heavily engaged in the area south of the St Lawrence River acquiring forests, operating saw mills and building their own fleet of ships. In his book “Eastwood: History and Heritage”, published in 1989, Dr Thomas C. Welsh records that in 1834 over three hundred cargoes of timber were shipped from New Brunswick and Quebec, the firm was reported to have 5,000 employees in 1835 and by 1838 they owned one of the largest merchant fleets of the day, numbering between 100 and 130 ships with names which have local associations with Mearns Parish such as Mearns, Fa’side, Craigton, Fingalton and Broom.

From the initial business set up by the Pollok brothers and Allan Gilmour, thirteen subsidiary firms evolved. For two generations almost all the partners both of the parent firm and its offshoots, came from Mearns where they had been taught by the same school master, Andrew Jackson and preached to by the same minister, Mr. Mackellar.

The thirteen companies were:

  • Gilmour, Rankin &Co. Miramichi, New Brunswick.
  • Robert Rankin & Co., St John, New Brunswick.
  • Allan Gilmour & Co. Quebec.
  • William Ritchie and Co., (afterwards Gilmour &Co.) Montreal.
  • Gilmour & Co. Ottawa.
  • J. Young & Co., Hamilton, Ontario.
  • Arthur Ritchie & Co. Restigouche, New Brunswick.
  • Ferguson, Rankin & Co., Bathurst, New Brunswick.
  • Rankin, Gilmour & Co. Liverpool.
  • Hoghton, Rankin & Co. New Orleans USA.
  • Pollok, Hoghton & Co. Mobile USA.
  • John & William Pollok, Calcutta.
  • Gilmour, Rankin, Strang & Co., London.

Families from Mearns working in these various enterprises were represented in Hamilton, Ontario, St John, Restigouche, Bathurst and Miramichi in New Brunswick, Quebec, Montreal and Ottawa.

In 1838, there was a split between the original partners. Allan Gilmour took issue with the brothers when they built a mansion house on the estate of Broom which they had purchased in 1815, believing that they could not attend to their business in Glasgow at such a distance from the Glasgow office.  He  distanced himself from the partners, resigned from the partnership and sold his share of the company to Robert Rankin in 1838.   He invested in land and property buying Fingalton, Kirkhouse and Hazelden.  With his brother James he purchased the estate of Eaglesham from the Earl of Eglinton in 1844, the purchase price being £217.000.  He died in 1849 and was buried in the Kirkyard at Mearns.

John and Arthur Pollok retired from the firm in 1853 and spent their retirement at their estate of Broom in Mearns where they had built a mansion house.  John died in 1856 and Arthur in 1870. They are buried in Mearns Kirkyard, opposite Allan Gilmour’s grave.

Once, one of the largest shipping companies in Britain, if not the world, the business partnership was wound up in 1872. Today the story of the  firm is known to only a few but it is chronicled in “A History of our Firm” written by John Rankin in 1909 and republished in 1921.



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