More of Inverclyde’s Famous Visitors
My previous post about Inverclyde’s famous visitors attracted over 450 views in two days. It is always nice to see something generating interest in local history and culture. In light of that I thought I would have a second bash at some of Inverclyde’s famous visitors based on suggestions from readers and a bit of my own research.
Alexander Graham Bell, credited with inventing the first practical telephone, taught at Greenock Academy for a year. He helped to set up the Greenock Articulation School within the academy, a school for local deaf people.
The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, preached in Greenock and Port Glasgow in 1774. He said the people were receptive to his message but that the towns had seen a swift increase in “cursing, swearing, drunkenness, Sabbath-breaking, and all manner of wickedness.”
English Anglican preacher George Whitefield visited Greenock on his way to colonial America some time around 1740. His preaching helped to spread the Great Awakening, a protestant religious movement that spread across Northern Europe and North America. He also helped to found the Methodist movement, and evangelicalism more generally. He was one of the most well known public figures in Colonial America, and won the admiration of Benjamin Franklin. In more recent times his reputation has suffered on account of his support of slavery in Georgia.
American General George S Patton was one of many high profile visitors to Greenock during World War 2. His aggressive counter attack at the Battle of the Bulge helped to relieve the surrounded American troops at Bastogne.
American senator Richard Russell Jnr of Georgia visited allied troops in Gourock in 1943. He was visiting the area as part of a controversial tour of American senators to evaluate how effectively American War materiel was being used. He later became the leader of Southern opposition to the Civil Rights movement.
The American author and poet Edgar Allan Poe was known to have visited Greenock in October 1815. He was a distant relative of John Galt.
John McLean, the revolutionary Marxist and leading figure of Red Clydeside, held economics classes in Greenock before the First World War. The classes were designed to teach the working class various theories of economics from a Marxist perspective.
American President Abraham Lincoln idolised Robert Burns, but his premature death meant he never fulfilled his ambition to visit the birthplace of Burns. His wife Mary Todd Lincoln later undertook this trip on his behalf. It was said she “sighed over the grave of Highland Mary” in Greenock.
Mathematical physicist and engineer William Thomson spoke to the Greenock Philosophical Society in 1870. His pioneering physics work helped to formulate the first and second laws of thermodynamics. He also correctly measured the temperature of absolute zero. He was made 1st Baron Kelvin in recognition of his scientific work and opposition to Irish self-government. He died in Largs in 1907.
American entertainer Charles Sherwood Stratton, also known as General Tom Thumb, visited Greenock as part of a European tour in 1856. At 3 feet 3 inches tall he became a successful international celebrity and he appeared before Queen Victoria on two occasions. In 1847 he helped to raise funds to assist the Irish during the potato famine.
Sir Gabriel Woods was born in Gourock in 1767. He rose to become one of the foremost military figures in the British Empire. He served in the capacity of Vice-Consul for the state of Maryland and later Commissary-General of Accounts for the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and then of Canada. He died in 1845 and funds he left in his will helped to open the Mariner’s Home in Greenock, a refuge for “aged and decayed” Merchant Master Mariners. My 3x Great Grandfather Donald Graham, one time master of the SS Daylight died there in 1919.
Scottish-Americans played a prominent role in both sides of the American War of Independence. One such figure was Captain Alexander Morrison. A Tacksman and native of Skye, he married a daughter of Rev. Alexander MacLeod, the minister of St Kilda. Morrison was well educated and helped James MacPherson translate Ossian into English before emigrating to North Carolina. During the American War he served as a Loyalist Captain in the North Carolina volunteers led by Josiah Martin (pictured). He was captured at the Battle of Moore’s Creek, was exchanged, then captured again before being allowed to return to Scotland. On his return he settled in Greenock, where he died in 1805 at the age of 88.
In the early 1640s, Scottish Presbyterian soldiers returning from the service of the Swedish army brought with them new military developments. One such development was the bastioned artillery fortification, an example of which was installed by the Covenanter’s at Greenock around 1640. Some 44 years later, one of the most famous Covenanter martyrs, James Renwick, preached within ‘half a mile’ of Greenock. Between 1683 and 1688 he traveled around Scotland preaching the illegal Presbyterian faith, all the while being chased by the King’s soldiers. He was captured in 1688 and executed in Edinburgh (pictured) where his head and hands were stuck on the city gate.
Lord Frederick Campbell visited Greenock in in 1776 with a body of Government troops. In response to the outbreak of the American Revolution, his soldiers improved coastal fortifications. The first ever public dinner given at the town’s expense was undertaken for Lord Campbell and his soldiers. It was reported that the inhabitants of the town were overwhelmingly against American independence.
Somerled, the Norse-Gaelic King of the Isles and Lord of Argyll, landed a force of 15,000 men and 160 birlinns at the Bay of St Lawrence at Greenock around 1164, roughly where the East India Harbour is today. Somerled was invading the lowlands to assist in a plot to overthrow the Scottish king, Malcolm IV. Somerled was eventually defeated and killed at the Battle of Renfrew by an army led by Walter FitzAlan. Somerled is considered an important figure in the early history of the Gaelic-Norse people in Scotland and many highland clans would later emerge from his children, including the MacDougalls and the MacDonalds.
Robert Louis Stevenson visited Greenock in 1870 on his way North to Ardrishaig. He stayed at the original Tontine Hotel on Cathcart St (where the James Watt pub now stands). He described it as a “dirty uncomfortable house” where he had a “dismal evening”.
Frederick Douglass visited Greenock twice in 1846. He was one of the the leading figures of the abolitionist movement in the United States. The Greenockians ‘hissed’ him when he criticised the Free Church, but were silent when challenged to take to the floor to refute his claims. He later wrote that in regards to the abolition of slavery, “I have never seen a people more deeply moved than were the people of Scotland on this very question.”
Another of the most famous American abolitionists to visit Greenock was William Lloyd Garrison, who spoke alongside Douglass at a ‘very large church’ in Greenock, on the 23nd of September, 1846. He commented on the ‘respectable’ nature of the audience but lamented that the area was “lacking in intellectual activity and moral life.”