Shankland Road, Greenock, Scotland

Alison Paul, UK

Shankland Road sign

Yes, there is a Shankland road, and it's named after two of the more illustrious Shanklands of their time. Two brothers, one being my great grandfather, were prominent shipowners in Greenock in the second half of the nineteenth century, and served on the Town Council and Harbour Trust for many years. Each became Provost in turn. So when a new road was built in 1905 or so, what was more deserving than to call it Shankland Road? It has a superb view over the Clyde, from which all the passing shipping takes constant attention. Just below it are the old shipyards, once a thriving Greenock industry.

Dugald (born 1820) and Robert (born 1826) were the second and fourth sons respectively of James Shankland, a Greenock ropemaker. By the age of 21, Dugald had set up a marine merchant store, D. Shankland & Co., and a few years later the brothers started buying sail trading ships, founding the company R. Shankland & Co. in 1864. These two companies remained closely linked, operating from the same address for the whole of the brothers' working lives.

Shankland Road

The shipping company gradually expanded, and after a few years started to commission ships from the major Clyde ship builders, increasing to a fleet of 12 or so ships at any one time, quite a sizeable operation for the area. The brothers moved their family homes out from the centre of town to the newly built smarter West End of Greenock, Dugald having a large family of seven sons and five daughters, Robert's being more modest at three daughters and one son.

Although Dugald's sons entered the shipping firm, by the 1890s they started to leave Greenock, and moved south to London - still as shipowners and brokers, until none were left to continue the family firm. In 1911, this was wound up, and although they possessed a few steamships by then, they had hung on to their sailing ships for a long time. It was possible with cargo to operate sailing ships successfully long after passenger steamships were the norm.

Family Tree

My interest started with finding photographs of sailing ships amongst the family papers on which was written on the back "One of my father's fleet of sailing ships". I knew from family stories that we had seafaring forebears, but there didn't seem to be much written down about the ships. How many were there? When did they trade? Where did they go to? What cargoes did they carry? What were conditions like and how many crew did they have? After many enjoyable hours spent in libraries and museums and tramping the streets of Greenock, two of us have found a surprising amount of material from family papers and stories, Lloyds Lists and newspaper and book accounts of some of the more momentous occasions and misfortunes of the ships. S.O.N.G. also came up trumps. One of the proudest moments must have been the opening of the James Watt dock in Greenock by Provost Robert Shankland in 1886, the first ship to enter the dock being his own Otterburn. Now we have enough material to make a good story, maybe even write a book ...

There are now few, if any, Shanklands in Greenock, though some of our family still live in Scotland. More of Dugald's descendants are clustered in the south of England, but a strong interest in Scotland remains. Now I'm keen to find out whether the original James Shankland was born in Greenock or moved there, but so far I've not succeeded in my searches. But it's always more fascinating still to have stones unturned, ever hopeful that something will turn up round the next corner.

Alison Paul, September 1996

(Much material and inspiration came from my co-author, the late Peter Shankland.)