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Gourlay Brothers

A firm specialising in iron steamships that became the biggest shipbuilding firm in Dundee by the late 1860s, launching over 200 ships in 50 years. In its day, the firm's influence "ranged from Dundee to the ends of the earth."

Subscription value in 1863:

£40

Relative to inflation up to 2021:

£4000

Relative to income compared to 2021:

£32000

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Details and history

Name of company:

Gourlay Brothers

Company address:

Dundee Foundry, East Dock Street, Dundee, 1846-1908[1] (as Gourlay, Mudie & Co., 1846-1853[2]).
Marine Parade, Dundee, c.1854-1870.[3][4]
Camperdown Shipbuilding Yard, Dundee, c.1871-1908.[3][5]

Number of employees:

Approx. 300 men in 1867[3]

Nature of business:

Engineers and iron shipbuilders[6]

Turnover:

Unknown

Date ceased trading:

1908[3]

Related Subscribers

Subscriber no.  56 – Thomas Couper – the firm built ships for the Dundee, Perth & London Shipping Co.

Subscriber no.163 – R.A. Mudie – the firm built ships for him.

Comments

The earliest incarnation of Gourlays was as the engineering firm of Gourlay, Mudie & Co., which took over the Dundee Foundry in 1846.[2] The Gourlay part of the firm consisted of sons of William Gourlay (1776-1843) and Margaret Balfour (1795-1885). William was associated with the East India Service[7] and Margaret was the daughter of a Dundee Provost.[7] The couple married in 1817[8] and had a large family: William (1818),[9] Margaret (1820),[10] Alexander (1821),[11] Gershom (1823),[12] Jane (1824),[13] Janet (1826),[14] Anne (1828),[15] Henry (1830),[16] Euphemia (1831),[17] Frederick (1834),[18] James (1835),[19] Helen (1837)[20] and another William (1839).[21] David Mudie was the non-family partner.[2]

The firm of Gourlay, Mudie & Co. was dissolved in 1853 and the Gourlay brothers carried on as engineers and iron founders in their own right.[22] They soon decided to concentrate on shipbuilding, renting an area on Marine Parade from the Harbour Trustees and retaining the foundry at East Dock Street for the associated engineering work.[3] The firm concentrated on iron ships from the start and went straight into steam and screw propulsion.[3] From the outset, they had a very good relationship with Thomas Couper, manager of the Dundee, Perth & London Shipping Co., building eight steamboats for the firm between 1856 and 1868.[3] After the construction of the Camperdown Dock, some land to its east was made available by the Harbour Trustees and Gourlay Brothers & Co. laid out its Camperdown Shipbuilding Yard there in the early 1870s.[3] This new yard had space for longer slipways and the size and tonnage of the firm’s output increased, with work done for customers from across the world.[3] Remarkably, it built 28 ships for the General Steam Navigation Co. of London.[3] In 1876, Gourlay Brothers & Co. was responsible for 7 of the 23 launches at Dundee.[3]

In later years, the firm faced more competition for work for DP&L and also had to survive various downturns in the economy, but it still seemed to be in a strong position when becoming a private joint stock company in 1904. Money was spent on improving the yard and initially seemed to have been a wise investment, but a “serious depression in trade” led to the firm’s liquidation in 1908.[23] The equipment from the yard and foundry were sold off in 1909 and subsequently the Camperdown Yard disappeared under the new George V Dock, leaving no trace of the firm’s activities there.[3]

Alexander Gourlay

Alexander had been educated in Edinburgh and afterwards travelled abroad, spending a number of years in Australia.[7] He was recorded as a member of the firm of Gourlay, Mudie & Co., engineers and iron founders, from 1850, when he was living at Airlie Lodge, Airlie Place, Dundee, along with his mother.[24] It seems to have been Alexander and Henry who started the shipbuilding and iron founding business of Gourlay Brothers & Co.[7] He had moved to 103 Roodyards by 1853.[22] He moved again to 31 Magdalen Yard Road[25] and then Airlie Place.[26] He left the firm in 1864.[3][7]

He served as a trustee of the Forfarshire Permanent Property Investment Co., 1853-1865[27] and after leaving Gourlay Brothers & Co., he was involved in a number of other business and charitable bodies: director, Dundee Mission to the Outdoor blind, c.1884-1899;[28] committee, Dundee Sailors’ Home, c.1884-1899;[28] director, Dundee Investment Co. Ltd., c.1885-1889;[29] director, Western & Hawaiian Investment Co. Ltd., c.1886-1899;[30] director, Dundee Mortgage and Trust Investment Co. Ltd., c.1886-1889[31] and director, Alliance Trust Co. Ltd., c.1890-1899.[32] He was made a Justice of the Peace for the County of the City of Dundee, c.1897.[33] He also served as a trustee for the British Workman Public House in Broughty Ferry, c.1893-1899.[34] He was considered one of the greatest authorities on investments, particularly in America, taking a close interest in its commercial and financial affairs.[7] He was also an “ardent bimetallist” and wrote articles on the subject.[7]

He took an interest in a scheme to send waifs and strays to Canada, having put money into a farm which received a number of boys from Dundee.[7] He was a Baptist, attending its Broughty Ferry church for many years.[7] He was single and latterly shared his Broughty Ferry home with his sister, Euphemia,[7] at a house named after an earlier Dundee home, Airlie Lodge,[35] where he died on 23 March 1899.[36] The value of his estate was £95,794 4s. 3d.[37]

Gershom Gourlay

Gershom was someone with an unusual career history. He was an engineer but also a writer and notary public. He had been part of Gourlay, Mudie & Co.[3] but when that partnership was dissolved, he formed a law firm with D.S. Littlejohn, at 10 Reform Street.[22] The directory of 1853-54 had him listed as an engineer, at his home address of Wellbank, Newport, but also as a writer in the list of procurators and solicitors of Dundee.[22] Gershom had married Eleanor Jane Garrett in 1851[38] and the couple had Henry Garrett (1852),[39] Eleanor Jane (1853)[40] William Frederick (1856),[41] Florence Emily (1857),[42] Charles Gershom (1859),[43] Norvis Alexander (1860),[44] Margaret Eleanor (1861),[45] Alfred Edward (1864),[46] Kenneth McKenzie (1865)[47] and Francis Thornburgh (1867).[48]

Littlejohn & Gourlay acted as agents for the Northern Assurance Co.[27] and as secretaries and solicitors for the Forfarshire Permanent Property Investment Co.,[27] of which Alexander Gourlay was a trustee and also acted as agents for the Minerva Insurance Co.[49] Littlejohn & Gourlay also acted as secretaries of the Dundee Mutual Assurance and Endowment Society.[25] The partnership with Littlejohn ended in 1864 when Gershom joined Gourlay Brothers & Co. on Alexander’s retirement.[6]

By this time when Gershom rejoined the family business, he was living at Airlie Lodge, Airlie Place, Dundee, previously occupied by his mother[50] and Alexander[24] and which would remain his home throughout the 1860s.[51] He then moved briefly to Balgay House,[52] before making his home at The Gows, Invergowrie.[53] By 1884, Gershom had moved permanently to Edinburgh, firstly at 10 Drumsheugh Gardens[54] and latterly at Airlie Lodge, Whitehouse Terrace, Edinburgh.[55] The name Airlie Lodge must have had great sentimental meaning, as it was used in various locations by different members of the family.

Gershom replaced his brother, Alexander, as a trustee of the Forfarshire Permanent Property Investment Co. for a short time[56] and went on to serve on a number of Dundee boards and committees: director, Chamber of Commerce, c.1874-1875;[57] general committee, Mars Training Ship, c.1871-1902;[58] director, Dundee Institute for the Blind, c.1874-1877;[59] director, Texas Land & Cattle Co. Ltd., c.1884-1887.[60] He withdrew from active participation in Gourlay Brothers & Co. after 1889, but his sons, Henry Garrett Gourlay and Charles Gershom Gourlay, would carry on in the business in his place.[3] Henry Garrett Gourlay joined Gourlay Brothers & Co. about 1885[61] and Charles Gershom Gourlay followed a couple of years later.[62]

Gershom died in 1902, aged 78.[63] On his death, it was stated that “the town’s status in shipbuilding owed more to him than any other individual.”[3] The value of his estate was £103,316 5s. 2d.[64]

Henry Gourlay

Henry was one of the original partners in Gourlay Brothers & Co.[22] and seems to have been the main technician in its shipbuilding business.[3] He was a member of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland and the Institute of Naval Architects.[3] At the time Gourlay Brothers & Co. commenced, he was sharing an address with his older brother, Alexander, at Roodyards[65] and then with his mother and Alexander at 31 Magdalen Yard Road.[25] He moved to Airlie Place along with Alexander and also served as a Captain of the 6th Company, Battalion of Forfarshire Artillery.[26]

Henry married Agnes Christie Burrell in 1861[66] and the couple had Janetta Agnes (1863),[67] William Henry (1864),[68] Margaret Balfour (1865),[69] Anna Isabella (1866),[70] Agnes Harriet (1867),[71] Henry Burrell (1869)[72] and Alexander Frederick Walker (1872).[73] Most of the children were born at 15 Airlie Place[74] but by the time the youngest was born, the family had moved to Balgay House, which had briefly been the home of his brother, Gershom. Henry’s wife died in 1873.[75] Henry continued to live at Balgay House until about 1890.[76]

Henry served as a member of Dundee Parochial Board, c.1869-1872;[77] Harbour Trustee, c.1871-1872;[52] director, Dundee Industrial Schools Society, c.1876-1881;[78] vice-president and then president, the University Club, c.1878-1886;[79] director, Chamber of Commerce, c.1880-1881;[80] committee, Dundee Art Union, c.1880-1881;[80] director, Dundee Mortgage and Trust Investment Co. Ltd., c.1884-1885;[54] director, Dundee Investment Co. Ltd., c.1884-1885;[54] trustee, Mrs Margaret Petrie or Morton’s Mortification, c.1884-1888[81] and as a life governor, University College, Dundee, c.1890-1915.[82] He was made a Justice of the Peace for the Dundee District of Forfarshire, c.1876.[83]

Henry gave up involvement in Gourlay Brothers & Co. about the same time as Gershom, leaving the firm to the younger generation. He moved to Paddington in London and, in 1897, married Mary Henrietta Perceval, thirty-three years his junior[84] and had two further daughters, Mary Perceval (1898)[84][85] and Elsie Vera (1900).[84][85] He died in Hampshire on 27 March 1915.[86] His effects were valued at £150,022 3s.3d.[87]

William Gourlay

William was the youngest brother and probably the second son to be given the name William. He had been born in Edinburgh,[21] where his parents moved in the 1830s.[88] After his father’s death, his mother moved back to her home town and lived at Airly/Airlie Lodge, Airlie Place, Dundee with the young William and four of his older sisters.[89] He appeared to be in Aberdeen as a 21 year old, working as a ship carpenter and lodging with a retired shipmaster and his wife.[90] This experience may have been useful in some of the handsome interior design and fittings of vessels constructed by the firm.[3] In 1865, he married Davina R. Low in Dundee.[91] The couple had Alexander (1866),[92] Frederick (1868)[93] and Annie (1874).[94] He does not seem to have been associated with Gourlay Brothers & Co. for very long. He appeared in the 1867 directory at Blackness Crescent as a member of Gourlay Brothers & Co.[56] He moved to 1 Park Place[77] and then 25 Windsor Street[95] but left the firm about 1874.[3] Thereafter, he was described as an evangelist[96] before moving to Taypark, Perth Road.[80] This house was his mother-in-law’s and he was there as a visitor, along with his wife and daughter, in 1881.[97] By 1891, he and his wife were living in Edinburgh and he was described as a retired shipbuilder.[98] At the time of  Alexander’s death in 1899, Wiiliam was said to have been living in the south of England.[7] Davina died at Malvern in December 1899.[99] William was back in Dundee in 1901 as a visitor to Airlie Lodge, Broughty Ferry, staying with a couple of his sisters and a niece.[100] 

Incorporation and Liquidation

In 1904, the newly incorporated firm of Gourlay Brothers & Co. (Dundee) Ltd., divided shares equally between Henry Gourlay, Charles Gourlay, Fanny Gourlay, Kenneth Gourlay, William Gourlay, James Lyon and William Fyffe.[23] Unfortunately, the firm did not survive for long and succumbed to its liabilities in 1908. The historian of the firm, S.G.E. Lythe, paid this tribute:

The discord and confusion which marked their end do not detract from their earlier reputation as masters of their trade in an era when mastery in British shipbuilding meant mastery of the world.[3]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

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The information above about has been collated from a range of digital and hard copy sources. To the best of our knowledge it is correct but if you are relying on any information from our website for the purpose of your own research we would advise you to follow up the sources to your own satisfaction. If you are aware of an inaccuracy in our text please do not hesitate to notify us through our Contact page.