William Gammell JP

William Gammell JP

Shipmaster & Merchant of GREENOCK 1695-1765 

We have no firm evidence of the date of William Gammell's birth, but 1695 is
family tradition, and must be about correct; nor do we know of his parentage
other than the information given on the Ancestors pre-1700 page.

The first definite record traced is the entry in the Greenock West Parish Register
dated 19 August 1727, recording his marriage to Margaret Scott of Greenock,
which took place on 31 August of that year. In this entry he is described as

William and his wife Margaret had a family of nine as follows
​(Greenock West Parish Register):

Magdalene     b. 19 June 1728              d. 28 May 1729
Janet             b. 23 August 1730           d. 4 April 1738
William           b. 20 June 1732             d. 1818 or 1819?
James            b. 12 December 1735     d. 15 September 1825
Robert            b. 29 November 1736    d. 29 May 1737
Margaret         b. 3 August 1738           d. unknown
Jean               b. 3 February 1744        d. 15 February 1744
John               b. 2 March 1746            d. in infancy date unknown
Agnes             b. 17 February 1747      d. in infancy date unknown

But as will be seen above, only three survived to adulthood.

It seems plausible that Margaret (Margarit) Scott was born in Greenock on 2 November 1704 to James Scott, skipper in Greenock and Magdaline Rankin, but though this seems likely, we cannot be absolutely sure. 

We can presume that William must have commenced his career at sea at a fairly early age, since, as will be seen from the record of his marriage above, he was already a shipmaster at the age of just over thirty. Of his career at sea, we know little, although indications are that the ships he commanded traded with the West Indies and North America. In 1728 he captained the Speedwell of Glasgow on a voyage from Virginia, and in 1730, the Alexander of Glasgow on a voyage from Irvine, via Barbados to South Carolina. We know the names of two further ships which he commanded; firstly the 'Prince William' which he commanded in 1733, as in that year he was presented with an inscribed tankard by the 'owners' 'for his good services' and in 1942, a teapot inscribed as 'a gift to Mrs. Gemmele from the company of the ship 'Baltimore' 1742.' It is not unlikely that the ships he commanded were owned by the ship-owning and later ship-building family of Scott, of which his wife was a member.

Sometime in the 1740s, William evidently left the sea, and set up as a merchant in Greenock, presumably in the import and export business, where his experience overseas would have stood him in good stead. There is a record of a land transaction in Greenock in 1750, in which he is described as 'sometime shipmaster and now merchant in Greenock', so he was clearly established in business by that date.

William Gammell was a close friend of James Watt, the father of the famous James Watt, the inventor of the marine steam engine, and their children attended Greenock Grammar School together. Both William Gammell and James Watt senior were founder-members of Greenock's first 'Town Council', or what was known as 'Managers of the Tax on Ale and Counsellors'. William's signature appears regularly on the minutes of the meetings of this body from its inauguration in August 1751 until September 1758, on which date he resigned. It is interesting to record that in all instances his signature reads Wm. Gammell, so there is no doubt that the present spelling of our family name was firmly established during the lifetime of William.

We have no record as to the dates of either William's or his wife's death, but it is almost certain that William died in 1765. There is a memorial stone (No. 75) in the West Greenock Churchyard, commemorating them both and their children, but as is obvious from the wording quoted below, this memorial stone was erected by their son James Gammell, at a much later date, probably just before he left Greenock in about 1822 for his estates in North-east Scotland. The inscription on the stone reads:

'In memory of WILLIAM GAMMELL, merchant in Greenock, of MARGARET
SCOTT, his spouse, of their son WILLIAM GAMMELL and other of their
children who died in infancy. Also of JANET GEILS, spouse of JAMES
GAMMELL, banker in Greenock, who died April 18th 1818 aged 79 years,
and of their sons, WILLIAM GAMMELL, who died in infancy, Lieutenant
General ANDREW GAMMELL, buried in Westminster Abbey, and Lieutenant
Colonel WILLIAM GAMMELL, buried in Martinique.'

The Greenock West Church was moved lock, stock and barrel to its present
site on The Esplanade, to make way for industrial development in the 19th
century, and this move included the tombstones, which are now displayed
outside the new church. The above Gammell Memorial stone is among
them, ​though it is now so weatherworn as to be mostly unreadable.

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