William Gammell JP

We have no firm evidence of the date of William Gammell's birth, but 1695 is family tradition, and must be about correct.

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 'shipmaster'.


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





19 June 1728

28 May 1729


23 August 1730

4 April 1738


20 June 1732

1818 or 1819?


12 December 1735

15 September 1825


29 November 1736

29 May 1737


3 August 1738



3 February 1744

15 February 1744


2 March 1746

In infancy date unknown


17 February 1747

In infancy date unknown


The first thing to be noted is the haphazard spelling of the surname in the registers. That they are all children of William and Margaret is, however, beyond doubt, as in each instance they are named as parents, and William described as 'Shipmaster'.


Although the parish registers contain no record of the deaths in infancy of the two youngest children (recording of deaths ceased to be contained in Registers in 1747), it is almost certain that they did so die, as the memorial stone which now lies at the church on The Esplanade, Greenock, commemorating William and Margaret and their children, mentions only James and William and 'others of their children who died in infancy'. There is also no marriage record of either of these children, as there is of their sixth child Margaret.


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.