Shipping issues

It’s amazing what a variety of goods were moved by sea in the 18th century.

John Watt (1739 – 1762) the younger brother of James Watt, studied book-keeping and helped in his father’s business of ships’ chandlery in Greenock. According to his father, James Watt of Greenock, his son was ‘ready in learning with a mahanicall [mechanical] turn and soon aplayed [applied] himself to trade and business and for completing his knolage [knowledge] in the cost [coast]’. In 1761 a ship, the Fortune, was built for him and he started a trading enterprise, as a partner with his father and others, shipping goods between Glasgow and Bristol. Between 1760 and 1761 his father records a least 32 harbours he visited, for cargoes such as coal, ballast, slate, timber, salt, herrings, tallow, tobacco, etc. [MS 3219/3/125]

Composite Account Book [MS 3219/5/1]

Composite Account Book, Bristol 1761
[MS 3219/5/1]

John Watt’s accounts reveal a wealth of items, most of which had been specifically ordered by individuals in the Glasgow area from Bristol. In no particular order, these included:

Strong sweet ‘sydar’ [cider]
Bristol beer
‘Holewell water’ [Holywell was a mineral spring area of Bristol]
White wine vinegar
Lamp black ‘in pound papers’
Paint; vermilion, Prussian blue, French verdegris, stone umber, spruce ochre etc.
Jugs of linseed oil
A chest of ‘Florence Oil’
Bunting: broad & narrow; red, white & blue
Pewter spoons & metal ‘soop’ dishes
Double Gloucester cheese
Blue peas
White peas
Nutmeg graters
Ivory teeth
Watch glasses
Writing slates
Red lead
White lead
Thin sheet lead
Silk handkerchiefs
Marling needles
‘Very fine cotton cards’
Musket bullets
Locks & hinges
Tools: saws, adzes, chisels, axes, shovels
Barrel hoops
Jugs of putty
Window glass
Decanters, tumblers, ‘Flowered glasses’

A chimney glass & sconces  [‘John Campbell, writer, desires you will buy him a fashionable chimnay Sconce Glass 3 foot 10 inch Long & 14 inch broad clair of ye frame & to have a plain fram[e] wt. [with]as litell Gilding on it as is fashonable or only a small Edging gilt round ye edge of ye glass…….order it to be Car[e]fully packed & stowed in ye Cabon [cabin] or a proper place.’]

And last, but not least:

A marble tombstone  [2 March 1761. ‘Ordered by Mrs Crawford for Mr Hugh Crawford’s Grave, a marbell ston[e] of 6 foot long & at least 3 1/2  broad, polished, with a small moulding round ye Edges (ye inscription to be put on heir). A dove callored [coloured] ston[e] is s[ai]d to be ye best but this you will Inqueir [enquire] into & also of ye quality of ston[e] used at Bristoll for men of C[h]aracter & buy sutch and caus[e] case it with deals & order it to be properly stowed.’]

MS 3219/5/7/5/44/1

Account of expenses on Sloop Fortune voyage from Leith, 1760 [MS 3219/5/7/5/44/1]

In April 1762 John Watt sailed to Virginia to gain more experience of trade. He drowned in October 1762 when his ship was wrecked on the Bahamas Bank, on ‘one of the keys of the island of Abbaio’. There is a letter to James Watt of Greenock from James Fife, sailor, one of the survivors of the wreck, describing the wreck, that John Watt, as Mate, stayed with the ship, and describing his own survival on a desert island for 5 weeks until fishermen appeared and rescued him and the other survivors.

Letter regarding the death of John Watt [MS 3219/3/125]

Letter regarding the death of John Watt
[MS 3219/3/125/5]

Fiona Tait.




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