Importance of working horses


The Andy Scott sculpture of “Ginger the Horse” is a tribute to the activities and people that influence the history and development of Greenock. Powerful work horses laboured in the shipyards and pulled laden carts to and from the harbour quaysides past this spot to factories and mills in the hillside. Reliable horses were loved and revered by their masters as they represented the primary source of a carters income.  

In his acclaimed novel. Dancing at the Rascal Fair, portraying Scottish immigration to America, author Ivan Doig describes how on the 23 October 1889, some 500 yards from here , “Ginger” the  horse was conveying sugar on the Quay at Albert Harbour when one of the cartwheels caught a mooring Stanton, causing the cart and animal to fall into the water where the magnificent creature drowned. The owner was inconsolable in his grief for his beloved horse and the sudden loss of his livelihood.

The term “Horsepower” is more meaningful to Greenock than any other town. It was the measure of power introduced by world famous Greenock born engineer, James Watt (1736-1819) whose birthplace was at William Street, 100 metres west of this statue. He markedly increased the efficiency of the Newcomen steam engine effectively replacing the horse, and creating a portable source of energy for powering machines that could be used anywhere, ushering the industrial revolution and radically changing the face of Britain and the World. “Ginger” hours all the hard working men and horses who helped build the wealth that Greenock as a world renowned trading Port and cradle of shipbuilding excellence. 

Dancing at the Rascal Fair.

SCOTLAND AND HELENA , Harbour mishap at Greenock

Yesterday morning while a horse and cart were conveying a thousand-weight of sugar on the Quay at Albert Harbour, one of the cartwheels caught a mooring Stanton, which caused the laden conveyance and its draft animal to fall over into the water. The poor creature made desperate efforts to free itself and was successful in casting off all the harness except the collar, which being attached to the shafts of the sunken cart, held its head under the water until it was drowned. The dead animal and the cart were raised during the forenoon by the Greenock harbour driver. Glasgow Caledonian, October 23, 1889. To say the truth, it was not how I expected-stepping off towards America past a drowned horse.

You would remember to well Rob, that I already was of more than one mind about the Atlantic  Ocean. And here we were, not even within eyeshot of the big water, not even onto the slow-flowing river Clyde yet, and here this heap of creature that would make, what, four times the sum total of Rob Barclay and Angus McCaskill, here on the Greenock Dock it lay gawping up at us with wild dead eye. Strider of the earth not an hour ago, wet rack of carcass now. An affidavit such as that says a lot to a man who cannot swim. Or at least who never has. But depend on you, Rob.

In those times you could make light of whatever. There was that red shine on you, your cheeks and jawline always as ruddy and smooth as if you had just out down the shaving razor, and on this largest day of our young lives you were aglow like a hot coal. A stance like a lord and a hue like a lady. You cocked your head in that way of yours and came right out with :” see now, McAngus. So long as we don’t let them hitch a cart to us we’ll be safe as saints,” “ A good enough theory,” I had to agree, “ as far as it goes,” Then came commotion, the grieved sugar carter bursting out, “Oh Ginger dear , why did ye have to tumble?” And dock men shout around him and a blinkered team of horses being driven up at full clatter to drag their dead ilk away. Hastily some whispered geezer from the Cumbrae Steamship Line was waving the rest of us along:”Dead’s dead, people and standing looking at it has never been known to help. Now then, whoever of you are for the `James Watt , straight on to the queue there, New York at its other end, step to it please, thank you.” And so we let ourselves be shooed from the sight of the poor old horsemeat Ginger and went and stepped onto line with our fellow steerage ticket holders beside the bulk of the steamship. Our fellow Scotland-leavers, half a thousand at once, each and every of us now staring sidelong at this black iron island that was to carry us to America.

One of the creels which had held the sugar was bobbing against the ships side, while over our heads deckhands were going through the motions of some groaning chore I couldn’t begging to figure. “Now if this was fresh water , like,” sang out one above the dirge of their task, “I’d wager he a guinea this habor’d right now taste sweet as treacle,” “ But it’s not , ye  bleedin’ daftie. The bleedin ‘ Clyde is tide salt from the Tail of the Bank the full way up to bleedin Glasgow , now en’t it? And what Robert hell kind of concoction are he going to get when he mix sugar and salt ? “ “ Ask our bedamned cook,” put in a third. “All the time he must be doing it, else why’s our mess taste like what the China dog walked away from?” As emphasis he spat a throat gob over the side into the harbour water, and my stomach joined my other constituent parts in trepidation about this world-crossing journey of ours. A week and a half of the Atlantic and dubious food besides ? That steerage que seemed eternal. Seagulls mocked the line of us with sharp cries. A mist verging on rain dimmed out the `Renfrewshire’s hills beyond Greenock’s uncountable roofs . By Ivan Doig.