GOUROCK, a quoad sacra parish in Renfrewshire, divided from Innerkip by the General Assembly in May 1832. It lies on the left bank of the frith of Clyde, immediately below Greenock, and is in length about 3½ miles, and in breadth about 3. The bay of Gourock possesses great advantages for a sea-port, being well-sheltered, and unobstructed by bank or shoal, and having depth of water for vessels of any burden; nevertheless, the shipping-trade has been attracted higher up the frith. So early as the year 1494, when Greenock was a mean fishing-village, and long before Port-Glasgow was known even by name, the eligibility of Gourock as a haven was appreciated. This appears from an indenture entered into at Edinburgh on the 27th of December, 1494, between that redoubted seaman, Sir Andrew Wood of Largs, and other two persons, on behalf of the king, on the one part, and “Nicholas of Bour, maister, under God, of the schip called the Verdour,” on the other part, whereby it was stipulated that “the said Nicholas sail, God willing, bring the said Verdour, with mariners and stuff for them, as effeirs, to the Goraik, on the west bordour and sey [sea], aucht mylis fra Dunbertain, or tharby, be the first day of the moneth of May nixt to cum, and there the said Nicholas sall, with grace of God, ressave within the said schip thre hundreth men boden for wer [equipped for war], furnist with ther vitales [victuals], harnes, and artilzery, effeirand to sa mony men, to pass with the kingis hienes, at his plessore, and his lieutennentes and deputis, for the space of twa monthis nixt, and immediat folowand the said first day of May, and put thaim on land, and ressave thaim again;” for which there was to be given to the shipmaster £300 Scots money, being at the rate of £1 Scots for each man.1 From the terms of this agreement, and from the spot appointed for the rendezvous being on the west coast, it is evident that the vessel was fitted out for the use of the king himself, James IV., in one of the voyages which he undertook, about the time in question, to the Western isles, for the purpose of bringing their turbulent inhabitants into subjection; and at Gourock, in all probability, he embarked. – The lands of Gourock formed the western part of the barony of Finnart, which belonged to the great family of Douglas. On the forfeiture of their estates in 1455, this portion was conferred by the Crown on the Stewarts of Castlemilk, from whom it was called Finnart-Stewart. It continued in their possession till 1784, when it was sold to Duncan Darroch, Esq., to whose son, Lieutenant-general Darroch, it now belongs. About the year 1747, the old castle of Gourock was entirely removed, and the present mansion erected near its site.
The village of Gourock is prettily situated upon the bay, and has, we believe, been resorted to for sea-bathing longer than any other place on this coast. In 1694 it was created a burgh-of-barony, with the right of holding a weekly market on Tuesday, and two annual fairs. Power was also given to form a “harbour and port,” in virtue of which there was probably constructed the quay, which was lately supplanted by the present substantial and convenient one. A great proportion of the permanent inhabitants are engaged in the herring and white fishery. This was the first place in Britain where red herrings were prepared. The practice was introduced, towards the end of the 17th century, by Walter Gibson, an enterprising Glasgow merchant, who was provost of that city in 1688, and of whom our authority – Semple, in his History of Renfrewshire – says, he “may justly be styled the father of the trade of all the west coasts.” The curing of red herrings has long since been abandoned here; as has also the preparation of salt in connection with it, for which pans were constructed. A considerable rope-work has been carried on since 1777; and whinstone for street-paving is quarried to some extent. About 1780, an attempt was made for coal in the neighbourhood of the village; but meeting with copper ore, the undertakers were diverted from their first object. “This new discovery,” says the Old Statistical reporter, “promised well both in richness and quantity; but being wrought by a company who were chiefly engaged in England, it was so managed as to defeat the expectation.” – Kempock Point, which forms the western termination of the bay, is crowned by a long upright fragment of rock, called “Kempock stane,” which, it is said, indicates the spot where a saint of old dispensed favourable winds to the navigators of the adjacent waters. The stone is without any sculpture or inscription. Some superstitious belief appears to have been connected with it in former times; for at the trial of the Innerkip witches, in 1662, one of them, Mary Lamont, an infatuated creature, aged only 18, confessed that she and some other women, who were in compact with the devil, held “a meeting at Kempock, where they intended to cast the long stone into the sea, thereby to destroy boats and ships.”2 Kempock point consists of a mass of light blue columnar porphyry, abutting from a hill of the same materials which has been quarried to a great extent. In our own time, this abrupt point of land has become memorable on account of two melancholy accidents which took place on the frith close to it. The first occurred to a vessel called the Catherine of Iona, which was run down by a steam-boat during the night of the 10th of August, 1822, when 42 persons perished out of 46. The other catastrophe referred to was that of the Comet steamer, which, when rounding the point, at about the same spot, was run on board, and instantly sunk, by another steam-vessel, about 60 human beings losing their lives.
According to a census taken by the minister in 1837-8, the population of the parish amounted to 1,302; of whom 1,000 resided in the village, the rest being dispersed over the country parts. In the report made to the Commissioners of Religious instruction, in 1838, it was stated that of the population 45 were lunatics. This is accounted for by the fact that there are in the parish establishments for maintaining such unfortunate persons. – About the year 1776, a chapel-of-ease was built at the east end of the village. The present parish-church, which stands about its centre, was built by subscription in 1832. The original cost was £1,731 2s. 9½d., exclusive of the aisle erected at an expense of £535 by General Darroch, the principal heritor, who gave the ground, upon payment of £3 1s. 4d. per annum for feu-duty. The additional sum of £197 2s. 0½d. has been expended in procuring communion-cups, painting, and otherwise improving the church. Sittings 947. The average attendance at church during June, July, and August, is about 900, and during November, December, and January, about 500: the increased attendance during the summer-months is caused by the numerous strangers who resort hither for sea-bathing. Stipend £120, of which £100 is paid by the managers from the seat-rents, and £20 by General Darroch. It is permanent, and secured by a bond from these parties. The minister has no manse, glebe, or other privileges. Parochial school-master’s salary £20 10s., with about £30 of school-fees, and £2 2s. annually for distributing the poor’s money. There are two private schools, with one teacher in each.
1 The Acts of the Lords of Council in Civil causes from 1478 to 1495, published in 1839.
2 The commission for the trial, and the confession, are printed in the ‘Visitor,’ or ‘Literary Miscellany,’ vol. ii. p. 135, Greenock, 1818. Mr. R. Chambers, in his ‘Picture of Scotland,’ p. 206, 4th edition, speaks as if the stone no longer existed here; but this is a mistake, it still remains.