Canoes, pp.14-16.

[Scottish National Memorials Contents]

   ANCIENT CANOE, found in bed of river Clyde in 1879. In the valley of the Clyde, and in positions which point to the fact that great changes in the physical features of the region have taken place within comparatively recent times, a large number of relics of early navigation have from time to time been disinterred. Records of the discovery of at least twenty-five of these canoes within a century have been preserved, all of which, with one exception, were scooped out of single trunks of oak trees. The stern of these canoes generally consisted of a board inserted in grooves in the sides; but in some cases the stern-board was left in hollowing out the trunk. The dimensions of some of these canoes show that the trunks of the trees 

operated on were of gigantic dimensions. Eighteen Cannes discovered previous to 1856 are recorded by Dr. John Buchanan in Glasgow Past and Present, vol. iii. p. 555 et seq. (Glasgow, Robertson, 1856). The first was found in digging the foundations of St. Enoch’s Church in 1780, the second was discovered in the following year, when the foundations of the Tontine at the Cross were dug out, and in 1824 another was unearthed in a position between the sites of the first two in Stockwell Street. The fourth is recorded as from the Drygate, almost three-quarters of a mile from the present banks of the Clyde, and the fifth was found in a vertical position, prow uppermost, in 1825, in London Street. These canoes were all destroyed, without any description or record of their size being kept. Again, in connection with the operations of the Clyde Navigation Trustees for improving the river and harbour, which began in 1847, twelve canoes were exhumed, all distant at least 100 yards from the banks of the river as it then ran, and lying at a depth of about 19 feet below the surface. Fire of these were found on the lands of Springfield, where Springfield Quay now is, five more at Clydehaugh, immediately west of Springfield, one at the Pointhouse on the north bank of the river where the Kelvin joins the Clyde, and one, not however a canoe, at Bankton, adjacent to Clydehaugh. The first of the Springfield group, discovered in 1847, is now preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh, measures 11 feet in length, 27 inches in breadth, and is 15 inches deep; the second (Fig. 19), in the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow, is 19 feet 4 inches long, 30 inches deep, with a breadth of 3 feet 6 inches at the stem and 2 feet 9 ½ inches at the centre; the third and fourth (Fig. 20) were destroyed – one of them was distinguished by having a plug of cork in its bottom – and the fifth, 11 feet 10 inches long by 2 feet in breadth at the stern, went to the Andersonian Museum in Glasgow. The Pointhouse canoe, found in 1851, and which measured 12 feet in length by 2 feet in breadth and 1 foot 10 inches in depth, was also destroyed. Of the five Clydehaugh canoes, the remains of one discovered in 1852 were preserved in Stirling’s Library, Glasgow, till 1864, when the library was moved to new premises, and the canoe was parted with. It was probably taken to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, where the remains of two canoes were deposited till, under the influence of the weather, they crumbled away. It measured 12 feet long, 2 feet 5 inches broad, and 2 feet 6 inches deep. The second of the series was 14 feet 10 inches long and 2 feet broad. The remaining three were found close together; but of two of them no record is preserved. The third, which was regarded by Dr. Buchanan as a specially fine vessel, passed into the hands of the late William Euing. It was fixed for rowing, not paddling, and in the bottom there was fitted a plug perforated with a circular eye. It was 14 feet long, but in breadth it attained the remarkable proportions of 4 feet 1 inch. The Bankton find, unlike the others, was really a built boat, having strong, broad plank of oak in the bottom, on which a keel was formed by cutting into the plank. From this keel transverse ribs arose which were planked over with overlapping boards, 8 inches broad, just as in modem boats. The prow was provided with a neat cutwater, and the stem was fitted exactly as it would now be done. The boat measured 18 feet in length, its width at the waist was 5 feet, and at the stern 3 feet 6 inches. The structure crumbled to pieces on 

exposure to the air. In 1854 another discovery of a canoe was made at Erskine Ferry, ten miles below Glasgow. The vessel was by far the largest recorded as excavated in the Clyde Valley, measuring 29 feet in length, no less than 5 feet across the stern, with a depth at the stern of 3 feet 4 inches, and in the centre of about 26 inches. Indentations in the sides show that there were four seats for rowers, the seats being placed 2 feet 7 inches apart. In 1863 two canoes were revealed on the north bank of the river nearly opposite Renfrew, one of which was no less than 25 feet in length, the other was smaller and much decayed; but both were allowed to go to utter wreck. In 1868 two more were found close together at Bowling; one of which, very rudely formed, measured 23 feet 6 inches in length, and inside her was an oaken club; the other much more neatly constructed, was 13 feet long by 3 feet broad and 2 feet deep. In the same year a canoe 22 feet in length was obtained a little below Milton Island, near Dunglas, in which it is said that there were six stone axes, an oaken club, and a piece of deer’s antler. In connection with the works at the lower harbour of Glasgow for the formation of the Queen’s Dock and Stobcross Quay a canoe (see Fig. 21) was discovered in 1875, in a position along the line of what is now Stobcross Quay Wall, in a deposit of sand and gravel, about 8 feet below the high-tide level, and 3 feet above low water. It was about 20 feet in length, and contained a part of a deer’s antler. The boat crumbled to pieces, and was ultimately burned. The remains of the canoe No. 762, now preserved in Kelvingrove Museum, were found just below Rutherglen Bridge 

in 1879. Only the bottom and a portion of the prow of the craft, which measures 12 feet 3 inches in length by 2 feet 3 inches in greatest breadth of bottom, have been secured. In January 1880 another discovery of a canoe was made on an islet, which at one time was known as Point Island, at Glasgow Green, nearly opposite Nelson’s Monument. The removal of a weir in the river had laid bare traces of the island, and the canoe was seen imbedded amid stones and gravel. A careful attempt on the part of the Archaeological Society of Glasgow to secure the relic failed on account of the condition of the wood and the position it occupied in the stream. 


   DRAWINGS OF ANCIENT CANOES obtained in the Clyde Valley which belonged to the late John Buchanan, LL.D. 

(937) Lent by DAVID MURRAY, LL.D. 

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