Faces from Inverclyde's Past

Prior to the arrival of photography in the Inverclyde area around 1860 the recording of portraits of local people depended on the skills of the artist. Portraits were painted for sitters and their families and on various occasions, where the subject was somthing of a local celebrity, translated into lithograph or engraved prints which were available cheaply. Inverclyde had a resident portrait painter living in Greenock from around 1810 onwards in John Fleming (1792-1845). Throughout his career he recorded the merchants, shipbuilders and other prominent local figures such as John Galt and Henry Bell.

In addition to Fleming, there were several other artists active in the area who were commissioned to paint local figures, including local provosts and politicians, a tradition which continued until the start of the twentieth century. On this page you can see portraits of local people, well-known and not so well-known, painted by artists ranging from the famous to the unknown. They provide an insight into how the creators of Inverclyde appeared and lived.

To get a print or license the use of any of these images please contact the Art UK shop and licensing link on the left of this page. If you have any other questions concerning this collection please contact the Museum at wattinstitution@inverclyde.gov.uk.

See thousands of images and records from the collections of the McLean Museum and Inverclyde Archives on our Collections Online website. Use the link on the left of the page to take you there.
Grace Hamilton was born in 1838 and was the daughter of Captain James Hamilton, who was responsible for presenting Greenock with its first carriage ambulance. She became the wife of Dugald Shankland (1820-1909) Provost of Greenock 1893-1896. - 1980.10 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. James Morton was Provost of Greenock in the years 1868-1871. He was involved in schemes for housing the poor and was a proponent of the Garvel Graving Dock scheme as well as being the Chairman of the School Board. - 1992.17 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Abram Lyle was Provost of Greenock between 1876 and 1879.  Famous for his sugar works and Lyle's Golden Syrup, he was also responsible for the gift of the Lyle fountain in Cathcart Street, Greenock and the construction of the Lyle cottage at Quarrier's Homes. - 1992.19 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. George Allan (d 1841) of Rosehill, Greenock. He was the founder of the Clyde Forge, Greenock which was inherited by his two sons on his death in 1841. - 2017.80 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Elizabeth McAra of Cartsdyke, Greenock was the wife of John Clapperton whom she married in 1838. They had three children: Elizabeth, who died aged five, John and James and an adopted daughter Christa Stewart who later married James McCulloch, a wealthy Liverpool merchant. - 2017.81 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. John Wood was the Port Glasgow shipbuilder responsible for the construction of the hull of the Comet. As such, he was famous during his life as the founder of the modern Clydeside steam powered shipbuilding industry. - 2008.80 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Andrew Simpson was described as a 'wright of Greenock' although he also acquired property interests in Greenock at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Lang in 1790. They had two daughters, Jean (who died in 1808) and Margaret (who died in 1819), and a son Thomas, who became a lawyer and died in 1874. - 2017.73 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. William Spence was educated in Glasgow as a manufacturer but was devoted to mathematics. His achievements were all the more outstanding since he was working on his own yet stayed up to date with European developments. He became famous for his work on logarithmic transcendents, algebra and differential equations. - 1978.373 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. David Crawford was the Baron Baillie of Greenock and Deputy Lieutenant of Renfrewshire. As such he was responsible for overseeing affairs in the town on behalf of the feudal landowners. This portrait was presented to him in 1856 as a mark of esteem by his fellow townsmen. - 1977.982 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Sir John Schaw, 1st Baronet of Greenock (d. 1693). It was under John Schaw that the royal charter making Greenock a Burgh of Barony was granted in 1635, thus setting Greenock on the course of future development. - 1978.374 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. This bas-relief is a copy of James Lockhart Brown's tombstone in Greenock cemetery by George Mossman. Brown was Master of Greenock Grammar School and the pupils shown includes the artist Norman MacBeth (1847-1891) and James Fraser Paton (1865-1928), the son of Allan Park Paton- 1978.271 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Dr. James Wallace was the first Medical Officer for Greenock and was responsible for many improvements in the town's sanitary conditions. He served on the Parochial Board, the School Board and several other local bodies and was the father of the composer William Wallace. - 1978.201 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Sir Gabriel Wood was a locally born merchant's son who achieved high office serving the Crown. He was Vice-Consul for the State of Maryland, Commissary-General of Accounts in the West Indies and was knighted by King George IV in April 1825. On his death he bequeathed the funds to build the mariners' home which bears his name. - 1978.368 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Allan Park Paton  was one of the most accomplished and eminent citizens of the 19th century Greenock, probably best remembered as the Librarian of the Watt Library, a post he held for 25 years.  Before his librarianship he was a notary, a poet, a Shakespearian scholar and a patron of the arts. He also wrote for the Greenock Advertiser. - 2003.30 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Alexander Murray Dunlop was the Member of Parliament for Greenock in the years 1852-1868. He won the seat at the third attempt in a lively election against a Conservative, who eventually retired under protest on polling day alleging that his supporters had been intimidated. Dunlop eventually earned himself the title of 'Member for Scotland.' - 1978.312 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Robert Thom  was an outstanding engineer who was responsible for improving Greenock's water supply and was the creator of the now famous 'Greenock Cut' which provided disease free water for drinking and a source of power for Greenock's industries. As such he enabled the town to grow and industrialise rapidly during the first half of the nineteenth century - 1978.255 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Henri Temianka was born in Greenock and became a world famous violinist, conductor and music educator. He was the 1st violinist of the Paganini Quartet and played in eminent venues such as The Library of Congress. His recordings are still available and sought after by those who value great musicianship. - 2016.8 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Sir Michael Hugh Shaw Stewart served as a Captain in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders eventually becoming Honorary Colonel. He entered politics and was elected as M.P. for East Renfrewshire in 1885 and held the seat until 1906. He succeeded his father to the baronetcy in 1903 and was awarded the C.B. in 1916 and K.C.B. in 1933, and was the Lord Lieutenant of Renfrewshire from 1922. - 1978.226 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. John Stewart was an amateur artist, businessman, volunteer soldier and friend of John Pettie, the famous artist. This portrait was a gift from John Pettie to Stewart. His house in Greenock was called 'Glengarden' which was situated at the corner of Fox Street and Newton Street, Greenock. His business was as a ship's chandler - hence his nickname 'Beef' Stewart. - 1977.1088 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Thomas Simpson was born in Greenock in 1792. He worked as a writer or lawyer, eventually becoming a Burgess of the City of Glasgow on the 13 January 1854 and marrying Jane Macfarlane (d 1861). He died near Kirn but was buried in Greenock Cemetery, in lair 37, in 1874. - 2017.75 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Archibald Simpson was born around 1821 in Port Glasgow becoming a clothier living on the south side of Church Street in 1841. By 1851 he seems to have given up his business and is recorded in the census as a 'Student of Divinity'. On 21 July 1857 he married Christina Wilson, the eldest daughter of Robert Wilson, the Port Glasgow ship owner. - 1992.37 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Reverend James Melville McCulloch (1801-1883) was Minister of West Parish Church, Greenock from 1843 to 1883. He bequeathed £400 for a bursary for a boy educated at a Greenock school to pursue his studies at Glasgow University reflecting his interest in education as seen in the setting up of Greenock Academy and the school book 'McCulloch's Course of Reading'. - 1977.956 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Thomas Watt (1642-1734) came to Greenock from Aberdeen, where his father had been killed. Having found his way to Crawford's Dyke, then next to, now part of, Greenock, he founded a school of mathematics and also taught navigation to the local fishermen and seamen. He described himself as 'Thomas Watt, Mathematician, in Crawfordsdyk'. - 2006.383 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. James Watt (1698-1782) awas a merchant and father of James Watt, (1736-1819), the engineer and inventor. He was a man of position and influence in the community of Greenock and was held in high esteem. His prosperity ended when the loss of a valuable ship and other misfortunes swept away most of his fortune. This meant that James jnr. would have to be taught a trade. - 2006.382 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. James McLean of Westbank, founder of the McLean Museum, began as a cabinet-maker and eventually started his own sawmill. He was known in the West of Scotland as 'The Miller', running his saw mill at Cartsdyke until he retired and sold it for £30,000 for to the Greenock Harbour Trust, part of the proceeds being used to create the Watt Hall and McLean Museum. - 1977.979 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. Elizabeth McArthur Caird (b 1828) was the wife of one Greenock's most important shipbuilders, James T. Caird.  The sculpture marks the 40th birthday of James T. Caird (1816-1888) and the couple's 10th anniversary. Elizabeth McArthur was married to James T. Caird at Cartsburn House on the 24th April 1846. - 1978.238 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock James Clapperton (1836-1856) was part of a family with strong maritime and sugar connections. He  ran away to sea at the age of 16 and was lost at sea in 1856. He was the son of Captain John Clapperton and Elizabeth McAra and was the brother of John Clapperton of Drumslea, Greenock. - 2017.82 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. James Slater graduated M.A. at Glasgow University in 1861. He was a teacher at Greenock Academy from 1855 to 1887 and at Kilblain Academy, Greenock from 1858 to 1871. He was Joint Head Master of Kilblain Academy from 1871 to 1890 becoming Rector in 1890. He died at Hunter Villa, Gourock on 24 February 1911. - 1977.840 - ©McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock.