Published by Brown Son & Ferguson, Glasgow (1st Edition 2009)

Book Review by David Clement

Whilst this publication is not inexpensive the quality and contents more than make up. As many know the reviewer has a love of the final merchant sailing vessels in the last trades open to them with the increasing competition from powered vessels. Bill Cumming has taken the story of one company, its development, organisation and the vessels it operated, whilst not forgetting the human side of the officers and men that manned these ships. He has produced an exceptional publication that addresses many of the myths of current thinking and, refreshingly, tells it ‘as it was.’

Many readers will know Brown Son & Ferguson, specialist publishers who have been in business since 1832 producing technical books for the maritime trades and – possibly better known to our members – for the books on sail written by Basil Lubbock, and Harold A. Underhill, together with their monthly Nautical Magazine, now joined by Bill Cumming.

The author has chosen to lay out the narrative into descriptive sections – Bowsprit; Foremast; Mainmast; Mizzen Mast; Jigger Mast and Wake. These detail in 22 chapters the commencement, growth and eventual decline of the company and their very well-known ships, starting with the wood barque Majestic, through five iron ships, seven composite, and twelve iron 4-masted barques from the County of Peebles of 1875, and culminating in the County of Linlithgow of 1887, and covering a building period from 1846 to 1887. Each vessel is dealt with in considerable detail and well illustrated, many of which photos have previously not been published.

The County of Peebles pioneered (with the Tweedsdale) the genre of 4-masted vessels, albeit there were earlier 4-masted vessels – notably the Great Republic of 1853 and even the ‘rafts’ Columbus and Baron of Renfrew of the 1820s, which latter were built to avoid taxation! This is a really excellent book which also deals in depth with the masters, officers and crew of the ships and one is left with the heady smell of hemp, tar, rust and paint evocative of those last days of commercial sail which generally saw hard work and poor provisions the order of the day.

The author is the grandson of two of the masters’ on Craig’s ‘County’ Line vessels and has spent many years on this original research, the results for which he deserves congratulations. My only criticism are, perhaps the pagination numbering which is omitted in the ‘Contents’ headings, and makes it less than user-friendly to locate a specific chapter quickly; and the cost of the book which is likely to make it a scarce item in booksellers’ premises. The book can however be obtained direct from the publishers or through Amazon. That apart I could not put the book down and it is both a great read and full of detailed and often previously unpublished information.

David B. Clement

Life President & Editor of Marine SW & Monographs

South West Maritime History Society, UK

About the book GONE:

Published first in Dec’2009: includes original graphic material printed on high grade paper

Hardback only: A5 format x 380 pages                                                                                 Catalogue ISBN: 978-1-849270-137-7

About the Author:

‘Bill’ Cumming is a Glaswegian, and the great-grandson of two Master Mariners employed by R & J Craig, He is a well-travelled Chartered Engineer, now living in Hampshire, who accumulated the original material for this book over several decades.

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Observations of some recent readers include:

” . . . the book took-over from where Basil Lubbock left -off about the early big iron ships; it is a more interesting read than the title suggests . . .”

” . . . thank you for a great read. I have learned a lot, enjoyably!”

“. . . unexpectedly, full of human interest . . .”

” . . . much more interesting than run-of-the-mill maritime books. I am onto my second read of it . . .”

“Having just finished GONE . . . . I found it very enjoyable from start to fish”

“. . . I was given GONE as a birthday gift . . . it’s a very good read”

. . . there are previously unpublished letters and notes; all in all, a good working of a history, from the days of sail, written by an enthusiast”. (Editor of a UK Maritime Journal).

” . . . this was an ideal birthday gift for my husband, he was enthralled . . .”