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John Inglis  

Dr John Inglis was the author of the charming little book “A Yachtsman’s Holidays”, written by him in 1879 under the pseudonym “The Governor”. He was the head of A & J. Inglis Shipbuilders, Glasgow but the nom de plume is a humorous reference to his authority or lack of it on the boat. His father, Anthony, founded the business in 1837 and acquired the Pointhouse shipyard, at the confluence of the Rivers Kelvin and Clyde, in 1862. The yard had already been in business for seventeen years, having been started by Thomas B. Sneath in 1845. In turn it was taken over by Harland and Wolff in 1919. The yard closed in 1962. Of the 500 ships built in its 117 year history the most well known were Clyde paddle steamers, including the present Waverly launched 1946 and the Maid of the Loch.

A. & J. Inglis were also engineers and John served an apprenticeship in their Whitehall Foundry, the firms Warrock Street engine works. He attended Glasgow University reading arts, mathematics and engineering, studies that enabled him to underpin naval architecture with science.

Designing yachts became a hobby, the four described in ‘A Yachtsman’s Holidays’ (1) came from his pen. Later, in 1897 the 700 ton steam yacht Safa-el-Bahr for the Khedive, the ruler of Egypt, brought wider recognition. As an HM Yacht she saw service as a patrol vessel in the Mediterranean.

John Inglis had several directorships, sat on numerous committees and received wide professional recognition as described in his ‘Who’s Who in Glasgow’ 1909 entry (2). He was an innovator and had friends at the forefront of ship design. One of these was John MacAusland a director of William Denny and Brothers, to whom ‘A Yachtsman’s Holidays’ is dedicated.

Dennys were one of the first commercial shipyards in the world to build a ship model test tank (3). This is in Dumbarton and is open to the public, part of the Scottish Maritime Museum. John MacAusland’s House, Kirktonhill, in Helenslee Road, Dumbarton built in 1866 and referred to on the book’s dedication page has unfortunately been demolished. Designed by William Leiper, the Dictionary of Scottish Architects refers to it as ‘an early French towered extravaganza’. Clearly it was an edifice befitting a man of MacAusland’s standing in commerce and community. He was a contributor to the funding of the construction of Dumbarton’s St Augustine’s Episcopal Church and the Burgh Academy.  

From references to the club house at Hunter’s Quay in the Holy Loch and a mooring there it is reasonable to assume that John Inglis was a member of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club, established 1856. A pillar of Victorian society he was a man of contradictions. He was immensely successful in business and a philanthropist yet he opposed the ‘Workmen’s Compensation Act’. He extolled the virtues of schooners and built two but returned to the cutter rig of his first yacht for his final and largest for which, of the four, schooner rig would have been best suited. Characteristically of the Victorian age he had little regard for wildlife, using it for target practice from the boat. The weapon aboard was a Snider, a breech loading conversion of the 0.577’’ Enfield muzzle loading rifle. Whilst redundant military Sniders were often bored out to be used as smooth bore shotguns, this one remained a rifle.

We know Inglis was a family man, had a sense of humour and held his crew together for a number of years. Multi-talented, his musical ability can be seen in his account of the cruise of the Mermaid and it took over from sailing as his interest in later years. His lifespan is not readily available but by 1876, the cruise of the Mermaid, his last, one encounters signs of aging, rheumatism, weight gain and hair loss. The main A. & J. Inglis archive is held by Glasgow City Archives. When time permits I’ll search it for personal details and any sailing it may hold.

‘A Yachtsman’s Holidays’

‘A Yachtsman’s Holidays’, comprises accounts of four short cruises between the Clyde and Skye made during the firm’s annual July closure for Glasgow Fair, the city’s two week trades holiday. As one might expect from an author who later became an honorary doctor of laws of Glasgow University the book is well written, a fascinating picture of cruising under sail, life and times. It was John Inglis’ only sailing book so invites scrutiny to see what leads it provides to the man and his sailing. The cruises are undated but one can determine that the last one, the cruise of the Mermaid, was undertaken in July 1876 because the crew went ashore in Oban and received the news of the boiler explosion in the battleship HMS Thunderer (4) , killing more than forty men.

As late 1986 British Isles coastal cruise accounts were not hugely numerous. Toy (5) lists only 94, going back to the 1600s. John Inglis’ delightful little book is one and is in illustrious company. The dark blue cloth covers have the title and a picture of his first boat, the Ilma, off Toward Point, blind stamped in gold leaf. It is illustrated with nine engravings by C. Hewitt, some of whose other work can be found in publications held in the V. & A. National Art Library. Inglis claimed the book was his own work and so one assumes that the engravings are from his own sketches, not an unreasonable conclusion given he was a designer.

Re-prints and on-line availability of ‘A Yachtsman’s Holidays’

Looking at the Kissinger re-print (1), made from a photocopy of the New York Public Library copy, one sees that it is the first edition dated 1879. My own copy, an original, is also dated 1879 and is labelled second edition. It differs in only very minor respects from the first. At the top of Page 125 ‘mainsheet’ has been changed to read ‘mizenboom’, conveniently for the type setter the same number of letters. A footnote has been added to Page 142, referring to Messrs. Hutcheson (6), saying ‘Now D. Macbrayne & Co.’ (7). The brothers D. &A. Hutcheson had retired by 1878 and David Macbrayne, then a partner, succeeded them. The disruption to the text blocks caused by this addition is won back on Page 144 by moving the word ‘wind’, on its own on the penultimate line, to the end of the line above. Otherwise the text blocks and engravings are identical, with the exception of the printer’s mark ‘B’ missing from the foot of page 1 of the Kessinger first edition. Perhaps in photocopying it was erased to tidy the page.

The handcraft nature of type setting and bookbinding in Victorian days becomes apparent when one makes comparison of different editions. Several of the pages of my copy are uncut, revealing how the gatherings were folded before stitching.

Early cruise accounts are out of copyright and their quality makes tempting material for re-print publishers. Computer based ‘print on demand’ and internet downloads, often free of charge, have further increased availability. Tales of the pioneers like this one are an entertainment, offering a multitude of insights into the sport in a by-gone age. Following their tracks adds an historical perspective to cruise preparation and local knowledge of interest and utility today.

The growth of cruising and cruise accounts
A chronology of British Isles coastal cruises of the period is indicative of yacht cruising’s increasing popularity. It was a time of pioneering, before the publication of Frank Cowper’s “Sailing Tours” in 1892-6 (8).

1867 MacGregor, John
Voyage Alone in the Yawl “Rob Roy” from London to Paris and back by Havre, the Isle of Wight, South Coast, etc.

1870 Middleton, Empson Edward
The Cruise of the “Kate.”

1871 Buchanan, Robert Williams
The Land of Lorne, including the cruise of the “Tern” to the Outer Hebrides.

(July 1876, the last cruise of ‘A Yachtsman’s Holidays’ in the yacht Mermaid)

1878 Forwell, William
A Thousand Miles’ Cruise in the “Silver Cloud:” from Dundee to France and Back in a Small Boat.

Holding T.H.
Watery Wanderings mid Western Lochs: A Practical Canoe Cruise.

McMullen, Richard Turill
“Orion;” or, How I came to Sail Alone in a 19-ton Yacht.

1879 The Governor (John Inglis)
A Yachtsman’s Holidays; or, Cruising in the West Highlands.

1880 McMullen, Richard Turill
An Experimental Cruise, Single-Handed in the “Procyon,” 7-ton Lugger.

The cruise of the Ilma July 1873

In the preamble to this first cruise the author introduces Scotland, extols the virtues of yacht cruising, describes the boat, the tendency to over mast and ‘peg top’ design led by the tonnage rule. He eloquently promotes the West Coast as the finest cruising ground in Europe. His enthusiasm is as catching today as it was 130 years ago. It is a short cruise in the Clyde, under sail in a five tonner, having the universal appeal of a venture any weekend yachtsman might aspire to.

The cruise of the Ilma concluded with a visit to Fife’s yard at Fairlie, an association that was to continue with William Fife junior (9) designing the Calluna built at Inglis’ Pointhouse yard and racing in 1893 (10).

The following may help maintain the flow of the narrative.

revenons à nos moutons returning to our subject
cateran a highland brigand
parti carré party of four more usually two men and two women
seniors priores elders first
more suo in his usual manner
lucus a non lucendo an etymological contradiction lit. a grove not lit
Palinurus in Roman mythology the helmsman of the ship of Aenas whose descendents would found Rome
beau ideal perfect beauty
quondam a former time
Boreas a god personifying the north wind - Greek mythology
nem. con. No one contradicting

The cruise of the schooner Concordia July 1874

Inglis compares schooners and cutters and describes the Concordia and her crew. We follow a longer cruise round the Clyde with five nights at anchor compared with the three on the Ilma.

épergne a large table centre piece or stand
saturnalium Roman feast that commemorated the dedication of the temple to Saturn
experto crede lit. believe one who has had experience, trust me


The cruise of the Princess 1875

The longest in duration of the four cruises in a larger schooner; round the Mull of Kintyre and up to the south of Skye, returning via the Crinan canal, with seven nights at anchor.

Nemo mortalium horis sapit. No man is wise at all times
phoenixes and salamanders mythological creatures associated with fire and not hurt by it
Probo meliora, deteriora sequor. I see the better way and approve it but follow the worse way
chef d’oeuvre a master piece
dies non a day on which courts do not sit
ventre à terre lit. belly to the ground – at high speed
rans des vaches a simple melody played on the horn by Swiss alpine herdsmen
sine die without day, an adjournment with no date for resumption
halidome something held sacred
Bardolph a Shakespearean character, a follower of Falstaf

The cruise of the Mermaid July 1876  

The longest in distance of the four cruises, reaching Portree, achieved with six nights at anchor. Time was saved by the outward Holy Loch to Oban being made in one hop and the return via the Crinan canal.

inanition death from insufficient nutrition
omnium gatherum miscellaneous assemblage
l’homme propose [mais dieu dispose] man plans and god decides
sophistries plausible but fallacious arguments
dolce far niente carefree idleness
luting sealing
ménage household members
gurnet grey gurnard, fish of the family Triglidae, Eutrigla gurnardus


Publishing and printing of A Yachtsman’s Holidays

The use of a London publisher, Pickering and Co. and the Chiswick press reflects John Inglis’ wider business interests and committee work in the city. Originally published in a monthly magazine, probably Hunt’s from the reference in the text, the accounts in book form appear his cruising swansong, though his designing continued for another twenty years or so. Doubtless its preparation was pleasant reminiscence, whiling away winter evenings in Inglis’ London residence, far from his beloved West Coast of Scotland. Curiously Pickering’s sixteen page catalogue at the end of the book does not list any nautical titles, begging the question why Pickering? The answer is probably that they were ecclesiastical publishers, familiar to Inglis through his church connections.

The anchor with dolphin entwined and the legend Aldi Discip Angl on the title page is the printer’s mark of Aldus Manutius (1449 – 1515) the Italian renaissance printer which was adopted by William Pickering in 1828. It is a pointer to Pickering’s knowledge of the history of printing rather than any nautical persuasion. Pickering had a long association with Charles Whittingham of the Chiswick Press, accounting for the use of this printer.

Links and references

1. A Yachtsman’s Holidays or Cruising in the West Highlands, by The “Governor” (pseudonym of John Inglis), second edition, London, Pickering & Co, 1879.

Various reprints including Kessinger Publishing’s Legacy Reprint, ISBN 1436916526, and internet downloads:

2. Who's Who in Glasgow, Dr John Inglis:

3. Denny Ship Model Experimental Tank:

4. HMS Thunderer

5. Adventurers Afloat, A Nautical Bibliography, Ernest W. Toy jr., The Scarecrow Press Inc., 1988, in two volumes, ISBN 0-8108-2189-3.

6. David Hutcheson 1799-1880:

7. David MacBrayne 1818-1907:

8. Sailing Tours Part 5, The Clyde to the Thames Round North, first published 1896. Reprinted by Ashford Press Publishing, 1985, ISBN 0-907069-21-5

9. The village of Fairlie and the Fifes:

10. Yachting, Volume II, The Badminton Library, His Grace the 8 th Duke of Beaufort, 1894, Longmans Green and Co., Facsimile re-print Ashford Press Publishing, 1985.

Paul Shave

Blue Spindrift

9 March 2009