Fraserburgh four feature in new book 'Forgotten Heroes of the North East'

A new book, Forgotten Heroes of the North East, puts the focus on seven men who made a considerable contribution to world history.

Friday, 5th November 2021, 8:36 am
'Forgotten Heroes of the North East' by Bill GIbb includes four men from the Fraserburgh area..

Written by Mike Gibb, the book is a companion volume to the 2020 tome Forgotten Heroines of the North East.

In his latest book, the spotlight falls heavily on Fraserburgh and District, with four of the seven coming from this corner of the North East. Here’s an insight into the ‘Fraserburgh Four’:

HUGH MERCER

The book features seven men who made a considerable contribution to world history.

Born in Pistligo in 1726 he studied at Aberdeen University before joining Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite Army and fighting at Culloden. He hid from the British Army for a year before sailing to America. He settled in Franklin County in Pennsylvania where he worked as a physician and befriended George Washington, and fought alongside Washington in the American War of Independence. He was killed by British forces in 1777 at Princeton. Numerous streets, towns and counties are named in his honour in America. His daughter married another Scot called Patton whose descendants include various war heroes most notably General George S. Patton. Mercer’s son Hugh can also boast a list of notable descendants including Johnny Mercer, who wrote over 1500 songs, the best known being Moon River.

REV. JAMES RAMSAY

Born in Fraserburgh in 1733 Ramsay similarly studied at Aberdeen University emerging with a medical degree. He joined the Royal Navy and served aboard the HMS Arundel, stationed in the West Indies. Horrified by the conditions he encountered when he boarded a slave ship and crippled by an onboard accident he left the navy and joined the ministry. He secured a post on the island of St Kitts where he endeavoured to help the black slaves much to the annoyance of the white slave owners. After more than two decades he returned to the UK and took up the post of minister at Teston in Kent enjoying the patronage and support of Sir Charles Middleton and his wife. He was so horrified about the way that slaves were treated in the West Indies that he wrote a book which became the definitive work for slave abolitionists titled ‘An essay on the treatment and conversion of African slaves in the British sugar colonies’. Having slavery abolished became his life’s work and thanks to the support of the Middletons he met William Wilberforce and William Pitt the Younger. Sadly Ramsay died before slavery was eventually abolished but he was later described as the single most important influence in the abolition of the slave trade. A plaque in his honour is on display in St Peter’s Church in Fraserburgh while the park on Maconochie Road in the town is named after him.

THOMAS BLAKE GLOVER

Born in Fraserburgh in 1838 Glover was educated in Aberdeen before beginning work with the trading company Jardine Matheson & Co. They sent him to Shanghai and subsequently Nagasaki where he made his made his name and fortune. Initially he dealt mainly in the exportation of tea but diversified establishing the Takashima coal mine and the Japan Brewery Company which to this day produces the world famous Kirin beer. He is, however, best known in Japan for supporting the Satsuma clan, supplying them with arms and Aberdeen built warships, thereby helping to overthrow the dominant Shogun. He became known as the ‘Scottish Samurai’. An incident in his private life, where he took away a five year boy he had fathered from a geisha girl, apparently causing her to attempt suicide, is said to have inspired the central character of Lt. Pinkerton in Puccini’s opera ‘Madame Butterfly’. In his later years he moved to Tokyo as an advisor to the Yatora brothers who had established the Mitsubishi Corporation and is said to have been so well thought of that he was paid more than the chairman. He died in Japan in 1911.

BILL GIBB

Born in a farm in Fraserburgh in 1943, Bill studied at St Martin’s School of Art and Royal School of Art in London. After a tour of the US with fellow students he returned to London and established the Alice Paul boutique before going to work for Baccarat. One of his earliest designs was voted dress of the year by Vogue magazine and in 1970 he was voted Designer of the Year by the same magazine. His work came to the attention of Twiggy and he designed a dress for her for the premiere of the film The Boyfriend. He also worked with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins and Bianca Jagger, and Harrods set up a room in its store in his name. Although a brilliant designer he was not such a good businessman and by the late seventies his company went into liquidation. He made a comeback in the 80s but without the same success and by then his health was deteriorating. He was diagnosed with bowel cancer and succumbed to the disease in St Stephen’s Hospital in London on January 3, 1988, three weeks short of his 45th birthday. In October 2008 an exhibition called a Moment in Time opened at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, opened by Twiggy and hosted by Zandra Rhodes, to celebrate his work, with many of those attending wearing Bill Gibb creations.

• Also featured are Lewis Grassick Gibbon, James Scott Skinner and Provost Alexander Nicol. The book costs £5.99 with all proceeds going to the Bianca animal shelter in Portugal, which currently has 400 dogs and 100 cats in its care. For more information, email Mike at [email protected]