BORN in Glasgow on Christmas Day in 1824, Dr. Gow comes of
old Arbroath stock, whose gravestones are to be seen in the Abbey burying-ground
there. His grandfather was a merchant in the east-coast town, but his father
came to Glasgow, established a business, and married Mary Carswell, daughter of
a noted builder, whose descendants still own a large block of his property in
Queen Street. Dr. Cow's early memories are of the Reform Bill processions of
1832, and of the terror of the Burke and Hare murders. His father died early,
and the boy at the age of seven went to live with an uncle, a farmer, near
Glamis. He was educated at the parish schools of Kinettles and Glamis, and with
a view to becoming a minister entered St. Andrew's University in 1841. In 1849
he was duly licensed as a probationer of the Church of Scotland. His health,
however, broke down, and though for two years as assistant he conducted the
Theological classes of Professor Mearns in King's College, Aberdeen, he was
finally forced to give up the idea of a sedentary life,
In 1853 he entered the office of his elder brother, Allan Carswell Gow, then rapidly building up a prosperous shipping business in Glasgow, and presently he became his partner. His brother died suddenly of typhus fever in 1859, and he then became head of the firm. Shortly before this he had married Jessie, daughter of the late Mr. Peter Macleod, who for long before and afterwards was his most valued and intimate friend.
Up to 1869 the firm of Allan C. Gow & Co. owned only sailing vessels, but on the opening of the Suez Canal, convinced that steamers must be the ships of the future, they established the Glen Line to trade between London, Singapore, China, and Japan. To manage this they opened a house, McGregor, Gow & Co. in London, but as the parent firm had undertaken the management of the State Steamship Co.'s line of steamers trading between Glasgow and New York, Mr. Gow remained in Glasgow. He retired several years ago from the firm of Allan C. Gow & Co., which is now carried on by his eldest son and his partner under the style of Gow, Harrison & Co., but he is still senior partner of the London business.
Outside his own business, Dr. Gow has been a Director of the Burmah Oil Co., Ltd., Nobel's Explosives Co., Ltd., the Scottish Imperial Insurance Co., Ltd., and the Glasgow branch of the Alliance Insurance Co., and he was for many years Chairman of the Cassel Gold Extracting Co., Ltd. This company owns the McArthur-Forrest patent for extracting gold and silver from refractory ores by use of cyanide of potassium. Previous to the discovery of this process the gold mines of the Transvaal were nearly all unprofitable. Mr. Kruger's Government, however, refused the patents as void of novelty, and so enabled the mine-owners to become millionaires while depriving the Cassel Company of a yearly income of half-a-million sterling. Dr. Gow has also been a Director of the Merchants' House, the Chamber of Commerce, the Clyde Trust, the Clyde Lighthouse Trust, and the Royal Institute of the Fine arts, and he was for twenty years one of the Governors of the Glasgow School of Art.
He has always taken a warm interest in the religious and philanthropic institutions of the city. For many years he was a Director of the Western Infirmary, the Charity Organisation Society, the Juvenile Delinquency Board, and the Magdalene institution. And he is still on the Boards of the National Bible Society of Scotland (of which he was chairman for two years), of the Ear Hospital, Central Dispensary, Out-Door Mission to the Blind, Association for Relief of Incurables, and Canal Boatmen's Friendly Society. In the last two he has always taken special interest, and was, with the late Mr. Robert Miller and Sir William Bilsland, the founder of the Canal Boatmen's Institute at Port-Dundas.
On the passing of the Education Act of 1872 he was elected a member of the School Board of Kirkintilloch, where he then resided, and was Chairman for the first nine years. After coming to Glasgow he refused requests to stand for the School Board and the Town Council. Reading has been one of the chief pleasures of his life, and he has a library of some six thousand volumes. Occasionally he has taken part in a course of lectures, and in the published collection of a series given in 1887 on shipping subjects, his opening lecture - on the history of Clyde Shipping during fifty years - occupies the first place.
In 1905 the University of St. Andrews conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. Dr. Gow is a J.P. for Dunbartonshire and the County of the City of Glasgow. He has four sons and three daughters, all married.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)