When Janet Rodger died at 5 Park gardens Glasgow on 31st August 1901, she bequeathed seven paintings by Horatio McCulloch ‘to form part of the collection of pictures for the new art galleries’ (1). Kelvingrove Art Galleries and Museum had just opened as the central showcase of the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition, which aimed to ‘present the progress in Industry, Science and Art of all nations during the 19th century’(2), so this was an ideal opportunity for those who were considering gifts to the city.
Janet was born to John Smith, a coal-master and Margaret Adam who married in May 1807. She was born on 17th July 1814 after her brothers Francis and David (3). Both brothers became involved in the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde which was expanding rapidly at this time. In 1841 Janet married James Rodger who was also involved in the shipbuilding industry. James’ father Thomas was a Glasgow linen merchant but James was destined for greater things. James and Janet lived at 16 Elmbank Crescent for around twelve years and by 1871 they had moved to 5 Park Gardens, Park district, an affluent and popular area of Glasgow with the wealthy merchant classes.
This was a good time to be involved in the shipbuilding industry in Glasgow. Robert Napier, so- called father of Clyde shipbuilding, set up the Govan Old Yard in 1841(4) to develop the new iron hull industry, just one of many innovations which led to Glasgow becoming the world’s pre-eminent shipbuilding centre. David Napier, a cousin of Robert, was also involved in shipbuilding and apprenticed Janet’s brother David, and James Rodger, who set up their own business of ‘Smith and Rodger’ at Middleton Yard, next to Old Govan Yard. Engine works were initially set up in HydePark Street then St James foundry at the Broomielaw was purchased to build iron hulls. Ships were then completed and launched from the new quay (5).
This was a time when many paddle steamers were seen on the Clyde and one of the first built by Smith and Rodger was ‘Edinburgh Castle’, launched 1844, and later to become part of the MacBrayne fleet, now familiar as Caledonian MacBrayne. She was later moved to Inverness (as Glengarry) and eventually scrapped in 1927. Edinburgh Castle was 138 ft in length and was fitted with a one cylinder steeple paddle.
Over eighty ships were launched by the firm, many for overseas buyers, and the international reach of Smith and Rodger was reflected in names such as New Granada, Persian, Kangaroo, Athenian and Danube (6). In 1864 it was decided to voluntarily stop trading. Both partners were in their fifties, neither had children, and were financially secure. The business was purchased by London and Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Company Limited, which was formed in that year by a consortium of London bankers and both James and David continued their connection in their role as directors. It was one of the first firms to incorporate limited liability and it was often referred to as ‘the limited’. Rodger stayed on the board until his death in 1873 from a longstanding illness. David Smith retired in 1885. At that time the company advised the shareholders that no-one had been found to replace him.
David never married and he died in 1888, leaving an estate of £96,817, a substantial sum for the time. At least one of the paintings which Janet bequeathed to Glasgow had been owned by David. ‘Glencoe’, one of Horatio McCullochs finest and most popular paintings, was loaned by him to Glasgow Royal Institute of Fine Art in 1875, and is usually on display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (7). McCulloch, sometimes known as ‘Scotland’s Constable’, was a popular artist with Glasgow’s industrialists, merchants and collectors, and the romantic highland themes of his paintings would have well suited the fine drawing rooms of the their Victorian villas.
After James Rodger died in 1873, Janet’s younger brother Francis came to the townhouse at 5 Park Gardens until his death in 1891, and Janet continued to live there until her death in 1901.
She left an estate of £84,273, and it is interesting to note that the informant on her death certificate was David Dehane Napier, a second cousin, who published a biography of his grandfather in 1912, another David Dehane Napier who was a cousin of the well known Robert Napier (8). James and Janet Rodger are interred in Glasgow Necropolis.
1) Glasgow Museums Resource Centre; Object Files.
2) Kinchin P, Kinchin J (1988), Glasgow’s Great Exhibitions, Glasgow:Bell and Bain
3) Scotlands people, births,(OPR births 654/0010 0396 Rutherglen) http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
4) Post Office Directories
5) Browning A S E, A History of Clyde Shipyards (Mitchell Library, Glasgow)
7) Bilcliffe R, RGI 1861-1969 Directory of Exhibitors (Mitchell Library, Glasgow)