Robert McKane Hopkins, born on 13th June 1872 in Portrush, Co. Antrim, N. Ireland came to Port Glasgow with his twin brother James and elder brother Daniel while in his teens, married and settled here.
 

Old residents of Coleraine will be interested to know that Mr. Robert Hopkins, who is a native of the town,
has lately retired from the service of the Gourock Ropework Co., Ltd., Port Glasgow,
with a record of over
50 years' continuous service with the firm.
Mr Hopkins went to Port Glasgow in 1888 and entered the employment of the Gourock Ropework in their covers department and later in the weaving department. He was appointed foreman of the tent and cover making department in 1897 at the age of 33. At the outbreak of the South African War the tent and cover making was extended to Greenock, where large numbers of bell tents and hospital tents were made for the troops in South Africa, the output totalling about 750 tents per week.

Some of the details below were taken from a local news paper report from Coleraine, County Antrim, Northern Ireland around 1938-39

A very interesting product of the tent department during Mr. Hopkins association with it was the large circus tents for the famous Bertram Mills Circus. This is one of the largest tents of its kind in the world, being approximately 200 feet long by 150 feet broad. With accommodation for about 4,000 persons, it weighs about five tons and required 3,500 square yards of waterproof canvas.About four of these large tents have been made in Port Glasgow in over the years

During his time as foreman of the covers department Mr Hopkins has supervised the manufacture of every conceivable kind of canvas goods which have found their way to all corners of the globe. His most recent efforts were centred on all types of canvas dams for the ARP.and emergency purposes on the one hand and swimming pools on the other. Mr Sam Anderson,another Coleraine man, worked as a cutter at the works in Port Glasgow for a number of years

Robert McKane Hopkins

The Gourock Ropeworks Co, created the wholly owned subsidiary Gourock Ropes & Canvas Ltd in 1888 to deal with the overseas trade. The first branch was opened in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1888 and in 1902 a branch was opened in Sydney Australia. The Buenos Aries branch traded chiefly in manila rope, cotton and flax sail cloth and Birkmyre's waterproof cloth. Until 1906, when machinery was sent out from Britain and a small factory established, all covers and tents were hand sewn.
Trade with shipping companies for awnings, ropes, hatch and cargo covers increased.

The factory closed in 1918 and new purpose built works were erected in 1924 providing both a factory and a store.
Supplies of manila ropes, which were imported from Port Glasgow, often were insufficient and it was decided in the 1930s to start production of ropes in Buenos Aires ,a main buyer of which was the Argentine government. In 1940 a proofing department was installed to produce a lower quality waterproof canvas that would compete with the rivals that were coming onto the market.

During the Second World War the materials needed to produce rope that were normally imported from Port Glasgow were no longer available and it was decided that hard fibre spinning plant be installed to allow the manufacture of the yarn needed for rope. By 1954 the plant was running successfully.
The company appears to have ceased trading in the 1960s and the Gourock Ropes & Canvas Ltd was dissolved in 1999.

Details of the Buenos Aires factory

The details on this page were very kindly sent to me by Mr Hopkins grandson who is compiling his family tree.
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In 1898 at St Mary's Church he married Elizabeth Smith Bellingham, born in South Shields she had arrived in the Port as a child with her parents and attended Clune Park School. They lived at first in Bouverie Terrace, then 2 Kilmory Terrace where they brought up four sons and two daughters. Both of his brothers also married and settled in the town.

Mr Hopkins can claim to be a pioneer of industry, being sent by his firm to Buenos Aires to install and teach native labour the manufacture of tents and covers This was no easy task, when it is borne in mind that he had to overcome the difficulty of a foreign language and the success of the sail loft in Buenos Aires is undoubtedly a tribute to his ability,

In 1909 on behalf of the company he travelled to their recently set up premises in Buenos Aires, South America accompanied with three fellow employees. Their task was to train locals in the manufacture of canvas tents etc. At 12 midday on 14th May 1909 they boarded the steam ship 'ARAGUAYA' of The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company at Southampton as 3rd Class passengers, but managed to change to 2nd Class, sharing 4 Berth Cabin No. 519

During their voyage the ship called at Cherourg, Vigo (Spain), Lisbon (Portugal), Madeira, Pernambuco (Recife), Bahia, (Salvador, Brazil), Rio, Santos, Monte Video, finally arriving at 7 a.m.9th June 1909 in Buenos Aires. Quite a trip for these men in those days! Robert wrote a long letter to his manager back home relating in detail their trip. A short extract reads:-

"Our next place of call Madeira we did not go ashore here, but we had a good laugh at the little black boys diving for money they are very fly and will not dive for anything but silver, there were also a lot of natives that come alongside to sell their wares. We learned one of third Class passengers died and buried at sea. After we passed the Island of St Vincent we saw a great many flying fish. The next place Pernambuco was pretty rough, had a good laugh at the passengers going ashore trying to get into the small boats. A number of passengers spent time trying to catch Sharks, which were plentiful, but Mr Shark was too fly to take the bait. A concert in aid of the widow and children of the Russian who died and buried at sea earlier got a good sum of money."

Robert and his companions worked about a year in Buenos Aires before returning to their families in Port Glasgow

This page last modified on Friday, October 08, 2010

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