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RICH MAN'S PHILANTHROPIC HOBBIES.

(James Coats, head of the great cotton firm of Paisley, gave large sums of money to the institutions of Scotland generally, and to those of Paisley m particular, but that of itself would not have made him remarkable, for the philanthropy of Paisley, and especially of the firm of Coats, has become almost commonplace. What was remarkable about the late James Coats (says the ' Glasgow Evening News ') was that for many years back he would seem to have shut himself up m Ferguslie House with a large ordnance survey map of Scotland, and spent his days picking out upon it the names of obscure little communities to which he could send the means of solace and recreation for long winter nights. A few of those places on the coast he had doubtless visited m his yachting days, but the great majority of them, inland, and m isles unvisited, could never be anything more to him than names upon the map. He sent them libraries. The Coats .Libraries are to be found m all the townships of the Hebrides from Ness m Lewis down to Islay; m the Shetlands, the Orkneys, m scores of villages m all the counties north of the Roman wall, and m many of the Lowland western shires. They are m Highland barracks and police stations; they are to be found m the outmost lighthouses. In the past dozen years he probably spent more m this fashion than all the Highland landlords spent m any fashion of philanthropy for the -past century. — A Minor Monte Cristo. — Nor was he content to send what books should have been most accessible to his bookseller. Finding a certain dearth of popular Gaelic literature, he commissioned the writing of books m Gaelic, published them at his own expense, and included them m his libraries. It occurred ' to him then that books were of only a qualified value to old people whose eyesight was defective, and he practically ruined the sale of window-glass cut into the shape of lenses and peddled round the country as spectacles, for he despatched skilled opticians through the country, who prescribed and distributed free Coats spectacles to such as needed them. There are unhappy people, however, who cannot read even with spectacles, and they were not overlooked m his benefactions. For years he engaged a most talented and entertaining lecturer, now a member of Parliament, who visited the remotest parts of the country, and spoke m many instances where a lecturer had never been seen before. Then another notion came to Mr Coats as he studied his ordnance survey maps, and to all the rural school boards he sent school-bags for the local children — smart, serviceable school-bags, quite unlike the kind one sees m Glasgow. The uniform character of the school-bag, as it may be encountered on lonely roads m Breadalbane or Strathnaver — a cross between an attache-case and a knapsack — is accounted for by the fact that the design was chosen m Ferguslie House, and its cost was paid there. These were the most palpable gifts of Mr Coats; everybody knew about them, not through any selfadvertisement on his part. But his donations took many other forms, particularly m those little West Coast harbors he happened to remember specially as contributive to the pleasure of his yachting. It was, for instance, a foible of his to purchase great quantities of homespun and home-knitted articles m one place and distribute them m another. Thus his name was widely known, and his personality invested with some of the romance attendant on the exploits of a minor Monte Cristo. AH that was known, about him with certainty m the scenes of his benefactions was that he was a Coats, of Paisley (which postulates bobbins naturally) ; that he was a bachelor, no longer young; & shy, retiring man, with no active interest m public life; and a yachtsman, who m recent years seldom went cruising. His bachelor state, regarded as unreasonable m a man of such apparent wealth, was attributed to his being a misogynist — a woman-hater, that rare phenomenon so many women speak about but have never seen, and believe, m private, to be impossible. — As a Yachtsman. —

James Coats, of course, was no more a misogynist than the rest of us, but the unconventionality of his character gave some color to the general belief of the West Coast that he was oddly unlike the ordinary conception of a plutocrat. The great white house on the beak of Strone, at the mouth of Holy Loci), was known to be bisj it was general knowledge that for years he had not set foot m it, and that he had probably never been m it more than a score of times since it was built, though it was always kept m a state of complete preparedness for his visit. As eloquent a testimony to his unconventionality was the great schooner Gleniffer, which, year after year, has come out of her winter quarters m the James Watt Dock, taken up her moorings m Gourock Bay, and remained there with her steam consort Triton till it is time to go back to the dock again. For some years after Mr Coats ceased to put the Gleniffer to her proper use, he had her and her consort fully commissioned every summer, and, with their complete crews, the two ships lay at anchor, waiting for an owner who never came on board. It seemed that though he saw no chance of being able to sail, he disliked the idea of taking away their summer job from 60 or 70 men. When at last the state of his health made it obvious even to himself that he should never cruise again, he still maintained the yachts m the care of their officers, and kept m touch with all the discarded hands at Christmas, wherever they might be. — An Unknown Owner. — One day a gentleman of no particularly imposing aspect turned up at the entrance to " Dunselma," the white house on the hill at Strone. He was informed by a gardener at work on the lawn that visitors were not allowed. " But surely I may be permitted," said the stranger, quietly. "lam Mr Coats." The gardener looked at him with sly amusement. " Na ! na !" said he; "there's mony a man comes here wi' a story like that, but when Mr Coats turns up himsel' we'll ken o't !"' The owner of Dunselraa made no further attempt to prove his identity, and went away without seeing his house, but quite satisfied that he had at least a watchman of integrity, and shortly afterwards the gardener, who was an old man, and had never to his knowledge seen the gentleman who employed him, was retired on a handsome pension. The story may look like fiction, but it is absolutely true m every particular, and it is characteristic of the whimsicality of James Coats. That he should be unknown to his own gardener at the gate of his own house was »iot surprising, for he seemed virtually unknown to everybody save the men upon his yachts. Thirty years ago he seemed to live for yachting, and Captain Robert Duncan, on his 10-ton Madge and the later Marjorie, swept all before him m American or British waters. The owner himself m later years got the greatest delight of his life m personally sailing even smaller craft than these ; and the change to the lordly Gleniffer failed to make up to him the surrendered joys of his bantam class.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/OSWCC19120528.2.49

Bibliographic details

Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle, Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle, Volume VIII, Issue 368, 28 May 1912

Word Count
1,259

RICH MAN'S PHILANTHROPIC HOBBIES. Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle, Volume VIII, Issue 368, 28 May 1912

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