Brownlee & Company Saw Mills, Glasgow, Scotland


Extracts from “ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF TIMBER” by John L. Carvel

City Saw Mills index
James Brownlee's Origins
James Brownlee improves Machinery Design
James Brownlee's Association with Brilliant Scientists
Brownlees and Forrests
Brownlee and Company Saw Mill in New Zealand

"There had been Brownlees in the Carluke district of Lanarkshire for many generations before James Brownlee was born there in 1813. Most of them worked on the land – some of the farms of Lee, Braidwood, and Mauldslie, others in the orchards that clothe the banks of the Clyde in that part of the valley." (One Hundred Years in Timber by John L. Carvel)
William Brownlee in 1695 had a Smithy in Carluke where succeeding generations were trained to follow him. The next member of the family of whom anything is known was Robert Brownlee, also a blacksmith, who was born in 1742; he had a son James who had four sons – the eldest of whom was a James, and he also had six daughters.
James the founder of City Saw Mills, born 1813, was a Millwright in Carluke and no doubt his services were in frequent demand for improving and renewing the mills in that part of Upper Clydesdale. It was in a small workshop not far from the market square of that village that the younger Brownlee was taught the rudiments of the trade in whose development he was destined to play a prominent part. James was an individualist among four very individualistic brothers. The family had a lowly origin but each had inherited intelligence, drive and a prideful technical skill.
One Hundred Years in Timber, the story of Brownlee & Company Limited, City Saw Mills, is a book of 168 pages which goes on to outline James and his three brothers’ visit to America and his experience with the Mississippi Timber Industry. It deals with the establishment of his own sawmill in New Orleans and his subsequent return to England due to the ravages of sickness in 1845. James Brownlee's brothers, Robert, John and William stayed behind with Robert taking over the business with his brother John as a partner.
As James’ health improved he talked of returning to New Orleans and also considered acquiring a business in Britain or France. He inspected mills in these places and Ireland, but was impressed by the slow rate of mechanisation in the industry. Although he considered returning to New Orleans he was afraid of a slump in the Mississippi Timber Trade. His fears were well-founded and after John died in New Orleans in 1860, Robert returned to Scotland. William also returned, but in 1863, he emigrated to New Zealand and in 1874, established a sawmill at Havelock in the Marlborough district of the South Island. Here he was joined in the business by his son and together they built up one of the most successful and progressive timber undertakings in that part of the Commonwealth.
James Brownlee founded his sawmill in 1849 on the Craighall Turnpike Road in the Port Dundas district of Glasgow and called the premises The City Saw Mills.

He designed much of his own machinery and from the humble start, the business made a spectacular advance and was enlarged considerably and as the result of James’ inventiveness it became highly mechanised. One of the universal machines he devised which attracted widespread interest at the time was a large horizontal bandsaw, forty feet long with a blade more than five inches wide. It travelled on two wood covered pulleys six foot in diameter at a speed of about a mile a minute. This saw was still in use in 1949.
Much of the logs for the Scottish mill were imported from Canada and America. Even with the new expansion of the business it could not keep pace with the demand for timber, James Brownlee decided to open another mill in Kilmarnock in 1873. From about this time on James' attendance at the mills lessened and in 1874 the names of Robert Brownlee, Henry Stewart, James and William Forrest and George C. Young appeared as partners in the City Saw Mills with Henry Stewart as Managing Partner.

Almost from the time of the establishment of the Mill, James had been associated with scientists and industrialists interested in the application of science to industry. James held discussions and conducted scientific experiments with his friends at his home once or twice a week. The group included Lord Kelvin, his elder brother James Thomson, who was Professor of Engineering in Glasgow University, Robert Napier (the pioneer of iron ships), the Bell Brothers of shipping fame, the Dennys of Dumbarton, the Stephens of Linthouse, and James Smith and Wellstood the Bonny-Bridge founders. It was an amazing feat to collect such a brilliant company under one roof.
Brownlee was able to hold his own in that circle otherwise they would not have continued to meet in his house. It is known that he was an expert in heat and steam and his advice and help were frequently sought. In 1877 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland for a paper on "The Action of Water When Flowing Through a Nozzle".
James Brownlee’s name appears in the list of several learned societies and trade associations of Scotland. His portrait hangs in the Royal Technical College in Glasgow, and his bust is in the Head Office of the Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland.
James Brownlee died in 1890, Robert retired in 1888. The Company’s reputation in Scottish business circles was so high that when it decided to reorganise a list as a Public Company, the issues were heavily oversubscribed.
James Brownlee’s sister, Janet, married John Forrest and sister Grace married John Reid. The following additional names all issuing from the Brownlee line have been associated with the development and success of the Company:
William Forrest, married Margaret Risk 1838 – 1913
Andrew Forrest 1884
John Forrest
John Heaton Brownlee 1847 – 1918 (son of John Brownlee 1818 – 1860)
Robert Brownlee Junior, 1851 – 1929
William Reid, 1854 – 1913 (son of John Reid 1825 – 1886)
Matthew Dyer, son of Margaret Forrest and Matthew Dyer
John Henry Stewart 1864
Ralph Robertson Stewart 1872 – 1947
John Forrest Junior 1869
James Robert Forrest 1871 – 1927
Andrew Forrest 1861 – 1948
Edward Forrest 1868 – 1947
William Forrest 1876 – 1926
John Forrest 1856 – 1913
James Brownlee Forrest
Henry Stewart Forrest
Jeanie Forrest, married Robert Weston 1853 – 1918
David Weston 1861 – 1933
Robert Harley Weston 1900
Margaret Amelia Brownlee m. Thomas Brownlee Pailsey 1916
John Brownlee Reid 1888, Managing Director Brownlee Ltd., New Zealand.
John Forrest 1865 – 1932
James Woodhall Forrest 1895 – 1914
Thomas Mason Forrest 1905
Mary Forrest, m. Thomas McLelland
James Forrest McLelland 1887 – 1943
James Forrest McLelland 1919
Jessie Forrest, m. James McGregor Malloch
James Forrest McGregor Malloch 1886
Cameron McGregor Malloch 1926
Agnes Frew Forrest m. William Carnegie 1863
James Forrest Carnegie 1903
Matthew Henry Forrest 1876 – 1941 m. Isabella Mary Edmiston
James Edmiston Forrest 1907

James Brownlee, the founder of City Saw Mills, married Margaret Lithgow Weir who had a brother Alexander Weir. Alexander Weir had a daughter Mary Cassels Weir who married George Christie Young 1843-1910. They had James Brownlee Young 1869-1942 and George Alexander Young 1874. The above is taken from the tree published in the book "One Hundred Years of Timber" with the connation that the plan is not exhaustive but deals with those connected with the story of Brownlee and Company Limited.
In 1980 the following Brownlee group of companies were operating: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Kirkwall, Grangemouth, Inverness, Montrose, Perth, Kirkaldy, Galashiels, Dumfries, Kilmarnock and Port Dundas – Glasgow.

Brownlee and Forrest are common names between Garrion and Carstairs in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Although the origin of the Brownlee has often been debated. (see Origin of the Name), one suggestion is that the family took the name from the property of Brownlee which lies between Garrion Bridge and Law, and was originally in the barony of Mauldslie. Then, men who lived round the Forest Kirk in the same region – where Wallace was chosen Guardian of Scotland, were generally described as “Men of the Forest” – in time to become Forests or Forrests.
In the Poll Tax list of 1695, there are 181 items of assessment applying to families and individuals in the parish of Carluke. Forrest is the prevailing name, accounting for about one tenth of the entries. There also appears the name of William Brownlee, blacksmith, who on behalf of himself and family paid six shillings and four pence sterling. This William Brownlee is believed to have been the progenitor of James, the founder of the City Saw Mills, for successive generations of Brownlees provided Carluke with its blacksmith.
One of them was Robert Brownlee, born in 1742 who married Janet Walker. Their son, James who followed his father’s trade, married Margaret Ross, daughter of John Ross, land steward on the Kirkton estate. There were four sons and six daughters of whom James was the eldest and founder of City Saw Mills. He married Margaret Weir, but died without issue. The second son Robert, was assistant to his brother in the Mills, the third John, died in New Orleans, the youngest William was founder of the New Zealand branch of the family. Robert Brownlee’s son was Director of Brownlee and Company Ltd., whilst his great grandson Thomas Brownlee Paisley, joined the Board in the Centenary year.
John Forrest and Janet Brownlee had six daughters and four sons. The eldest married Matthew Dyer, a timber merchant in Peebles, whose son for a time was manager of Kilmarnock Saw Mills. Jane the second daughter, became the wife of Henry Stewart, one of the original partners of Brownlee and Company, and Marion the fifth, married John Risk. Of the sons, James the eldest, married Mary Frew and William, the youngest married Margaret Risk. James and William were partners and later Directors of the Company.
Grandchildren of John Forrest and Janet Brownlee to be associated with the Management of the City Saw Mills included Henry John Stewart, John and Matthew, Henry Forrest, sons of James Forrest and Mary' Frew, and John and James Robert Forrest, sons of William Forrest and Margaret Risk. James Forrest and Mary Frew had also three daughters: Mary who married Thomas McLelland, Jessie who married James M. Malloch and Agnes who married William Carnegie.
The ramifications of the Brownlees and Forrests are wide. The mother of James Brownlee of the City Saw Mills was a descendant of one of the Rosses who went from Renfrewshire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to settle around Carstairs, Lanark and Carluke as retainers of the Lockharts (of "Lee Penny" fame). James Brownlee’s cousin James Ross whose father immigrated to Canada, was a successful merchant in Quebec, dealing on one hand with settlers in Canada, and on the other hand, with the Mother country. Timber was one of the things he handled and he sent cargoes to the Clyde for the City Saw Mills. Ross who was a Senator, was a bachelor, and when he died, left a fortune, one half to charities in Quebec and Carluke and to "poor relations", the other half to his brother Frank, except two thousand pounds which was to be sent to a friend who lived near Carluke. Much of the money was spent on the litigation which followed the discovery of his will in a lumber room in New York.
The progenitor of the Forrests, like the Rosses, seems to have been in the service of the Lockharts, for at one time he was in the Lockhart Mill, the foundations of which may still be traced on the right bank of Mouse Water opposite Jerviswood. It is about 2 miles from there to the Hill of Kilcadzow, where Janet Brownlee and John Forrest farmed for a short while. His early death forced the widow to leave the countryside for the city, where her elder boys James and William found employment with their uncle.
Although James Brownlee and Margaret Weir had no family of their own, they adopted the niece of Mrs. Brownlee who became the wife of George Christie Young, one of the early partners and directors, and two of his sons were in the services of Brownlee and Company, one of them James Brownlee Young became a Director.
James Dick, the husband of Margaret Brownlee, seems to have inherited or acquired the Millwrights business in Carluke. He certainly owned it after James Brownlee and his brothers went to New Orleans. It passed successively to his son and grandson, both named Robert Brownlee Dick. The second of that name started a bus service between Carluke in 1925, the pioneer of the organisation which became the Central S.M. T. Branch of the Scottish Motor Traction Company Ltd.
The first R.B. Dick had three elder brothers – David, William and James – who emigrated to New Zealand (see Robert E. Brownlee N.Z.; also Norman Richie Brownlee N.Z.). The eldest became Manager of William Brownlee’s Saw Mill there, the second was drowned when moving a cargo of logs and the third left New Zealand for Seattle on the Pacific Coast of America, where he retained his interest in the timber trade.
James Brownlee’s youngest sister, Grace, married John Reid. One of their grandsons, Jack Reid, was in 1949 recorded as Manager of the Brownlee Mill in New Zealand.
Robert Brownlee 1742-1827 m. Janet Walker and had Issue: James Brownlee 1778-1835, who married Margaret Ross and had Issue, amongst whom: James Brownlee 1813-1890, founder of City Saw Mills Glasgow, he had no issue, and Robert Brownlee
1815-1903, from whom descended Robert Brownlee who m. firstly Marion Forrest, who died soon after giving birth to Marrion Forrest Brownlee, born 26/27 February 1838, and died 1926; she married James Barr from whom descends:
Mrs. Margaret Forrest Wilson,
1025 Gilford Street, Apt. #1204
Vancouver, B.C. V682P2

Brownlee & Company Saw Mills, New Zealand
A brief history compiled from memory of J. W. Brownlee, of the Saw-Milling Industry in the Pelorus Sound district, more particularly of the operations by the firm of Brownlee & Co.
The firm was founded by my father, William Ross Brownlee, the youngest of four brothers, all engineers and natives of Carluke, Lanarkshire, Scotland, and later all engaged in the timber business in Glasgow, Scotland and New Orleans, U.S.A.
In the year 1863, William, then 35 years of age, decided to emigrate to New Zealand and try his luck at sawmilling in the young colony. So with limited capital and machinery for a small sawmilling plant, with his wife and young family of five, set sail in the good ship ‘Aboukir’, and arrived at Port Chalmers in the same year.
The first venture with a number of his shipmates, including four nephews, was to erect the mill on the Catlins River, Otago. Before the mill was completed in 1864, a gloom had been cast over the party by drowning of one of the nephews and his mates while boating stones across the river. About the same time came news of the Wakamarina gold rush in the Pelorus district, so with the splendid timber said to exist there, and the urge of some to go to the rush, it was decided to abandon the Catlins venture. So the small schooner, the ‘Crest of the Wave’ was chartered to convey the plant and passengers to Pelorus Sound. Being just five years old, I have dim recollections to the trip and of landing on the beach about June, 1864, and all hands having to camp in tents for about six months until the mill was ready to produce the sawn timber required to build permanent dwellings. Cutting rights over a freehold area of about 1,000 acres were secured, the mill erected, and soon brought to a producing stage. The plant consisted of an engine and boiler of 25 N.H.P. and one single saw capable of cutting 10,000 ft. daily. The larger logs had to be broken down for about a year by hand pit sawers, then a large deal frame was imported from Glasgow, and this used with two saws made quite an efficient machine. The log-hauling to wooden tramways was all done by bullock teams (the most economical method ever tried by our firm), as at that time the bullocks could be fed from the bush undergrowth, and when beyond further work, quickly fattened for the best of beef. Horses were used for the tram haulage on wooden rails. The sawn timber was all taken from the mill, stacked near a small jetty, and punted about two miles to the ship’s anchorage. The ships were all of the sailer type and the cargoes taken to other coastal harbours where required. This mill was cut out in 1869, and would produce about 12,000,000 feet. It was situated at Mahakipawa, an upper arm of Pelorus Sound.
The original engine and boiler and deal frame were then disposed of, and machinery for a more powerful mill imported from Glasgow. This included an engine of two 14" cylinders and three Cornish boilers, a twin circular saw bench, the first, I believe to be used in New Zealand, and a small upright locomotive intended for wooden rail traction. A good bush was secured in Kaituna Valley, and a mill site selected about two miles from Havelock, and the mill started tip in 1870. Shipping conditions were similar to those met with at Mahakipawa, the output having to be punted about two miles to ship’s anchorage at Cullens Point in Havelock Harbour, and shipped entirely on small sailers to coastal harbours, a good proportion of it going as far south as Oamaru and Dunedin. The locomotive on wooden rails proved a failure, so 301bs. to the yard iron rails were bought from the recently closed down Dun Mountain Copper Mine Coy. The locomotive then giving good service, and the line taken through the valley towards Blenheim for about eight miles to a point where the available timber ended, and the mill cut out in 1885 with a total output shipped of about 40,000,000ft.
About 1866 a company of sawmillers started a mill on Havelock Harbour, and the logs were floated from the surrounding bays; this mill was powered by a large compound condensing engine, a vertical breaking down and breast bench with hand-feed rollers. About 1871 the company failed and our firm acquired the property and carried on the mill until 1875.
The mill in the nine years of it’s existence would have produced about 19,000,000ft. Our firm remodelled this mill and shifted it to Nydia Bay in 1876 in order to cut out a freehold block of about 1,000 acres; this was cut out in 1880, and produced about 10,000,000ft. The mill was then removed to Kaiuma Bay, about four miles below Havelock, remaining there till 1887. when all the available timber was cut out, and would have produced about 18,000,000ft. in the seven years of operation.
In 1879 the Pelorus Sawmill Co. was formed, comprised mostly of Marlborough sawmillers, ourselves amongst the number. The object being to form a light railway line to work the whole of the available timber in the Pelorus and Rai Valleys. A large double 16" cylinder engine with three Cornish boilers, twin saw breaking down bench, a travelling ripping bench, and a light Barclay locomotive were imported by our firm for the company, also a steam tug built by the Anchor Foundry Co., Nelson, and about 5,000 acres of good milling bushland were purchased, when, in the early eighties a severe slump occurred.
Failing the anticipated Government assistance and owing to serious financial difficulties, the Company had to face liquidation. The assets valued at some 40,000 pounds were sold at auction and our firm became the purchasers. We managed to get a start shipping from the wharf with this mill in 1885 just after the Kaituna mill had been closed, so with the assistance of eight miles of rails and other machinery from Kaituna, the capacity of the Blackball mill was soon increased from 8,OOOft. daily to 16,OOOft. By 1888 the line, including two long bridges over the Wakamarina and Pelorus Rivers, had reached a point about eight miles from Blackball and was then into a continuous supply of good milling bush. By 1907 or in twenty two years the main line had reached a point about fifteen miles from the mill and branches had been laid for at least an equal distance. Our freehold land comprising about 6,000 acres in all, had been cut over, and we had then entered the State Forest bush. To conserve our supplies at this point we were obliged to erect another mill and here erected an American bandsaw mill with a daily cutting capacity of about 18,000ft. This output was all railed to and shipped at Blackball.
Quite a township was created, later on named Carluke, inhabited on an average by nearly 1,000 employees, millmen, bushmen and tramway constructors. The line was extended about six miles into the Ronga and nine miles into the Opouri Valley, both tributaries of the Rai. In all, including branches, there would have been about fifty miles of light railway constructed to the terminus at Blackball. The rolling stock included four light Barclay and one 20 ton Heisler locomotives with the necessary trucks. We also owned four sailing vessels, the “Clematis”, carrying 45,000ft., the “Falcon” – 68,000ft., the “Ronga” – 70,000ft., and the “Eunice” – 120,000ft., with the steam tug “Pelorus” to assist the sailers up the sound. Before telephone communication was available in the sound, a loft of carrier pigeons were kept at the mill and on each departure the vessel took a return messenger for the tug on return trip at the entrance of the Sound, about thirty miles from Blackball. The “Falcon” made a record of twenty two cargoes to Lyttelton one year. The “Ronga” was built to our order by Lane & Brown, Whangaroa, in 1900, being over-sparred for light ballast, she proved to be one of the fastest on the Coast, but capsized twice in the Sound, and on the third occassion capsized off Cape Campbell and drowned all hands. She was afterwards converted to a steamer and named the “Wairau”, she is still afloat and owned by Eckford of Glenheim. Other regular small traders to Blackball were the “Glencairn” and “Lizzie Taylor”, both owned by John Jackson, Timaru, and the Sims and Cook Bros. fleets to Lyttelton. There would be about 8,000,000ft. of white pine shipped to Sydney between 1908 and 1915, all by sailers. One only could fill up at the wharf; the "Mororo" of 8ft. draft owned by the Union Box Coy., carrying about 220,000ft. which came frequently. Cargoes for others of deeper draught had to be punted to the anchorage about three miles away, one of them was the old Home Trader, the "Helen Denny", commanded by Captain S. Holm, now of Wellington, made one trip only.
The log hauling until 1905 was all done by bullock or horse teams, after that time by steam log haulers of different types. On the steeper hill areas the logs had to be jacked to the flats, which added considerably to the cost of working. All the available timber for Blackball was cut out in 1915, completing a period from 1885 of thirty years for an output of about 100,000,000ft., and this was the end of our sawmill operations in the Pelorus Sound district.
Below is an approximate summary of the timber shipped by our firm from 1864 to 1914, a period of fifty one years:
Mahakipawa 1864 to 1869 12,000,000ft.
Kaituna 1870 to 1885 40,000,000ft.
Havelock 1871 to 1875 9,000,000ft.
Nydia Bay 1876 to 1880 10,000,000ft.
Kaiuma Bay 1880 to 1887 18,000,000ft.
Blackball 1885 to 1915 10,000,000ft.
TOTAL 189,000,000ft.
Note: This would comprise about 60% Rimu, 30% Whitepine, 10% Matai and Totara.
This firm experienced it’s ups and downs during the period, and it thought that no private firm could survive the Blackball venture; there was no fortune in it, and perhaps the money invested would have returned more at fixed deposit. However, we saw it through, and evaded the Bankruptcy Court. Mr. William Brownlee was the supervisor and mainspring of the whole venture, which he survived, and died in 1917 in the latter end of his eighty ninth year.
The two worst setbacks we had at Blackball happened in 1904, when disastrous floods occurred, carrying away all of our main bridges over the Wakamarina, Pelorus and Rai rivers.
It took all hands nearly a year to effect repairs, and all shipping stopped. The other great disappointment was in about 1907; we were dubbed huge monopolists by the powers that were. and a block of State Forest bush estimated to contain about 40,000,000ft. was set aside for a rival company at the head of the Opouri Valley. This area was milled and winched by rail over the high dividing range and shipped from Nydia Bay. By the extension of our line at the terminus, for three or four miles, we could have milled and shipped this timber from Blackball much more economically, a nest-egg we had been looking forward to for years as the grand finale to give some recompense for our vast outlay.
During the fifty-one years period F.O.B. prices ranged from five shillings to ten shillings per 100ft., and averaged all round about seven shillings. Labour conditions were - no unions, no strikes, an eight hour day, six days per week, the basic wage ranged 6/6 to 8 shillings per day; slackers and discontents were made to pass on to make room for others. The housing conditions were that each man was given the material and built his own house, and was given enough ground for a garden, all rent free. The ideal was eight hour’s work, eight hour’s play, eight hour’s sleep, and eight shillings a day, living costs were low, and everyone was happy. During the whole period numbers of our employees remained with us for over thirty years; some of them were assisted to buy a piece of land for themselves and start farming. In the sixties and seventies, Government road or other work was paid for by the negotiable land scrip at 1 pound per acre. We took up some of our bush land under this system.
Below is an approximate summary of all timber shipped from Pelorus Sound to date 1939. There are still two small areas left in Akaloa Inlet near the entrance of the Sound, one of freehold and the other of native reserve. These may be worked by a small plant when timber becomes more valuable, as it would be scattered and expensive to work.
Brownlee & Co. 189,000.000ft.
Dive & Gaby, Mahakipawa 1864-1871 15,000,000ft.
W.E. Dive, Hood’s Bay 1872-1878 12,000,000ft.
A. Brown, Mahakipawa 1872-1876 8,000,000ft.
Duncan Bros., Tennyson In. 1870-1874 8,000,000ft.
Duncan Bros., Kenepuru 1874-1885 16,000,000ft.
Wells & Co., Havelock 1866-1871 10,000,000ft.
Others, Nydia,Manaroa etc. 1870-1880 10,000,000ft.
J. Hornby, Kaituna 1880-1885 10,000,000ft. (water powered)
Marl. Timber Co., Nydia Bay 1907-1919 40,000,000ft.
Rimu Bay Co 1925-1928 3,000,000ft.
Total timber shipped from Pelorus Sound: 325,000,000ft.
Numerous small mills have been operating on scattered areas in the district from about 1880 to 1939, from Kaituna, Wakamarina, Pelorus and Rail Valleys. The average from the whole would be about 1,000,000ft. per year, or a total for the fifty nine years of 59,000,000ft. This had all been used for local consumption, or carried by road to Blenheim or Nelson. There are no areas of any consequence remaining.

This page is an extract from Chapter 7 of THE BROWNLEE FAMILY by Allan Lindsay Arnold Brownlee and edited by Ian Edward Brownlee, published in Katoomba 1986. Follow link to order a copy.

Chart 10007
Forrest Family page
Forrest Family Chart