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About My City

Interesting facts

My City

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Neglected City

Humane Society

The Clyde

Text Box: Glasgow 
Humane Society

In the late 1700s it was widely believed that anyone who tried to commit suicide was a criminal, so no-one would attempt a rescue if anyone was drowning in the Clyde, as they may have jumped in intentionally. 


However, a Glasgow merchant named James Coulter left £200, in 1787 to the Faculty of Surgeons for the ‘rescue and recovery of drowning persons’.

Glasgow Humane Society came about in August 1790 after a meeting at the Tontine Hotel (see my Glasgow Cross page). 

Most Humane Societies of the day were set up to award medals, certificates and other awards to rescuers, and for a time, Glasgow seems to have done the same.  No records exist for the years 1790 –1857, but it is known that in 1795 permission was obtained to build a house and boathouse on Glasgow Green. 


In 1859 the Glasgow Society appointed a gentleman named George Geddes as a full-time officer.  He was by no means the only rescuer, as men who worked on or around the river would lend assistance at times and were rewarded by the Society.


George, born in 1826, had been orphaned as a baby and was adopted by a couple from Govan.  He worked in a mill from the age of seven.  At nine years of age he also helped on a ferry at McNeil Street, before the St Andrews Suspension bridge had been built.  When he was eleven, he saved a drowning girl.  He eventually took charge of the ferry and became an assistant of the Humane Society in 1845. 


He was also keeper of the Morgue, and was well-known as an excellent oarsman.


George Geddes served the Society until his death in 1889, having swallowed a lot of river water during a rescue and taking very ill afterwards. He is buried in the

On the Clyde

Text Box: Tontine Building

George Geddes II passed away in 1932. From then until his death in 1979, Ben Parsonage undertook hundreds of rescues and the recovery of bodies and items from the Clyde, the Kelvin, quarries and many other waterways and water courses.  His son, George, who succeeded him, has written a book about his father’s time as Humane Society Officer and he relates many stories of his father’s heroic work.

Text Box: George Geddes (the first)
Grave in the Southern Necropolis 
(pictured above and below)

Southern Necropolis ,

Text Box: Dad on the River Clyde
1940’s (?)
Text Box: Marking George Parsonage Lifetime Achievement Award


Text Box: George Geddes (the First) 
as sketched in 
‘The Bailie’  June 1875
Text Box: Ballad written by Lundy 
of ‘Lundy and Doyle’, 
dancers and comedians  1928

George Parsonage has received many honours for his continuation of the role his father took before him and has rightfully been recognised in his own right.



Ben’s whole family were involved in one way or another – his wife would comfort relatives and look after the rescued until they were taken to hospital.  Ann, his daughter, also helped in that way, but often presented talks on the work of the Humane Society.  Once she presented a talk on her brother’s work as Humane Society Officer and I went with my father to the talk.  Mention was made of a boat designed by Ben Parsonage which had been especially effective in rescues but had been badly damaged, such that a new one needed to be built.  The family were unable to find the plans for the boat.  Dad was able to tell her that they never would—they had been drawn out on the boat room floor!

 Often, before George was born, or was too young to help his father, various members of the Clubs or the police would assist Ben in a rescue or recovery, usually, I believe, by steadying the boat to allow Ben to do the specialised task of retrieval.  My father had  helped on more that one occasion and was proud of his association with this great man and with the Humane Society.  The picture at the very top of this page is a family photograph of my father in a rowing boat on the River Clyde , probably in the 1940s.  I have enlarged it here, although it is badly faded.

Now, earlier, I mentioned that my father had given me the poem.  My father was a member of a rowing club on the Clyde in his youth.  Unfortunately, I do not know which one, as I have written to each of the Clubs and have not received a reply from any of them.

I have reproduced here a copy of the ballad that was sold on the streets after the death of George Geddes III.  It was a common occurrence in those days for Music Hall artistes *(see bottom of page) or others to produce a sheet of poetry or a ballad to celebrate or mark a noteworthy local event in this way.  This sheet was given to me by my father; more about that later…..

He was succeeded by his son, also George, who then was assisted by his son, again named George.  In 1928 George III drowned during a rescue, unfortunately watched by his father.  At this time Mr Benjamin Parsonage enters the picture as officer in conjunction with George Geddes II.


These two surnames, Geddes and Parsonage are writ large in the history of this Society.

Text Box: George Geddes II, sketched for ‘The Bailie’ in 1903

Ben Parsonage also worked in a mill from an early age (while he was still at school!), but he still managed to make time to go down and help on the boats at the river and even then his skill and expertise with the boats was recognised.  His first recorded rescue was in 1919.   When he left school, after various jobs, he served his apprenticeship as a boilermaker and worked mainly at the Blythswood and Beardsmore’s shipping companies.  He still found time to spend at the Glasgow Green, on the river, which seemed to run through his veins.


In November 1928 he took up residence in the old Humane Society house on Glasgow Green.  From that time on he was permanently on call—and not a call went unanswered.


When George Geddes II died in 1932, Ben became the only full-time Humane Society Officer.


The photograph of Ben on the right was kindly provided by George Parsonage.

Text Box: Ben Parsonage at work on the river—he was a skilled oarsman who won many prizes

Much more information in the book ‘Rescue His Business, The Clyde His Life’ by George Parsonage.


Also visit their website 

Text Box: Photograph of Ben Parsonage, by kind permission of George Parsonage

*Since creating this page, I was contacted by ‘Lundy’s’ great grandson, who told me that his real name was James Downie Jackson.  He played many of the smaller venues in Glasgow as an artiste, but was well-known as a poet and songwriter and knew others of the same occupation. It was rumoured, that some well-known songs had been penned by himself and those in his circle of friends, for which they were not credited.  He died in Duke Street Hospital, in the district of Camlachie, Glasgow in November 1935 at the age of 67.