The Port of Dumfries
The port of Dumfries included Dumfries, Carsethorn, Kingholm Quay, Kelton and Glencaple. At one time it stretched as far east as the River Annan and as far west as the River Urr. Much of the shipping to and from the port was local coastal trade, and the farm produce of the area, cattle, sheep, pigs, potatoes and barley, was the main export.
Shipping from the port of Dumfries increased greatly in the early 1700s when the town made links with the new British colonies in North America. By the 1740s there was so much tobacco imported from Virginia passing through Dumfries that the town was called "The Scottish Liverpool".
Coal from the coal mines of Cumberland was one of the greatest items of trade into Dumfries and continued to be so until the 1940s. Lime was another import, particularly after the improvements in farming of the late 1700s which required great quantities of lime to be spread on the fields. Timber was imported from the Baltic, Norway and Sweden.
Brandy, wine, dried fruits and silk came into Dumfries from France and Spain. These, together with tobacco, were the main interests of smugglers in the 1700s, but controlling the practice was a hopeless task.
Emigration to Australia, New Zealand, the USA and particularly to Canada became the main trade from the port of Dumfries in the 1800s. Newspaper advertisements show emigrant ships sailing regularly from Glencaple and Carsethorn. Ships also sailed to Canada to trade goods with the settlers from Scotland and return with cargoes of timber.
Shipping in the port of Dumfries reached its peak in the 1840s, mostly with coastal trade, although there were several large ships crossing to Canada.
The cost of keeping the channel of the River Nith clear for shipping was becoming expensive. When the railway reached Dumfries in 1850 a slow decline in the port began. The First World War brought the port to a standstill and by the end of the Second World War all shipping had ceased.
Harbours and Landing Places
Carsethorn and Carse Bay
The first mention of this being used as a harbour occurs in 1562, with a ship loading for a voyage to La Rochelle and Bordeaux in France. Although a road was built between Carsethorn and Dumfries in the 1660s, the village itself did not grow up until twenty years later. Large warehouses were built there as the trade of the port was expanded.
By the 1790s large ships sailing from the Baltic off-loaded their cargoes of timber here and many of the houses in the village were inns for travellers. In the 1840s a wooden pier served the steam ships trading with Liverpool and Glasgow.
This was the quarantine area for the port.
New Abbey Pow
Since the Middle Ages the New Abbey Pow was used as a landing place by ships trading with the Abbey. The firm of James Kingan and Sons continued to use Bog Quay right up into the 1920s.
A pier almost 500m long is shown on maps of the 1850s. This was used to ship supplies into Kirkconnell House.
Mooring posts along the riverbank can be seen on maps of the 1850s.
A stone quay was built on the west bank of the Nith, opposite Kingholm in 1823.
The banks of the River Nith from the Whitesands to the fields at Kingholm were all part of the port. Stone walls were built along the river banks where it ran through the town and quays were built at Dockfoot and Castledykes. Improvements to the river made by the Nith Navigation Commission in the early 1800s meant that large ships could be loaded right in the centre of the town beside the markets.
This had always been used as a landing place and a road was built along the river bank between Kingholm and Dumfries in 1707. The harbour itself was built in the early 1800s.
Again, mooring posts are shown on maps of the 1850s and Kelton had a thriving ship building industry.
The first quay was built here in 1746 on land given to the town by William Maxwell, Earl of Nithsdale. The harbour was re-built as part of the improvements to the port of Dumfries undertaken in the early 1800s. This harbour was intended to accommodate the very largest ships, those that could not navigate any further up the river. Glencaple was another important centre for ship building.