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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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RAINNIE, GAVIN (1797-1854)

RAINNIE, GAVIN, businessman and shipbuilder; b. Tarves parish, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 31 Aug 1797, s/o Gavin Rainnie Sr and Jean Chalmers; m. 1824, Jean Whitehead, a native of Stirlingshire, Scotland; d. Saint John, 21 Oct 1854.

Gavin Rainnie, whose father died before he was born, received a fair education in Scotland, as revealed by the style and penmanship of several letters of his in the New Brunswick Museum. According to tradition, he worked in the shipyards of Greenock before departing for the New World at age twenty-two.

Rainnie obtained a plot of land in Chatham in 1819. In 1820 his future wife, Jean Whitehead, age fifteen, also arrived in Chatham, with her parents and other family members. Soon afterwards her father bought a farm at New London, P.E.I., and the family moved there. She was only nineteen when she was married to Gavin Rainnie in 1824, and he was twenty-seven.

In 1828 Rainnie was a partner of Shepherd J. Frost in the construction business. As elsewhere noted, in 1828-29 Frost & Rainnie built both the 'Old Courthouse' in Newcastle and the Kent County courthouse in Richibucto. They built the first Methodist chapel in Chatham in 1830-31 and the first St John's Presbyterian Church in 1831-32. The partnership was dissolved at the beginning of January 1833, at which time it was stated in The Gleaner that Frost would be continuing as a carpenter and joiner, while Rainnie would be engaged as a brewer and wheelwright.

Rainnie had a steam-powered grist mill in Chatham in 1832, in conjunction with which he opened a brewery. It was announced in August 1833 that the brewery was in full operation and that he would also be starting a wheelwright business. He still had a brewery in 1838, and he installed a carding machine that year in the steam mill. His mill burned in 1840, and while it was stated in 1841 that it had been superseded by a "superior" grist mill, nothing more is known about his milling or brewing activity.

In the 1840s, Rainnie became a shipbuilder, constructing at least four smaller sailing vessels at Chatham: the brig Larch (1841), the brig Nancy (1844), the brig Ythan (1847), and the brigantine Laurel (1848). Joseph Hall was the master builder of the Larch. The builders of the next two vessels are not named, but Rainnie himself built the Laurel, which was owned by the Chatham merchant William Johnston.

It is known that Rainnie was not a supporter of John T. Williston in the election of 1842-43 because he was included among the twelve "Chathamites" whom John Hea mockingly proposed as "fit and proper persons to entrust with bludgeons." He was in good company, since the names of some of the leading citizens of Chatham were on Hea's list, including those of James Johnson, Alexander McBeath, and Robert Nicholson.

In 1847 Rainnie was one of the incorporators of the Miramichi Mechanics' Institute. He was bankrupt in 1848 and left the Miramichi around 1850. In 1851-52 he was engaged in the shipyard of Lestock P. W. Desbrisay of Richibucto, and he moved his family there. He left Desbrisay in 1852 and went down the coast as far as New York in a vain search for a new business opportunity. He seriously considered moving to Australia but took a job in Saint John instead, as foreman for the shipbuilder James Briggs. He had just gotten started when the Briggs firm failed, but he remained in Saint John and relocated the family there. At the time of his death in 1854, at age fifty-seven, he was the senior partner in the shipbuilding firm of Rainnie, Dunlop & Co., on the Little River in Saint John.

Rainnie was survived by his wife, Jean Whitehead, and ten children. Four of the five sons of the family were among the early railwaymen of New Brunswick. William Rainnie, the eldest of them, who spent several years at sea as a youth, was the first trackmaster in the province, for the European and North American Railway, which opened between Saint John and Shediac in 1860. Gavin Rainnie Jr, the second son, later occupied the same position. Rainnie Drive in downtown Halifax was named in 1948 in honor of one of his grandsons, Maj. Gavin F. Rainnie, of the Royal Canadian Artillery, who died heroically in World War II.


[b] LDS-IGI [m] Rainnie family data [d] Gleaner 28 Oct 1854 / county records (16/11, Henderson to Rainnie, 1820); Douglas, Fraser (C); Gleaner 2 Aug 1831, 9 Oct 1832, 1 Jan 1833, 27 Aug 1833, 12 Jun 1838, 7 Jan 1840, 16 Feb 1841, 27 Mar 1843, 13 Apr 1847, 31 Oct 1848; Leader 28 Jul 1993; Globe 6 Oct 1892; Manny Collection (F6); Manny (Ships)