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The Maggie Law Surfboat

Built by James "Jeems" Mowatt, 1851-1920

At the request of the local fishermen, in 1890 James Mowatt designed and built the double ended surf lifeboat, Maggie Law.

The new boat was ordered in mid-March of that year, and delivered fully equipped with life saving equipment in May. The vessel was named after the daughter of a local fish merchant, Tom Law.


Maggie Law is a shallow draughted boat of thirty feet, with a beam of six feet, clinker built, and capable of being launched quickly and working in and around the rocky harbour mouth.

The boat was rowed by six men, and in a period of service from 1890 to 1930, saved 36 lives.

The cost of the boat was paid for by the fishermen of Gourdon, with every fisherman in the village donating his share. The upkeep of the Maggie Law was also the fishermen's responsibility, with each man giving a penny out of every pound of his gross earnings.

The obituary for James Mowatt, dated Friday 3rd December 1920, states, “To the design of the late Mr Hercules Linton, Inverbervie, James Mowatt built two steam fishing boats, one for the Firth of Tay, and one that was afterwards used as a launch on Loch Lomond.”


It is likely that of all the boats built by James Mowatt, Maggie Law is the only  survivor.


Obituary of James "Jeems" Mowatt

The below obituary was printed in the Mearns Leader in December 1920:

Obituary : Mr James Mowatt, Boatbuilder, Gourdon, Boatbuilder of the “Maggie Law” 
This week the grave has closed over one of the best known inhabitants of Gourdon, in the person of Mr James Mowatt, Gourdon, who has carried on for over 40 years the business of a boatbuilder, and whose work is to be found in nearly every fishing village in Scotland.

Mr Mowatt was born in Gourdon nearly seventy years ago, but his parents originally belonged to Arbuthnott. At an early age he was apprenticed to the late Alexander Bruce, who carried on his trade in the same shed as deceased worked for many years. 

On completing his training he worked for some time in Montrose with a Mr Waddell who was a shipbuilder in that town. At twenty six years of age he returned to Gourdon and took over his apprentice master’s business. 

At that time the building of wooden boats was at its zenith, and by his energy and honest workmanship he soon built up a large and profitable business. 

So well liked were the boats he turned out that at this period he employed from fifteen to eighteen men. Very often he would have two boats on the stocks at the same time.

Up to 1900 the boatbuilding continued very brisk, but with the advent of steam drifters with iron and steel hulls the day of the wooden built fishing boat of larger size rapidly passed away. Nevertheless from 1890 to the present day he had launched fifty three boats. Unfortunately the record of what he built previous to that date cannot be found. 

Deceased was the first boat builder on the east coast to build a decked yawl, and when the late Mr Peter bought a motor for experimental purposes, it was Mr Mowatt who prepared the “Willock” and fitted the motor into it. Since then he has had to do with the preparing of practically every boat in Gourdon to receive its motor., as well as many other places, which came to Gourdon to be fitted with motors. 

To the design of the Late Mr Hercules Linton, Bervie, he built two steam fishing boats, one for the Firth of Tay, and one that was afterwards used as a launch on Loch Lomond. Latterly his work was confined to preparing boats for motors, and to repair work. 

His last big repair job was the “Skylark” of Stonehaven, which was thrown on to the North Pier of that port, and was so badly damaged that it was a wonder she ever reached Gourdon. 

Deceased had a severe illness some two years ago, and had never been quite the same since, but at the last had been confined to bed for two days only. 

Of a cheery sunny disposition, Mr Mowatt was universally liked and few better known citizens moved about the village. “Jeem’s Sloch” to the east of Cunstray, where he landed his boats will long keep his memory green. 

He is survived by a widow and four of a grown up family. There were eight altogether, but four are dead. The survivors are – Mrs Smith (in Australia), Mrs Peters, and Miss Mowatt who lives at home. The only surviving son is Charles, who was associated with his father in the business. 

The funeral took place on Tuesday which was largely attended. 

It should be mentioned that during the war Mr Mowatt joined the Volunteers, but owing to increasing frailty was never able to drill. 


Boats built in James Mowatt's Yard, 1877-1919

This list was compiled by Mr Graham Toward and our thanks to him for this valuable information. 

As mentioned above, it is likely that of all the boats listed below, Maggie Law is the only survivor. Additional information on many of the individual boats can be found on our ME Registered Boats page.  If anybody knows any more about any of these boats, please do contact us.


Portrait of James Mowatt held in the museum.

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