James Banks M’Neill, well known aquatic circles, died on Friday 11th October 1878 at Blantyre, in his 49th year. He was a boatbuilder, a most successful teacher of swimming, and in his youthful days a splendid oarsman. He built boats, hired them out and was the originator and first secretary of the City of Glasgow Regatta Club. At one time he was the contender for the post of officer at the Humane Society House. An able and powerful swimmer McNeil saved over 70 people from drowning. This resulted in his recognition by the London Humane Society, who awarded him their silver medal at the Tontine Hotel, (one of the more splendid buildings in Trongate during that era and a favourite haunt of the Tobacco Lords).
James Banks McNeil was also a swimming instructor in both Glasgow and Paisley and was responsible for the building of St Andrew’s Baths in Greendyke Street. This was later converted into a used clothes market and later demolished.He had saved more persons from drowning than any other man in Scotland, and would, to rescue any one in peril, plunge into the Clyde on the darkest winter night. He was very popular, and his well-known kindly face was missed in Glasgow.
Local newspapers of the time reported he was 49 years old, but his headstone here pictured by Corrine Tonner Robertson suggests he was 47. However, i am inclined to think he was 49 and that the stone is wrong, for his death certificate does list him as being 49 years old. Thanks to Ann Crossar for sending that over to me. The Evening Telegraph also told how he died from ill health and had been ill at Blantyre for some 12 months before he died. The report doesn’t say what he died from. Perhaps Pneumonia from all the icy cold swims?
James is buried in the Southern Necropolis in Glasgow’s Gorbals.