Neil Dougall was born in Greenock on 9th December 1776. His father – wheelwright Neill Dougall – was drafted into the Army, and died in Ceylon when Neil was only 4 years old.
He and his mother relied on income from a small property in Cartsdyke. At the age of 15 Neil followed his father and went to sea. His seafaring career was cut short in 1794 when, during a gun salute to celebrate Lord Howe’s victory over the French fleet, an accident cost him his eyesight and his right arm. All the armed vessels in Greenock were requested to fire a salute. Neil’s ship the ‘Clarence’, which was at the Mid Quay, fired two volleys. After the first volley, Neil sponged out the gun and put in the charge for the second volley – but it was set off by some charred wadding from the first volley. Neil’s right hand and half his arm were blown off and his face badly damaged.
Despite this terrible accident, by the winter of 1798 Neil was out and about again. He was persuaded to join a singing class in Cartsdyke run by Robert Duncan, and in the fall of the following he had year opened his own class, which he ran until 1844. From 1800 until 1860 he gave an annual concert in Greenock.
Neil married Margaret Donaldson In 1806 and lived in relative comfort receiving income from teaching, rents for the old Cartsdyke property and from the proceeds of an annual musical benefit concert.
In addition they acquired the Blue Bell Tavern at the head of Cross Shore Street and advertised in the Post Office Directory as undertaking music instruction at the above address.
In 1845 Neil produced a volume of 12 miscellaneous pieces, 11 songs, and 13 sacred poems, which were published by Joseph Blair of Greenock. The sacred poems were written mainly for children, and of the songs – several of which he set to music – only ‘My Braw John Highlandman’ is likely to be heard today.
Neil’s chief fame is his musical settings for the Psalms and Paraphrases. His tune “Naples” was included in the collection published by R A Smith, precentor in Paisley Abbey, and when the Hymn Book of the Relief Church was issued, it contained no less than 19 of Neil’s tunes.
Neil’s compositions included the following tunes – Consolation, Canada, Incarnation, Lamentation, Patience, Refuge, Samaria, Silvanus, and Trumpet. His best known composition is of course the setting of the 30th Paraphrase to the tune “Kilmarnock”.