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The Industries of Scotland
Shipbuilding


THE shipbuilding trade of Scotland figures largely in the industrial returns of the country, the value of the vessels of all kinds built during recent years giving an average of close upon L.3,000,000 per annum. Little is known of the early history of the trade, though it is beyond doubt that vessels were built at both Leith and Aberdeen some time during the fifteenth century. In the year 1475, three ships were fitted out at Aberdeen for the service of the king, the cost being defrayed by the inhabitants of the town. In the same year, another ship was furnished with guns, ammunition, &c., by the loyal Aberdonians; and the vessel was manned by twenty-four young men belonging to the town. The cost of this ship did not exceed the equivalent of L.176 in our money. It is on record that in 1511 there was built in the vicinity of Leith "ane varie monstrous great schip called the Michael." Lindsay of Pittscottie gives the following account of this vessel and her armament:—"The Scottish King bigged a great ship called the Great Michael,' which was the greatest ship, and of most strength, that ever sailed in England or France; for this ship was of so great stature, and took so much timber, that, except Fackland, she wasted all the woods in Fife, bye all timber that was gotten out of Norway; she was so strong, and of so great length and breadth (all wrights of Scotland, yea, and many other strangers, were at her device, by the king's commandment, who wrought very busily in her; but it was a year and a day ere she was complete)—to wit, she was twelve score feet of length, and thirty-six foot within the sides; she was ten feet thick in the wall, outted jests of oak in her wall, and boards on every side so stark and so thick, that no cannon could go through her. This great ship cumbered Scotland to get her to the sea. From that time she was afloat, and her masts and sails complete, she was counted to the king to be L.30,000 of expenses, with tows and anchors effeiring thereto—by her artillery, which was very great and costly to the king. She bare many cannons, six on every side, with three great bassils, two behind in her deck, and one before, with three hundred shot of small artillery—that is to say, mij and, and battered falcon, and quarter falcon, slings, pestilent serpents, and double dogs, with hagtor and culvering, tors bows and hand bows; she had three hundred mariners to sail her; she had six score gunners to use her artillery; and had one thousand men of warm, bye her captains, skippers, and quartermasters. When this ship passed the sea and was lying in the road of Leith, the king gart shoot a cannon at her, to essay her if she was wight; but I heard say it deared her nocht, and did little skaith."

In Rapin's History of England it is stated that, in 1512, James IV. of Scotland equipped a fleet in which was the largest ship that had up till that time been seen on the sea; and, though it is not so stated, the probability is that this ship was the one built at Leith. In the same year, King Henry VIII. had constructed the largest ship ever known in England. The latter vessel was named the Regent, and her burthen is stated to have been one thousand tons. It is asserted by some writers that the Regent was a copy in every respect of the big ship built by the Scotch King. Those two vessels were much larger than any others then in existence; and England possessed only three ships, in addition to the Regent, which were over four hundred tons. The vessels which traded along the coasts or to the Continent were of small size, and the greatest geographical discoveries were made by men who ventured forth in ships of from forty to sixty tons. The vessels belonging to the port of Leith in 1692 were twenty-nine in number, with an aggregate burthen of one thousand seven hundred and two tons, or an average of fifty-nine tons; and it is probable that all or most of those ships were built at the port.

The shipping trade of the Clyde has sprung from a very small beginning. In a report on the revenue of the Excise and Customs of Scotland, written in 1651, it is said of Glasgow that, "with the exception of coliginers, all the inhabitants are traders—some to Ireland, with small smiddy coals in open boats from four to ten tons,from whence they bring hoops, rungs, barrel-staves, meal, oats, and butter; some to France with plaiding, coals, and herrings, from which the return is salt, pepper, raisins, and prunes; some to Norway for timber." A few traders had by that time ventured as far as Barbadoes, but had not met with success. The mercantile genius of the Glasgow people was stated to be strong; but, in consequence of the shallowness of the Clyde, no vessel of any size could approach within fourteen miles of the city. Their cargoes had therefore to be transhipped into boats and cobles, and thus carried up to town. In the year mentioned, the merchants of Glasgow owned twelve ships, the aggregate burthen of which was nine hundred and fifty-seven tons.

When the Darien Scheme was set afloat, the traders of Glasgow, who had already experienced the advantages of commerce, went heartily into the speculation, many of them embarking their all in the venture. The last expedition in connection with the scheme sailed from Rothesay in September 1669. It consisted of four frigates, conveying twelve hundred emigrants. The unhappy fate of this great national enterprise is well known. The commerce of Glasgow received a shock from which it took many years to recover, and nearly fifty years elapsed before the merchants of the city came to possess any shipping of their own. The Union, from which they hoped no good, opened up new fields of enterprise for them; and as they had no vessels to take advantage of these, they had to charter some belonging to the northern ports of England After a time, however, they found themselves in a position to have ships built for themselves. The first of these, measuring only sixty tons, was constructed at Greenock, and in 1718 made her first trip to Virginia and Maryland, with which States a trade in tobacco leaf had sprung up. From that time the commerce of Glasgow has enjoyed almost uninterrupted success. In the beginning of the present century, a trade was opened up with the East Indies and other distant countries; and now the commercial connections of the city extend to every land under the sun. The spirit of enterprise which has brought about such happy results in this respect, was early and most successfully applied to home manufactures; and few, if any cities of the world have made such rapid and substantial progress in commerce and industry as Glasgow. No branch of trade which could be made remunerative has been neglected, and not a few branches have been developed into specialties which confer a world-wide reputation on the city and its now noble river.

The steam and sailing vessels built on the Clyde are unsurpassed in strength, speed, or beauty. The impetus given to this trade, by the revival of commerce which followed on the Union, was chiefly confined to the lower reaches of the river, where sufficient water could be obtained to float the vessels. As the deepening of the river proceeded, the shipbuilding trade crept up nearer to Glasgow, and the size of the vessels was increased. While the operations for deepening the Clyde were going on, James Watt was perfecting his improvement on the steam-engine; and a number of persons in Scotland and America were engaged in solving the problem of propelling vessels by steam. The inventors were successful; and, though the honour is one that has been much disputed, the Clyde is now generally admitted to have been the cradle of steam navigation. The history of the invention is full of interest; and as Scotland played a chief part in it, we shall briefly state how it was brought about, drawing mainly from a history of steam navigation compiled by Mr John Timbs.

Shipbuilding on the Clyde

In the Commissioners of Patents' Museum, at South Kensington, is "the Parent Engine of Steam Navigation," the history of which is briefly as follows:— For some years prior to 1787, Mr Patrick Miller, of Dalswinton, Dumfriesshire, had experimented with double and triple vessels propelled by paddle-wheels, worked by manual labour. In some experiments made in 1786 and 1787, he was assisted by Mr James Taylor, the tutor to his sons; and at the suggestion of Taylor, it was determined to substitute steam-power for manual labour. For that purpose, early in 1788, Taylor introduced Symington, the eminent engineer, who had, the year before, patented his "new invented steam-engine on principles entirely new;" and Symington applied an engine, constructed according to his invention, to one of Mr Miller's vessels—which is the engine now at South Kensington. In October 1788, the engine, mounted on a frame, was placed upon the deck of a double pleasure-boat, twenty-five feet long and seven feet broad, and connected with two paddle-wheels, one forward and the other abaft the engine, in the space between the hulls of the double boat. This engine propelled the vessel along Dalswinton lake at the speed of five miles an hour. The engine is of the class known in the early history of steam machinery as the "atmospheric engine," in which the piston is raised by the action of steam, and, on a vacuum being produced beneath by the condensation of the steam, is forced down again by the pressure of the atmosphere. Numerous projects had been proposed, and several attempts had been made to propel vessels by steam-power, commencing with an experiment said to have been made in the year 1543; but the whole of the projects and experiments, previous to the application of Symington's engine, proved valueless for any practical use.

The result of the experiments with this engine, and with a larger one subsequently made on the same plan for Mr Miller, demonstrated to Symington that a more simple arrangement of the parts forming a steam-engine was required before steam-power could be practically applied to navigation.

In 1801 Symington was employed by Lord Dundas to construct a steamboat; and having, by his former failures, learned what was required, he availed himself of the great improvements made in the steam-engine by Watt and others, and constructed an improved engine, in combination with a boat and paddle-wheel, on the plan which is now generally adopted. This boat, called the Charlotte Dundas, was the first practical steamboat; and for the novel combination of all the parts Symington obtained letters-patent on the 14th October 1801. The vessel had an engine in which the steam acted on both sides of the piston, and was then discharged from the cylinder into a separate condenser; the rectilinear motion of the piston was converted into rotary motion by a connecting rod and crank; and the crank was united to the axis of 3/liner's improved paddle-wheel. Thus had Symington the undoubted merit of having combined together for the first time those improvements on which is founded the present system of steam navigation. The speed, when running alone and not towing . other boats, was six miles an hour. "The use of this vessel," says Dr Macquorn Rankine, " was abandoned, not from any fault in her construction or working, but because the directors of the Forth and Clyde Canal feared that she would damage its banks. Yet the man in all Britain who possessed, at that time, the greatest practical experience of the working of canals—the Duke of Bridgewater—was not deterred by any such apprehension from ordering, in 1802, eight similar vessels from Symington, to be used on his canal. The death of the Duke of Bridgewater, early in the following year, prevented the execution of that order." It gives an amusing and suggestive insight into the popular view of these surprising changes in the methods of propelling vessels, to remark that a poetical saddler in Kirkintilloch thus described his thoughts when he saw the Charlotte Dundas pass along the canal with two vessels in tow:—

"When first I saw her in a tether
Draw twa sloops after ane anither,
Regardless o' the win' an' weather,
Athwart her bearin' :
I thought frae hell she had come hither
A privateerin'."

The widow of Mr Taylor received, in recognition of his efforts to introduce steam navigation, a pension from Government of L.50 per annum; and in 1837 each of his low daughters received a gift of L.50 through Lord Melbourne. About the year 1825, Symington memorialised the Lords of the Treasury, when L.100 was awarded to him from His Majesty's privy purse; and a year or two afterwards a further sum of L.50. The poor inventor hoped that the allowance would be repeated annually, but his hopes were defeated. He received a small sum from the London steam-boat proprietors, and kind relatives contributed to his support in the decline of life. Such was the reward received by the inventor of "the first practical steam-boat" in the great country of the steam-engine.

Many attempts have been made, and much misrepresentation used, to obtain for Fulton, the American engineer, the credit of first using steam locomotion on the water. He certainly did not fail to profit by the labours of others. Although Fulton possessed much inventive genius, and had been engaged with Chancellor Livingston, who was at the time Minister for the United States in Paris, in the construction of vessels to be propelled by steam, still he never accomplished anything until after he had seen the vessels of Symington.

Among the persons who had been acquainted with the experiments of Mr Miller and his associates on the Forth, was Mr Henry Bell, of Glasgow, who had been the medium of communication between Fulton and the Scotch coadjutors, and had sent to Fulton drawings of Mr Miller's boat and engines. Some time after, Fulton wrote to Bell to say that he had constructed a boat from the drawings; and this prompted Bell to turn his attention to the introduction of steam navigation in his own country. He accordingly set to work, but had to make several models. At length he put one into the hands of Messrs John Wood & Co., of Port Glasgow, who, from it, built for him a vessel of 40 feet keel and 10 feet 6 inches beam. This vessel he fitted with an engine and paddles, and christened the Comet, from the circumstance of a brilliant comet appearing towards the end of the year 1811, in which she was launched. Bell was enabled to turn his boat to profitable account; for, being a builder, he had erected a bath-house and hotel at Helensbuigh, a watering-place on the northern bank of the Clyde, and he employed the Comet to convey passengers across the river, and thus derived a double advantage from it. The Comet began to run in January 1812. She was moved at first by single paddles, and attained a speed of five miles an hour; but Bell substituted wheels, with four paddles of the malt-shovel form. The engine, which was of four-horse power, was made by Messrs Anderson, Campbell, & Co.; and Mr David Napier, then a workman, was employed in making the boiler. The Comet was lost in one of the dangerous channels in the West Highlands. Her engine, after lying in the sea for a number of years, was recovered, and at the meeting of the British Association in Glasgow in 1840 it was exhibited as a curiosity. Soon after the success of the Comet had been proved, Mr Hutchison, of Glasgow, had a steamer built by Mr Thomson, an engineer who had been engaged in some of Bell's experiments. The vessel was larger than the Comet, being 58 feet long, 12 feet beam, and 5 feet deep; engines, ten-horse power. She was named the Elizabeth, and plied between Greenock and Glasgow.

In 1813 a Mr Dawson, an Irishman, and Mr Lawrence, of Bristol, attempted to run a steamer on the Thames, but succumbed to the opposition of the Thames watermen. The boat was sent soon after to ply between Seville and San Lucar, in Spain. Another vessel, the Margery, of about seventy tons, which was built on the Clyde, was taken south, along the east coast of Scotland. When she reached the Thames the English fleet was at anchor, and she passed close by. "The extraordinary apparition," we are told, "excited a great commotion among officers and men; none of them had ever seen a steamer before, and by some of them she was taken for a fire-ship." She made her first trip from London to Gravesend on the 23d January 1815, and continued to run between the two places during the following summer, but was frequently laid up for repairs. The Margery continued for several years to ply as a pioneer steamer on the Thames. She was followed by another steamer, about seventy- five tons burthen, with engines of sixteen-horse power, and wheels nine feet in diameter. This vessel was also built on the Clyde. When launched she was called the Glasgow, but that name was afterwards altered to the Thames.

Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Greenock

In 1818, so much had the principle of steam navigation spread, that besides the vessels on the Thames, there were two on the Trent, four on the Humber, two on the Tyne, one on the Orwell (Harwich), eighteen on the Clyde, two on the Tay, two at Dundee, six on the Forth, two at Cork, two on the Mersey, three on the Yare, one on the Avon, one on the Severn, and two running between Dublin and Holyhead. There were other steamers in active employment in Russia, France, Spain, and the Netherlands, and a large number on the rivers of the United States. Up till this period, although there had been isolated voyages by sea from one station to another, no regular passages had been made. The delay which was often experienced by the sailing packets in traversing the stormy channel between Holyhead and Dublin suggested the adoption of steam to avoid this loss of time. The first steam-vessel that was employed on the open sea was the Rob Roy, about ninety tons burthen, and thirty horse power, the property of Mr David Napier, of Glasgow. The Rob Roy was appointed to run between Glasgow and Belfast, a passage which she performed during the stormy months of winter, although previously steamers had been out only during the summer season; and after running for two years there, she was transferred to the Dover and Calais passage as a Government packet. In the following year Mr Napier employed Messrs Wood to build a vessel named the Talbot, of one hundred and eighty tons burthen, with two engines of thirty horse power each. The Talbot was soon after followed by the Ivanhoe, and these were the finest and most complete vessels of the time. They were placed on the Holyhead station, to run between that port and Dublin, and assist the sailing packets which carried the mails; but such was their speed and regularity that they soon superseded the packets.

The use of iron in shipbuilding was commenced in Scotland in 1818, when the passenger-boat Vulcan was built for the Forth and Clyde Canal Company by Mr Robert Wilson. Two small boats had been built of iron in England before that time, but, with those exceptions, we believe the Vulcan was the first iron vessel constructed. The builder of the Vulcan had great difficulties to contend with, and, in an account of the building of the vessel which he wrote to a friend, he said,—"There was no angle iron in those days, nor any machinery, except an old-fashioned piercing-machine, a cast-iron grooved block to form the ribs, a smith's fire, and one foot knee'd at a heat was considered good work." The vessel was designed by the late Sir John Robison, of Edinburgh, and was so substantially con-structed that, we believe, she is still in existence, and doing duty. From time to time, within the past dozen years even, inventors have come forward and patented what they fancied were improvements in the construction of iron ships; but when the way to prosperity seemed clear before them, an examination of the old Vulcan has shown that they had been forestalled, and consequently the patents became null. Two patents relating to the keels of iron vessels were cancelled when the keel of the canal-boat was examined. The Vulcan was nearly becoming remarkable for another reason than her being the first vessel built of iron. Mr Robert Wilson, Bridgewater Foundry, Patricroft, in the year 1827, when residing in his native place, Dunbar, exhibited to Mr Thomas Wilson, the builder of the Vulcan, a working model of a vessel propelled by a screw at the stern, and also by side paddle-wheels, the whole propelled by clockwork, and so arranged that the side-wheels and stern-propeller could be worked alternately. This model was afterwards exhibited to the Governor and Council of the Forth and Clyde Canal Company, by Mr Thomas Wilson, he having obtained it from the inventor on the understanding that he would advise them to alter the Vulcan passage-boat into a steam-vessel, to be propelled by a screw at the stern. The governor and some of the directors were favourable to the scheme, but the proposal was strenuously resisted by others, who were of opinion that machinery could not be made to supersede horsepower for drawing vessels on the canal. The Cyclops, another canal boat, constructed of iron. by Mr Wilson, was converted into a steamer, propelled by a paddle-wheel placed in the stern. The Cyclops steamed between four and five miles an hour, and plied between Port Dundas and Alloa.

Before the invention of steam navigation the shipbuilding trade of the Clyde had attained considerable importance; and the builders did not neglect the opportunity afforded them by the application of steam to propelling vessels for greatly increasing their trade and effecting improvements in their models. There was a pause, however, while the steam-vessels first constructed were on probation; and up till the year 1830, not more than five thousand tons of steam shipping had been built on the Clyde. From that time the trade rapidly increased. Several companies were formed for running steam-vessels between Glasgow and Liverpool, Dundee and London, and on other routes; and a spirit of competition arose, which resulted in a great improvement in the form, and increase in the number, size, and power of steam-ships. The directors of the East India Company were induced, by the achievements of the vessels built on the Clyde for other companies, to have two large steamers constructed by Mr Robert Napier of Glasgow. These gave so much satisfaction that, in 1839, Mr Napier received another order, this time for a vessel with engines of four hundred and twenty horse power. Though the practicability of constructing vessels of iron had previously been successfully tested, it was not until 1838 that it was used in the hull of any vessel of large size. In that year Messrs Tod & Macgregor built two iron steamers—the Royal Sovereign and the Royal George—for the trade between Glasgow and Liverpool. It was predicted by many eminent seafaring men that these vessels would prove failures; but the predictions were not realised, as the steamers were found to possess all the good qualities of wooden ships, besides advantages peculiar to themselves.

The first steam-ship that crossed the Atlantic was the Savannah, which, in 1819, made the passage from New York to Liverpool in twenty-six days; but not until 1838 did a British steamer attempt the voyage. It was not believed that steam-ships could be profitably employed on the route between Britain and New York, in consequence of nearly all their carrying power being, according to the notions that then prevailed, required for the coal which would be consumed on the voyage. In a lecture delivered at Liverpool in December 1835, Dr Lardner is reported to have said that the project of making the voyage direct from Liverpool to New York was perfectly chimerical, and that they might as well talk of making a voyage from New York or Liverpool to the moon. When the project of establishing steam communication between the Old World and the New was started, Valentia was chosen as the most convenient port of departure and arrival. A company was formed, and an Act of Parliament obtained, in 1825, for conveying passengers between Valentia, and America by way of Newfoundland; but, after procuring the necessary powers, the company made the perplexing discovery that, though it was easy to get passengers from America to Valentia, it was a different thing to get them to and from London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Liverpool, so the scheme was shelved. In 1835 it was started afresh, backed by a railway from London to Liverpool, the post-office packets to Dublin, and the Valentia Railway. The idea of making the voyage by way of Newfoundland, was, however, retained. Nothing came of the scheme after all, as, while it was being agitated, one steamer from London and another from Bristol demonstrated the practicability of making the voyage to New York direct.

A great advance in steam navigation was made about the year 1840, by the formation of what is now known as the Cunard Company, which was originated by Mr (now Sir) Samuel Cunard, who consulted with Mr Robert Napier, and, along with him, formed this now celebrated company, the larger number of whose original mem¬bers were eminent and wealthy citizens of Glasgow. To Mr Napier was committed the contract for the hulls and engines of the first four vessels. The hulls were constructed for him, and under his supervision, by Mr John Wood, Mr Charles Wood, Messrs Steele, and Mr Robert Duncan respectively, all being fitted with engines of four hundred horse power made by Mr Napier.

An immense amount of capital has been embarked in the steam- shipping trade during the past twenty years. Lines of steamers run to and from all the principal ports of the world, and the most formidable competitors of the railways in this country are the coasting steamers. As the size of the vessels has been increased, a considerable improvement has been made in the matter of speed; and in the case of those destined for carrying passengers, the fittings have come to be of the most superb and luxurious description. The Cunard, Inman, and Oriental vessels are floating palaces. Most of them, and many others of the same class, have been built on the Clyde.

During the seven years from 1846 till 1852 inclusive, the number of steam-vessels built on the Clyde was 14 with wood hulls, 233 with iron hulls—total, 247; of which 141 were paddles, and 106 screws. The tonnage of the wooden steamers amounted to 18,331, and of the iron to 129,273; the horse power of the engines in the wooden hulls was 6739, and in the iron hulls 31,593. The total value of the vessels and their engines was L.4,331,362, which gives an average of L.618,766 a-year for this branch of trade alone. In 1861, 81 steamers were built, the aggregate tonnage of which was 60,185; and the horse power of the engines 12,493; value of hull and fittings, L.1,252,300; value of engines, L.456,800. The number of vessels of all sorts built in the following year was 122, with a tonnage of 69,969. The following are the figures for the six succeeding years:- 1863-170 ships, 124,000 tons; 1864-220 ships, 184,000 tons; 1865-267 ships, 153,300 tons; 1866-247 ships, 129,989 tons; 1867-241 ships, 114,598 tons; 1868-227 ships, 174,978 tons. At the close of 1868 there were orders in hand for 123 ships of 129,400 tons.

In 1864 the Clyde shipbuilders did a lucrative business in constructing swift and handy steamers for running the blockade of the ports of the Southern States of America. A serious interruption to the trade was caused in 1866 by a lock-out of the workmen, consequent on a partial strike, made to enforce what the employers considered an unreasonable demand on the part of the men.

As exhibiting the extent of the undertakings of individual firms, the number and tonnage of vessels which a few of them had orders for at the beginning of 1868 are given :—Messrs Napier and Sons, four iron-clad ships of war-10,636 tons, and 2140 horse power; Messrs Caird & Co., six steamers, each of 3000 tons and 600 horse power- 18,000 tons, 3600 horse power; Messrs Denny Brothers, two composite gunboats, one twin-screw armour-clad war-ship, and five screw¬steamers-10,520 tons, and 1970 horse power; Messrs Randolph, Elder, & Co., eight screw-steamers, two iron ships, and two lighters- 10,510 tons, and 1310 horse power; Messrs J. and G. Thomson, three screw-steamers, one paddle-steamer, one gun-boat for the British Government, and one iron ship-7700 tons, and 1020 horse power.

Building a Wooden Fishing Boat Scottish Documentary 1963
This is a Scottish documentary from 1963 about constructing a wooden ship. This is from a collection of fishing videos that are vintage, instructional, home movies, and documentaries.

The Clyde owes much of its prosperity to the invention of the dredging-machine, and the shipbuilders on its banks do a considerable trade in building dredgers, and other vessels and appliances for improving navigation. In 1866 Messrs Randolph, Elder, & Co. built two floating graving-docks of iron, one for the French Government, to be stationed at Sargon in Cochin-China, and the other for a company at Callao. Each dock was three hundred feet long, seventy-six feet broad, and forty feet deep in the walls. The quantity of mailable iron used in each was three thousand tons, and the cost L.100,000. This kind of dock is a most ingenious and useful contrivance. It is not always possible or convenient to construct a permanent dock, and the floating-dock, while answering all the purposes of a stone structure, may be moved about from one place to another as required. The floating-dock has hollow and water-tight sides of sufficient size to give a floating power equal to its own weight and that of the vessel placed in it. When a vessel is to be put into the dock, a series of valves in the sides of the latter are opened, and the water is allowed to rush in until the dock is sunk sufficiently low to admit the vessel. When the vessel has been floated in, the powerful steam-pumps with which the dock is fitted are set in motion. The buoyant powers of the structure are thus gradually restored, and in three hours the vessel is left dry.

A novel application of steam power to shipping has recently been made by one of the Clyde builders. Mr Robert Duncan, shipbuilder, Port-Glasgow, has obtained a patent for supplying auxiliary steam power to sailing vessels for carrying them through those latitudes where calms prevail, on voyages to the East Indies, China, and Australia. The auxiliary consists of a steam-launch, which is carried on board the sailing vessel so long as the winds are favourable; but on entering a calm region steam is got up in the launch, and she is sent to do duty as a tug, not a-head of the vessel as is usually the case, but alongside. The first vessel furnished with an aid of this kind was the ship Niagara, of Port-Glasgow, which sailed for Melbourne in September 1867. The Niagara is one of the largest vessels registered in the Clyde, and had on board a heavy cargo of machinery. A letter from the captain thus records the first trial of the auxiliary steamer:—"I arrived at Melbourne on the 20th December, after a passage of ninety-six days, everything in good condition, and all in good health. I have had but one trial of the steamer, and cannot say it was under the most satisfactory circumstances, yet in some respects it was. I have proved that it is quite practicable to tow alongside with her, even in a pretty heavy sea. I had not on the passage what might be called a calm, but a good deal of light weather. Our nearest approach to a calm was on the 9th October (lat. 9° N. 27° W.) There were heavy rollers coming in from the southward, making us tumble about a good deal. A ship that had been in company with us for several days had, in the light airs, stolen ahead of us nearly hull down. I had many a look at her, and then at the boat, but feared to put her out, the sea being so heavy. At last, out she went, with six sailors in the stern for ballast, and the carpenter as engineer, and 'let her rip.' She pulled like a fiend; and was, from the tightening of the forward and aft check and tow lines when caught by the sea, twisted in every direction. Yet she took us on end. At noon, when we set her going, the ship was barely making half-a-knot; and till dark, when we took her in, we were steaming fully two knots an-hour. We passed our friend ahead, and left him at sundown about three miles astern."

No name is more widely known in connection with the shipbuilding trade of the Clyde than that of the firm of Messrs Robert Napier & Sons. Steam navigation owes much to the founder of this firm, and some of his relatives. They took an early interest in the subject, and bestowed no small amount of fostering care on it. It was in connection with the making and improving of marine engines that the firm first acquired a reputation; and without losing any of their pre-eminence in that department, they soon came to be equally famous as builders of steam-vessels. About thirty years ago they had received Government patronage, and since that time they have executed numerous commissions for the naval authorities, not only of Britain, but of France, Russia, Turkey, Denmark, and Holland.

In 1834 the Admiralty undertook experiments to ascertain the resistance of iron plates to shot. The results led to the conclusion that iron was not suited for the construction of war-ships. The question was revived from time to time, however, and during the Crimean war was brought into prominent notice by the French Emperor having some iron-plated floating batteries constructed. Our Government followed the Imperial example, and in April 1855 the iron-clad floating-battery Thunder was launched. The vessel had a wood hull covered with iron plates. Next year, three batteries, composed entirely of iron, were launched; but peace having been concluded before the vessels were ready, they were not called into use. Two of them, indeed, were never completed for sea; and as some experiments, made soon after they were built, showed that such vessels could never be of effective service, they were condemned. One of the batteries, the Erebus, was built by Messrs Napier & Sons, and the engines of that vessel, and also of the Terror, were made by them. This was the first experience of the firm in the construction of ironclads. In 1859 they undertook the building of the Black Prince—one of the largest and finest vessels in our iron navy. In September 1862 they launched the Hector, a powerful iron-plated ship on the ram principle; and in the following year they completed the Rolf Krake turret-ship for the Danish Government. The latter became famous by her achievements during the Dano-German war, and was the first turret-ship ever engaged in actual warfare. Three magnificent frigates of 4221 tons each, for the Turkish Government, were their next commissions in this line; and in the spring of 1868—to which period what follows with reference to Messrs Napier and their operations refers—they had on hand no fewer than four ironclad war-ships. Some of the largest and finest mercantile vessels afloat have been built by Messrs Napier. In their building-yard, engine-work, and foundry, they employ from three thousand to four thousand men and boys; and the various departments contain perhaps the finest collection of machine tools in existence.

The building-yard is at Govan. One-half of the workmen are employed there, and the remainder at the engine-work of the firm at Lancefield, and their foundry in Washington Street, Glasgow. The workshops and offices at Govan cover a large extent of ground. In order to become acquainted with the various operations that go on in the place, the visitor must first enter the "drawing loft." The draughtsmen delineate on paper the shape and dimensions of every rib and plate required in the construction of a vessel, and work out the internal arrangements much in the same way that an architect lays off the rooms in a house. The working drawings are passed to the moulders, whose "loft" is so large that the full-sized outlines of a vessel of 5000 tons may be drawn on the floor, which is merely a gigantic blackboard. There the drawings are enlarged to the full dimensions in chalk, so that the form of each frame or rib, and the dimensions and curve of each plate, may be ascertained exactly. Adjoining the moulding loft is a workshop, the floor of which is paved with blocks of cast iron, pierced at regular intervals with holes about an inch in diameter. On this floor full-sized outlines of the frames of the vessel are drawn in chalk. With the exception of a few amidships, no two ribs are exactly alike, so that much care and no small amount of skill are required on the part of the workmen in this department. The ribs are formed of angle-iron—that is, iron having a section like the letter L After the floor has been prepared by placing a series of pegs in the holes bordering on the chalk line, the iron bar intended for the rib is taken out of the furnace in which it has been heating, and, by pressure against the pegs and some hammering, is brought to the required shape with great facility. After the frames and plates have been shaped, they are taken to the punching or drilling machines, by which the holes for the rivets are made. The keel, which is composed of a strong beam of malleable iron, having in the meantime been laid down, the ribs are fastened to it, and covered over with the plates. The latter are secured to each other and to the frame-work of the ship by rivets inserted and clenched at a white heat.

In describing how an iron merchant-ship is built, little would remain to be added to what has been already written; but the work which Messrs Napier have on hand at present is of a somewhat different kind, and deserves more than a passing notice. They are building two large armour-plated ships of war for the British and two for the Dutch navy. One of the Dutch vessels is a ram and the other a monitor, but both have a turret amidships. The ram is a fine-looking vessel of 1473 tons, builders' measurement. She measures 205 feet in length, forty in breadth, and twenty-four in depth. Her sides, from the deck to a depth of three feet below the water-line, are protected by a belt of iron, six inches thick amidships, and tapering to four and a-half inches at the stem, and three inches at the stern. The plates are backed by ten inches of teak, within which is an iron lining half an inch thick. The turret is twenty-two feet in diameter, and rises four feet above the deck. It is composed of eight-inch plates, backed by twelve inches of teak. Below the level of the deck the turret consists of an iron framework supported on wheels, which run upon a circular rail laid eight feet below the deck. In order to protect the framework and mechanism, a wall of eight-inch plates is erected round the circular "well" in which the turret stands. The stem of the vessel is of immense strength, and projects into a knuckle in the central part. It consists of one huge piece of malleable iron, weighing about six tons. The monitor is a vessel of 1613 tons, though she is eighteen feet shorter than the ram, and not more than half as deep. She is, however, four feet broader, and the lines throughout are fuller. A belt of armour plates, five and a-half inches thick, and five feet deep, passes round her. The turret is of the same dimensions and strength as that of the ram, but is somewhat differently constructed below the deck. Both vessels are fitted with twin-screw propellers.

The rams being built for the British navy are much larger than the Dutch vessels. They are named respectively the Invincible and the Audacious, and will be exactly alike in every respect, their dimensions being—length, 280 feet; breadth, fifty-four feet; and depth, twenty-four feet. Their tonnage will be 3775, and the horse power of their engines 800. They will be propelled by twin screws, and will in addition be fully rigged. The form of the vessels and mode of construction is the latest adopted by Government. One of the vessels is sufficiently far advanced to enable one to form some idea of their great strength and buoyancy. The construction is what is known as cellular—that is, the vessel has an outside and an inside "skin,' .the space between which is divided by ribs and longitudinal webs into a series of water-tight cells, from three to four feet square. The advantage of this is, that, though the vessel should sustain injury to her external skin, she shall yet remain as buoyant as ever, and can be made to leak only when both the outside and inside plates are pierced. There is no keel, according to the common understanding of the term; but running from stem to stern, along the central line of the vessel, is a vertical plate of steel, fully three feet in depth, and half an inch thick. This plate rests on, and is securely rivetted to, the outside plating; and branching off to the right and left from it are the ribs of the vessel. These are composed of iron plates of nearly the same depth as the central web, and are about four feet apart. The ribs are intersected by longitudinal plates, and the structure is further strengthened by two webs of steel similar to the central one, being carried along each side of the ship. The external plating of the bottom is three-quarters of an inch thick. At a point about three feet below the water line of the vessel, the cellular structure terminates, and the armour-plating commences. The armour is eight inches thick amidships, tapering to six inches forward and aft, and is backed by 10 inches of teak. On the centre of the deck a square battery, protected by armour-plates, will be constructed. In each vessel about 890 tons of armour-plates and about 2400 tons of iron of other kinds will be made.

The operations which require to be performed in the construction of a vessel are varied, and each requires special skill on the part of the workmen. A dozen distinct branches of trade, at least, are represented in the building of a ship, not counting the men engaged in the production of the raw material; and labourers and boys are employed to do parts of the work which do not require any special training. The following are the average rates of wages in Messrs Napiers' yard, according to a return recently made to the Board of Trade—Carpenters, 26s. 6d. per week of fifty-eight hours; painters, 26s. 6d.; joiners, 26s.; smiths, 26s.; fitters, 25s.; engineers, 24s.; sawyers, 24s.; riveters, 19s.; caulkers, 19s.; strikers, 16s.; chippers, 14s. 6d.; drillers, 13s. 6d.; lads and boys, 7s. to 14s.; labourers, 14s.

The number of persons employed in the shipbuilding trade on the Clyde is estimated at from eighteen thousand to twenty thousand.

Fairfield Ship Yard, Glasgow
A Sean Connery documentary for Scottish Television on a bold attempt to modernise one particular shipyard on the Clyde. It highlights the terrible state of the industry in the 1960s due to bad management, bad unions, restrictive practices and inefficient production methods.

Both at Leith and at Newhaven an extensive shipbuilding trade was carried on at various periods, but for a long time past no ships have been built at the latter place, and at Leith the trade has declined considerably in recent years. James IV. established a royal dockyard in Newhaven, where was also a manufactory for cables and ropes in 1506. The war-ship Great Michael, of which mention has been already made, was built at Newhaven. In 1544 the shipping of Leith was represented to be prosperous. After the Union, a line of battle ship, the Fury, was built at the old Sand- port, the site on which the Custom House now stands. Within the recollection of many persons, shipbuilding was one of the most important branches of industry carried on at Leith. In 1840 two steamers, larger than any then afloat, were contracted for, and successively launched by Messrs Menzies. About the same time other ships of the largest size were built at Leith, which led many to suppose that the port would keep the lead in shipbuilding. Contrary to expectation, the business has, as already stated, gradually declined, the well-known character of the Aberdeen "clippers," and the celebrity of Clyde-built ships having diverted it partly to the north, but more particularly to the west. The change threw many of the Leith carpenters out of work, and compelled them to seek employment elsewhere. A few years ago the well-known firm of Messrs S. & H. Morton, makers of the patent slips, of more than European reputation, began to build iron ships; but after completing a few steamers, a sailing ship, and one or two dredgers, the trade came to a temporary stand. It is right, however, to say that the business of shipbuilding has not been abandoned by the firm, but is conducted by them in conjunction with the other departments of their trade. Though the building of new ships has not been carried on to any extent recently, a considerable number of ship-carpenters are employed in the port repairing vessels, some afloat, and others in dry docks. Artisans of this class are more in demand during the winter and spring, in reclassing and otherwise improving ships laid up during the winter months, and in overhauling vessels arriving from long voyages. There are six graving docks, all of which are generally occupied. The last constructed (the Prince of Wales Graving Dock) is capable of receiving the largest ship in the merchant service, except the Great Eastern.

A number of vessels have been built at Granton, and since the construction of the patent slip there in 1852, a considerable trade in repairing ships of all kinds, but chiefly steamers of a large size, has been carried on.

Aberdeen is one of the oldest shipping-places in the kingdom. The fitting out of war-ships by the loyal inhabitants of the city in the fifteenth century has already been mentioned, and much might be added about the early maritime relations of the port. Before the invention of steam navigation, the coasting trade was carried on by smacks, small vessels which made tedious voyages, and met with frequent mishaps. A voyage in one of those vessels from Leith to Wick was regarded, especially in the winter time, as being a much more perilous undertaking than a voyage to America would be at the present time. It was no uncommon thing for the vessels to knock about the coast for weeks without making fifty miles of progress. When a gale came on, they ran into the nearest port, and did not venture out again until the storm had passed, and the direction of the wind favoured them. The building and repair of the smacks formed a considerable item in the shipbuilding trade of the country up till thirty or forty years ago, and Aberdeen had not only a fair share of business in that line, but acquired a celebrity for producing fast-sailing and strong vessels. At the beginning of the century there were as many building yards at Aberdeen as there are at present, and the Halls and the Duthies were laying the foundation for that reputation in the trade which their descendants have for some time enjoyed. The early builders had many difficulties to contend with, the chief of which was the want of convenient ground to build their vessels upon. There were no building-yards nor slips, and the work was carried on upon the beach. The extension of commerce, and the consequent increased demand for ships, induced the builders at Aberdeen, as elsewhere, to construct vessels of a larger size than formerly. The year 1816 was a memorable one in the trade, as in it was launched the Castle Forbes, the first vessel built expressly for the Indian trade, and the largest that had been built at the port up till that time. The Castle Forbes was a local wonder on account of her size, though she measured only 439 tons. About twenty ships, having a gross tonnage of 2770, were launched in 1817, and next year twenty-two, measuring 3300 tons, were built.

Since the time referred to the trade has been much extended, chiefly by the enterprise of the late Mr Alexander Hall, who introduced the "clipper" mould of vessels. Until about thirty years ago ships were built according to a conventional model, which would appear to have been held sacred against attempts at improvement. Bluff bows, a full stern, heavy sides, and massive rigging, were the characteristics of this ideal of the shipbuilders. With the increase of commerce, however, swift-sailing vessels came to be demanded, and the old notions gave way to the requirements of the times. It did not need a profound knowledge of natural philosophy to discover that the speed of a vessel might be increased by making her bows more acute; but though the fact could not fail to be known, it was acted upon only to a limited extent. Mr Hall, who began shipbuilding about seventy-five years ago, was a most energetic man, and came to have an extensive business in the construction of vessels for the Indian and other branches of foreign trade. He paid great attention to the forms of his vessels, and having come to appreciate the value of the sharp-bowed or " clipper" model, he in the year 1839, built the Scottish Maid, a vessel of 142 tons, and in her demonstrated the advantages of sharp lines. The vessel attracted much attention, and soon afterwards the Aberdeen ship-builders became famous for their " clippers." The shipping firms engaged in the Australian emigration trade got a considerable number of vessels built at that port. Mr Hall was succeeded in business by his sons. Perhaps the best known vessel that they have built was the Schomberg, completed in 1854, for Messrs James Baines & Co., of Liverpool. A description of this vessel, illustrated by diagrams, appears under the article "Shipbuilding," in the "Encyclopedia Britannica." Constructed specially for the Australian passenger trade, the Schomberg was built and fitted up with the best materials, and when she was ready for sea was one of the finest as well as largest vessels afloat. Her length was 262 feet; breadth, 45. feet; depth, 30 feet; and tonnage, 2600. The frames of the vessel were of British oak, and the planking consisted of four layers of Scotch larch, each 2i inches thick. The first two layers were fixed in a diagonal position, passing down one side of the vessel and up the other, beneath the inside keel. The third layer was put on in a perpendicular position, and also passed under the vessel; and over this the outer layer was fixed horizontally. By arranging the planking in the way described, great strength was obtained. The vessel, which cost L.42,000, sailed for Australia in 1854, and was unfortunately wrecked on Cape Otway, on the 184th day after leaving Liverpool. One or two vessels of nearly similar size and build have since been turned out, but these began their career and have been pursuing it without attracting special attention. The general substitution of iron for wood as a material for building ships of a large size has had its effect upon the trade of Aberdeen, and now the achievements of the "clippers" built there have ceased to be spoken of in terms of wonder. The "clipper" form is almost universal, and has reached its highest development in the China traders built on the Clyde, the homeward voyages of which are among the most interesting nautical events of the year. The Aberdeen builders have not, however, fallen off in prosperity, as they have complied with the requirements of the day, and taken to building ships of iron, and of a combination of wood and iron. An extensive trade is also done in repairing wooden vessels, for which there are special facilities at all the yards. The three principal shipbuilding firms—Messrs Alexander Hall & Sons, Messrs John Duthie & Sons, and Messrs Walter Hood & Co.—have their premises at Footdee, and one or two small yards are on the Inches. The tonnage of the vessels built in 1863 was 1230; in 1865, 9701; in 1866, 9224; and in 1867, 12,112. Upwards of 1000 persons are employed in the trade. Carpenters receive 22s. a-week, working fifty-seven hours. Apprentices are taken at the age of fourteen years, and their wages average 7s. a-week over the term of five years which they require to serve. Most of the journeymen mechanics are married, and occupy houses in the neighbourhood of the yards.

Shipbuilding has long formed an important branch of industry at Dundee, and even at the beginning of the present century the number of vessels built there for the coasting and over-sea trades was large. The size of the vessels went on increasing until about 1856, when wooden shipbuilding may be said to have reached the height of its prosperity. In that year the Eastern Monarch was built by Messrs Alexander Stephen & Son. The vessel measured 1848 tons, was classed fourteen years Al in Lloyd's Register, and was one of the largest, if not the largest, of her class then afloat. At that time there were six firms engaged in building timber vessels, whereas there are now only two which are so exclusively. A considerable number of vessels are also built on the Tay, at Perth, Newburgh, and Tayport. Iron shipbuilding was introduced at Dundee in 1838, when Messrs James Carmichael & Co. built an iron paddle-steamer named the Caledonia, intended for the river traffic between Dundee and Perth. A small iron schooner was also built by this firm. These vessels attracted great attention, there being few iron vessels then afloat. No other iron ships were built till 1840, when several iron paddle-steamers were constructed by Mr P. Borrie. Between 1842 and 1854, none but wooden vessels were built in Dundee; but in the interval the iron shipbuilding trade had been taken up at other ports, so that although Dundee was early in the field, that advantage was lost. In the latter year the firm of Messrs Gourlay Brothers & Co. began to build iron vessels, and the trade has since steadily increased. The largest iron ship built at Dundee is named the Dundee, and measures 1295 tons register. She was built by the Messrs Gourlay, and is owned by Messrs Gibson Brothers & Co., of Dundee.

Clyde Built

Steam shipbuilding was begun at Dundee in 1823, when a paddle- vessel named the Hero was built for the traffic between Dundee and Perth; and in 1834 this branch of trade was energetically taken up by Mr Peter Borrie in conjunction with Mr Thomas Adamson. The steamers were built of wood, but in 1840, as has been mentioned, Mr Borrie began to construct iron steamers. The first screw-steamer built was launched from the yard of Mr John Brown in 1851. Since Messrs Gourlay began to build iron ships, they have turned out a large number of steamers, many of which have been of considerable value, fitted for carrying mails and passengers. Until the year 1865, all the vessels built in Dundee had been constructed either of wood or iron, but in that year Messrs Stephen & Son began to build ships with a combination of these materials. Such vessels are known as composite, the frames, keelson, stringers, tie plates, and beams being of iron, and the planking, keel, stern, and stem posts of wood. In 1868 there were five shipbuilding firms in Dundee—viz., Messrs Stephen & Son, Messrs Brown & Simpson, Dundee Ship-building Company, Tay Shipping Company, and Messrs Gourlay Brothers & Co. The total tons of all sorts of vessels launched and on hand from 1861 till June 1867, was 41,564 tons, representing a value of L627,000, or L.104,500 annually.

During the past four or five years a thriving shipbuilding business has been carried on at Abden, near Kinghorn, by Mr John Key, who has turned out a number of fine steamers of large size. One of these, recently launched, is a vessel of 2000 tons, and 400 horse power, for the Peninsular and Oriental Company. Her dimensions are :-Length, 280 feet; breadth, thirty-six feet; depth, twenty-eight feet. She is fitted up in a splendid style for 105 first-class passengers, and fifty second-class. Before commencing shipbuilding, Mr Key had an extensive engineering business at Kirkcaldy. His marine engines are well known for many good qualities, and for them he had obtained orders from both the British and the French Governments. Mr Key employs about 200 men in his foundry, and 350 in his shipbuilding establishment. The River Tay, the first iron steam vessel built specially for the whaling trade, was constructed by Mr Key in 1868. The vessel is the property of Messrs Gilroy Brothers & Co., Dundee, and her dimensions are :—Length, 145 feet; breadth, thirty feet; and depth, eighteen feet six inches; she is barque-rigged, and measures 608 tons; she is divided into six water-tight compartments, and her hull is constructed to withstand the pressure of ice. There is a considerable shipbuilding business at Inverkeithing; and at Banff, Inverness, Perth, Peterhead, and elsewhere, numbers of small wooden vessels, intended chiefly for the coasting-trade, are built. Exclusive of those built on the Clyde, and at Aberdeen and Dundee, the number of vessels built in Scotland in 1867 was 79 of wood and 4 of iron, the aggregate tonnage of which was 13,237.

The following figures will illustrate the growth of Scotch shipping: —In 1656, the number of vessels belonging to Scotch ports was 137, measuring in the aggregate 5736 tons, which gives an average of about 42 tons. In 1760, there were 999 vessels, of 53,913 tons in the aggregate, or an average of 54 tons. An immense increase took place in the forty years following; and in 1800 there were 2415 ships, measuring 171,728 tons, averaging a fraction over 71 tons, and employing 14,820 seamen. The number and size of the vessels went on increasing, and on 31st December 1840, there were 3479 ships of all kinds, the aggregate tonnage of which was 429,204, the average being over 123 tons, and the number of seamen 28,428. Ten years later the numbers were—Sailing ships, 3432; aggregate tonnage, 491,395; average, 143 tons; steamships, 169; aggregate tonnage, 30,827; average, a fraction over 182 tons. During the next decade, a great change took place in the size of the ships, consequent on the extension of foreign trade and the improvement of harbours and docks. The total number of sailing ships in 1860 was 3172, being 260 fewer than in 1850; but the tonnage showed an increase of 60,817, so that while the average tonnage in 1850 was 143, in 1860 it was nearly 175. The number of steam-vessels had increased in 1860 to 314, with an aggregate tonnage of 71,579, the average being 228. On 31st December 1867, the number of sailing vessels of and under 50 tons registered in Scotland was 1007, with an aggregate tonnage of 30,604; above 50 tons, 1935 vessels, with a tonnage of 637,824. The number of steam-vessels of and under 50 tons was 138, with a tonnage of 3740; above 50 tons, 363; tonnage, 148,489.


Letter to Hon. John Lynch, Chairman of the Special Cogressional Committee of the United States Senate on the Advocating the Expediency or Purchasing Iron Ships and Steamers in Scotland, being the result of a recent visit and extended Observation by Capt. John Codman.

This is part of a letter that reveals some interesting information on the Ship Building business in Scotland. I created a pdf of it which you can download here.


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