A Shipbuilding History. 1750-1932 (Alexander Stephen and Sons): Chapter 4
CHAPTER FOUR. 1870-1900. Linthouse and Dundee
Familiar steamers, too, majestic steamers, Shearing Atlantic roller-tops to streamers. MASEFIELD.
THE Linthouse estate was situated about a mile down the river from Kelvinhaugh, on the southern bank of the Clyde, opposite Whiteinch. It extended to thirty- two acres of well-laid-out grounds studded with trees, with the fine old mansion of Linthouse in the centre. The mansion was an excellent example of Adam's architecture with many fine decorative details inside and out, and although the old house was demolished at the end of the War, its graceful porch and stairway have been preserved and erected in Elder Park at the request of the Glasgow Corporation.
The estate carried with it various rights, including that of salmon fishing in the Clyde; this privilege is still in force, although there appears to be no record of salmon caught.
The local rates at the time of removal were considerably less than at the present time, the Burgh of Glasgow being rated at 2/2, while Linthouse, which was just outside the boundary, was rated at 1/1 in the £. The properties were also assessed on a very much lower basis. In 1870, however, the assessment of Linthouse was fixed at £1,000 per annum, and that of Fairfield at £3,000. In the following year, the assessor proposed to assess Linthouse at £3,500 for the year.
On the other hand, there were little or no facilities, as the tram-lines from Glasgow terminated about a mile from Linthouse. Later, in 1873, the facilities were in some measure improved, as the Firm laid down lines on the Govan Road, to continue the tramways into the yard. This line ran through the shops down to the river, with branches to the various departments, so that the transport of materials was considerably improved, although horses were still the only form of motive power, and remained in use until towards the end of the century. They were stabled at the east side of the yard, in the building which is now the plumbers' office, until the Firm decided to contract with the North British Railway Company for their traction horses.
A rowing-boat ferry had been established in 1861 in the vicinity of Linthouse for cross-river passengers, and this was not replaced by a steam ferry until 1891, when the small steamers, familiarly known as "Cluthas," ran between Linthouse and the Broomielaw, calling at various stages on both sides of the river, and providing the main means of communication for the industries on the river banks. The river trip on the "Cluthas" cost one penny, and the cross-river fare was one farthing. Later, in 1905, the steam passenger ferry was augmented by a steam vehicular ferry which is still running.
All the material, including the iron and steel plates, had to be carted in horse-drawn trucks or lorries from Govan station, and in addition to the distance from the city there were no suitable dwellings for the workers within reach of Linthouse. At this period the Firm was employing close on 2,000 men and it was anticipated that another thousand would be needed when the new yard was completed. It was evident, therefore, that the difficulty could only be overcome by the Firm erecting dwelling-houses on their own estate and, as the ground was considerably larger than necessary for shipbuilding purposes, the block of tenements now known as "Linthouse Buildings" was erected to accommodate some 120 families.
Meanwhile the conversion of the estate into a shipbuilding yard was rapidly approaching completion. The mansion was utilized as an office, with the basement converted to a rivet and general store, and the billiard room to the model-makers' shop. This arrangement, with the head office in the heart of the yard, with ships growing up on all sides of it, lasted for many years until more space was required for the increasing business, and the present building was erected in 1913-14.
The old mansion was used as a canteen during the War, being demolished shortly afterwards, leaving the space clear for building the larger ships of the present day.
While the mansion was being converted into an office, the other buildings were erected and machinery installed. The joiners' shop was built of brick in three storeys on the same lines as the shop at Kelvinhaugh, with the ground floor fitted as a spar shed and main machinery or power station, the second storey for the joiners' shop, and the top storey forming the draughting loft lighted from the roof. This building, measuring 265 ft. by 65 ft., is situated at the west end of the yard, and is still used for its original purposes with some slight changes due to the alterations in methods of construction. The platers' shed extended along the middle of the yard, 500 ft. in length and 200 ft: broad, with its open front facing the building berths. This shed was divided into four 50 ft. bays, with a roof supported on heavy iron columns. It is remarkable that, in spite of new methods and increasing size of ships, this shed has proved admirable both in size and position; a large part of it is still in use after sixty-two years, while the remainder was only taken down in 1923, to allow a modern, well-lighted shed to be erected.
The machinery in this platers' shed was arranged to be driven by belting from the main shaft carried overhead for the full length of the shed from the main engine under the joiners' shop. To quote from a contemporary description:
In the centre of the shed was a chimney-stack 100 ft. in height, into which the smoke from the furnaces was condensed by underground flues. Throughout this and the adjoining smiths' shop there were 640 feet of iron shafting for driving the machinery, the motive-power being supplied by an engine of 80 horse-power, constructed on the high-pressure condensing system. In the smithy, which opened out of the platers' shed, there were 80 smiths' hearths and three steam hammers.
Even as the shipyard approached completion, it was increasingly clear that sailing-ships were doomed to be supplanted by steamers, and a further bold step was decided upon.
In 1871 a start was made with engine and boiler shops at Linthouse, there being ample room in the estate for every possible extension. Mr. Ebenezer Kemp, from Gourlay's of Dundee, joined the Firm as engineering partner and took an active part in the development of marine engines until his retiral shortly before 1892. He was succeeded by A. E. Stephen, who was the first of the family to become head of the engineering department.
The engine shop, which was ready for occupation by midsummer 1872, measured 200 ft. by 220 ft., the height of the ceiling being 40 ft. A contemporary description states that it was "designed on the most approved principles, the roof being supported on a series of cast-iron columns, each of which measures 3 ft. in width by 18 ft. in height. As indicating the quantity of iron required for these columns, we may mention that 32 of them weigh six tons each, while the other three, to which machines are attached, weigh nine tons respectively. The roof is divided into three bays, eleven columns supporting each bay, and is entirely constructed of glass. On each slope of either bay there are 18 ft. of glass — a fact which will be better understood when we state that there are altogether 26,000 square feet of glass used in the construction of the roof. On the north and south sides of the building there are wings, each 18 ft. in height by 60 ft. in width on one side, and 30 ft. on the other. There are two high-pressure engines for driving the machinery. Each engine is bolted on to the stronger pillars at the western extremity of the building. Both engines are of the same size and power, and each has two cylinders, one high and the other low pressure, measuring respectively ten and fourteen inches diameter, with a stroke of two feet. The machinery, which is now in course of being installed, will be entirely new, and is supplied by Whitworth, Fairbarn and Halse, in England, by Craig and Donald, Johnston, and other well-known makers. Among the mechanical appliances perhaps the most notable is a universal drilling machine, with a 22 ft. horizontal and a 15 ft. vertical stroke. In number and variety the machines will compare with any shop on the Clyde. There are 18 turning lathes, 2 large boring machines, 2 radial drilling machines, 3 planing machines, 1 slotter, and other appliances used for engineers' purposes. As for the new boiler shop, it is just on the eve of completion. It measures 180 ft. long by 120 ft. in breadth and is constructed in harmony with the larger building just described. To the top of the roof the height of the shop will be 40 ft. The central bay is 50 ft. in width, and there is a large wing measuring 60 ft. by 18 ft. The roof is supported on columns 30 ft. apart, and the columns, as in the case of the adjoining building, weigh six tons each."
During 1872 heavier machines, including an hydraulic riveting machine, were also installed in the engine and boiler shops, and the first set of engines and boilers constructed and put aboard the S.S. Nelusko prior to her launch in January, 1873. The horse-power of this machinery was 250.
In the same year, the crane facilities at Glasgow harbour being limited to one crane at Finnieston, on the other side of the river, a large overhead travelling crane was erected over the building-berths to place engines and boilers on board before launching. The engines and boilers were taken down on the railway between two of the building-berths, where the crane lifted and carried them along, then lowered them into the vessel for which they were intended. The girders of the crane were of iron and the supporting posts of wood, the latter being eventually replaced by tubular riveted iron pillars.
As the girders and the crane traversed the vessels at a very considerable angle, the length of unsupported girder was so long that it had to be shored up from the ground right through ships that were building in its way. The travelling portion of the crane carried its own steam-boiler and hoisting-engine, which made it very heavy, its weight being about 90 tons, while the heaviest lift was about 32 tons. Towards the end of the life of the crane, as the boilers were naturally growing larger and heavier, several were placed on board and tubed inside the ships to save weight. This crane, which was considerably in advance of its time, enabled the Firm to get their ships to sea very shortly after they were launched. On one occasion a steamer sailed a week after she was launched, with 4,000 tons of cargo on board!
During the early 'nineties, however, it became evident that the crane was becoming too small, as no ship over 48 ft. beam could be launched between the pillars. The girders were gradually shortened, and the crane was completely taken down about 1895. Some of the pillars were then converted into derrick posts and are still doing good service in that capacity, the excellent iron of their construction being apparently impervious to corrosion. In 1895 the new 130-ton crane at Princes Dock was first put into operation, and was used thereafter for the installation of the Firm's machinery.
After the business was transferred to Linthouse it may be convenient to divide the Firm's productions into two periods — one from 1870 to the close of the nineteenth century, the other from 1900 to the present day. Of the two hundred and thirty-five ships built during the former period sixty were sailers and one hundred and seventy-five steamers. Sailing-ships were built in large numbers for the first eight years, during which forty-one out of eighty-two vessels were sailers. In the succeeding fourteen years, however, only nineteen sailers were built, the last being the four-masted barque Afon Cefni.
The first vessel launched at Linthouse in 1870 was the steamer Glendarroch, 1,509 tons gross, for Messrs. William Ross and Company. A large party attended the launch, which was followed by a luncheon. In the evening over a thousand employees and their wives were invited to a concert and dance in the Queen's Rooms. The celebrations lasted until daybreak, and it is recorded that no work was done on the following day!
The Glendarroch was an iron screw steamer of dimensions 265 ft. length by 33 ft. beam by 24 ft. n ins. from spar deck to top of floors, with a gross tonnage of 1,509. She was flush decked fore and aft with a clipper bow and was fully rigged with two masts, yards and sails.
Her accommodation was on the lines of the sailing-ships, with her captain and passengers below the spar deck aft, and in cabins on each side of a central saloon. The engineers and officers were berthed amidships, and the crew in the forecastle below the spar deck forward.
She had three cargo holds served by steam winches working the wooden booms, and her machinery was amidships, with one compound engine and two double-ended cylindrical boilers, and a small donkey boiler, all built by John and James Thomson of the Finmeston Engine Works, Glasgow.
In 1870 a contract was also taken for lengthening the ship Juno, owned by J. and P. Hutchison, by cutting her in two and building in a portion amidships. The same year the Dundee yard built three wooden screw ships for the Newfoundland seal fishing, and launched the Cheops, a 1,500 ton iron steamer for its own account.
The following year, 1871, saw Linthouse honoured by a visit from the Emperor of Brazil, who had expressed a wish to attend the launch of one of the three ships building for the Rio de Janeiro-Para service. The Firm received only two days' notice of the Imperial intentions, and the launching ways were not completed. An Emperor, however, could not be disappointed, so the preparatory work was undertaken at high pressure and completed in the two days. It is not surprising that the launch was unsuccessful, as the Para stuck half-way down the ways, to the chagrin of the shipbuilders. The Emperor, however, was greatly pleased at his success in starting the vessel on her way to the ocean, and in 1873, after the three ships had proved their value, conferred the title of Knight Officer of the Rose on Alexander Stephen, the head of the Firm in Glasgow. The Para was put into the water two days after her unsuccessful launch.
In 1872 an order was received for five Trans-Atlantic passenger-ships for the Hamburg Trans-Atlantic Company, later merged in the Hamburg-Amerika Linie, and a good deal of business was being done with Germany at this time, more than half the vessels building being for German owners.
One of the outstanding vessels constructed during this year was the California, of 3,400 tons and 500 H.P., carrying 150 first-class and 900 third-class passengers, for the Anchor Line's Trans-Atlantic service. It is interesting to recall that this Company, then known as Messrs. Handyside and Henderson, purchased Todd and McGregor's yard at Meadowside for £200,000 during this period. This shipbuilding branch of the Anchor Line ultimately became D. and W. Henderson Ltd.
Although orders fell off considerably during 1872, owing to the rise in the prices of materials, business was very brisk during the following year, orders being almost turned away. In 1873 the wages bill was about £2,000 per week, joiners' hours being reduced from 54 to 51 per week, and carpenters' wages raised from 7d. to 7.25d. per hour.
In 1873 Linthouse was visited by the German Minister of Marine, who inspected the S.S. Herder, building for the Hamburg-America Company. A few years later, in 1875, Linthouse entertained the son of the American President, Ulysses Grant.
1873 was also marked by the final retirement of Mr. Alexander Stephen, Senior, who gave up active connexion with the Dundee Yard in favour of his son, William. Prior to his retirement Mr. Stephen had conceived the idea of building a large steamer for his own use, an idea that eventually materialized in 1872 as the S.S. Cyphrenes. Her dimensions were as follow:
Length: 300.0 feet
Breadth: 34.1 feet
Depth: 25.5 feet
Tonnage Net: 1,280 tons
Tonnage Gross: 1,972 tons
Tonnage Under deck: 1,290 tons
She was fitted with two compound inverted direct-acting engines of 250 H.P., having cylinders 40 ins. x 71 ins. diameter x 39 ins. stroke, surface condensing, by Messrs. John Elder and Company of Glasgow. Mr. Stephen traded the Cyphrenes on his own account, making a contract with H.M. Government to carry mails between Sydney and San Francisco for twelve months, and receiving £1,500 for her services. He was an early pioneer on this route and must have been one of the first to take a contract with a steamer for this mail service.
The maiden voyage of the Cyphrenes, in 1874, was marked by a very tragic occurrence. Mr. Stephen had placed his son, Samuel, a certified Master Mariner, in command, and, as the latter had been but recently married, it was arranged that his wife should travel east with him to take up the Charter. The Cyphrenes duly proceeded, but, while running down Channel, the captain disappeared overboard; when this was noticed no trace of him could be seen. The chief officer put into Plymouth to report the fatality to the owner, while Mrs. Samuel Stephen returned home to Kirriemuir.
Curiously enough, in the same year, the Firm at Linthouse built two ships, the Bruce and the Euro, for Mr. Darling and Captain Osborne, who with them inaugurated the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, which now holds the mail contract between Sydney and San Francisco, originally held by the Cyphrenes as described above.
In 1874 the Firm was so busy that deliveries began to fall behind and several owners protested. Carpenters' wages were increased to 8d. per hour, but later, owing to high costs, business commenced to decline. In April the Hamburg Trans-Atlantic Company was obliged to ask for credit; although this was granted, the Company was forced to relinquish one of the vessels building for it at the end of the year.
Some very interesting experiments were made during this year with a patent propeller, which at first failed to give the guaranteed speed. As there was only one dry dock on the Clyde at that time, it was impossible to obtain dock accommodation for the trial, so the ship had to be beached at the head of Holy Loch, where the propeller blades were altered, enabling her to obtain her speed quite easily.
For one of the outstanding events of this period we must take another side-glance at Dundee. During the time when iron was generally adopted for shipbuilding, William Stephen, concentrating his entire energies on this new constructive material, produced some of the finest vessels of the day. The first and largest of this class was the famous Lochee, pioneer ship of the Dundee Clipper Line, and holder of the record time for the Calcutta to Dundee voyage.
The launch of the Lochee took place at Dundee in August, 1874. The torrential rain which accompanied the event did little to damp the enthusiasm of the citizens, who gathered in great force to cheer the vessel as she took the water. The largest sailing-ship launched on the Tay up to that time, she measured 1,820 tons and her dimensions were as follow:
Length: 257 feet
Breadth: 30 fee
Depth of hold: 23 feet 5 inches
She was built under special survey, to the highest requirements of Lloyd's, and classed 100 A1 for twenty years. Her model was that of a medium clipper, combining the promise of high speed with immense carrying capacity, and great power under canvas. Her masts, lower yards and lower topsail yards were of iron; her rudder, in addition to the usual tiller, was fitted with patent screw steering gear. At the time of her launch she was commanded by Captain A. B. Hearn, late of the Royal Alfred of Liverpool, and carried a crew of fifty hands.
After the launch a number of the leading citizens assembled to partake refreshments in a loft adjoining the yard. When the Lochee herself had been duly toasted, Mr. John Sharp gave "Prosperity to Messrs. Alexander Stephen and Sons, the builders." Responding, Mr. William Stephen declared his pride in being the builder of the pioneer vessel of the fleet.
To appreciate the enthusiasm aroused by the launch of the Lochee, it should be remembered that for some years prior to 1874 most of the jute manufactured in Dundee had been brought from Calcutta by London, Liverpool or Glasgow-owned vessels. From time to time surprise was expressed that the merchants of Dundee, who were responsible for the cargoes, did not have their own ships to carry them; but to build even a few vessels of the class required for the Calcutta trade was no small undertaking, and considerations other than the mere ability to furnish homeward freights had to be taken into account. By 1874, however, considerable progress had been made towards the foundation of a Dundee Clipper Line, and by July of that year contracts had been placed with builders in Dundee and Glasgow for six vessels, in addition to the Lochee. Each was to be full-rigged, about 1,500 tons register, classed 100 A1 at Lloyds, and registered under the Passenger Act. It was estimated at the time that the cost of these vessels would be between £270,000 and £300,000.
The following year brought Linthouse considerable trouble with the Hamburg Trans-Atlantic Company, which had already been forced to cancel one of its vessels. Various points of dispute arose over this and other ships, and eventually the case went before the Court of Session, where the Germans were defeated. The vessel relinquished was later sold to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company.
The Spring of 1875 was shadowed by the sudden death, at the age of eighty, of Alexander Stephen, senior. Mr. Stephen, who had visited his son's shipyard at Dundee on the Tuesday, and appeared quite well until Friday morning, passed quietly away at "Corona," his residence in Broughty Ferry, on Saturday, 24th April.
His death caused a great deal of concern throughout Scottish shipping circles, as he had been an enterprising member of the trade in four different ports for over half a century. For several years he had sat at the Dundee Harbour Board, in whose proceedings he took great interest, being occasionally a caustic critic of what he considered engineering blunders. Like most successful men he was ever ready to avail himself of improvements, and allowed neither habit nor prejudice to delay the adoption of any change that he considered was for the better. He was one of the first to use hollow ways for launching, and also one of the first private shipbuilders to adopt the system, established in the Royal Dockyards, of building vessels of a high class under sheds. When the use of steel became general he built many fine ships of this material, and though he died in 1875 there were still, fifty years later, in 1925, a round dozen vessels of his construction in Lloyd's Register. Mr. Stephen, together with his son, William, also took a leading part in the revival of the whaling-trade in Dundee, details of which will be found in the following chapter.
Commenting on his death, The Dundee Advertiser declared that "Dundee loses in Mr. Stephen a man of immense energy, extraordinary perseverance and force of will, and a worthy representative of the class of business man whose enterprise and shrewdness have more than doubled its wealth and population during the past generation."
During 1876, the year in which the Firm's application for a place on the Admiralty Lists, both for ships and engines, was granted, the Linthouse yard had the highest tonnage output and launched more ships than any other builder on the Clyde. One of the most interesting launches of they ear was that of the Nepaul, a vessel of 3,600 tons, 600 H.P., carrying 200 first-class and 50 third-class passengers, for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company.
The same year, Barclay Curle and Company moved their yard down the river from Stobcross to a position opposite Linthouse and just above the yard that the Wingates had run for many years, but which had recently failed.
1877 was disturbed by considerable industrial friction, work on the Clyde being greatly hampered by a carpenters' strike which, although it extended over six months, brought no increase to the workers concerned.
Towards the end of the decade the Stephens had won a high reputation for first-class vessels, and were able to obtain better prices than many of their competitors. In 1878, as orders were scarce, they were just about to lay down some vessels for their own account when, after negotiations with Mr. Cayzer, of Cayzer, Irvine and Company, they received an order for four ships for his new company. The Firm agreed to take shares in this venture, which was largely initiated by Mr. Cayzer and Mr. John Muir, of James Finlay and Company, and was latterly known as the Clan Line. The first ship for the new Line was the Clan Alpine, built at Linthouse and launched at the end of '78. During the following year Mr. Cayzer, experiencing some difficulty in arranging finance for the company, approached the builders for extended terms; these being arranged, the young company was able to tide over its troubles until more prosperous times.
Between 1878 and 1879 the first twin-screw steamers, Houssa, 544 tons and Fantee, 166 tons, were constructed for Messrs. Alexander Miller Brothers and Company. But it was not until the close of the century, in 1899, that the next steamer of this type, the Montezuma, of 7,345 tons, was launched for Messrs. Elder, Dempster and Company.
About this period, when steel was being first considered in conjunction with iron, an extra price was asked for its use in most quotations. It is amusing to recall now that, as in the case of iron, many ship-owners were at first dubious regarding its use, being unable to appreciate the advantages that the saving in weight would give. Apparently the importance of deadweight was not so supreme then as it is in these days.
As trade was somewhat slack at this time, and there were differences in the hours worked in the various shipyards, the hours of work on the Clyde were increased from 51 to 54 per week. At the same time, possibly as a result of the French Government's duty on foreign-built ships, orders were scarce and one builder in Dumbarton failed. Towards the close of 1878, however, trade revived and the Firm was second in the Clyde output for the year, orders being received from many shipowners, including Messrs. Florio of Palermo, afterwards merged in the Navigazione Generale Italiano.
In 1880 orders, including one for four Clan Line ships, were so numerous that the Firm was forced to refuse to tender for new vessels. But work did not advance so rapidly as might have been expected, as is often the case in more prosperous times — though it was noted that the men worked much harder during the week before the New Year holiday, in order to make better pay. The head of the Firm, commenting on this fact, declared that "If workmen would work all the year round as they do this week it would make a great deal of difference, both to themselves and to the yard."
During the first year of the new decade a start was made with the addition of another bay to the boiler-shop, and various machines were added to the engine-house. Meanwhile, the Dundee business was building two vessels for the London, Perth and Dundee Shipping Company.
1881 commenced with 31,000 tons of work on hand, this figure rising in a few months to 40,000 tons. Carpenters' wages were increased to 31/6 per week and over two thousand hands were employed. A visitor inspecting the yard during the year was moved to christen it "The International," as ships were building simultaneously for Germany, Belgium, Italy, America, England and Scotland.
But, despite the general atmosphere of prosperity, work was delayed by various disturbances, including a strike at the iron works and a joiners' strike in the shipyards. In the latter instance there was rioting and police assistance had to be sought; bitter complaints were made regarding the tyrannical attitude of the trade unions.
An outstanding disappointment of the year was the loss of the barque, Helenslea, owned by the Firm and sunk off Rock's Point, in a collision with the Cunard mail steamer, Catalonia, after the latter had left Queenstown. An iron vessel, of 1,197 tons, launched in 1880, the Helenslea had only just completed her maiden voyage.
Midsummer, 1883, was clouded by the Daphne disaster, which created a painful sensation in shipping circles, as well as among the general public. Prior to this date shipbuilders had worked largely by "rule of thumb" and past experience, the present methods of calculating the stability and similar characteristics of vessels being generally unknown at that time. The importance of such calculations was dramatically brought home to the trade when the Daphne, built to order of the Laird Line, Glasgow, for their Irish trade, capsized at her launch.
Launched on 3rd July, she had an unusually large number of workmen on board as her owners were eager to have her finished for the Glasgow Fair holidays. Her engines were placed on board before the launch, and her boilers were to have been installed immediately afterwards. On reaching the water, however, she floated perfectly, then rolled over on her side and sank! Over a hundred men, most of whom were trapped inside the holds, engine-rooms and cabins in which they had been working, were drowned, for although divers were sent down immediately, they could render very little assistance. It was not until about ten days later that the vessel was partially moved, and almost three weeks before she was docked.
The Government appointed a special Commission of Enquiry (headed by Sir Edward J. Reed, K.C.B., F.R.S., M.P.), which took evidence in public for four or five days at the Court House, Glasgow. After some weeks the Commission issued a printed report, some seventy-three pages in length, with plans and diagrams, the gist of which was that as no shipbuilders had previously estimated the stability of ships before launching, the Firm should be completely exonerated. It was also shown that the Daphne had a certain amount of positive stability, but that some external force must have inclined her until this vanished. Evidence was given by most of the leading shipbuilders on the Clyde and elsewhere, including a well-known French builder, and a leading consulting-architect, who later became the first professor of naval architecture at Glasgow University. Read about the Daphne Disaster (p 11.)
Other accidents of a similar nature occurred about the same date, but in most cases the ships lay over on their sides, and, as their side-openings were closed, did not capsize completely, as in the case of the ill-fated Daphne, which had large cattle-doors. Since this fatality builders have always estimated the stability of vessels so that it is unlikely such a disaster could occur again.
Meanwhile, a public subscription, to help the dependents of the 124 men who had lost their lives in the catastrophe, was opened; the widespread interest aroused is shown by the fact that the sum subscribed reached a total of £30,000. The fund was administered by a committee of Glasgow's leading citizens. At the next launch at Linthouse, the Firm was presented with an illuminated address, expressing the sympathy of their staff and workmen upon the misfortune of the disaster.
Apropos the subject of launching, it is interesting to recall that steel wires were at this time gradually replacing the chains that had previously been used in attaching drag-weights to the vessels. In 1883 one also finds that shipwrights' wages were advanced to 36/- per week.
The following year orders fell off somewhat and business was slack. During this year the Firm constructed its first set of triple expansion engines, previous engines having all been of the compound type. 1884 was also marked by the passing of the two half-yearly sacramental fast-days in the west of Scotland, which were abandoned when it was found that they were becoming public holidays rather than religious festivals.
During the last days of the year Messrs. Maclay and McIntyre negotiated the contract for their first vessel, which was only signed during the first days of the New Year as the owners' partnership dated from 1st January, 1885. Their confidence in the Firm was so great that they proposed to exercise no supervision, leaving the details of the ship entirely in the hands of the builders.
Throughout the greater part of the years 1884-6; orders were scarce and the works were on short time until early in 1887. Up to 1886 the total tonnage launched by the Firm on the Clyde is given as, Kelvinhaugh - 93,000 tons, Linthouse - 232,000 tons, making a total value of roughly six and a half million pounds, of which about three million pounds was spent in wages in the Firm's works. In this year no less than three different owners, who had five ships in all on order, were unable to continue their payments, and the Firm had to take over the vessels and sell them. Three were sold to Christopher Furness, of West Hartlepool, who was just starting the business which has since become world- famous as Furness, Withy and Company. The first of these vessels were the Ulunda and the Damara, which were put on the trade to Canada, and proved so successful that Mr. Furness returned to order a further vessel the following year.
The new edition of Lloyd's Universal Register, published in 1886, showed 193 ships built by the Stephens on the Clyde, apart from those constructed on the east coast; 181 built by Barclay, Curle and Company; 169 by Denny; and 163 by Elder and Company, now the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company.
During these years, when sailing vessels were being built alongside steamships, the proportions of the former were very similar to those of present-day ships, but the steamers, to the modern idea, were extremely narrow — some being as little as 10-11 beams to length. Striking exceptions to this rule were the steamers Vardba and Warora, built in 1887, which were 350 ft. and 47 ft. beam, and were considered of extraordinary breadth at the time.
In the year 1888, Mr. Mackie, who had been the Firm's chief draughtsman for several years, resigned to commence the business of Mackie and Thomson, who subsequently became well known as shipbuilders in Govan, and famous for their trawlers, of which they built many excellent examples. Mr. Saxton White, who was later Managing Director of Armstrong Whitworth's Yard, preceded Mr. Mackie as chief draughtsman at Linthouse, while Mr. George Brown, who has since founded his own firm at Greenock, was an apprentice under both. It is amusing to recall in passing that Mr. Saxton White once settled a dispute with a German owner's superintendent, on a trial trip, by a good stand-up fight, with coats off and no gloves, on the poop of the vessel.
The close of the decade was marked by considerable industrial unrest, which hastened the formation of the Clyde Shipbuilders' Association. About this time, too, the secretary of the Firm, Alexander Scott, and the yard manager, Robert MacMaster, were made junior partners.
An interesting little vessel built in 1890 was the Boston, for the Boston- Yarmouth service between the United States and Nova Scotia. This little ship, which attained a speed of over 18.25 knots, was the fastest seagoing single-screw mercantile vessel of her size afloat at the time. In 1891, the State of California was constructed for the States Line, which went into liquidation before the vessel was completed the company was later bought up by the Allan Line, which eventually merged in the Canadian Pacific Line. During the same year Christopher Furness formed Furness, Withy and Company, the first order for a new ship reaching Linthouse within a few days of the company's formation.
1892 witnessed several events that emphasized the passing of the older order and the advent of a new era — the most tragic being the accidental death of Mr. Ebenezer Kemp, who had been associated with the Firm as engineering partner since the opening of the Linthouse Yard. Mr. Kemp's patent boiler, embodying an economizer placed on top of the boiler, which was fitted in the Caloric, 1888, was really the forerunner of some modern boiler installations.
April, 1892, saw the launch of the last of the ocean-going merchant-clippers built by the Firm — the Afon Cefni, a four-masted steel barque of 2,066 tons, built for Messrs. Hughes and Co. of Menai Bridge. Her dimensions were 275 ft. B.P. by 41 ft. beam by 25 ft. 3.5 ins. depth, and she had two wooden decks, the main deck being sheathed with yellow pine. Meanwhile, the old yard at Arbroath, scene of so many experiments and achievements, being useless for the advanced methods of the new decade, was rapidly falling into a state of ruin.
In September, 1893, William Stephen of Dundee, who had been on a short tour of the Highlands, was taken suddenly ill on his homeward journey, and died at his sister's residence, in Grantown-on-Spey, at the age of sixty-seven. His death was naturally a great shock to members of the family in Dundee and Broughty Ferry, as well as to his numerous friends and acquaintances in British shipping circles.
We have already seen how William Stephen, who had been born in Arbroath and educated at St. Andrews, was apprenticed to his father at an early age, and was able to take over the management of the Dundee Yard when Alexander Stephen began shipbuilding on the Clyde, at Kelvinhaugh. His father's trust was amply justified, as William took an active part in the development of the business from the very outset of his career. He proved an adept at his trade, and the vessels turned out from the greatly extended yard at Marine Parade were some of the finest of their time. The excellence of the ships constructed under his direction attracted the attention of shipowners throughout the kingdom, especially those of London and the south, including Messrs. J. and F. Somes, owners of the ill-fated Eastern Monarch, for whom he built almost exclusively for several years. When iron was introduced into the shipyards he took up the new method of construction with immediate success, and the business developed so rapidly that the yard at Marine Parade had to be enlarged upon several occasions. During his earlier management he obtained orders from the Dundee Clipper Line for such notable vessels as the Lochee, Duntrune, Glamis, Southesk and Maulesden. The latter made a remarkably fast passage of sixty-nine days from the Clyde to Australia, in 1883, beating the Cutty Sark, Loch Torridon and other famous ships.
When Alexander Stephen, retiring from Kelvinhaugh in 1857, rejoined his son, William, in Dundee, their mutual interest in the whaling trade contributed largely to the revival of that industry. Thus, while his brothers, Alexander, James and John, were establishing the Linthouse business, William Stephen was upholding the family tradition in Dundee. When his father died, in 1875, he took over the complete control of the Dundee yard, which he had managed since the former's retirement from active direction in 1873.
In addition to his many first-class Arctic vessels, dealt with elsewhere in this volume, William Stephen owned a number of larger vessels of his own construction, including the Corona, Earl of Dalhousie, Woodlark, Helenslea, Thetis, Eudora, Galena and Melita, several of which were sold by auction after his death. It should be noted that there were two Helensleas, the second built after the loss of the first, in 1881, and two Thetis, one a. sailing-ship, the other a whaler, sold to the United States.
William Stephen was always very keen that his vessels should be fast, and invariably put the finishing touches to the models with his own hands. As a rule all his clippers were well up to time, and were noted throughout the trade for their fast passages. The Earl of Dalhousie, the first four-master sailed by Mr. Stephen on his own account, once accomplished the passage from San Francisco to Hull in 103 days, while the little Woodlark ran across from Newcastle, N.S.W., to Valparaiso in thirty-five days!
Shortly after the death of William Stephen, the Dundee yard, the advancement of which had been his life's work, was sold by the trustees, in 1894, to the Dundee Shipbuilders' Company, which included a number of the Firm's old foremen and staff among its shareholders. Under this title the yard was carried on until 1906. The last vessel built by the Firm at Dundee, during 1894, was the 3,000-ton Pitlochry.
After the yard changed hands the vessels built therein were chiefly smaller craft, such as trawlers, etc., a notable exception being Scott's famous Antarctic vessel, the Discovery, built during the last year of the nineteenth century. The last ship constructed by the Dundee Shipbuilders' Company was the Adventure, for Harvey's of St. John's. The first of a new type of sealing vessel, she was built of iron, specially strengthened, and was much larger than the older wooden type, being intended for general trading when the fishing season was over. As she proved successful, several still larger vessels of her type were built in other Scottish shipyards.
Unfortunately, however, the building of the Adventure proved a considerable loss to the Dundee Shipbuilding Co, which, being hampered already through lack of money, was obliged to go into liquidation in 1906. The yard was afterwards taken over by Craggs, who carried it on until 1920. It is now partly occupied by Bell and Sime, timber merchants.
To return to Linthouse. In 1893 the Firm built Messrs. F. C. Strick and Company's first steamer, the Arabistan, while, during the same year, a very curious incident occurred in connexion with the Kanawha, which was launched undamaged, although 24 ft. of her forward upmaking was left behind.
Throughout the 'nineties Linthouse was closely connected with the business ventures of Sir Christopher Furness. In 1896 an order was received from the Wilson and Furness, Leyland Line — a company in which Sir Christopher Furness, Mr. Ellerman and the Wilsons of Hull, were associated. The first ship built for this Line was the Alexandra, which proved most successful. The following year Sir Christopher Furness tried to interest the Firm in the erection of a dry dock for repair-work, while in 1898 he sold two ships he had on order, before they were launched, to the Hamburg-Amerika Line.
The close of the century was marked by the passing of Alexander Stephen, senior, on 19th May, 1899. Mr. Stephen had but recently retired from active participation in the business, handing over a part of his share in the Firm to his sons, Alexander Edward and Frederic John, who had already been partners since 1887. The opening of 1900 saw the Firm converted into a limited liability company, the first chairman being John Stephen, younger brother of the late senior partner.
Alexander Stephen, senior, who had been the driving force behind the Kelvinhaugh business, and the initiator of its transference to and expansion at Linthouse, had served his apprenticeship in Dundee. On leaving Edinburgh University he had decided to become an engineer, but the full responsibility of the Glasgow business being thrust upon him at an early age, he had little time to pursue his earlier ambition.
In spite of the large amount of work he accomplished for his own firm, Alexander Stephen was able to undertake a great deal of public responsibility. When school boards were established, he became the first chairman of the Govan School Board, which had under its jurisdiction all the western side of Glasgow. This post he held for twelve years, during which most of the present school buildings were built or begun. When the Glasgow and west of Scotland technical college was formed, he was elected first chairman of the governors, among whom was Sir William Thompson, afterwards Lord Kelvin, who took a very great interest in the institution.
In 1881 he was elected Lord Dean of Guild of the City of Glasgow, being the first shipbuilder to hold this ancient office, which entails a great deal of public work, and a seat on the town council. In 1887, when preparations for a Glasgow Exhibition were being made, he was persuaded to accept the chairmanship of one of the most important committees, to which he gave a considerable amount of time. He also took a leading part in church and philanthropic work, and for many years was a well-known figure at the Free Church Assembly.
When the Clyde Shipbuilders' Association was formed in 1888, he was elected its first president, a post which was also held by his son, Fred, early in the present century.
Mention has already been made of his patent construction of composite ships, which was very popular for a time, but the part of his work in which he took the most pride was the making of models for his ships. Originally the lines for the vessels were taken from these models, which therefore gave the whole shape and character to the ships. For years he made every model with his own hands, and often declared that he thought he had made models representing a greater tonnage than anyone else in the world. Only hard work, coupled with great business ability, could have enabled him to achieve so much. Although several times invited to stand for Parliament for the Govan and other divisions, he always refused.
Alexander Stephen was related, upon his mother's side, to Count Barclay de Tolly, the Scottish General who, being in command of the Russian Armies in 1814, laid the foundations of Napoleon's disastrous debacle in the Retreat from Moscow.
Throughout the latter part of the last century Linthouse was kept thoroughly up to date in every way, new machinery being constantly installed to enable the Firm to forward its policy of progress. In 1895 hydraulic plant was installed throughout, while in the following year all the machines were converted to electric-drive, a great improvement to the layout of the yard, as it enabled the punching and other machines to be placed to suit the work instead of being tied to the main line of shaft.
About 1899 Fred Stephen, the present chairman, invented a new countersinking machine, now used in shipyards throughout the world. Prior to this invention, countersinking was done with a fixed drill and the plate had to be shifted for every hole by a squad of five or six men. With the new machine the plate is stationary, and the drills are moved to countersink all the holes on each plate. As one handle actuates all the movements required — slewing, raising and lowering the drill, and moving in and out—the economy in time is considerable, fully a month being saved on an average-sized vessel. The Firm made the first two machines, then sold the drawings and patterns to Messrs. Hetherington, of Manchester, who manufactured it under the name of Stephen and Carter's Patent.
In closing this chapter dealing with the Firm's progress between 1870 and 1900, a few notes on the changing tendencies of the industry, as reflected in the yard's records, may prove of interest. During this thirty-year period, nearly half a million tons of shipping was launched by the Firm — to be exact, 236 ships totalling 491,991 tons. There is ample evidence of a world tendency to increase the size of vessels. For the first ten years the average size was 1,260 tons; in the second decade 2,000 tons, and in the third decade 3,500 tons, while the average size for the last three years of the century was 5,000 tons.
During the 'seventies a shipbuilder thought nothing of launching a ship a month; thus, in 1876 fifteen ships were launched with a total of 17,000 tons, while in 1898 only six vessels were launched, but their total tonnage was 30,000 — representing, with their more elaborate fittings and machinery of higher power, far more than twice as much work as the fifteen ships of the earlier date.