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British Industrial History

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Robert Duncan and Co

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Robert Duncan and Co of Port Glasgow was a shipbuilder

1830 Robert Duncan left the shipyard of James MacMillan of Greenock at the age of 35 to set up his own company in part of the East Yard[1], Port Glasgow, obtained from John Wood and Co. He went on to build sailing ships for a number of different owners. Duncan had already spent his working life in the shipbuilding industry, and he brought a wealth of knowledge with him to his own company.

Built the hull of RMS Britannia under subcontract to Robert Napier, which ship opened the North Atlantic mail service for the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Duncan built the hulls for the paddle steamers Clyde and Teviot for the Royal Mail Line as subcontractors to Caird and Co who manufactured the engines.

Duncans also built a ship, the Flambeau, to J. S. Russell's design as a means of checking the efficacy of his wave line theory.

1841 Robert Duncan died from typhus.

Robert Duncan's son, also named Robert, trained as a shipbuilder and worked as manager for his father's old partner James MacMillan.

1862 Robert Duncan Junior decided to strike out on his own. With John McGregor and John Hamilton and using his father's company name, he took over the East Yard in Port Glasgow from John Reid and Co. The company was very successful - nearly 400 ships were built in the East Yard from its start until the last was delivered in 1931. He produced many ideas which either were patented or which earned considerable sums of money for himself or associated ship-owners.

1860s The yard mainly built sailing ships for customers all around the world.

1865 See 1865 Clyde Shipbuilders for detail of the tonnage produced

1866 Launched screw steamer

1870s Iron steamers were the main ships built at the yard.

1882 Duncan's was one of the first companies to commit to replacing iron by mild steel for all work in the shipyard.

For some years Robert Duncan's associations with the Anchor Line were closer than appeared on the surface as he was manager of the Barrow Shipbuilding Co and was responsible for the layout of their yard.

1883 Duncan's 3 oldest sons were made partners in the firm.

1889 See 1889 Shipbuilding Statistics for detail of the tonnage produced

1889 Robert Duncan, Junior died and his three sons inherited the yard.

Throughout the l890s and early 1900s, the yard continued making large steel steamers, and also regularly made tramps for local owners and others. The yard also made Flying Serpent, a twin-screw steamer which is still sailing today.

1900 the last sailing ship to leave the yard, the Alta, was built for a Chilean company.

WWI War output consisted of tramps, cargo-liners, a standard "C" type and three standard "Z" type tankers.

1914/5 the yard was taken over by Russell and Co (later known as Lithgows). Duncan's continued to build in their own name.

1920s the yard made over 26 liners and tramps which helped it ride out the post war slump including the SS Dalriada of 1926 for the Glasgow-Campbeltown service. They also made 13 tankers.

1931 The East yard closed

1937 The East yard reopened under the Lithgows name in April 1937. Around 400 ships had been built under the Duncan name at the East yard.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Port Glasgow Yards [1]
  • British Shipbuilding Yards. 3 vols by Norman L. Middlemiss
  • The Engineer of 18th May 1866 p350
  • History of Lithgows [2]