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James Williamson (1839-1932)

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Sir James Williamson (1839-1932), Director of Dockyards.

1932 Obituary[1]


"Sir James Williamson, who died in London, on Saturday, July 30, at the advanced age of 93, had had a distinguished career in the Admiralty service, and held the position of Director of Dockyards at a time when an extensive programme of naval construction and repair was being carried out. The progress of this work was greatly facilitated by his initiative and by the tact and firmness which he exercised in his dealings both with those engaged in his Department and with those employed by outside firms.

James Williamson was born in Edinburgh on January 28, 1839, and was educated at the Esplanade House Academy and at Portsmouth Grammar School. He entered the Naval Dockyard in the latter town as a shipwright apprentice in 1853, and made such excellent progress that had the Higher School of Mathematics been continued it is probable he would have been selected to attend one of its courses. This school was, however, closed in the year in which he began his apprenticeship, and’as the Kensington School of Naval Architecture was not established until twelve years later, Williamson missed an opportunity of benefiting from a higher course of studies. In 1863, he received an appointment at the Admiralty and was for a time a member of the overseeing staff of the Minotaur, which was then being built at Blackwall. Seeing little prospect of promotion in the Government service, however, against the advice of his friends, he joined Lloyd’s Register of Shipping and, after serving as a surveyor in the Glasgow district, was appointed principal ship surveyor in 1874. In 1881, he joined the administrative staff of Messrs. Barclay, Curle and Company, shipbuilders, and later on became managing director of that firm.

He was still holding this position when the post of Director of Dockyards became vacant in 1891, owing to the resignation of Dr. Francis Elgar. Williamson was suggested for this important position by Mr. A. B. Forwood, at that time Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, and was eventually appointed by Lord George Hamilton, the First Lord of the Admiralty. He held the post for about twenty-five years, and during his term of office introduced many improvements into the work of the yards, including the wide employment of pneumatic tools and the installation of electrical plant for driving the fixed machinery and lighting the various shops and offices. The administration of this part of the equipment, which had formerly been under the Chief Constructors, was organised by him into a separate department, with the late Mr. G. H. Wordingham as superintending electrical engineer, electrical departments each under an engineer being also found in the various dockyards.

Williamson received the honour of knighthood in 1900 and was created a Companion of the Bath in 1902. He became a member of the Institution of Naval Architects in 1868, and served on the Council in 1901. He was also a member of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. He retired from the service under the age clause as long ago as 1905."

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