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British Industrial History

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Robert Steele (1791-1879)

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Robert Steele (1791-1879) of Robert Steele and Sons


1879 Obituary [1]

IN the death of Mr. Robert Steele, Sen., Greenock, which occurred recently, there has passed away a man of very considerable mark in the great shipbuilding industry which has made the Clyde famous all over the world - a man who, from his great age, had been at the dawn of steam navigation, and with which, indeed, he was prominently identified up almost till his decease.

Mr. Steele was born in November, 1791, so that at the time of his death he was far advanced in the eighty-eighth year of his age. He had attained a patriarchal age, and was probably the oldest person connected with that branch of industry in which he was so long a loading spirit. His father, also named Robert, belonged to Saltcoats, where he was employed as a shipbuilder; but he settled in Greenock near the end of last century, and became a partner in the firm of Steele and Carswell, shipbuilders and ship carpenters. That firm continued in existence till the year 1816, and the senior partner then took his two sons (one of them the subject of the present notice) into business with him, the firm becoming Robert Steele and Co., now as widely known as the term "Clydebuilt" ships.

The elder Robert Steele died in the year 1830, at the age of eighty-four years, when the gentleman lately deceased was about forty years of age. Nine years afterwards he took into partnership with him his two sons Robert and William, who are the present partners of the old-established firm.

For many years before the birth of steam navigation as a practical art, the original firm were engaged in turning out magnificent sailing vessels in considerable numbers; and when Henry Bell's ideas came to be generally recognised, the firm of Robert Steele and Company noon obtained a high reputation for building high-class vessels, and supplying the most improved machinery. In connexion with marine engineering, Mr. Steele early became impressed with the fact that the art of applying steam in the propulsion of ships must ever be governed by modern science, and be liable to have its old theories and practices unceremoniously exploded by the work of the inventor. By recognising this idea, the firm in which he was so long the mainspring were always in the front rank with their machinery, and the latest example of this was seen in connexion with the yacht Wanderer, which has already been the subject of discussion in our pages.

For at least half a century the deceased occupied…..[much more]


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