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A Shipbuilding History. 1750-1932 (Alexander Stephen and Sons): Chapter 7

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Fred. J. Stephen. Chairman 1932
The Directors. 1) A. M. Stephen; 2) J. G. Stephen; 3) A. S. MacLellan; 4) S. B. Ralston; 5) G. R Grange
'Virginian'. One of the first two turbine Atlantic liners. 1905
Launch of the P. and O. TSS 'Carthage'. 1931
'Karanji'. Turbine Passenger Steamer. 1931
'Vancolite'. A 16,000 D.W. Oil Tanker. 1928
'Opawa'. Twin screw insulated Motor Ship. 1931
'St. Patrick'. Cross Channel Turbine Steamer. 1930

CHAPTER SEVEN. Notable Associations

THE history of such an old-established firm as the Stephens' is naturally linked with the progress of other companies in similar, or parallel, lines of business. As time passes firms arise, some to drop out entirely after brief periods of success, others to win through from modest beginnings to world-wide importance. At the same time, new inventions and designs appear, are generally condemned, then ultimately become the accepted procedure, until they, in turn, are supplanted by fresh methods.

This change of men and methods is continually apparent in the records of a shipbuilding and engineering works. At no time was the disappearance of one firm and the expansion of another, coupled with the introduction, acceptance and supersession of constructional methods, more marked than during the last decade. "Progress or go under" is the inexorable law of existence, and the firms that have progressed are naturally those which have made history.

During a little over a century, in the course of which Alexander Stephen and Sons advanced from a shipyard employing about thirty hands in 1813, to a yard and engine-works covering thirty acres in 1932, the Firm has come in contact with many of the leading shipowners thus, while building for a number of once well-known firms whose very names are forgotten, it has also formed close connexions with various companies now world-famous.

Although it is impossible to deal with all the Firm's clients, many of whom are already mentioned in other chapters, a brief review of some of its more notable and long-standing connexions should certainly prove worthy of inclusion in this volume.


One of the first that comes to mind is naturally the British India Steam Navigation Co, both before and after its association with the Peninsular and Oriental Company. The "B.I.", as it is familiarly known to those who go down to the sea in ships, dates from 1859, about the time the first Anchor Line ship, Cora Linn, was being built at Kelvinhaugh. Originating as the Calcutta and Burma Steamship Company, it adopted its present title in 1862.

This fine old company, with its amazing ramifications throughout India, Burma, the Persian Gulf and the Far East, is an outstanding example of Scottish enterprise. Under the able direction of its founder, Sir William Mackinnon, its merchant fleet has become one of the largest in the world. As Sir William, who resided in Kintyre, remained deeply attached to his homeland, much of the company's personnel was drawn from that district. His ships were officered almost entirely by Scots, and it became a well-known tradition in the trade that a call of "Mac!" down the engine-room of a B.I. vessel seldom lacked response.

The B.I. did not become aware of the excellence of the Stephen ships until 1887, when the company purchased the steamers Wardha and Warora on the stocks. These vessels had been built, during 1883 and '84, to the order of Hume, Smith and Company, of Liverpool, who went into liquidation before they were completed. Intended, originally, for the New Orleans cotton trade, they were built with a much larger beam in proportion to length than was usual at that time, their dimensions being 350 ft. by 47 ft. beam, to ensure sufficient stability with a cargo of cotton. To provide large capacity for a very light cargo, they had also only a double bottom under the engines and boilers, instead of a double bottom all fore and aft, as was the usual practice at that time. On account of this extra beam there was considerable doubt regarding their speed, but their breadth being counteracted by fairly fine lines fore and aft, they proved most successful in every way, including speed and fuel consumption. After the vessels were taken over by the British India Steam Navigation Company they were provided with passenger accommodation, teak decks, etc., to make them suitable for the intermediate passenger trade to India.

The Firm's next transaction with this company was in 1893, when the latter purchased, again on the stocks, the Bezwada, a large cargo ship with a carrying capacity of 7,000 tons, then being built for the late Lord Furness.

In 1896, as a result of the successful running of these three vessels purchased "out of stock," the company contracted for two cargo-steamers, the Uganda and Umta, both large carriers, having a deadweight capacity of 8,250 tons, and a co-efficient displacement of .826. Despite the fullness in their lines they were easily driven, and maintained a consistently good speed on the India coastal trade for many years. These, the first contracts placed with the Firm by Sir James Mackay, now the Earl of Inchcape, were followed at intervals by fourteen others of all classes, as already described. It is noteworthy that hardly any of these ships were finished without being personally inspected by his Lordship, with characteristic thoroughness. In later years his Lordship's son and daughters have also shown a keen personal and practical interest in the completion of the Company's vessels.

This long connexion with the B.I.S.N. Company led to contact with its subsidiary companies, resulting, as shown elsewhere, in the construction of further ships at Linthouse, though not without severe competition before the orders were secured. Although no B.I. contract was ever placed at Linthouse except under the strictest business conditions, this frequent association in building has engendered the friendliest relations between the Stephens and Lord Inchcape, for whom, in 1930, the Firm had the pleasure of constructing the steam yacht, Rover, described in detail in chapter ten.


Although several of the most modern ships owned by this famous company, to-day associated in all minds with Lord Inchcape, have been built at Linthouse under the direction of his Lordship and his family, the Firm's earliest connexion with the P. and O. Company originated in the same manner as its association with the B.I.S.N. Company — by the sale of a steamer off the stocks.

In 1874 four ships had been laid down in Linthouse new yard for the North Atlantic trade of a German company. However, difficulties arose regarding payment, and in the end three ships were taken over by the Hamburg Amerika Company, while the fourth was left on the builders' hands. This vessel remained in the yard until 1876, when the P. and O. Company, requiring a passenger and cargo ship for immediate service in their Eastern trade, purchased the vessel on the stocks, naming her the Nepaul; under this name she gave long and efficient service, until eventually wrecked in south of England waters.

In passing it may be recalled that Reischek, the naturalist, who did so much to extend our knowledge of New Zealand, starting on his voyage in the Nepaul, in 1877, wrote: "The boat was overcrowded, and the heat was unbearable," — a curious contrast to the luxury and comfort experienced on the present-day vessels of the P. and O. Company.

In 1894 the P. and O. Company again purchased a vessel on the stocks, in this instance a large cargo-steamer, built by the Firm on speculation, in conjunction with the late Lord (then Sir Christopher) Furness. The company spent a considerable sum in adapting this ship to suit their eastern trade, and named her the Mazagon.

Her success led to the Firm securing a contract for the Sumatra, which was built to the company's own specifications. This ship, a single-screw passenger steamer, 400 ft. long, for the China trade, was delivered to the P. and 0. Company in 1895.

During 1901 the company laid down a class of twin-screw cargo and passenger steamers, 450 feet long, of which one, the Syria, was built at Linthouse. This vessel remained in service until the end of the War, when she was sold to the ship-breakers.

Until this period all business negotiations had been carried on with Sir Thomas Sutherland, then chairman of the P. and 0. Company. Later, however, all vessels for the company were contracted for by Lord Inchcape, in pursuance of his progressive policy which has done so much to maintain the P. and 0. in the forefront of post-War shipping.

After the War, the P. and 0. Company resumed its connexion with the Firm, commencing with a small vessel, the Bulan, and continuing to the present day with the highest-class passenger ships, such as the Viceroy of India, and the sister ships, Corfu and Carthage, as already stated.


Returning to the earlier days at Kelvinhaugh, the beginnings of the now-famous Anchor Line may be traced to the Stephen yard, in 1859. This Line, then known as Messrs. Handyside and Henderson, placed the contract for its first steamers, the Cora Linn and Ailsa Craig, with the Firm. Though these vessels, to present ideas, were too small for oceangoing work, they were apparently successful, and were followed by a number of ships built at Kelvinhaugh in the 'sixties.

Shortly after the Firm was moved to Linthouse, a much larger steamer was built for Messrs. Handyside and Henderson, as the company was still known. This vessel, the California, 360 ft. long, was delivered in 1872. She was followed in '73 by the Ethiopia, one of the largest vessels of her time, and certainly the largest built by the Stephens up to that date. Her dimensions were 400 ft. by 40 ft. beam and 33 ft. depth; her beam, of one-tenth of her length, is an interesting example of the approved fashion of those times, described by contemporary writers as "long, lean and fast." Twenty-one years elapsed before a ship of equal length was built at Linthouse, and by that time the beam had grown considerably, the B.I.S.N. Company's Bezivada being 400 ft. by 48 ft.

Shortly after the Ethiopia was built, a branch of the Henderson family began shipbuilding at Meadowside, Partick, and naturally took over the construction of succeeding vessels for the Anchor Line. In 1911, however, Linthouse secured orders for the Line's cargo ships, Anchoria and Media, and, later, other vessels, of gradually-increasing size, were constructed, culminating in two ships of the Line's post-War programme, the California and Caledonia, of 17,000 tons each — in all, some twenty vessels of 91,000 tons. The last of the series was approximately four times the length and seventy times the size (as regards tonnage), of the first ship built for this line in the 'fifties.


Shortly after the Anchor Line commenced business, another Glasgow family placed an order with the Firm at Kelvinhaugh, which proved the beginning of the well-known Allan Line. The vessels in question were the iron paddle steamers Lake Ontario and Bay of Kandy, 180 ft. long and 640 tons gross tonnage, delivered to Messrs. J. and A. Allan in 1864. Later, in 1866 and '67, an iron paddle tug, the Topsy, and the iron sailing-ship, Abeona, of 980 tons, were built for the Allans. The Abeona, a vessel of 200 ft. long, was a famous clipper in the days when the passage of a ship from the Clyde to Montreal was a matter of public interest. As related elsewhere, she continued in service for over thirty years.

It was not until 1900 that the Allan Line again placed an order with the Stephens, now at Linthouse, and by this time the Line and its ships had "suffered a sea change," both having grown out of all resemblance to their forerunners. The Tunisian, 500 ft. long and 10,756 gross tons, was built in 1900 to carry passengers and cargo on the original Glasgow-Montreal route blazed by the Abeona and her sisters. She had twin-screw triple-expansion engines of 7,900 I.H.P., and was the first ship built at Linthouse under the rules of the British Corporation.

The progressive policy of the Allans is demonstrated by the building, in 1905, of the Virginian, of 10,754 tons, fitted with turbine machinery. Parsons steam turbines were by this time well advanced beyond the experimental stage. The Stephens had already fitted turbines in the yacht Emerald, in 1903, but the Allans' Virginian, and her sister ship, the Victorian (built by Workman, Clark and Co), were the first large liners to be fitted with the type of machinery which is in common use to-day. The turbines were three in number, driving three small screws of 9 ft. 6 ins. diameter at the high speed of 280 revolutions per minute, a speed of over 19 knots being obtained on trial.

At that time, as the gearing of turbines, to enable them to run economically at high speed with propellers running at their economical low speed, had not been invented, the coal consumption of the Virginian was excessive; it is not surprising to find, therefore, that the next two ships built at Linthouse for the Allan Line, in 1907, reverted to twin-screw reciprocating engines. These two ships, the Grampian and Hesperian, were intermediate passenger and cargo vessels of 9,600 tons, engaged in the emigrant traffic from this country to Canada, then at its height. They were the last ships built by the Firm for the Allans as, since the latter sold their business to the Canadian Pacific Railway (now the Canadian Pacific Ocean Steamships Line), before the War, the orders for this Line have been placed elsewhere.


The years following the Great Exhibition of 1851 witnessed great progress in shipbuilding, which received special encouragement in 1859, when several well-known shipowners commenced business.

Both the British India and the Anchor Line made their first ventures during the latter year, while the records show that in 1859 Kelvinhaugh also built the first ship for the small firm of Nelson, Ismay and Co, who later appeared as T. H. Ismay and Co, changing again to Ismay Imrie and Co, founders of the famous White Star Line. Their first vessel was the Angelita, a small brigantine of 129 tons, No. 21 on the Firm's books her dimensions were 100 ft. by 16 ft. 6 ins. By 11 ft. 6 ins. It is difficult now to believe that such a small vessel could cross the Atlantic and lay the foundations of the White Star Line. Apparently the new firm of shipowners found the little vessel profitable, however, as a similar sized ship, the schooner, Mexico, was ordered in 1860, and followed by the Ismay, an iron-built barque of 423 tons, and 140 ft. in length. These were succeeded in 1862 by the composite- built brigantine, Arriero, a smaller vessel of 167 tons, the company apparently feeling that it had been too progressive in building the 400-ton Ismay.

By 1868, however, Messrs. Ismay had definitely embarked upon a policy of larger ships. With the financial assistance of the builders, who took a share in the vessel, they built the Comadre, an iron sailing-ship of 805 tons and 185 feet in length, which was followed, in 1869, by the composite-built barque Singapore. These vessels were among the last sailing-ships constructed by the company, which shortly afterwards went into steam.


While both Scots and Englishmen were opening up new avenues of trade, the Germans were equally alive to the possibilities of current conditions, and in 1864 Kelvinhaugh witnessed the launch of the Copernicus, an iron sailing-ship of 699 tons, for R. M. Sloman and Co, of Hamburg. This German connexion continued for many years, the last ship built for the firm being the S.S. Pisa of 4,473 tons, launched at the close of 1896. Mr. R. M. Sloman, founder of the company, was a man of unusual personality, a German of the old school, who never failed to express his appreciation of good work. During their long business association Mr. Sloman and Alexander Stephen became close friends, until the former died, at the age of eighty, some time before the Pisa was built. Besides being the last of the Sloman Line, the latter vessel was also the last ship built by the Stephens for German owners.

A list of vessels built for the Sloman Line during a period of thirty-two years is of interest, as showing the gradual increase in size of cargo- carrying ships, and the comparatively recent date of the change from sail to steam.

  • 1864 Copernicus: 699 tons
  • 1864 Newton: 699 tons
  • 1867 Humboldt: 742 tons
  • 1867 Reichstag: 742 tons
  • 1869 Friedeburg: 818 tons
  • 1869 Lammershagen: 913 tons
  • 1870 Alert: 799 tons
  • 1872 Neapel: 867 tons
  • 1879 Malaga: 1,344 tons
  • 1879 Barcelona: 1,347 tons
  • 1881 Catania: 2,199 tons
  • 1881 Sorrento: 2,371 tons
  • 1882 Marsala: 2,367 tons
  • 1883 Procida: 3,545 tons
  • 1884 Taormina: 2,423 tons
  • 1889 Capua: 2,012 tons
  • 1889 Salerno: 2,026 tons
  • 1896 Pisa: 4,473 tons

6 sailing vessels: 4,613 tons
12 steamers: 25,773 tons

TOTAL- 18 ships: 30,386 tons


Among shipping firms of a somewhat later origin than the almost prehistoric lines of the 'fifties and 'sixties, comes the New Zealand Shipping Co, a brief reference to which should be of interest.

During the 'seventies, when fighting still continued with the Maoris, the cattle and sheep introduced in New Zealand having multiplied beyond all expectations, the farmers became dissatisfied with the existing shipping facilities. Although the frozen-meat trade had not yet come into existence, the annually increasing output of wool prompted the formation of the New Zealand Shipping Company, in Christchurch, N.Z.

Three of this company's earliest ships, built at Linthouse in 1876, were the Opawa, Piako and Wanganui, each of 1,070 tons and 215 ft. in length. It is not until forty-five years later, however, that the name of the company reappears on the Linthouse records, in 1921, when another Piako, of 8,283 tons, was built to carry, not the wool, but the sheep themselves, frozen and stowed in refrigerated holds.

Later still, a second Opawa, a refrigerated meat ship of 10,000 tons, fitted with twin-screw Diesel engines, was built, together with her sister ship, the Orari, for the large and flourishing New Zealand Shipping Company of to-day.

In 1874, as mentioned elsewhere, in connexion with the Cyphrenes, the Stephens constructed the Bruce and Euro, pioneer ships for the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand.


Many other important Glasgow shipowners, although not of such antiquity as the British India or Anchor Lines, also laid the foundations of their present fleets with Linthouse-built vessels.

In 1878, for example, Mr. C. W. Cayzer founded Cayzer, Irvine and Co, known generally as the Clan Line, with the S.S. Clan Alpine and S.S. Clan Fraser, of 2,080 tons each. Mr. John Muir, of James Finlay and Co, later Sir John Muir, Lord Provost of Glasgow, was associated with this venture. The Stephens also took a financial interest in the Company, agreeing to an extension of the terms of payment for their vessels, to facilitate the foundation of the new Line. In a few years Mr. Cayzer was able to dispense with outside assistance and take full control of the business.

The association thus formed continued for many years, new ships being built in batches of two or three about every third year, until 1900, when there was a break in the series owing to the Clan Line's adoption of the Doxford turret type of vessel, which was reputed to save much in Suez Canal dues through small tonnage measurement. This turret form came to be regarded as the mark of a Clan Line ship until about 1911 to 1913, when two shelter-deck ships, the Clan MacNaughton and Clan MacQuarrie, of 5,000 tons each, were built at Linthouse, completing a total of nineteen ships and 54,000 gross tons for this Line.

Latterly, however, under the direction of Sir August B. C. Cayzer, the Clan Line took over a Clyde shipyard, which now supplies all its requirements.


Shortly after the Clan Line commenced business, the shipping firm of Maclay and McIntyre was established, in 1885, by Mr. Joseph Maclay and Mr. Thomas McIntyre, who together built up a most flourishing organization. Mr. Maclay, who ultimately became Lord Maclay, was made Shipping Controller during the War.

The firm's first vessel, the S.S. General Gordon, of 1,294 tons, and 240 ft length, was launched at Linthouse in 1885, and a firm business and personal friendship sprang up between the families of Maclay and Stephen. The second ship, the Victoria, built in the Jubilee year, 1887, was followed by a new vessel almost every year, all of the cargo deadweight carrying type, until the latest ship, Masunda, a single-deck cargo vessel of 9,000 tons deadweight, built in 1929.

The Maclay and McIntyre series of ships has now reached a total of twenty-three vessels and 82,000 tons. The Line has generally adopted an African nomenclature for its ships, owing to Lord Maclay's active interest in African missions, an interest which he shared with John Stephen, of Linthouse.

It may be recalled, in passing, that the A, B and C classes of War standard ships were designed on the lines of the vessels of the Maclay and McIntyre fleet.


At the time that the first ship was building for Maclay and McIntyre, in 1885, the Firm had left on its hands two small steamers built specially to the order of the Halifax S. N. Company for the Canadian trade. Mr. Christopher Furness, of Hartlepool, being already interested in this trade, entered into an agreement with the Firm to run the steamers on their joint account. The venture proving financially successful the vessels, Damara and Ulanda, were taken over by Mr. Furness, who in 1888 ordered a third ship, the Baltimore City, of 3,234 tons, for the same trade.

This satisfactory disposal of the stranded steamers was the beginning of a long and intimate association between Christopher Furness, later Lord Furness, and members of the Linthouse firm, and the formation of Furness, Withy and Co, in 1891, was followed in a few days by an order for a new ship from Linthouse. The firm retained shares in many of the ships built for the new company, and combined with Lord Furness in constructing several vessels on speculation, some of which were sold to the B.I.S.N. and P. and O. Companies, as already related.

In all, some nineteen ships, totalling 92,000 tons, were built for the Furness-Withy interest between 1885 and 1918, during which period they gradually increased in size from the original 2,300 tons to 8,700 tons. The earlier vessels were specially fitted to carry live cattle on the hoof from Canada, but, as engineering knowledge advanced, the later ships were completely refrigerated for the Argentine trade, first for frozen, and later for chilled beef, this final development bringing with it many difficult problems.

In 1903 the turbine yacht, Emerald, was built for Lord Furness at Linthouse.


This friendly association with Lord Furness and his wide interests brought the Firm into touch with Sir Alfred Jones, the able chairman of Elder Dempster and Co, and founder of the Imperial Direct West India Line.

A man of tremendous energy and advanced views, Sir Alfred had also the courage to put his theories into practice. An early believer in the application of science to Empire development, he assisted Sir Ronald Ross in his great fight against tropical disease — a faith that was fully justified, though not in his lifetime, as Sir Ronald's efforts have entirely transformed living conditions on the West African coast and in the West Indies.

The Stephens constructed many ships for the Elder Dempster Company, the confidence on both sides being so great that many of the vessels were built without the formality of a signed contract. The Firm's connexion with the Imperial Direct West India Line, and its successor, Elders and Fyffes Ltd., has already been fully detailed in another part of this volume.

Upon the death of Sir Alfred, at a comparatively early age, his interest in Elder Dempster was taken over by other shipping concerns, and later vessels for the Line were built at shipyards allied to these firms. However, Linthouse continued to receive orders from the Belgian firm, Cie. Beige Maritime du Congo, which had been associated with Sir Alfred in the West African trade, and from Elders and Fyffes Ltd.


Reference has already been made to the Allan liner, Tunisian, as being the first ship built at Linthouse under the rules and inspection of the British Corporation for the Survey and Registry of Shipping. This Registry Society was founded in 1890, by two or three Glasgow ship owners, in association with several shipbuilders. Its object was to provide an alternative classification to those already existing, but based on modern and scientific lines. Many new methods of construction were introduced, most of which have been generally adopted. The late Professor Jenkins was engaged to make out the rules; associated with him were Mr. (now Sir Archibald) Denny, Mr. Courtier Dutton and Mr. Foster King, who later became the well known chief surveyor.

While it is certain that the older societies would have ultimately moved with the times, and developed their rules on a more scientific basis, there seems no doubt that the advent of the new society provided a useful stimulus. The steel ship of to-day is the result of the work of members of all the registry societies and others, and while investigation still progresses, the present structure of a ship is designed on a firm, scientific basis.

It is interesting to compare a single-decker cargo ship, built in 1897, with a similar type of ship built in 1929. Although the comparison can only be accepted with reservations, it is instructive to note that the earlier ship, the Vizcaina, of 2,191 tons gross, carried only 3 tons of cargo for each ton of steel structure, while the present-day Masunda, of 5,364 tons, carried 4 tons per ton of steel, a gain of 33 per cent.

To return to the British Corporation, and its connexion with Stephen-built ships. The first ships to be classed at Linthouse were Allan and Anchor liners, and in the course of time many owners in this country, and in Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, etc., came to class their ships with the symbol B. S. *, signifying "Under the rules and inspection of the British Corporation." Up to the present time over 300,000 tons of shipping have been built at Linthouse under this classification.

The Firm itself, in addition to many of its clients, has taken a practical interest in the society from an early date. On the retirement of Sir Archibald Denny, the first chairman of the technical committee, Fred J. Stephen was temporarily appointed. The appointment later became permanent, being retained by Mr. Stephen for eighteen years. Upon retiring from the chairmanship of this committee he remained a member of the general committee, a position he still retains in 1932.

See Also