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James Bremner

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James Bremner (1784-c1856)

Born 1784

1833 James Bremner of Pulteney Town, Wick, a Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1857 Obituary [2]

MR. JAMES BREMNER was born on the 25th September 1784, at Keiss, parish of Wick, county of Caithness, and was the youngest of a family of nine children, six of whom died in infancy.

His Father was a man of great physical strength, uncommon energy of character, and high moral principle, who exerted considerable influence in the district, till his death, which took place at an advanced age, after a prolonged service in the defence of his country.

During the absence of the Father on foreign service, young James was with his mother at Keiss, and obtained such an education as her means afforded. He left school at about the age of fourteen, and then had a robust constitution, with a good deal of the rover and adventurer about him.....

... as an apprentice, in 1798, in the yard of Messrs. Robert Steele and Sons, shipbuilders of Greenock, whose extensive establishment and business operations at that port, (then unrivalled in Scotland, in commercial importance, and as the resort of shipping) afforded good opportunities for instruction, both theoretical and practical, as well in the planning and building of large ships, as in the methods of drawing them up, and raising them out of the water, when requiring repair and alteration. To the operations of the last-mentioned process, and to various experiments afterwards tried by himself, Mr. Bremner attributed the early and ardent desire he long felt, of being enabled to discover, some effectual means of abating the labour, and facilitating the progress of building under water.

In 1804, some improvements in the harbour of Greenock were commenced, and were watched with interest by Mr. Bremner. After remaining at Messrs. Steele’s for about six years and a half, he made two voyages to North America, and had all but arranged for permanent settlement with the view of commencing shipbuilding, at Pictou ; but was dissuaded by his friends....

... Mr. Bremner, in his twenty-fifth year, resolved on commencing business in his native parish, where he eventually occupied the shipbuilding yard for nearly half a century, during which time he built fifty-six vessels, from a ship of 510 tons, to a small sloop of 45 tons. These were almost exclusively built for strangers, and were registered at distant ports; but at the same time he greatly improved the boats used for the herring fishery...

... But Mr. Bremner’s greatest talent was evinced in the raising and recovering of wrecked vessels, in the wide circuit betwixt Aberdeenshire and the Isle of Skye ; comprehending the islands of Orkney, Shetland, and Lewis, and the critical navigation of the Pentland Firth. On these occasions his kindness to the crew and officers was very marked, and he has been known to keep them for months in his own house.

He raised not less than two hundred and thirty-six vessels, many of them sunk in a depth of 12 fathoms. His first anxiety was to ascertain the size of the vessel, the position in which she lay, or was sunk, the nature of the bottom, whether rock, shingle, or sand; and the description of the ship’s cargo, if loaded. He always kept ready six sets of portable machinery, each capable of being conveyed in double carts. The first operation was to bind the ship together, by double, or triple chain purchases, and to endeavour to force the stern of the ship inward and her bows to the sea. The cargo was then discharged early in the following spring, placed on rafts and drawn beyond the reach of breakers.

In this way, in 1825, he extricated the cargo of the ship ‘Orion,’ of Pillau, wrecked at Watersound, on the east side of Orkney. The cargo consisted of timber, which together with the whole wreck of the ill-fated ship, he carried off by a single raft. On this raft he constructed paddles, wrought by manual labour, with five sheer poles, on which he rigged the courses and topsails of the ‘Orion.’ In this state he traversed upwards of one hundred miles, through the dangerous navigation of the Pentland Firth, at the rate of three miles and a half per hour, and reached his ship-building establishment at Pulteney-Town in safety...

... He was employed with one of his sons in assisting to secure, and ultimately in taking the Great Britain off the strand, at Dundrum Bay, in August 1847, after that vessel had been unfortunately run ashore during her first voyage.

For the last twelve years of his life, Mr. Bremner acted as agent at Wick for the Aberdeen, Leith, and Clyde Shipping Company, and in conducting the business of that agency he was frequently placed in positions of danger, from which he narrowly escaped with his life....


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