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British Industrial History

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James Robert Napier

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James Robert Napier (1821-1879), F.R.S., engineer

1821 He was born at Camlachie on 12th September. His father, Robert Napier of Shandon, took over the Camlachie Foundry at about this time.

Attended the High School and Glasgow University where he gained a prize in 1839.

By 1840 His father's businesses had developed - the Vulcan Foundry was by then in full operation in Washington Street; shipbuilding was added to the business at Govan in 1840, and shortly afterwards, James was put in charge of that department.

James Napier made his mark as a shipbuilder, not least because he did not have to unlearn the habits of wooden shipbuilding in order to adopt the new iron ship technology. Among the improvements he made to the process was the outside-plating of ships in alternate in- and out- strakes which rapidly displaced the old "clinker" method.

1851 Invented tables for correcting a ship's compass in an iron vessel which became a standard; also invented a form of glass coffee pot but failed to patent it.

1853 Became a partner in his father's business, which was renamed R. Napier and Sons

Between 1853 and 1857 collaborated with W. J. Macquorn Rankine in the development of a hot-air engine but the practical problems proved insurmountable.

1857 James withdrew from the Napier partnership because of differences with the other partners

For a few years he worked as a shipbuilder on his own account

He was one of the founders of the Institution of Engineers in Scotland

He never recovered from the stress of building the "Erebus," one of the first iron-clad gun ships built for service in the Crimean War.

Due to poor health he gave up the yard. He tried running a fishery company but this was not successful.

1859 James ceased to be a Partner of, or interested in the Firm of ROBERT NAPIER & SONS, Engineers and Shipbuilders in Glasgow and at Govan. Witnesses to the signatures of John and Robert Napier were John R. Miller and David Kinghorn[1]

1861 James R Napier 39, marine engineer, lived in Barony with Emma Napier 39, Robert Napier 10, Henry Napier 6, Lawrence Napier 5, McVicar Napier 4, Isabella Napier 2, Edith Napier 11[2]

1862 He moved his vessel, the "Lancefield", to the Ardrossan - Belfast route in competition with the paddle steamers running from Greenock; this was successful until the Glasgow and South-Western Railway Company contested his activity; the Company won on appeal and Napier sold his steamer.

1864 Published an early paper on the benefits of superheating steam, using data provided by William Beardmore[3]

1867 The Royal Society of London elected him a Fellow

1871 A civil engineer, he was visiting John Boustead, an Army agent in Wimbledon[4]

1879 December. Died in Glasgow

1879 Obituary.[5]

1879 Obituary [6]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. London Gazette 4 Mar 1859
  2. 1861 census
  3. The Engineer 1924/10/24
  4. 1871 census
  5. The Engineer 1879/12/19, p456.
  6. Engineering 1879 Jul-Dec: Index: General Index