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James Shaw (1836-1883)

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James Shaw (1836-1883)


1883 Obituary [1]

MR. JAMES SHAW was born in Aberdeen, of humble parentage, on the 27th of August, 1836. He received in his boyhood a scanty education; but previous to his apprenticeship in his native city to the late Mr. Jonathan Ness, miller, he appears to have been for a short period at Mr. Ledingham’s academy, in Correction Wynd, and held a high place in the esteem of his teacher for his plodding and persevering qualities, being singled out and spoken of to the school as "one of the shining lights of the future."

When quite young James Shaw gave evidence of considerable talent and business ability. He was poor but ambitious, and his subsequent successful career justified the allusion to his departure from the city made by himself on the first occasion on which he sought its suffrages.

"I have no doubt (he said) a good few will ask the question, Who is James Shaw? I have the profoundest pride in answering that question. I left this city twenty years ago, at fifteen years of age, a poor, penniless, friendless Aberdeen lad. There is not a man in this assemblage, however poor, who has not at this moment greater advantages than I had when I quitted my native city. I don’t think I had more than the price of a railway ticket to Edinburgh; but I left it with hope; I left it, I trust, with some degree of principle; I left, at all events, with some native Aberdonian energy, and I return to you, gentlemen, twenty years afterwards, to offer myself to you as your representative in Parliament.”

At the age of sixteen he obtained a situation as junior clerk, in the Glasgow office of the then well-known firm of metal brokers, Messrs. Short & Co., of London and Glasgow. Young Shaw’s intelligence and high business qualities were quickly perceived by his employers, and he was, a few years later, removed to the London office, where he remained until he was twenty-one years of age, when the Glasgow branch of Messrs. Short and Co.’s business was presented to him.

Always anxious to improve his position, he, during his stay in London, attended evening-classes, and in this way made up for the deficiencies of his early education.

On commencing business on his own account in Glasgow, in 1857, he took into partnership Mr. James Thomson, who had previously been engaged in the dry goods trade, and founded the firm of Shaw and Thomson, which afterwards became one of the most important in the iron trade. Mr. Henry Moore was some years later admitted into the firm, and the business was carried on under the style of Shaw, Thomson, and Moore, until August 1865, when this partnership was dissolved, and the firm of Shaw and Thomson continued, the business having been removed from Glasgow to Leadenhall Street, London.

In 1870 Mr. Thomson died, and the business devolved upon Mr. Shaw. The firm of Shaw and Thomson conducted an extensive foreign trade, and supplied the ironwork for the Athens and Piraeus Railway (the first railway constructed in Greece), at the opening of which H.R.H. the Prince of Wales was present; and Mr. Shaw had the honour of conducting His Royal Highness over the works, and received from the Prince, upon his return to England, a scarf-pin as a memento of the occasion.

Messrs. Shaw and Thomson constructed the Ghizeh Bridge across the Nile at Cairo, when Mr. Shaw, who was personally well known to the then Khedive, Ismail Pasha, was presented by His Highness with his autograph portrait.

Mr. Shaw also supplied the iron permanent-way for the construction of 150 miles of railway in Egypt, besides numerous other undertakings, and also obtained the stores-contract from the Egyptian Government. The firm supplied many thousands of tons of iron permanent-way to the Indian, Australian, New Zealand, Belgian, Italian, and other governments, and carried out some other extensive contracts.

In the years 1871-2-3 Mr. Shaw realized a large sum of money, and was unquestionably a rich man when he was elected to serve the office of Sheriff of London and Middlesex for the year 1874-5, and during his Shrievalty visited the French capital, in state, together with the then Lord Mayor of London and his co-Sheriff (now Sir John Whitaker Ellis, Bart), but towards the latter part of his year of office in 1875, a year so terribly disastrous to the iron trade, his financial position became greatly altered, and, under the circumstances, he decided to abstain from the duties of the office of Sheriff for the short remaining period then wanting for the due completion of its tenure, never having resigned the office, as has been erroneously stated.

In May 1877, the well-known and extensive establishment of the Governor and Company of Copper Miners in England, better known as the Cwm Avon Ironworks, were disposed of to Mr. James Shaw and some associates. This famous company was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1691, and went into liquidation in July, 1876, having succumbed to the storm which wrecked so many other concerns engaged in the iron-trade. It is well known that their great works had cost this ancient Corporation over a million and a quarter of money. Mr. Shaw worked this property for some years with remarkable success, and at a later date, formed the property into a limited liability company, which has since gone into liquidation. During his stay at Cwm Avon, the employees presented to Mr. Shaw a marble bust of himself as a token of the great esteem felt for him by those connected with the works under his proprietorship.

Mr. Shaw thrice contested the representation of his native city in Parliament, in the Conservative interest, viz., in 1872, 1874, and 1880, on each occasion, however, unsuccessfully. In 1874 he was absent in Egypt, and telegraphed two addresses to the electors, and the increasing numbers of his supporters was proof of his growing popularity. He was an attractive and fluent speaker, and the pluck and good humour he exhibited in repeatedly fighting losing battles earned for him a good deal of general public admiration. He was the author of a series of papers entitled "Sketches in the House of Commons, Personal and Political," published in 1871, under the name of "A Silent Member," which attracted considerable attention. He was also a frequent and able writer in metropolitan and other papers, and was always a welcome contributor. The generosity of his character was most marked, and to many a struggling lad he proved a most valuable friend, finding for them situations and otherwise aiding them. He was a member of the Merchant Taylors’ Company, a Past-Master of the Farriers’ Company, a member of the Loriners’ Company, a Justice of the Peace for the County of Glamorganshire, and was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 3rd of March, 1868.

Mr. Shaw was connected with the town of Stockton-on-Tees, so far as he was a partner in the firm of Shaw, Johnson, and Reay, of the Moor Iron Works; from that firm, however, he retired some years ago. The anxiety incident to the fluctuating character of the iron-trade had of late years seriously affected his health, which had always been of a delicate nature, and a constant cause of carefulness and consideration from his boyhood; and it is probable that this cause accelerated his death, which occurred on the 23rd of May, 1883.


1883 Obituary [2]

JAMES SHAW was born in Aberdeen in 1836, and died in London on the 14th May 1883. In early life he was apprenticed to a grain merchant in his native city, but while still a young man he left Aberdeen for Glasgow, where he was introduced to the iron trade.

He afterwards became associated in London with a Mr. Thomson, and the firm, of which he was the senior partner, carried on for many years an extensive business in Leadenhall Street. Some important engineering contracts were undertaken by the firm, including the construction of the first railway in Greece and the dredging of the. Nile at Cairo.

About twelve years ago Mr. Shaw purchased the property of Cwm Avon from the Governor and Company of Copper-miners in England.

He was originally senior partner in the firm of Shaw, Johnson, & Reay, of the Moor Ironworks, Stockton, from which, however, he retired some years before his decease.

Mr. Shaw took a deep interest in political affairs. He contested Aberdeen three several times without success; and he was the author of a series of political papers entitled "Sketches in the House of Commons, by a Silent Member." He became a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1873.


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