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William Muir (c.1805-1886)

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William Muir (c.1805-1886)

1886 Obituary[1]


We regret to record the death, at the advanced age of eighty*one years, of Mr. William Muir, who was for upwards of half a century the engineer superintendent of the great fleet of steamers owned or managed by Messrs. G. and J. Burns, of Glasgow, and for a still longer period most prominently identified with marine engineering in its successive phases down to the construction and equipment of the great Cunard Liners Umbria and Etruria. Mr. Muir was one of the few links between present marine engineering and the days of the earlier—if not, indeed, the earliest—triumphs of steam navigation on the Clyde.

William Muir began his apprenticeship as an engineer with Messrs. Duncan Macarthur and Co., of Camlachie Foundry, Glasgow, who were very early engaged in marine engineering, inasmuch as they supplied engines to the steamer Dumbarton Castle, the Greenock, and the Rothesay Castle, which were built in the years 1814 and 1815; and who also supplied the engines to the second Comet. Young Muir next joined the famous establishment of John Neilson, of Oakbank, where he was engaged, among other work, in fitting up the engines of the St. Catherine, which was the first steamer on the Lochgoilhead route, and a craft in which he afterwards sailed, for some time, as engineer. Leaving the St. Catherine, he entered the Henry Bell, which plied between Liverpool and Glasgow ; and from the Henry Bell he went to the Inverary Castle. Marine engineering was now taking numerous fresh developments, and Mr. Muir, in his anxiety to keep pace with the progress of his profession, procured an engagement with Messrs. Caird and Co., of Greenock. While in the service of Messrs. Caird he was employed on the engines of the Glasgow, which was then building for Messrs. G. and J. Burns ; and on the launch of that vessel in March, 1829—well nigh sixty years ago—he joined the engineering establishment of that firm.

From the Glasgow, Mr. Muir went to various other vessels of Messrs. Burns’s fleet, one of them being the Manchester, which was the “crack” steamer of her day, and during this time he gained much of that great experience and that great measure of professional skill which made him so celebrated amongst his fellows during an unusually long life, and on both sides of the Atlantic. Through the technical skill, constant attention, and indomitable energy displayed in the performance of his duties, he soon gained the esteem of his employers, and in course of time he was selected to the post of engineer-superintendent to the firm.

In 1839, when the British and North American Steam Packet Company (better known as the Cunard Line) was originated by the three enterprising shipowners, Messrs. Samuel Cunard, George Burns, and David Maciver. Mr. Muir’s responsibilities were vastly increased by his being appointed resident inspecting engineer at Glasgow to the company. This honourable and onerous position he filled, in conjunction with the other, until his decease, which occurred somewhat suddenly on the 19th of September. The engines of all the steamships of the Cunard fleet, and of the steamers of Messrs. Burns’s coasting and Channel flotilla, were constructed and fitted under his control; and the excellence of the supervision exercised by him requires no further testimony than is supplied by these perfect specimens of marine engineering.

The professional skill possessed by Mr. Muir was also displayed in the construction and equipment of the West Highland fleet of steamers now owned and managed by Mr. David MacBrayne, including the famous floating palaces, the Columba and the Iona. From first to last, the deceased was engaged on considerably over 200 vessels, representing an aggregate of probably not less than 250,000 tons, whose engines may be rated at something like 350,000 indicated horse-power, and the total value probably reaching five millions sterling. Those vessels, moreover, represent various transitions — from wood to iron and from iron to steel; from the side lever engine to the oscillating and compound high and low-pressure engines; from paddle to screw; in size from 280 tons to 8500 tons and 13,000 horse-power indicated, and from a steam pressure of 5 lb. to 110 lb. per square inch.

Down almost to the last Mr. Muir was ever active and always anxious to see everything with his own eyes, and even far on into his “seventies” he exhibited an amount of skill and daring that might well have put to shame very much younger men. Prior to his death he was, with the exception of Mr. George Burns (now ninety-one years of age), the only person who was in any way directly connected with the birth of the great Cunard Co, which is one of the largest commercial concerns existing.

Mr. Muir was noted for his kindly, simple, and unassuming character. The earnest face and familiar figure of the veteran engineer will long be missed by the shipping community of Glasgow, in which city he was born and bred, and, indeed, by all connected with the shipbuilding and engineering industries of the Clyde ; but his many friends have the pleasant knowledge that he has left behind him a blameless record of a busy, useful, and well-spent career. The deceased is survived by a widow and a grown-up family — his eldest son being Mr. Hugh Muir, of Messrs. Muir and Caldwell, engineers.

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