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Shipbuilding in Aberdeen

One of the 1st ships built in Aberdeen was built on neglected Kirkyard ground beside the Trinity Friary, the south wall that overlooked the upper part of the Harbour or part of the Estuary of the Dee. Authority to build a Barque was granted to Alexander Davidsoun, Timberman of St. Andrews, in February 1606 by the Magistrates, in the following terms :-

20th February, 1606. - The samyn day, anent the bill geivin in by Alexander Davidsoun, tymber man in Sanct Androis, mackand mention that he hes agreet with the honest men that hes bocht the Wod of Drum for als mekill tymber as will big ane bark, quhilk bark he intendis, God willing, to big within this Towne, and becauss the Kirkyard of the Trinitie Freris, quhilk is filthilie abusit be middingis, is the maist meit and convenient place for bigging of the said bark, he humblie desyred for sic service as he micht do to the Towne, that lie may have licence and guidwill of that rowme for bigging of the said bark, seing the tymber is redie in ane flott to cum to this Burght as at mair lenth was contenit in his said bill ; quhairanent the Provest, Baillies, and Counsall advysing, they fund the desire thairof eerie reasonable, and grantit and gaive licence to the said Alexr. Davidsoun to big his schip in the pairt foresaid, viz.: in the said Trinity Freris Kirkyaird, conform to the desyre of his said supplication, and for that effort ordanis all those qho has laid middingis in the said kirkyaird or thairabout, to remove and tak avay the same within aucht dayes next efter the dait heirof under pain of ane unlaw of fyve merkis to be uplifted of the persone failzeand, and ordanis intimation to be maid heirof to those quho has the saidis middina s at the pairt forsaid. - Council Register, vol xlii., p. 582.


Shipbuilding Heritage
Aberdeen is one of the oldest shipping-places in the kingdom. The fitting out of war-ships by the loyal inhabitants of the City in the 15th century has already been mentioned, and much might be added about the early Maritime relations of the Port.  Before the invention of steam navigation, the coasting trade was carried on by smacks, small vessels which made tedious voyages, and met with frequent mishaps. A voyage in one of those vessels from Leith to Wick was regarded, especially in the winter time, as being a much more perilous undertaking than a voyage to America would be at the present time.  It was no uncommon thing for the vessels to knock about the coast for weeks without making 50 miles of progress. When a gale came on, they ran into the nearest port, and did not venture out again until the storm had passed, and the direction of the wind favoured them. The building and repair of the Smacks formed a considerable item in the shipbuilding trade of the country.  Aberdeen had not only a fair share of business in that line, but acquired a celebrity for producing fast-sailing and strong vessels.  At the beginning of the 19th Century there were as many building yards at Aberdeen as there were in the boom years, and the Halls and the Duthies were laying the foundation for that reputation in the Trade which their descendants have for some time enjoyed.  The early builders had many difficulties to contend with, the chief of which was the want of convenient ground to build their vessels upon.  There were no shipbuilding-yards nor slips, and the work was carried on upon the Beach.  The extension of commerce, and the consequent increased demand for ships, induced the Builders at Aberdeen, as elsewhere, to construct vessels of a larger size than formerly.  

An Arthur Gibbon from Echt settled in Torry village, then just outside Aberdeen, at mouth of River Dee, as a Shipbuilder, 1640, age 26 years

The year 1818 was a memorable one in the trade, as in it was launched the Castle Forbes from the Shipbuilding yard of Robert Gibbon & Sons, the 1st vessel built expressly for the Indian trade, and the largest that had been built at the port up till that time.  The Castle Forbes (Owners: Robert Gibbon, Arthur Gibbon, William. Gibbon) was a local wonder on account of her size, length 106'-7" x breadth 31' x depth 14', though she measured only 439 tons.

Gibbons Shipbuilders
The family business was "
Robert Gibbon and Sons, Merchants" at No. 11 Virginia Street, on the north side.

Captain Robert Gibbon 1738-1821
Robert Gibbon and Sons, Merchants owned the ship Castle Forbes (1818) - Owners: Robert Gibbon, Arthur Gibbon, Wm. Gibbon
Caledonian Mercury, 30th March 1818:
Ship CASTLE FORBES, Fraser Master, 440 tons register, launched from building yard of Robert Gibbon & Sons, Aberdeen, sailed from there Wednesday last on her way to Bombay via London. She is the 1st ship built at Aberdeen for the trade to India. 
1st voyage: carried 140 male convicts to Australia and had no deaths en-route. Landed 136 male convicts at Hobart and 4 male convicts at Sydney. Departed Cork, Ireland on the 3rd of October 1819 and arrived Sydney on the 27th of January 1820. Sailed for Hobart, Arriving there on the 1st of March 1820. Master: Captain Thomas Reid. Surgeon: J. Scott.

2nd voyage: carried 140 male convicts to Sydney and had 1 death en-route. Departed Cork, Ireland on the 28th of September 1823 and arrived in Sydney on the 15th of January 1824. Master: Captain John W. Ord. Surgeon: Matthew Anderson.

Merchants at 11 Virginia St, Aberdeen, the business is still listed there with that name in Aberdeen Directories 1824-25 and 1825-26,  No. 11 Virginia St was also the family home, his unmarried daughters the "Misses Gibbon" are listed there in 1824-25 to 1839-40.

Caledonian Mercury, 29th June 1823:
The ship CASTLE FORBES, which left Leith about 18 months ago with goods and passengers for Van Diemen's Land, arrived in the Thames beginning of this month, all well, with a cargo from Hobart Town and Sydney. The CASTLE FORBES left Sydney in February and had a passage home of 4 months and 5 days.
Caledonian Mercury, 17th Jan 1825:
[Confession of Alex Pierce of murder and cannibalism]. In the 26th year of my age I was convicted of stealing 6 pairs of shoes and received sentence to be transported for 7 years. I arrived in Van Diemen's Land on board the ship CASTLE FORBES from Sydney. 

The Shipbuilding business of Alexander Hall & Company was established in 1790 by Alexander Hall. He took over the business of Cochar & Gibbon, where he had been an Apprentice and then a Partner.

About 20 ships, having a gross tonnage of 2770, were launched in 1817, and next year 22, measuring 3300 tons, were built.

Since the above time the trade has been much extended, chiefly by the enterprise of the late Mr Alexander Hall, who introduced the "Clipper" mould of vessels. Until then ships were built according to a conventional model, which would appear to have been held sacred against attempts at improvement.  Bluff bows, a full stern, heavy sides, and massive rigging, were the characteristics of this ideal of the Shipbuilders.  With the increase of commerce, however, swift-sailing vessels came to be demanded, and the old notions gave way to the requirements of the times. It did not need a profound knowledge of natural philosophy to discover that the speed of a vessel might be increased by making her bows more acute; but though the fact could not fail to be known, it was acted upon only to a limited extent.  Mr Hall, was a most energetic man, and came to have an extensive business in the construction of vessels for the Indian and other branches of foreign trade.  He paid great attention to the forms of his vessels, and having come to appreciate the value of the sharp-bowed or "Clipper" model, he in the year 1839, built the Scottish Maid, a vessel of 142 tons, and in her demonstrated the advantages of sharp lines.  The vessel attracted much attention, and soon afterwards the Aberdeen Shipbuilders became famous for their "Clippers." The shipping firms engaged in the Australian Emigration Trade got a considerable number of vessels built at that port.  Mr Hall was succeeded in business by his 2 Sons.  

In the early 1850's the British Shipowners went to the Aberdeen Shipyards for their ships and, as a result, the yard of Alexander Hall & Sons built some of the fastest Clippers of that decade including Reindeer (1848), Stornoway (1850), Chrysolite (1851), Cairngorm (1853), Vision (1854) and Robin Hood (1856).

All these ships full-rigged carrying 4 or 5 yards on each mast, deployed studding sails on each side and had the distinctive Aberdeen Clipper Bows which were less ornate than the traditional practice. The design of the Cairngorm embodied the Builder's ideas of what a Clipper should be and was built without a firm order from an owner.  A big risk for the shipbuilder but Alexander Hall & Sons were proved right as the Cairngorm was purchased by Jardine, Matheson & Co for the tea trade and she proved to be one of the fastest clippers during the 1850's. She cost £15,434 to build and was registered at 939 tons and was acknowledged as 'Cock of the Walk' as she made many fast passages. In 1858-9 she made her fastest homeward passage from Macau to Deal in 91 days.

The general substitution of iron for wood as a material for building ships of a large size has had its effect upon the trade of Aberdeen, and now the achievements of the "Clippers" built there have ceased to be spoken of in terms of wonder. The "Clipper" form is almost universal, and has reached its highest development in the China Traders built on the Clyde, the homeward voyages of which are among the most interesting nautical events of the year. The Aberdeen Builders have not, however, fallen off in prosperity, as they have complied with the requirements of the day, and taken to building ships of iron, and of a combination of wood and iron.  An extensive trade is also done in repairing wooden vessels, for which there are special facilities at all the yards. The 3 principal shipbuilding firms - Messrs Alexander Hall & Sons, Messrs John Duthie & Sons, and Messrs Walter Hood & Co. have their premises at Footdee, and 1 or 2 small yards are on the Inches. The tonnage of the vessels built in 1863 was 1230; in 1865, 9701; in 1866, 9224; and in 1867, 12,112. Upwards of 1000 persons are employed in the trade. Carpenters receive 22s. a week, working 57 hours. Apprentices are taken at the age of 14 years, and their wages average 7s. a week over the term of 5 years which they require to serve. Most of the journeymen are married, and occupy houses in the neighbourhood of the yards.


Footdee Shipyards

John Duffus Born (1794), Shipbuilder & Mechanical Engineer. The Duffus Shipyard was officially known as John Duffus & Company. In addition to shipbuilding, Duffus manufactured engines for steam vessels; and, trading as the Aberdeen and London Steam Navigation Company, had his own ships plying their trade between Aberdeen and London.
1872 Directory Entry
John Duffus & Co., Manufacturers of steam engines, chain cables, anchors, locks, hinges; millwrights, machinists, and shipbuilders, St. Clement Street

Aberdeen has been famed for Shipbuilding especially for its fast clippers. Since 1855 nearly a score of vessels have been built of above 1000 tons each. The largest vessel (a sailing one) ever built here was one in 1855, of 2400 tons. In 1872 there were built 11 iron vessels of 9450 tons, and 6 wooden of 2980 tons, consuming 5900 tons Iron and costing £252,700, including £60,700 for engines and other machinery. 1400 hands were employed in shipbuilding in that year, at the weekly wages of about £1230.

Duke of Wellington - Wooden Paddle Steamer built By John Duffus & Co 1829

The Times August 20, 1829
'Extraordinary Despatch. The Aberdeen and London Steam Navigation Company's steam ship, the Duke of Wellington sailed from Aberdeen about 3 o'clock on Saturday afternoon, the 1st inst., and arrived at London at 1 o'clock on Monday forenoon the 17th inst., performing the distance of about 540 miles in 46 hours, beating the mail about 17 hours. Salmon caught and grouse killed on Saturday forenoon were delivered at their respective destinations on Monday afternoon.'

Nicol Reid - Shipbuilder?

Upper Dock Shipyards

The whole
South side of the Upper Dock at what is now Jamieson's Quay was occupied by shipbuilding yards; an 1865-7 map suggests 5 slipways.  Three were parallel to Regents Road and 2 were slightly diagonal and launched towards Weighhouse Square The owners of these yards were, reckoning from East to West, William Duthie -2 Slips, John Humphrey & Co. (1 Slip), and Richard Connon (2 Slips). The launch of the Strathnaver in 1865 from the yard of William Duthie was the last launch that took place in the Upper Dock. At the south-east corner of this Dock was moored HMS Winchester, for the training of the Royal Naval Reserve. She was approached by a floating gangway which ran westward from Regent Bridge. When a launch took place the Winchester had sometimes to be moved to make way for it. In the corner between this gangway and the Bridge was laid up in winter the smack Cock of the North, of 48 tons, built at Aberdeen in 1835, which belonged to Messrs. Hogarth and was employed to bring to Aberdeen via the Pentland Firth the salmon caught on their net fishing's at Gairloch and elsewhere on the west coast. In the Moray Firth Messrs. Hogarth had another smack, called the Dora. They employed smacksmen from East Anglia to command their little vessels, and so brought to the port not a few fine seamen who took root there, and subsequently were promoted to Command the Steamers of the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Co., of which Mr A P Hogarth was Chairman. These fine seamen, all now passed on, among them Captain Dowman, Captain Andrews, and Captain Howe.

Robert Matheson, Shipbuilder, Trinity Building Yard, Home 16 Carmelite Street c.1824-5 
It could be that these yards adopted local place names for Post and Material deliveries.  This may be the address of the Richard Connon yard which would have been launching toward Trinity Quay


John Humphrey & Co - Shipbuilders

John Humphrey was Chief Engineer for a German, named Smith (originally Schmidt) who had a shipyard at the Inches. Smith was nicknamed Yankee Smith. Humphrey took over the business in 1866

Liverpool Mercury, 31st March 1885:
For sale 23 April by Kellock & Co., Brokers, Liverpool, the very superior A1 clipper ship INVERCAULD, 1247 tons register. Built under special survey at Aberdeen under a roof 1874. Is salted and copper fastened, was sheathed with yellow metal (brass) July 1883. Carries over 1700 tons deadweight...is absolutely found in stores and ready of immediate employment. Has just discharged cargo of Java sugar in excellent order. Lying in East Float, Birkenhead. Particulars from Messrs James Aiken Jun. & Co., Aberdeen.
Shipbuilder (57 Marischal Street).
Invercauld - Reported missing October 1901. The ship left Flinders Bay in Western Australia loaded with timber en route for Newcastle, England, 2nd October 1901 and vanished without a trace. Crew consisted of 15 men. The ship apparently sank in a hurricane in the Indian Ocean.

Daily News, 22nd May 1867:
Devitt and Moore's Australian Line of packet ships - for Adelaide direct (last shipping day 5 June), the new Aberdeen Clipper ship Carnaquheen, A1, 825 tons register, R. Phillips Commander, lying in the London Docks. This beautiful ship, fitted expressly for the Adelaide trade, has a full poop, with every comfort for the accommodation of chief cabin and intermediate passengers. For terms of freight or passage apply to Devitt & Moore, Billeter St.

Kagosima – Built 1866 Humphrey’s Yard for Glover Brothers
Original Owner: James Lindley Glover, Shipowner (Aberdeen)

18/02/1867: James Lindley Glover 28/64 to Charles Thomas Glover, Shipowner, Aberdeen.
15/10/1868: Thomas Blake Glover, Merchant, Nagasaki, Japan, empowered to sell the ship for sum not less than £500 sterling at any port in China or Japan within 12 months.

Aberdeen Weekly Journal 26th Dec 1877
Barque Cleopatra, which was the last vessel built by Messers Humphrey & Co, Aberdeen, left this port for London in charge of Captain F.G. Milne. She belongs to Messrs Richard Connon & Co, Aberdeen.


Richard Connon & Co., Shipbuilder
Bundaleer - Date of Build/Launch: March 1869
Port belonging to: Aberdeen
Registered 22/04/1869; 1 deck and poop deck and forecastle; 3 masts; 3/4 male figurehead.

John Vernon and Sons, Shipbuilder  c.1840
27 York Street

The Walter Hood yard, opened in 1839, was East of Halls', next to Pocra Jetty. The former Shipbuilder's John Vernon & Son came and went and Walter Hood took over their yard.

John Garrow - Built at Aberdeen by John Vernon & Sons, Aberdeen in 1840.  Registered in Liverpool.
Rigged with standing bowsprit, square stemmed, no galleries and male figurehead. Owned by John Anderson, William Garrow, Alexander Smith and Thomas Irvine, all of Liverpool, trading as Anderson, Garrow & Co.

Vernon, & Co, Engineers, Founders, Millwrights, Builders of   iron ships, etc. Dee Iron Works, 27 York street
A John Vernon, Shipbuilder aged 54 years, recorded death at Litherland Park Litherland, 
Liverpool, 17th March 1874

David Burns Shipbuilder

Commodore - 1861
Description: 1 deck and a break, carvel built, 3 masts, ship rigged, square stern, mock gallery, male figurehead.
#

The James Horn vessel was built in 1865 by David Burns Shipbuilder at Aberdeen, Scotland. A 160 (later 151) ton schooner, 91 ft. 6 in. long, built for 'Commercial Lime Co.', later 'Aberdeen Commercial Lime Co.', of Aberdeen. ON 53243. Signal letters JVKH. Intended for, I presume, the carriage of lime - intended voyages are referenced to the Baltic. Described as being '1 deck, 2 masts, brigantine rigged, eliptical stern, carvel built, male figurehead'.  

Snowdrop - Schooner built by David Burns - 1866 -

1 deck, 2 masts, eliptical stern, schooner rigged, carvel built, no galleries, figurehead demi female. Owner: David Burns, 64 shares.

13th Feb 1869, Firth of Forth, Inchkeith Island:
Lost following collision in wind conditions WxS force 5 with another vessel which was bound for Wemyss. The Leith registered steam tug 'PET' took the 'SNOWDROP' in tow, but as they reached the narrows the increasing violence of the wind caused the tug to set the schooner adrift at 5pm, not only in an attempt to save the sailing vessel, but because the 'PET' was running short of fuel. The schooner then went to anchor and was soon in distress, but sea conditions prevented any assistance being rendered. The schooner's lights were last seen at about 7pm, when it is supposed she foundered with all hands due to the stress of the weather. Next day the tops of her masts showed above the surface, and the ships boat was found and towed to Crail.


The Shipbuilding Trade of Scotland figures largely in the industrial returns of the country, the value of the vessels of all kinds built during recent years giving an average of close upon £3M per annum. Little is known of the early history of the trade, though it is beyond doubt that vessels were built at Aberdeen some time during the 15th century. In the year 1475, 3 ships were fitted out at Aberdeen for the service of the King, the cost being defrayed by the inhabitants of the town. In the same year, another ship was furnished with guns, ammunition, by the loyal Aberdonians; and the vessel was manned by 24 young men belonging to the town. The cost of this ship did not exceed the equivalent of £176.

In 1826 the number of Shipbuilders in Aberdeen fell from 10 to 8, each of whom had 2 ships on the stocks, unsold, while every year until 1835 is described as a very dull one for Shipbuilding.  After this date it improved, especially on the west coast, where a number of Steamboats were being built.  As many workmen were in consequence attracted to the Clyde yards, the east coast builders were obliged to raise their wages.  Prices of ships at this period ranged from about £10 to £11 10s. per gross ton.


In the year 1865 at the south end of Regent Bridge (that is the old man handled bridge then in use) for the purposes of comparing the docks and the shipping in them with what may be seen today.  The difference regards shipping is striking. In 1865 there were about 220 sailing vessels registered at the Port, of which 109 were less than 200 tons, 127 of less than 300 tons, and 137 of less than 400 tons.

Of the 83 vessels that exceeded 400 tons a large proportion belonged to George Thompson, Jr, & Co., and other owners of foreign-going craft that seldom or never re-entered the port.  The Maritime Transport of Aberdeen was, therefore, carried on mainly by small vessels, which often lay alongside 2 or even 3 deep, awaiting their turn of Quay space. Moreover, Quay space in the Upper Dock was more limited than today, for Jamieson's Quay had not been formed.  Three Shipyards occupied that space.
The Shipyard Trade Skills in Detail
This is a half block model of a ship called Ballyrush. Half models shaped after the Lines of the ship show one half of the ship's hull. The hull is the name for the body of the ship. Only one half of the hull is shown because both sides are exactly the same. Wooden half models like this are used to lay out the the strakes or rows of hull Plating. Shipyard Draughtsmanship in 3 dimensions - just for a wee change from drawing on the flat.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013