Robert Napier (1791-1876), shipbuilder and engine designer - "The Father of Clyde Shipbuilding"
In the days before Naval Architecture became a profession, Robert Napier combined his early interest in drawing and design with his family knowledge of engineering to design, build and power ships.
He designed his first marine engine, for the paddle steamer Leven, when he was 32 and at 36, he built the engines of the two fastest ships in the Northern Yacht Club's August Regatta. This earned him his reputation. When he was 37 he established Glasgow's Vulcan Foundry. The East India Company paddle steamer Berenice built by David Napier, (Robert's cousin) using Robert's engine, proved much faster than her sister ship Atalanta built on the Thames, beating her to India by 18 days on their maiden voyage in 1837.
His greatest success, however, came from his association with Samuel Cunard of Canada in the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. When the Cunarder Persia was launched in 1855 she was the world's largest ship.
In 1849 he built Leviathan, the world's first train ferry between Granton and Burntisland. In 1856 he built the Royal Navy's first iron-clad vessel, HMS Erebus. The ironclad HMS Black Prince launched from Govan in 1861 was, at 9800 tons, the largest ship yet built on the Clyde.
|Born in Dumbarton, Scotland on 18th June||1791|
|21||Completed apprenticeship in his father's works||1812|
|21||Assistant to Robert Stevenson, lighthouse builder||1812|
|23||Assistant to William Lang, Glasgow||1814|
|24||Set up in business as a smith||1815|
|27||Married his cousin Isabella Napier||1818|
|30||Took over the Camlachie Works, Glasgow, from David Napier||1821|
|32||Won order for paddle steamer Leven from James Lang||1823|
|36||Promoted skill as an engine builder in London||1827|
|36||Two fastest steamers in Northern yacht club regatta have Robert Napier designed engines||1827|
|37||Purchases Camlachie Works and Vulcan Foundry in Glasgow||1828|
|39||Hands over Camlachie works to his brother. Re-equips Vulcan Foundry to build large marine engines||1830|
|44||Leases Lancefield works, Glasgow from his cousin David Napier||1835|
|46||Berenice beats Atalanta to India by 18 days on maiden voyage||1837|
|48||British and North American Steam-Packet Company established with Samuel Cunard||1839|
|50||Purchases Lancefield works||1841|
|51||Begins building iron-hulled ships at Govan||1842|
|57||Takes over Parkhead Forge, Glasgow||1848|
|58||Leviathan train ferry launched||1849|
|61||Moves permanently to West Shandon, Gareloch||1852|
|64||Launch of the first Cunard ship RMS Persia||1855|
|65||HMS Erebus, the Royal Navy's first iron-clad vessel, launched||1856|
|70||HMS Black Prince, largest ship then built on the Clyde, launched||1861|
|72||Elected President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers||1863|
|77||Conferred Commander of the most Ancient Order of Dannebrogby by King Christian IX of Denmark||1868|
|85||Died at West Shandon, Dunbartonshire on 23rd June||1876|
By the early 1850s Robert Napier's dominance of Clyde shipbuilding attracted a galaxy of able young managers and apprentices, many of whom went on to found or control their own businesses, including David Elder and his son John Elder. He was in regular contact with the leading academics Rankine, Kelvin, Scott Russell and Froude. He was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and became President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
He richly earned the accolade "The Father of Clyde Shipbuilding".
Life of Robert Napier of West Shandon. J. Napier. 1904.
Beardmore: the history of a Scottish industrial giant. J.R. Hume and M.S. Moss. 1979.
David Napier, engineer, 1790-1869. D.D. Napier (ed D. Bell). 1912.
Records of the Napier family, shipbuilders and marine engineers, Glasgow. University of Glasgow Archives and Business Records Centre. Ref. GB 248 DC/090. 1800-1971
Cunard Collection University of Liverpool Library.
Ships and Shipbuilders Robert Napier pp 69-72, Fred M Walker, Seaforth, 2010
Robert Napier's Engine of PS 'Leven' is now outside the Scottish Maritime Museum Denny Tank in Dumbarton
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry (full text available to subscribers and UK library members)
TO CITE THIS PAGE: MLA style: "Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame". engineeringhalloffame.org. Date of viewing. http://www.engineeringhalloffame.org/profile-napier.html