Fairfield shipbuilding yard 1909

Fairfield Shipbuilding Yard, Glasgow, 1909

Francis Elgar

1845 – 1909

Francis Elgar

First ever Professor of Naval Architecture; director of Fairfields; ship stability expert

Engineering Achievements

Fundamental contributions to theory of ship stability, including the practice of dynamic launching.

Successful foundation of Naval Architecture as an academic, scientific discipline, notably as the first occupant of the pioneering Chair of Naval Architecture in the University of Glasgow.

Contributions to warship design.

Contribution to the development of The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, establishing it as primarily a naval construction yard between 1892 and his death in 1909, contributing to naval pre-paredness for the First World War.

Played an important role in the development of the Institution of Naval Architects as a professional organisation, to which he contributed many papers.

Author of The Ships of the Navy.

His Life

  1. 1845 Born in Portsmouth on 24th April
  2. 1864 Age: 19 Completed preliminary training in Portsmouth Dockyard
  3. 1867 Age: 22 Awarded first-class diploma as a Fellow of the Royal School of Naval Architecture
  4. 1867 Age: 22 Appointed a junior Shipbuilding Officer at Portsmouth. Was involved both in the construction of HMS Captain, and in the investigation into her loss
  5. 1871 Age: 26 Left the Navy and became chief Professional Assistant to Sir Edward Reed in his private naval architectural consultancy in London
  6. 1874 Age: 29 Employed as General Manager of Earle’s Shipbuilding Co, Hull
  7. 1876 Age: 31 In private practice as a consulting naval architect in London
  8. 1879 Age: 34 Special Adviser on naval construction to the Japanese Government
  9. 1881 Age: 36 Again in private practice in London
  10. 1883 Age: 38 Involved in inquiries into the losses by capsizing of the vessels Austral and Daphne, and member of a special committee appointed by the Board of Trade into load lines on merchant ships
  11. 1883 Age: 38 First occupant of the Chair of Naval Architecture in the University of Glasgow, founded as a consequence of the inquiry into the loss of the Daphne
  12. 1885 Age: 39 Awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws (LL D) by the University of Glasgow
  13. 1885 Age: 39 Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 2nd March, proposed by Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), James Bottomley, John McKendrick, James Thomson
  14. 1886 Age: 41 Appointed Director of Dockyards for the Admiralty
  15. 1892 Age: 47 Appointed Director and Consulting Naval Architect to the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd
  16. 1895 Age: 48 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society
  17. 1906 Age: 61 Retired as Director and Consulting Naval Architect from Fairfield. Appointed Vice President of Institution of Civil Engineers
  18. 1906 Age: 61 Appointed Chairman of Cammell Laird and Co Ltd, and of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd. Published 3 Volume treatise ‘The Modern System of Naval Architecture’, including profiles of modern ships
  19. 1909 Age: 63 Died in Monte Carlo on 17 January while on holiday. Buried in Highgate Cemetery, London.


Elgar was a man who did not seek fame, and most of the work he did involved a high level of confidentiality. He was very well regarded by his professional contemporaries, and was much honoured by them. He played important roles in the management of many professional bodies. He is best known as the first holder of the John Elder Chair of Naval Architecture in the University of Glasgow, the first such chair in the world.

More Information

Entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, written by WH White and revised by Andrew Lambert. published in 2004.

Obituaries in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, vol 83 a (1909-10), pp viii-xi and in the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, vol 175 (1908-09), pp 318-22.

For the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd near the beginning of Elgar’s association with it see Historical and Descriptive account of the Works of The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Limited, Govan, Glasgow, 1898. This lists the members of the Board, from which it is evident that Elgar was in effect the Managing Director. 

For an account of the enterprise towards the end of Elgar’s period see The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Works: History of the Company; Review of its Productions; and Description of the Works, Offices of ‘Engineering’, London, 1909. 

The tables included in these two publications show how Elgar established the firm as a first-class naval construction business, almost certainly acting on behalf of the Admiralty's interests.

Cite Top