By the early 1830’s the Greenock firm of Anderson, Caird and Company had already established itself as a general engineering firm, with an expanded interest in fitting out sugar-refining machinery and the building of locomotives. The first locomotive engine to run on the railway between Greenock and Glasgow was built by them. This was a time also that steam-driven ships were appearing and so the firm began an interest in marine engines.

By the early 1840’s the firm employed some 200 staff and had begun shipbuilding from a yard in Main Street. The company, at this time was managed by John Scott Russell, a “distinguished engineer” and “the subsequent designer of the steamship Great Eastern.” In 1841-1842 the partnership of Scott Russell, who “supplied the theory” and James Tennant Caird “the practical knowledge” led the firm to build and engine the first four wooden-hulled steamers for the Royal Mail S.P. Company; the Clyde, the Tweed, the Tay, and the Teviot.

Caird & Co.

In 1844 Scott-Russell departed, the company acquired a shipyard at Cartsdyke, and, now under Caird’s management, began the construction of two small iron ships each under 100 tons. The following year the Company completed their first order for the P&O company with the construction of the 762-ton iron paddle steamer Tiber.
Additional iron paddle steamers were constructed in 1847-1848…

In 1863, after nineteen years in the Cartsdyke yard Caird & Coy leased part of the shipyard in Dalrymple Street, formerly occupied by Scott & Coy. Macnab & Coy occupied the remaining part until 1872 when they gave up the business and Caird took over their vacated yard.

“The shipyard of Caird & Coy. then extended from the Albert Harbour to the West Harbour.”

Mr. James Caird was well known in engineering circles during his life-time; his constant study was marine engineering and many improvements in marine engines were introduced by him.
Hundreds of large steamships were built by Caird & Coy. for various owners including Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P. & O.), Royal Mail Steam Packet Coy.; Pacific Steam Navigation Coy.; Inman Line; British India Steam Navigation Coy.; Hamburg American Line; and Netherlands East Indies.

In 1916 Messrs. Harland & Wolff took over Caird’s business of shipbuilding and engineering. After the first World War Harland & Wolff began to extend this shipyard and in doing so the Old Church and Churchyard were removed, which caused much adverse criticism in the town of Greenock. A few years later the greatest industrial depression in history began to sweep over Britain and Harland & Wolff closed their shipyard at Greenock. In later years it became a base for seaplanes.
When Harland & Wolff gave up shipbuilding at Greenock they also vacated the engineering works at Arthur Street, which previously had been Caird’s. These works were occupied in 1919 by Messrs. John G. Kincaid & Coy., Engineers & Boiler Makers, East Hamilton Street, Greenock.”

Shields, John (1949) Clyde built: a history of shipbuilding on the River Clyde. Glasgow : William Maclellan. p. 125

A Firm’s History

It appears in the twenty-first place of the long list of P. & O. ships, and was the third of the iron vessels to be employed by that Company. In 1847-48 progress was recorded by the completion of two other orders for the same shipping concern; these were the iron paddle steamers “Euxine” and “Malta,” 1,165 tons and 1,217 tons respectively. These ships were fiddle-bowed models with two funnels, and one, or two, masts carrying yards for sail. The “Euxine” was the earliest P. & O. packet boat giving service between Marseilles and Alexandria. The “Malta” was lengthened ten years after its launching, and was fitted with a screw propeller; it was the second vessel in the P. & O. fleet to be so fitted. These advances no doubt paved the way for the construction of the “Atrato” in 1852, also a two-funnelled iron paddle steamer, which was built for the Royal Mail S.P. Company; she was 354 feet in length and registered, with her engine room, 3,466 tons. The “Atrato” at the date of launching was by length the largest vessel in the world, and the details which are given of her build show the makers had rapidly become masters of the new kind of marine architecture. …

When Mr John Scott sold his yard at Dalrymple Street about 1863, the Caird firm moved thither, by-and-by acquiring the whole site between Albert Harbour and the West Harbour. It is with this yard that its main successes are associated. If we divide the firm’s term of activity into two periods, the first closing in 1888, then under this period we must add very considerably to the few ships which have already been named. The sum, by no means complete, continues as follows:– Twenty-two ships for the Hamburg-American Company; twenty-nine for the North German Lloyd Company; two for the Cunard Company; and two for the French Campagnie Transatlantique. For the Inman Company there was built the “City of Chester” and the “City of Berlin.” The latter, which was constructed in 1874, achieved in its day a record crossing of the Atlantic, and takes a high place on the list of famous Atlantic liners.

The renewed connection with the P. & O. Company requires separate mention. In 1868, with the advent of Mr Thomas Sutherland (afterwards Sir Thomas) as Assistant Manager, this Company began placing orders with the Greenock firm, and as a result the “Australia” was built in 1870. This proved to be the beginning of a long and splendid succession of liners, which practically kept the stocks of Caird’s occupied for the space of almost fifty years. The “Australia,” with a tonnage figure of 3,664, was a screw steamer with a single funnel amidships; her long, graceful lines were relieved by the absence of the usual paddle-boxes, and she was notably the last of the fiddle-bowed models used by the P. & O. Company.
The first of the straight-stemmed type was the “Indus” [not built by Caird’s] in 1871, if it was not the Khedive,” which Caird built in the same year. There followed within seventeen years, from 1870 to 1887, twenty-three vessels in all – the “Mirzapore,” “Peshawur,” “Kaisar-i-Hind,” “Rome,” “Massilia,” “Chusan,” “Coromandel” and others. Of these, the “Kaisar-i-Hind” (first of that name) was remarkable, and her reputation for long and trustworthy running in the Indian service was such that she was nicknamed the “Bridge of India.” The “Coromandel,” with its sister-ship, the “Bengal,” were the first P. & O. ships to be given triple expansion engines; they were built in 1885. To celebrate the shipping company’s Jubilee, Caird built the splendid liners, “Victoria” and “Britannia,” the former being present and specially admired at the naval review at Spithead in 1887. …

The date 1888 has been fixed as a stage because in that year James Tennant Caird died, after spending almost 50 years in shipbuilding and ship engineering. The yard’s output up to that time is reckoned at 250 vessels of all kinds, including a large number of magnificent ocean liners. To the liners must be added some of the best and earliest steamers on the river, notably the “Rothesay Castle” and the “Windsor Castle.” The latter, built in 1860, is distinguished as being the first steel steamer to be made on the Clyde; she surprised the country by achieving a speed of twenty-one miles per hours in her runs between Glasgow and Rothesay. And to steamers must be added such yachts as the “Said Pasha,” built in early years for the ruler of Egypt, and the “Galatea,” which carried Queen Victoria in her review of the Fleet already referred to. It was rightly said at Mr Caird’s death that he had built a great proportion of the finest steamships that had left the waters of the Clyde.
Prior to the death of the principal, there came to the firm his sons, Patrick, William, Arthur, and Robert Caird. … The firm was now converted into a limited liability company, with Mr Patrick T. Caird as Chairman.
Under the new regime the customary active policy continued to be pursued. The main association was still with the P. & O. Co., for which they produced an extending list of magnificent ships. This connection with Caird’s with one of the oldest, and, in respect of ships in commission and tonnage afloat, one of the greatest of the world’s steamship lines, is worth taking into further review.

The firm’s second period may be reckoned as comprising the years 1889 to 1916. It began with the “Oriental,” gross tonnage 5,284, a smaller and less impressive ship than the “Victoria” and “Britannia,” but graceful in her lines, and when new fast enough to break the Bombay record. After a pause in the Company’s achievements as to the size and design of steamships, an advanced scheme of first-class mail steamers was recommenced in 1892. Caird’s were given orders for the “Himalaya” and “Australia,” each with a gross tonnage of about 6,900 and designed to sail at 18 knots. These were beautifully fitted ships and very popular. They rivalled each other in speed, and created records in the passage between London and Adelaide. There followed the “Caledonia” in 1894, a yet larger ship, beautifully modelled, with four masts and two funnels; on her trial run she put up a speed of 19½ knots, 1½ knots more than contracted for, a reserve which was exceedingly useful when there was need to defeat rival under the French or other flags.

In the continuous stream of ships, special mention should be made of the “Isis” and “Osiris, built in 1898, and described as perhaps the most remarkable vessels of their day. It may be recalled that they were miniature liners of about 1,700 tons. They were trim-built ships with two funnels and two masts, powerfully engined so as to contrive a speed which was undreamed of before the advent of the turbine. The “Candia,” a cargo steamer, had been experimentally and successfully fitted with twin screws by Caird’s two years earlier, and was the first to carry them for the P. & O. Company. The “Isis” and “Osiris” were the first passenger vessels to be similarly fitted.

Other interesting products were the “Moldavia,” “Mongolia,” and “Mooltan.” They were longer ships, with a gross tonnage of 9,500. Interest centres in them chiefly because they were the first to have practically all their passenger accommodation above the main deck, which was a great advantage when sailing under tropical conditions. They had also an improved type of twin screws highly credible to their makers. The “Salsette,” built in 1908 and hulled like a yacht… In 1911 came the “Medina,” 12,358 tons, 550 feet long, with a speed if necessary of 19 knots, the vessel served as a Royal Yacht in carrying the late King George and Queen Mary to the Delhi Durbar celebrations. Special mention must also be made of that remarkable ship, the “Kaisar-I-Hind,” second of the name, built in 1914. She proved a favourite liner with a genius for negotiating Eastern seas…continued in service until April, 1938…and her many escapes in the Great War were so extraordinary that she was called “The Luckiest Ship in the World.”

From 1908 to 1915 Caird’s did nothing else but produce P. & O. liners. There are further great names on the list:– “Malwa,’ “Mantua,” “Beltana,” “Benalla,” “Borda,” “Kasgar,” “Kashmir.” Last of all was the “Naldera,” of 16,000 tons, with an overall length of 605 feet. The contract for this important ship was placed in June, 1914…
In these years Caird’s also built for other shipping lines – the Pacific S.N. Co., the West India & Pacific S.S. Co., the Gulf Line Assoc. Ltd., R. Alexander & Co. For the Midland Railway Co. they built the cross channel steamer “Donegal,” renowned for its speed. But, as will be seen by the comparisons made later, the vast bulk of the output was P. & O. work.
When we keep in mind the very high standard of this shipping company’s service, we recognise that it was a great tribute to the Greenock firm that so many order should be entrusted to it, and it is no boast to say that the ships of Caird & Co. embodied in their frames, engines, woodwork, and upholstery the finest workmanship procurable in the country.
For the second term of the yard’s activity (1889-1916) the total tonnage amounts to slightly over 486,000. Of that total, 384,800 tons, representing 53 ships, were built for the P. & O. Company. At Mr J. T. Caird’s death it was said he had built 300,000 tons of shipping. This would give the firm in its whole history of almost 80 years an output of approximately 786,000 tons. In 1916 the Company changed hands, but the Caird orders were not completed until 1919, and by that year the three hundred and fifty-fifth ship bearing their name was launched and handed over. Of that number, 83, representing an aggregate tonnage of approximately 504,000, were built for the P. & O. Company. It should be remembered that Caird’s engineering works, which passed from Harland & Wolff to the hands of John G. Kincaid & Co., are still being carried on. …”

Snoddy, T.G. (1938) Caird &Company shipbuilders Greenock and James Tennant Caird. Kirkcaldy : Fifeshire Advertiser.

Some Statistics

Between 1900 and the outbreak of World War I, Caird and Co. constructed and launched 34 ships. These were given Yard No’s. 293-327. Twenty-eight were built for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P.&O.), two for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, and one vessel each for Huddart, Parker Pty Ltd, the Midland Railway Company, the Pintschs Patent Lighting Company, and the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. Of these 34 vessels, eleven or one-third were sunk during the War by being torpedoed by U-boats or by striking mines. Of these, three were those vessels constructed immediately prior to the Wimmera, and five were those constructed immediately after. These included the following:

NameCaird’s Yard No.Fate
California300torpedoed & sunk
Mongolia302mined & sunk
Moldavia301torpedoed & sunk
Wimmera304mined & sunk
Donegal303torpedoed & sunk
Mooltan306torpedoed & sunk
Namur310torpedoed & sunk
Vessels constructed by Caird & Co and their fate

Of these, both the Mongolia and Wimmera were sunk due to striking mines laid by the SMS Wolf.

© Ralph L. Sanderson 2009-2021