Thomas Andrews

Thomas Andrews was the chief naval architect at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast during the early 1900s.

He brought the idea of 'Olympic class' ocean liners to life, overseeing their planning and construction. The most famous of these was Titanic, which he joined on its maiden voyage.

His actions when the ship sank on 15 April 1912 are believed to have saved many lives, but at the cost of his own.

Photo: Thomas Andrews (PRONI, Harland and Wolff)

Features in:


More information about: Thomas Andrews

Thomas Andrews Junior (or Tommie as he was known) was born on 7 February 1873 in Comber, a small town in County Down, Northern Ireland. His family had been prominent in Comber for generations, establishing various commercial enterprises in the town including a linen mill.

Tommie's parents were Thomas Andrews and Eliza Pirrie, who was the sister of Lord Pirrie, the future chairman of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. His eldest brother, John Miller Andrews, went on to become Prime Minister of Northern Ireland while his younger brother, James, became Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

As a boy, Tommie was "handsome, plucky and lovable" and enjoyed the outdoor life. He loved animals, especially horses, and he was a keen rider. He also enjoyed sailing on nearby Strangford Lough where the family had a holiday home, such that his childhood nickname was 'The Admiral'.

Tommie was educated privately by a tutor until the age of eleven, after which he attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He was not outstanding at school, preferring sport and particularly cricket.

After leaving school aged 16, Tommie began work as an apprentice in the Harland and Wolff shipyard and moved to live in lodgings in Belfast. His apprenticeship gave him an excellent knowledge of all aspects of shipbuilding. He studied at night classes in the Belfast College of Technology and found his vocation, specialising as a ship designer. At the age of 28, he became head of the Designing Department. In 1907, he was appointed managing director of Harland and Wolff.

In December 1908, work began on Olympic and Titanic, the first of the Olympic class of liners conceived by his uncle, Lord Pirrie. Over the next two years, he saw his plans for both ships come to life on the Harland and Wolff slipways.

Tommie had married Helen Reilly Barbour earlier that year. They made their family home in Windsor Avenue, South Belfast, and on 27 November 1910 had a daughter, Elizabeth Law Barbour Andrews.

When Titanic set off to cross the Atlantic in 1912, Thomas Andrews was on board. As the ship's chief designer he was said to be familiar with every detail of the vessel. He was a key member of the Harland and Wolff 'guarantee group' whose role was to closely observe the ship during its passage and advise on any improvements that needed to be made. It was Tommie who inspected the damage following Titanic's collision with the iceberg and advised Captain Edward Smith that the ship was doomed and would certainly sink.

In the sure knowledge that the fate of Titanic had been sealed, Tommie's actions were said by many survivors to be nothing short of heroic. He spent the final moments of his life encouraging passengers to get to the lifeboats. The following cablegram, despatched by the White Star Line from its New York office, described what Tommie did:

"After accident, Andrews ascertained damage, advised passengers put heavy clothing, prepare leave vessel. Many sceptical about seriousness damage, but impressed by Andrews' knowledge, personality, followed his advice, saved their lives. He assisted many women, children to lifeboats. When last seen, officers say was throwing overboard deck chairs, other objects, to people in water. His chief concern safety of everyone but himself."

In his home town of Comber, the life of Thomas Andrews Junior is commemorated by the Memorial Hall, built by public subscription and opened in 1915. Andrews' body was never recovered from the Atlantic, but he is remembered on the family grave with the words: "Pure, just, generous, affectionate and heroic. He gave his life that others might be saved."