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18 June 2014
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the supertanker Myrina is launched
© BBC 2004
The Yard

Commercial shipbuilding has been a permanent feature of Belfast from the late 1700`s, when William Ritchie transferred his Ayrshire business to the town. The dangerous channels in the harbour which only allowed ships of shallow draught to dock limited the growth of the port of Belfast.

The Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Belfast, or Ballast Board, was created by Belfast merchants in 1796. It aimed to raise revenue to advance the size and structure of the harbour allowing larger ships access.

However it was a Yorkshireman, Edward Harland (1831-1895), who pushed the boundaries of shipbuilding in the north of Ireland. Harland started his career an apprentice at the engineering works of Robert Stephenson and Co, in Newcastle upon Tyne followed by two years with J &G Thomson on the Clyde, before returning to the Tyne with the Thomas Toward shipyard, where he later commented :

“ I found the work, as practised there, rough and ready ; but by steady attention to all the details, and by careful inspection when passing the ‘piece work’ ….I contrived to raise the standard of excellence, without a corresponding increase in price…I observed that quality was a very important element in all commercial success..”

Family Ties
  • Edward Harland was born in Scarborough in 1831, the sixth child of Dr. William Harland.
  • Dr Harland was an enthusiastic amateur engineer and scientist,inventing and patenting a steam powered carriage in 1827.
  • He was also a close friend of the famous engineer George Stephenson,
It was during his apprenticeship that Edward Harland met Gustav Schwabe through his Uncle, Dr Thomas Harland. Schwabe, had moved to Liverpool from Hamburg in 1838, and had many connections with wealthy merchants in the area. It was Schwabe who arranged for Edward Harland to be employed on the Clyde as a journeymen, and no doubt encouraged him to make the move to Robert Hickson`s yard in Belfast in 1854.

Aged 23, Edward Harland was appointed to the position of Manager of Robert Hickson`s shipyard, on Queen`s Island in Belfast. He immediately set about raising the standard of workmanship. He cut wages and banned smoking and was often seen walking through the yard, with a piece of chalk and an ivory rule, marking mistakes. One Harland and Wolff employee remembers :

“He had an all-smelling nose as well as an all-seeing eye. One day he was walking rapidly along, and he suddenly stopped dead and sniffed at a saw-pit. In a flash the trapdoor was lifted and there squatting in the sawdust was a wizened little man, puffing at clay pipe”

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