Marine Engineering 1814-1984.

By David Middleton


The first functionally successful steamboat in Scotland and the UK was the Charlotte Dundas by William Symington in 1804. This was for use on the Forth and Clyde Canal but the canal directors feared damage to the canal banks and the boats use was discontinued. Fulton established a steamboat service on the Hudson River NY USA in 1808 but the major UK commercial success was by Henry Bell on the Clyde who in 1812 commissioned "Comet" a boat by John Wood of Port Glasgow engined by John Robertson and boilered by David Napier.

In 1814 the "Tay" was built By James Smart and machinery was by J&C Carmichael and described by the local paper as resembling "The Comet" closely. This suggests a Watt type side lever engine with the beam low in the engine to lower the centre of gravity. John Robertson installed the engine.

The side lever engine was to be present in Dundee steamboat design till the 1870's though other types would be tried from time to time including grasshopper, oscillating cylinder, steeple, diagonal and horizontal among others.
Ferries for the Tay were built in 1821 by James Brown of Perth with engines by Carmichael and in 1829 a steamship was built for DP&L with engines by Dundee Foundry. In 1832 Peter Borrie was building engines of the side connecting rod type at Tay Foundry in Trades Lane and continued till 1843.

The screw propeller was introduced in the successful SS "Great Britain" in 1843 but it would be 1854 before Gourlay and Mudie, successors to the Dundee Foundry Co, built the first Dundee screw steamer SS "Correo". The Gourlay Bros. SS "Dalhousie" in 1858 heralded compound engines and the surface condenser hi Dundee.
The "Scotch" boiler introduced in 1862 allowed higher pressure operation and thus even greater economy of engines. Alexander Kirk of Barry Angus developed the triple expansion engine at Elder's yard in Glasgow and in 1881 his successful triple was installed in the SS "Aberdeen" at G. Thomson's yard at Aberdeen. This combined with the Scotch boiler would form a long lasting power plant type for the next 70 years throughout the world.

Steel became generally available by 1881 allowing higher pressures in boilers.

In 1885 Dundee's first triple was installed in the SS "Loch Etive" at Gourlays and in the same year Gourlay's SS "Dundee" was the first Dundee ship with electric lighting. By this time engines were also being built by shipbuilder W B Thompson at Tay foundry, Pearce Bros at Lilybank foundry, and Whyte and Cooper at Brittania engine works Dock St.
1890 was the peak time of British Shipbuilding and thereafter over-capacity and slumps would take their toll as other countries mastered the technology. Quadruple expansion engines were built by both Gourlays and Lilybank but applications were few. Elsewhere by 1904 the steam turbine and the water tube boiler was being adopted thus allowing larger power/volume ratio in fast liners. These would be applied to Dundee ships by 1920 but were mainly used in larger ships than those Dundee normally built. Gourlays closed in 1908 after difficult trading conditions. Diesel motor engines were introduced in 1912 in the ocean going MV 'Selandia" by Burmeister and Wain of Denmark. This was a successful ship and cooler operation and good control of engines was reported. In 1914 Caledon Dundee built the first British motor tanker the MV 'Sebastian" with engines by AB Diesel Stockholm. This was followed by the MV "Selene" in the same year.
After the 1914-18 war Caledon moved its boilermaking work to a new boilershop, with a 130 ton crane, at the old Caledon yard at Carolina Port and a new yard at Stannergate became the main shipbuilding site.
Shipbuilding experienced severe slump conditions in the early 1930's and in 1932 Lilybank foundry produced its last main engine for the SS "Kyleclare" the only Caledon ship built that year. The foundry was effectively closed by 1935. Shipbuilding built up rapidly after 1934 such that record orders were in hand in 1937. Wartime conditions dictated that WD transports and warships had priority and were built mainly to economy budgets. Secret work as a research factory of the Ministry of Aircraft Production included the manufacture and installation of radar station towers and equipment.

Post 2nd world war work included high pressure PAMETRADA turbines on Holt ships SS "Nelius" and "Nestor". In 1956 the last steamship to be built on the Tay SS "Almerian" was completed by Caledon. It had a Clark NE Marine triple expansion engine with Baur-Wach exhaust turbine together with Caledon built Scotch boilers at 300psi pressure. Motor engined ships were fitted with opposed piston diesels by e.g. Kincaid-Burmeister and Wain, Rowan Doxford or single acting Denny Sulzer types. Later ships would use multiple medium speed smaller motor units. Mention must be made of Victoria Drummond, lady marine engineer. She served an apprenticeship at Lilybank foundry and in 1922 sailed her first voyage with Alfred Holt & Co. She served all her working life in many different ships till she retired in 1962 aged 72. She had a notable war service and saved her ship in 1940 when she manned the engine room single handedly and kept up full speed while bombs were dodged during a sustained raid. She received the MBE and Lloyds war medal. Her life is recorded in the book "The remarkable life of Victoria Drummond Marine Engineer" which was written by her niece Cherry based upon Victoria's diaries. The Caledon built its last ship hi 1981 but Marine engineering continued with Kestrel Marine building offshore oil structures and then" associated engineering services.