Sir Edward Harland was buried in 1895 in Belfast. He set up the world famous Harland and Wolff shipbuilding yards in the North of Ireland. His connection with Scarborough is less well known. Yet if you walk along to Marks and Spencers you will see a heritage plaque dedicated to his memory.
It reads "Sir Edward Harland 1831-1895 Shipbuilder was born on a house on this site". The plaque was unveiled by Air Marshal Reginald Harland - Edward Harlands great nephew in 2001. Other plaques feature other famous Scarborians such as Sir George Cayley(On Paradise House), Wilfred Owen (the World War One who lived at The Clifton Hotel) and HB Carter the artist on York Place.
Dr William Harland - father of Sir Edward Harland
An important influence on Sir Edward Harland was his father who was a renowned amateur mechanic himself. A short biography of his father clearly shows how he inherited many of his personal qualities and interests in mechanical engineering.
Bakers history of Scarborough describes him in the following way: "as a boy he showed considerable mechanical talent. At that time he built a small kiln near his fathers house, where he used to burn a barrow load of lime at a time for his fathers garden. He never seemed to care to play at ordinary games with his school fellows, but preferred to spend his spare time in a small workshop making many models of water mills etc.".
Dr Harland went on to study medicine but always retained his interest in mechanics. He took out a patent for a steam carriage in 1827. Baker described this in the following way "the most important part of the invention is now in use in many of the traction engines of today". He made this with the Sir George Cayley - who built the worlds first glider which flew over Brompton.
Dr Harland had a great lust for life. One of his prevailing maxims was "What you have the will to do, do with all your might! He also said "This is a glorious world! I should like to be here 100 years, and then there might be some chance of doing some good. But I don't think I shall get over this winter!" (he died in 1866).
It is not surprising that Harland developed an interest in engineering given his fathers encouragement. He had workshops at his disposal and his fathers friends included two engineering geniouses in Robert Stephenson and Sir George Cayley. He also seems to have inherited his fathers determination and resolve.
Sir Edward James Harlands early years
Sir Edward Harlands mother, too, was a wonderful influence to a budding engineer. She was always 'making things' and her children were employed as artisans in her projects.
At the tender age of twelve he went to Edinbrough Academy where he studied for two years.
Strangely enough, Edwards father encouraged him to become a lawyer. But the young man held firm in his desire to become an engineer. He joined Robert Stephenson as an apprentice in Newcastle making trains. It was hard work with a 6am start with the day ending at 8:15pm(4pm on a saturday).
Throughout this time he visited his home town of Scarborough. He was fascinated with the shipbuilders - Scarborough was an important shipbuilding centre then with the bustling yards of Robert, James and William Tindall.
When he finished his apprenticeship he was taken on by Stephensons as a Journeyman at 20 shillings a week. Stephensons was by this time not where things where happening in engineering. But he was there when they built the High level bridge over the Tyne.
He was particularly involved with the building of caissons for Keyham Dockyard. "He was employed to assist in setting out the curves, it being considered that a familiarity with ship shape forms, which he had aquired during his frequent visits to the shipyards of his native place(Scarborough), would be useful" ['Engineering' 1896].
He left Stephensons in 1851 and spent a glorious two months at the Great Exhibition in London. Then he joined J and G Thomson - the engine builders in Glasgow. Taken on as an assistant to the draughtsman he took over that post when the Head Draughtman left.
Here he worked on the drawings more carefully than previously had been the case. This allowed parts to be made exactly first time when previously models of ships had been in wood. This speeded up the whole process.
In 1853 Edward Harland took over as manager of the Shipyards of Thomas Toward on the Tyne. The owner was ill and spent a whole winter away allowing the young engineer to take charge of the whole yard.
In 1854 he made his final move to Belfast. He joined Robert Hickson and Co. Harlands natural inclination was towards perfection - nothing but the best would do. He helped sort out this yard which was in financial difficulties due to previous management - who indulged the workforce with high wages and accepted poor standards. He gradually gathered a better workforce and suitable foremen. He fought the unions who put up a tough struggle - he felt "he had mounted a restive horse, and was determined to ride him back to the stables".
Shipbuilding in Belfast
By 1858 Harland wished to set out on his own. Hickson could not consider carrying pon without Harland and so sold his holding in the yard to Harland for Â£5000.
The company quickly expanded. His first customer was J Bibby and Son. He had helped Mr James Bibby purchase a steamer whilst he worked in Glasgow. This earlier service was remembered and an order of three screw steamers was placed - the 270ft "Venetian", "Syrian" and "Sicilian" were built.
When further orders came in from Bibbys he boldly put forward his own design. He was a big believer in longer vessels. He suggested a length of 310 feet rather than the earlier 270 foot. Doom merchants were critical of his design saying "she may get out of the Mersey but she will never get back again". It was said that the vessels would roll over or even break in two in the harsh weather of the North Atlantic. The orders kept rolling in from Bibbys and the Harland steamers became known as "Bibby's Coffins".
Harlands love of longer ships soon became quite the fashion. Orders flooded in to extend vessels. The 'Hecla', the 'Atlas' and the 'Marathon' all had 63 feet inserted amidships.
Harlands design was now proven. Of the 20 ships he built for Bibbys he proudly stated that "there was not one sign of weakness". He was a bold and successful designer with a reputation for good standards.
He had started to make the decks out of steel rather than wood increasing the overall strength. The result was "a box girder of immensely increased strength".
Harland never claimed his ships were likely to be dryer. But they were certainly not unsafe so long as excess water washed away rather than finding its way below decks.
He also made ships with flatter bottoms. This squarer design became known as "the Belfast Bottom". This increased capacity and yet did not reduce speed or affect the engine power needed.
On January 1 1862 Harland formed a partnership with Gustav Wolff and so the world famous shipbuilders "Harland and Wolff" came into being. Harland wanted a partner to look after the shipyard whenever he was away.
The White Star Line and the trans Atlantic Passenger Liners
The next phase in the Harland and Wolff shipyard was perhaps the most famous in the yards history. The shipyard is closely linked to the White Star Line and in particular the Titanic and the trans Atlantic passenger liners. The Titanic was built many years after Harlands death so Harland cannot be blamed for this disaster - in fact the Titanic was a sound ship. The failure was not in design but in the overconfidence of the Captain - no ship is unsinkable especially when driven into icebergs!
The first of the liners Harland and Wolff built for the White Star Line was The Oceanic in 1871 - 400 feet in length, 41 feet wide and 31 feet deep. Previously the White Star Line had been sailing clippers to Australia. A new company was set up and six large vessels were ordered. These were used in the trans Atlantic cargo trade. They also carried steerage passengers to the United States. The Company was run by Thomas Henry Ismay (his son Bruce Ismay became infamous for sneaking onboard a lifeboat on the doomed Titanic whilst all the other gentlemen accepted their fate).
The Oceanic was a fast liner and soon a keen rivalry started between the White Star Line and Cunard and the Inman Line for the fastest liner. Between 1873 and 1884 Harland and Wolff were the fastest ships to cross the Atlantic.
The White Star Line also developed a reputation for luxury and comfort. Electric bells, gas lights and every luxury and comfort was added to the liners. Earlier passenger ships had draconian reputations. One gentlemen described an earlier voyage in the following way - "It was like going back to school again, but with much stricter masters, and no chance of going out of bounds!"
One of Harlands commission was notable - a steamer the "Palestine" ordered by Robert Tindall. Harland had grown up in Scarborough and became fascinated with how the ships were built. Robert Tindall owned one of these yards and now he had come to Harland for an all steel vessel.
In 1880 Harland and Wolff started to make engines. Previously they had bought these in. They now had 10 building slipsways and the site covered 40 acres. He had a proven reputation for quality. He was a man to be trusted - none of his vessels were commisioned at a fixed price.
He branched out into politics. In 1889 he was elected unopposed as MP for North Belfast. He spoke on matters of shipping and shipbuilding. He was also mayor of Belfast.
Sir Edward Harland died in 1895. He had for some time retired from managing his business. Harland and wolff continued to build ships. They of course built the Titanic which sank on its first voyage. In 1963 they built the warship the "Fearless" which became Scarboroughs adopted ship.
Sir Edward Harland was an important shipbuilder of his time. He was a proven naval architect and marine engineer. He had the highest standards and was not prepared to accept anything less from his workmen. The "Engineer" praised him in their obituary "His whole life had been occupied with great issues, and he had no patience to spare for people who attempted to occupy his time with foolishness and trivialities". He had a temper but was soon able to move on and forget problems. He had a real ability to get things done.
- "Engineering", 3rd January 1896.
- Local Topic file on Sir Edward James Harland in Scarborough Library