Biography of the late Mr Thomas Andrews

Belfast Newsletter

The story of the life of Mr. Thomas Andrews, who went down in the Titanic, to the intense grief of all who knew him, is told ably and sympathetically in this volume by Mr. Shan F. Bullock, an Ulsterman, whose novels are mainly concerned with his native province. The Right Honourable Sir Horace Plunkett, in the introduction, states that the book has been written at the request of a few Irishmen, including himself, who thought, "how the life of the shipbuilder who died so nobly could be given its due place in the history of our times—how the lesson that life could be handed down to the builders of ships and other things in the Ireland of our dreams.” The circumstances in which he died are well known, and will never be forgotten. "To him,” writes Sir Horace, "the supreme test came—came in circumstances demanding almost superhuman fortitude and self-control. There was not the wild excitement of battle to sustain him; death had to be faced calmly in order that others—to whom he must not even bid farewell —might live. And so in his last hour we see this brave, strong, capable, and loveable man displaying not only heroism, but every quality which had exalted him in the regard of his fellows and endeared him all who had worked and lived with him. This is the verdict of his countrymen, now that the facts of that terrible disaster are fully known.” 

It fell to Sir Horace Plunkett to invite Mr. Bullock to write the book, and he promised that he would undertake the task if he found that the story "gripped” him so that he could it as a labour of love. Well, readers of the biography will see once that it did grip him, for he has written a fascinating narrative of the rapid progress due to undoubted ability, hard work, devotion to the interests of the firm, unfailing good temper, and kindliness to all his fellow-workers. Mr. Andrews’ energies were so concentrated on his work that he had little time for public affairs, but Sir Horace Plunkett convinced that had he lived he would have developed a public career of great usefulness to his native land, because he had, to his knowledge, the right public spirit. He writes: "His mastery over complicated mechanical problems—his power to use materials and to organise bodies men in their use would noi. I believe, have failed him if he had come to deal with the mechanics of the nation.” 

His early life is briefly told by the author. At the Royal Academical Institution he showed more, aptitude for games than for studies, and he excelled as a cricketer; but even then the character which endeared him to his friends was known to his schoolfellows and made him very popular among them. When he was apprenticed to Messrs. Harland & Wolff he at once began to work hard, setting himself to master every detail ; and as he began so he continued in every one of the departments through which passed during his apprenticeship. On only one morning in the course of the five years was he late. After his apprenticeship he was placed in very responsible positions, and in each of them he acquitted himself to the complete satisfaction of his employers. In 1907 was made managing director of the firm, and Mr. Bullock thus writes of his duties: 

"A knowledge of its fifty-three branches equal to that of any of the fifty-three men in charge of them; the supervising these, combining and managing them so that all might, smoothly and efficiently, work to the one great end assigned, the keeping abreast with the latest devices in labour-saving appliances, with the newest means of securing economical fitness, with the most modern discoveries in electrical, mechanical and marine engineering—in short, everything relative to the construction and equipment of modern steamships; and in addition, all the numerous and delicate duties devolving upon him as Lord Pirrie's assistant. Furthermore, the many voyages of discovery, so to speak, which he made as representative of the firm, thereby, we are told by one with whom he sailed often, ‘gaining a knowledge of sea life and the art working a ship unequalled in my experience by anyone not by profession seafarer’; and. lastly, his many inspections of, and elaborate reports upon, ships and business works, together with his survey, at Lord Pirrie’ instance, of the harbours of Ireland, Canada, Germany, and elsewhere. It seems giant's task. Even to us poor humdrum mortals, toiling meanly on office stools at our twopenny enterprises, seems more than a giant’s task. Yet Andrews shouldered it, unwearidly, cheerily, joyfully, for pure love of the task. One sees him, big and strong, a paint-smeared bowler hat on his crown, grease on his boots, and the pockets of his blue jacket stuffed with plans, making his daily round of the yards, now consulting his chief, now conferring with foreman, now interviewing an owner, now poring over intricate calculations in the drawing office, now in company with his warm friend, old schoolfellow, and co-director, Air. George Cumming, of the engineering department, superintending the hoisting of a boiler by the two hundred ton crane into some newly launched ship by a wharf. Or he runs amok through a gang—to their admiration, be it said—found heating their tea-cans before horn-blow ; or comes unawares upon a party enjoying a stolen smoke below a tunnel-shaft, and, having spoken his mind forcibly, accepts with a smile the dismayed sentinel's excuse that ’twasn’t fair to catch him by coming like that into the tunnel instead of by the way he was expected.” Or he kicks a red hot rivet, which has fallen fifty feet from an upper deck, missing his head by inches, and strides on laughing bis escape. Or he calls some laggard to stern account, promising him the gate double quick without any talk next time. Or lends a ready hand to one in difficulties; or just in time save another from falling down a hold; or saying that married men’s lives are precious, orders back a third from some dangerous place and himself takes the risk. Or he runs into the drawing office with a hospital note and gift flowers and fruit for the sick wife of a draughtsman." 

In the midst of all his duties Mr. Andrews was cheerful, considerate of others and forgetful of himself. With the workers, whom he called his pals, he was unassertive, willingly listening to suggestions, and if he received a useful one, accepting it thankfully. admired and acted on Judge Payne’s lines;

 Do what you can, being what you are, 
 Shine like a glow-worm, if you cannot as a star; 
 Work like a pulley if you cannot be a crane, 
 Be a wheel-greaser, if you cannot drive a train. 
Mr. Andrews loved his work and found pleasure in it, and while he enforced discipline he was invariably just. This is the testimony of all who worked under him - "Straight as a die"; "not a crooked turn in him.” What higher testimony could be given to any man? In describing his outside life, the author says that twice he was pressed to accept the presidency of Unionist Clubs, and frequently he was urged to permit his nomination for election to the City Council; but the time for public, career had scarcely come; though if he had lived there is little doubt that would have been prominent in political life. The author says:

"He was, we are told, an Imperialist, loving peace and consequently in favour of an unchallengeable navy. He was a firm Unionist, being convinced that Home Rule would spell financial ruin to Ireland, through the partial loss of British credit, and the security derived from connection with a strong and prosperous partner. At times was known to express disapproval of the policy adopted by those Irish Unionists who strove to influence British electors by appeals to passion rather than means of reasoned argument. Also, he felt that Ireland would never be happy and prosperous until agitation ceased and promise of security were offered to the investing capitalist. Though no believer in modern cities, he was of opinion that an effort should made to expand and stimulate Irish village life, it seeming to him that a country dependent solely on agriculture was like a man fighting the battle of life with one hand. Were, however, an approved system of agriculture, such as that advocated by Sir Horace Plunkett, joined with a considered scheme of town and village industries, he believed that emigration would cease and Ireland find prosperity. To the practical application of Tariff Reform he saw many difficulties, but thought them not insuperable. In view of the needs of a world-wide and growing empire "the necessity of preserving British work for British people," and the injury done to home trade by the unfair competition of protected countries, he judged that the duties upon imported necessities should be materially reduced and a counterbalancing tax levied on all articles of foreign manufacture. He advocated moderate social reform on lines carefully designed to encourage thrift, temperance and endeavour; and as one prime means towards improving the condition, both moral and physical, of the workers, he would have the State, either directly or through local authorities, provide them with decent homes. To the consideration of labour problems, particularly those coming within the scope of his own experience, he gave much thought; and when it is considered that his great popularity with all classes held steady through the recent period of industrial unrest, we may judge that his attitude towards labour, in the mass as in the unit, was no mere personal expression of friendliness. As his real pals he wanted to help the workers, educate and lift them. Other things being equal, he always favoured the men who used their heads as well as their hands; and if in the management of their own affairs they used their heads, then also, so much the better for all concerned. He considered that both in the interests of men and masters, it was well for labour to be organised under capable leaders; but honest agreements should, he thought, be binding on both sides and not liable to governmental interference. Politicians and others should in their public utterances, he felt, endeavour to educate the workers in the principles of economics relative to trade, wages, and the relations between capital and labour; but publicists who, for party or like reasons strove to foster class hatreds and strifes he would hang by the heels from a gantry.” 

The voyage in the Titanic, his hopes about the great vessel, and the inexpressibly sad end of his life and the lives of so many more, are told in a few simple, touching sentences:- "What did he see as he stood there, alone, rapt? We who know the man and his record can believe that before him was home and all the loved ones there, wife and child, father and mother, brothers and sister, relatives, friends-that picture and all it meant to him then and there; and besides, just for a moment maybe, and as background to all that, swift realisation of the awful tragedy ending his life, ending his ship.” Some interesting letters are placed in an appendix, and there are several illustrations, including a good photograph. 

Thom Andrews. Shipbuilder. Shan F. Bullock. With an Introduction by Sir Horace Plunkett. Dublin: Maunsel & Co. 1s net.

Related Biographies:

Thomas Andrews Jr


Encyclopedia Titanica (2019) Biography of the late Mr Thomas Andrews (Belfast Newsletter, Thursday 3rd October 1912, ref: #21825, published 6 February 2019, generated 15th April 2021 09:12:30 PM); URL :