Edward H. Wilding (1875-1939)


Aug 2, 2007
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Edward H. Wilding, who was to play a central role in the design of the liners of the Olympic class and in explaining their design in the wake of the Titanic disaster, was born in England in 1875 and died in 1939. A number of books dealing with Titanic mention him, since his testimony is the source of so much that is known about the ship, but none provide much of a picture of the man or his career. This very brief and incomplete sketch summarizes what can be learned from public primary sources, chiefly his own sworn testimony at various hearings and a few public records. Numbers in brackets refer to the sources.

The most comprehensive record of his career through mid-1915 is provided by his deposition in New York in May of that year before Judge B. Learned Hand of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in the case of the limitation of liability for Titanic’s loss. [2] Wilding had crossed the Atlantic in wartime for this important case.

At age 15 Wilding became a naval cadet in the Royal Navy, intended for a career in the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors (RCNC). After five years as a cadet he was promoted Probationary Assistant Constructor and posted to the three-year naval architecture course at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. When classes were not in session at Greenwich he rotated among the various naval dockyards to gain practical experience, spending rather more than half of his time in this fashion.

Passing out of Greenwich after three years, presumably about 1898, Wilding went to Portsmouth Dockyard, and to an assignment to a Channel Fleet battleship to gain sea experience. After a brief period at the Admiralty for what he described as “special calculations,” he went on to the Admiralty Experimental Works, Haslar, working under Dr. R. E. Freud, F.R.S. It seems from this that he may have been regarded as particularly talented in theory and calculation.

In February 2004, however, he was engaged as a draughtsman in the designing department of Harland & Wolff in Belfast, Ireland, “one the scientific side.” (At this time naval architects who worked on the detailed design of ships were usually titled draughtsmen, and Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom.) There is no known explanation for his departure from the Navy, but his employment with H&W seems to say that it cannot have been on terms that reflected badly on him.

At some time during her construction (probably 1905 or 1906) he visited RMS Lusitania at John Brown shipyard, Clydebank — possibly twice. He also crossed the Atlantic aboard her on the liner’s sixth voyage, which would have been early in 1908. On both occasions he seems to have been shown everything, including the bilges and bunkers.

While at H&W he apparently was involved in the design of the liner S.S. Amerika for Hamburg-America Line. She was launched in April 1905 so he could not have been in on the very earliest stages. He also worked on the liners President Lincoln and President Grant. These ships had a somewhat checkered construction history, having originally been ordered by another line but then laid up after launch and eventually taken up by Hamburg-America for revision and completion. It was the post-launch revisions he would have been involved in, as the ships were launched in 1903. [8]

Wilding assisted in the design of Olympic and Titanic, under Thomas Andrews, who was then head of the designing department.

The 1911 census [4] found Wilding living with his 28-year old wife, Marion Emily Wilding, with two live-in Irish servants, a housemaid and cook. There were no children. Both Wildings were recorded as being communicants of the Church of England and having been born in England. It sounds very much like a typical moderately prosperous middle-class household of the day.

In mid-1913 Wilding was made a managing director (one of several) of H&W. He was the head of the designing department in 1915; he does not say how long he had held the post. During the 1915 deposition he remarks that he must soon leave to return to the yard as he is urgently needed due to the press of war work. [2]

In 1920 he was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). This would almost certainly have been in recognition of some signal service to the war effort, perhaps in directing Harland & Wolff work or perhaps in some other capacity. It appears that he remained with H&W until the mid-1920s, after Lord Pirie had died (1924). [1]

On 14 April [sic!] 1923, Wilding and his wife arrived in New York aboard S.S. Belgenland from Antwerp. [6] The ship had a history in which Wilding must have been much involved, and the voyage likely was at least in part business. She had been under construction by H&W at the outbreak of war in 1914 and had been employed, without her superstructure or furnishings, as a cargo ship and then a trooper during the war. (She must have had a very large GM, giving her a very quick, jerky roll.) In 1922 she was handed back to H&W who refitted her, added a full superstructure, and outfitted her for passenger service with Red Star Line. The April 1923 voyage was her first in passenger service and Wilding was presumably along to observe her. [7, pp. 119-20].

In 1926 Wilding became a consulting naval architect for the Argentine Navigation Company. [1] Much of the company’s shipping served internal riverine routes.

In the same year, Wilding was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. During a trip to Argentina he voyaged up the great Rio Paraná as far as Corrientes and Posadas, and up some of its tributaries, recording his experiences in a four-volume diary. In 1929 he journeyed again to Argentina, visiting the northern and western areas of the country, and keeping a five-volume diary. Both sets were given to the Royal Geographical Society, together with photos, postcards, etc. [1] A visa photo from 1929 [5] shows a smiling, vigorous-looking man with dark, full hair.

Wilding resigned his fellowship in the Geographical Society in 1933 and died, not older than 64, in 1939. [1]

Sources:

1. AIM25 collection description, documenting a collection at the Royal Geographical Society that was contributed by Wilding.
2. TIP | Limitation of Liability Hearings | Day [#] | Affidavit of [WITNESS], Limitation of Liability Hearings, Deposition of Edward H. Wilding, 13 & 14 May 1915.
3. TIP | British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry, Wreck Commissioners’ Court, Proceedings on a Formal Investigation Ordered by the Board of Trade Into the Loss of the S.S. “Titanic,”
4. National Archives: Census of Ireland 1911. National Archives of Ireland, 1911 Census, Residents of a house 69 in Jordanstown (Monkstown, Antrim).
5. Edward Wilding (1875-1939) (photo/image) - RGS Picture Library. Visa photo of Wilding, dated 1929.
6. Ellis Island - FREE Port of New York Passenger Records Search. Passengers for Voyage of Belgenland, arrival date: April 14, 1923.
7. Laurence Dunn, Merchant Ships of the Word in Color, 1910-1929 (New York: Macmillan, 1973).
8. C. R. Vernon Gibbs, Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean, 2nd Edn. (New York: John De Graff, 1957).
 

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