ON TOUR OF SOUTH AMERICA
A Leader in the Formation of the International Mercantile Marine
Viscount Pirrie, head of the famous firm of Harland & Wolff, shipbuilders of Belfast, Ireland, died suddenly on Saturday night of bronchial pneumonia on board the Pacific Steam Navigation Company's liner Ebro, on his way to New York. The news was received yesterday in a wireless message sent to P. A. S. Franklin, President of the International Mercantile Marine Company, by Viscountess Pirrie, who had accompanied her husband on his tour round South America. The body will be brought to New York on Friday morning by the Ebro and shipped to Ireland on the White Star liner Cedric which sails for Queenstown on Saturday.
The news was a great shock to Mr. Franklin, who was looking forward to seeing Lord Pirrie as he was usually addressed, and talking over with him shipping conditions in South America.
Lord Pirrie was seventy-seven years old on May 31, and had passed his birthday at Lima, Peru, with his wife and her sister, Miss Carlisle, who was with them on the tour.
Mr. Franklin said that Lord Pirrie had started from Southampton on March 20 by one of the Royal Mail steamers to visit the principal ports in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador to study the prospects for shipping in the interests of that company and the Pacific Steam Navigation Company in which he held considerable stock.
A Great Loss to Shipping
"The death of Lord Pirrie," said Mr. Franklin last night at his home in Locust Valley, L. I., "will be a great blow to the shipping world and to his large circle of friends in all quarters of the globe. He was a remarkably active man for his years.
"Lord Pirrie was a progressive shipbuilder and always on the lookout for new ideas. When the adoption of oil fuel for steamships instead of coal became general in the shipping industry he was not satisfied to take the reports of experts as to the production of petroleum in the Mexican oil fields, but made a special trip to Mexico to see for himself what the conditions were and how long the supply would probably last. Lord Pirrie always looked ahead and always was ready to hear any one who had any new ideas that might be of use in the shipbuilding industry.
"The late J. P. Morgan was the promoter of the so-called Morgan combine and Lord Pirrie was the most influential factor in bringing the shipping companies together so that the corporation now known as the International Mercantile Marine Company could be organized with success.
"Pirrie as the head of Harland & Wolff's shipyard at Belfast had built the modern steamships for the White Star, Red Star, Atlantic Transport, Dominion and Leyland Lines and had large holdings in these companies which enabled him to influence their sale to the late J. P. Morgan's newly created combine of Atlantic steamship lines."
Viscount a Hard Worker
Lord Pirrie took an active interest in the works at Belfast and lived on his estate at Ormesby, which was only a few miles away, for a great part of the year. He paid frequent visits to the shipyard and always arrived there at seven in the morning and spent the entire day going over the various parts of the plant. He had an attack of gout about four years ago but recovered and was in excellent health when he visited New York last Summer.
Although be was not born in Ireland, Lord Pirrie took a great interest in politics in Ulster and was one of the first Senators elected to the new Parliament at Belfast in 1922 when the North of Ireland was separated from the newly created Irish Free State. Lord Pirrie was the pioneer in placing the first cabin accommodation on steamships amidship instead of aft. He used that system in the White Star liner Germanic in 1877. It was afterward adopted by shipbuilders generally and is still known as the Harland & Wolff plan of construction.
Lloyd B. Sanderson, general manager of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and the Pacific Steam Navigation Company in the United States, who had known the late Lord Pirrie for more than a quarter of a century, was shocked at news of his death yesterday. He had received a cable dispatch from Lord Pirrie on Thursday, stating that he was sailing from Colon for New York by the Ebro on Friday. Mr. Sanderson said that the Ebro would arrive in Havana this morning, and that he had cabled to the agent of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, requesting him to render every assistance to Lady Pirrie and make all arrangements for bringing the body of Lord Pirrie on to New York.
Started as Apprentice
William James Pirrie, master ship builder of the British Empire, was born of Irish parents at Quebec, Canada, on May 31, 1847. His father, the late James Alexander Pirrie, came from Little Clandeboye, County Down, Ireland, and his mother, Eliza Montgomery, from Dundesart in the neighboring County Antrim. When William James was still a baby he was taken to Belfast, and later went to the primary schools there and the Belfast Royal Academical Institution.
His academic education did not progress far, however, for when he was only fifteen he became a premium apprentice with the Harland & Wolff works, where only 100 men were then employed. Iron ships were just coming in then. The head of the firm, Sir Edward Harland, in a very short time saw that the young apprentice had the makings of a great shipbuilder, and he advanced him rapidly, so that when the Oceanic was designed, in 1869, Pirrie was chief draughtsman. Five years later, twelve years after he left the academy, he was taken into partnership and in a few years he became Chairman of the board.
During the World War his services to the Allies were first given as commercial and financial adviser to Lord Derby, Secretary of State for War, in regard to the acquisition of war supplies, but in March, 1918, Sir Eric Geddes, First Lord of the Admiralty, caused general satisfaction by the announcement that Lord Pirrie had been appointed Controller General of Merchant Shipping. In this office he rendered invaluable service in the closing months of the war.
One of the last articles by the late William T. Stead was a character sketch of Lord Pirrie, in which he wrote of him:
"He is the greatest shipbuilder that the world has ever known. He has built more ships and bigger ships than any man since the days of Noah. And he not only builds ships, but he owns them, directs them, controls them on all the seas of the world."
Lord Pirrie was made a Baron in 1906, a Viscount in 1921. On the nomination of King Edward he was created a Knight of St. Patrick. His other honors included membership in the Privy Councils of Ireland and England, Pro-Chancellor of the Queen's University, Belfast, Comptroller of the Household of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, High Sheriff of the Counties of Antrim and Down, and the first Honorary Freeman of the City of Belfast. In 1879 he married Margaret Montgomery Carlise [sic] of Belfast. They had no children. Their principal residence, purchased in 1909 for $1,000,000, was Witley Park, near Hazlemesly, England, the famous estate created by the ill-fated Whitaker Wright, the American promoter.