Chronicles of the Cumming Club (1887)

SIR EDWARD J. HARLAND, BART.; 'the sixth of a family of eight.' His
father, Dr. Harland, a graduate of Edinburgh University, practised in
Scarborough until nearly the period of his death, in 1866. He was a man
of remarkable skill as a mechanic, and the inventor of a steam carriage
for common roads, a Justice of the Peace for the borough of Scarborough,
and thrice Mayor. Harland writes: 'I was fondest of drawing, geometry,
and Euclid; indeed I went through the first two books of the latter
before I was twelve years old. At this age I was sent to the Edinburgh
Academy.'[1] He attended the Second and Third Classes under Mr. Cumming.
In 1844 he returned to his native place, and, though his father wished
him to become a barrister, he preferred to follow the bent, evidences of
which he had given while at the Academy, and decided to be an engineer.
On his fifteenth birthday he began a five years' apprenticeship in the
works of Robert Stephenson & Co., at Newcastle-on-Tyne, on the
expiration of which he was employed by Messrs. J. & G. Thomson, marine
engine-builders, at Glasgow. Subsequently he was engaged by Mr. Thomas
Toward, shipbuilder, on the Tyne, as manager of his yard, in 1853, where
he succeeded in improving the quality of work turned out for the Russian
Government, China, and the Continent.

But by Christmas, 1854, he had been appointed manager of a shipbuilding
yard at Belfast, situated on what was then known as the Queen's Island,
a spot described as formed out of the 'slob-land,' a sort of Isle of
Dogs, capable of improvement by reclamation, about fifteen acres in
extent, and admirably adapted for shipbuilding. The proprietors of this
concern, Messrs. Robert Hickson & Co., ultimately sold their
undertaking to Mr. Harland and Mr. G. W. Wolff, whom he took as partner.
And from this time dates the marvellous success of an entirely new
branch of industry in Belfast, which has made the firm of Harland and
Wolff famous, and has been the means of increasing the extent of their
building yard at Queen's Island from four to thirty-six acres.

The theory and practice of Harland, now so largely followed, in his
building of steamers, aimed at securing greater carrying power and
accommodation for cargo and passengers by increased length rather than
beam. For, as he had anticipated, such vessels showed improved qualities
in a sea-way, giving the same speed with the same power, with only a
slight increase in the first cost. The system was tried in steamers 340
feet long, beam 34 feet, hold 24 feet 7 inches, built for Messrs. Bibby
& Co. of Liverpool, in which the deck was entirely of iron. The rig,
too, was unique---four masts of iron in one continuous length, with
fore-and-aft sails only, thereby reducing the number of hands required
to work them.

Further improvements, with ever-increasing length in proportion to beam,
were made upon what went by the name of 'Bibby's Coffins.' To give great
carrying capacity, increased flatness of bottom was given, and
squareness of bilge. Perfect success followed these designs of what came
to be known as 'Belfast bottoms.' Following out these ideas, twenty
steam-vessels were built for Messrs. James Bibby & Co., and subsequently
many more for the White Star Line.

In 1868 the raising of the steam-vessel Wolf, sunk by a collision in
Belfast Lough, where she had lain the best part of a year in seven
fathoms water, showed the engineering skill and perseverance of Mr.
Harland. A full account of this feat is given in the Illustrated London
News of 21st October 1868, with drawings; and another, more scientific,
in the Engineer of 16th October of the same year.

During the last few years Harland and Wolff have built some of the
largest iron and steel sailing-ships that have ever gone to sea. In the
year 1883 they launched thirteen vessels of iron and steel of a
registered capacity of some 30,000 tons. The 168 vessels of this sort
which they had then built it was calculated, if laid close together,
would measure nearly eight miles in length.

These details are chiefly taken from the work by Dr. Samuel Smiles,
already cited, Men of Invention and Industry. Chapter XI is devoted to
a most interesting autobiographic sketch of Edward Harland, who, in a
letter dated 'Ormiston, Belfast, January 24th, 1886,' full of kindly
recollections of the Academy, and many of his class-fellows whom he
names, and, not unkindly, of the 'tingle of the tawse,' writes: 'In the
biography I quite expected he (Dr. Smiles) would have used the third
person, whereas he left it just as I finished it, which was not quite
fair to my modesty.'

Harland has long been Chairman of the Belfast Harbour Trust. He was
Mayor of Belfast at the time of the Prince of Wales's visit to that
city, in 1885, when the brilliant reception His Royal Highness met with
was enhanced by the hospitable efforts of Mr. Harland.

In July the honour of a Baronetcy was conferred on our old class-fellow,
during Lord Carnarvon's tenure of office, after, it is said, the
knighthood had been declined at the hands of Lord Spencer.

The recent unhappy disturbances have drawn much attention to Belfast,
and evoked much sympathy for Sir Edward Harland, who held office as
Mayor also during 1886.

[1]See Men of Invention and Industry, by Samuel Smiles, LL.D., 1884,

Related Biographies:

Edward J. Harland


Chronicles of the Cumming Club, compiled by Alexander Ferguson,
Edinburgh: The Cumming Club, 1887.

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