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Olympic & Titanic : The Builders of the “Olympic” and “Titanic.”

Description of Harland & Wolff's Queen's Island Works

The Shipbuilder

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THE builders of the Olympic and Titanic, the celebrated firm of Harland & Wolff, Limited, have had unrivalled experience in the construction of large passenger vessels, and the new White Star liners but add another triumph to the many which they have to their credit. Unlike many shipbuilding firms, Messrs. Harland & Wolff may be termed builders in the most complete sense of the word. As in the case of all vessels built by them, not only have they constructed the hulls, of the Olympic and Titanic, but also their propelling machinery, while much of the outfit usually supplied by sub-contractors for ships built in other yards has been manufactured in their own works.

Queens Island
Fig. 3—Plan of the Queen’s Island Works.

Early History.

The magnificent shipbuilding yards and works existing at Queen’s Island to-day afford little indication of their humble beginning at the middle of the last century. The site upon which they stand is in reality artificial land, reclaimed by the Belfast port authority during the years 1841-6 while the straight cut to Belfast Lough and the sea, known as the Victoria Channel, was in course of construction. A portion of this ground was enclosed for a shipyard by the Harbour Commissioners in 1847, and was first leased to the firm of Robert Hickson & Co., who commenced to build iron sailing ships there in 1853. To this firm Mr. (afterwards Sir) Edward James Harland came from the Tyne as manager in 1854, when only twenty-three years of age. At first he encountered great difficulties both with the workmen and with the financial affairs of the firm, difficulties which would have daunted a man less determined; but Mr. Harland was no ordinary man, and his personality triumphed over all obstacles.

Sir Edward harland Lord Pirrie

The Late Sir Edward J. Harland, Bart. / The Right Hon. Lord Pirrie, P.C., LL.D., D.Sc., D.L.

In 1859 Mr. Hickson retired, and Mr. Harland, with the financial assistance of a friend, Mr. G. C. Schwabe, of Liverpool, acquired the yard on his own account. His first contract was for three steamers for the Bibby Line, each 270ft. long, by 34ft, wide, by 22ft. 9in. deep, a large order for those days. Thus commenced a business connection which has lasted until the present time, for the latest Bibby liner, the Gloucestershire, a fine vessel of about 8,100 tons gross, left Belfast the day after the Olympic was launched. The drawing office was placed in charge of Mr. G. W. Wolff, who later was taken into partnership, the firm from the 1st January, 1862, being known as Harland & Wolff. The business prospered exceedingly, the energy and enterprise of the partners, together with the high class work turned out, gradually building up the great reputation which the firm ultimately acquired.

Arroll gantry
Fig. 4. General View of Gantry over Slips Nos. 2 and 3.

Lord Pirrie.

In 1874 Mr. W. J. Pirrie (who was raised to the peerage in 1906) was admitted a partner. In 1895 Sir Edward Harland died, in 1906 Mr. Wolff retired, and Lord Pirrie has remained in supreme control, worthily maintaining the traditions of the firm. The business was turned into a private limited liability company in 1885, the capital being £600,000, divided into six hundred shares of £1,000 each.

Lord Pirrie’s career, which has already been the subject of a special article in The Shipbuilder (No. 7, Vol. II., 1908), has been one of the most notable among those of the great captains of industry. Entering the Queen’s Island yard in 1862 as an apprentice at the comparatively early age of fifteen, he became successively draughtsman, assistant manager, sub-manager, works manager, partner, and ultimately chairman of Harland and Wolff, Limited. His activities have not been confined to shipbuilding, and his business abilities have secured for him the chairmanship of several leading shipping companies, besides directorships in numerous large industrial concerns.

Associated with Lord Pirrie in the management of the Queen’s Island establishment are five directors, each having his own special department to control.

The Present Works.

The present Works are very extensive and employ over 14,000 men. Their extent and arrangement are shown in Fig. 3. It will be seen that there are no less than eight building slips, all capable of taking large vessels. Nos. 2 and 3 slips were specially laid out for the construction of the new White Star liners in the place previously occupied by three slips, the great increase in the size of the two vessels necssitating a reduction in the number of berths. The ground in way of the new slips was piled throughout and covered with concrete, in some places as much as 4ft. 6in. thick, reinforced by a framework of steel. The floor of the berths is laid at fin. per foot declivity.

Arroll gantry
Fig. 5. Side View of Gantry over Slips Nos. 2 and 3.

Arroll gantry elevation and plan
Fig. 6.—Elevation and Plan of Gantry over Slips Nos. 2 and 3.

Shipyard Crane Equipment.

Over the new slip berths was erected the remarkable structure, illustrated by Figs. 4, 5, 6, & 7, for carrying the cranes necessary for the economical erection and hydraulic riveting of such large vessels. It is difficult to realize the size of this structure from illustrations only, or indeed when closely inspecting it from the ground; it is only when looking down on the surrounding buildings from the topmost girders that its true proportions become apparent. It consists of three rows of towers spaced 121 feet between the rows, centre to centre, each row containing eleven towers spaced 80 feet centre to centre. The towers at their base are about 21 feet by 9 feet, and are fixed in solid concrete foundations resting upon 40-feet piles. At their extreme top the towers are connected by girders across the berths, and at a lower level by fore and aft girders, which provide a path for the various cranes. Access to the upper parts of the structure and ships under construction is provided by four large electric lifts. The area covered exceeds 840 feet long by 270 feet wide.

The crane equipment of Nos. 2 and 3 slips consists of the following:—(1) A central cantilever revolving crane, mounted on a girder path over the centre row of columns, and capable of lifting three tons at 135 feet, or five tons at 65 feet; (2) ten walking cranes, each lifting five tons, three being placed on the inside of each of the outer rows of towers and two on each side of the centre row of towers; and (3) six travelling frames, three over each berth, each frame carrying two travelling cranes capable of lifting ten tons. The total height of the structure from the ground at slip level to the top of upper crane is no less than 228 feet. The weight of the entire structure and equipment is upwards of 6,000 tons.

The remaining crane equipment of the building berths consists of three travelling gantries with cranes over No. 1 slip; a gantry of the Brown electric type between Nos. 5 and 6 slips on the other side of the yard (see Fig. 8), which has been in successful operation for some years; and revolving jib cranes, mounted on steel derrick pillars, between berths Nos. 7, 8, and 9.

Side View
Fig. 7.—Section of Gantry over Slips Nos. 2 and 3.

Fig. 8.—Section of Gantry over Slips Nos. 5 and 6.

Plater's shed
Fig. 9.—A Portion of one of the Platers’ Sheds.

Mould loft
Fig. 10.—The Mould Loft.

Joiners shop
Fig. 11—A Portion of the Joiners' Shop.

Boiler shop
Fig. 12.—A Portion of the Boiler Shop.


Electric power and light are supplied to the whole of the works from the firm’s own magnificent power station, which has a capacity of no less than 4,000 kilowatts and close upon 7,000 indicated horse-power, the connected motor load exceeding 10,000 horse-power, while for arc lighting alone 1,500 additional horse-power is required. In order to deal with the ironwork of the largest vessels, the platers’ shed (Fig. 9), adjoining slips Nos. 2 and 3, was largely remodelled and equipped with the most up-to-date machines while the slips were under re-construction, and here most of the ironwork of the Olympic and Titanic has been prepared. The mould loft, in which the sections of a vessel are laid down to full size and moulds prepared for the workmen, is illustrated by Fig. 10.

In joinerwork—one of the most important items in a large passenger vessel—Messrs. Harland & Wolff stand unsurpassed, and possess admirable facilities for dealing with all classes of vessels. The large joiners’ shop is shown in Fig. 11. The same remark regarding facilities also applies to' the engineering section of the works, which is exceedingly well arranged. One of the most important shops is the boiler shop (Fig. 12), which is 820 feet long by 160 feet broad, with a wing 455 feet long by 90 feet broad. Adjoining the engine works is the quay at which vessels lie while their machinery is being put on board. In the case of the Olympic and Titanic, however, owing to their size, this berth could not be utilized, and the machinery was put on board the ships by the 200-ton floating crane owned by the firm.

It will be evident from this brief description how completely equipped the Queen’s Island establishment is for dealing with the construction of the two immense vessels for the White Star Line.


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Encyclopedia Titanica (2020) Olympic & Titanic : The Builders of the “Olympic” and “Titanic.” (The Shipbuilder, , ref: #205, published 26 October 2020, generated 27th June 2022 12:26:17 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-builders-of-the-olympic-and-titanic.html