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SWAN, HUNTER, & WIGHAM RICHARDSON, LTD. (and related names)

We are not aware of any booklets, published by 'Swan Hunter', though in the fullness of time, some such publications may very well emerge.


I have, however, come across an interesting 2-page article about Sir George B. Hunter, K.B.E. (1845/1937) - in 'The Boys Own Annual', Volume 58, of 1935-1936. At pages 467 & 468. Which article I have transcribed below to ensure that the text is 'Google' searchable. Ship names are in bold text.

The book's cover & title page is at left. You can read the actual pages here - 467 & 468.

The Grand Old Man of Newcastle-on-Tyne - by George C. Curnock

EIGHTY-ONE years ago the "William and Jane" (Webmaster's note) sailed out of the Wear with goods and passengers bound for Melbourne and the new goldfields of Australia.

   This beautiful three-master, barque-rigged, ship of 454 tons was owned and commanded by Captain Thomas Hunter of Sunderland, a true North Country seaman, born and bred of a hardy race of great sailors. For years he had been sailing his own ships, first the little "Leveret", (Note) then the larger "Elizabeth Hunter", (Note) and thirdly the "Wonder", (Note) each bigger and better than its predecessor, carrying coal and lime from the Wear to Cromarty on the East Coast of Scotland and bringing back pit-props for the Durham mines and live pigs for the pig dealers.

   Now he was away on a great adventure, a voyage which would take him into deep waters and many oceans, first to the new land of Australia, and finally by the China seas and the Indian Ocean back to Sunderland again.

   Captain Hunter's passengers were sturdy emigrants from the industrial and rural north, seeking new homes and greater opportunities on the far side of the world, a "promised land" which might bring who knows what fortune to these adventurous men, women and children.

   Among Hunter's passengers was his own little son George, then only eight years old, with a little sister and brother even younger. Their mother was also with them. No doubt she took the long sea voyage bravely, for she came of a long race of seafarers - the Rowntrees of Wearside - and her own father, grandfather and great-grandfather had been captains and owners of ships.

   Thomas Hunter, too, came of a sea-going family. The family Bible in the old Sunderland home recorded the fact that his father "fell overboard from H.M. Brig 'Ernest'" in the year before Waterloo, being then only 32 years of age. With such a family history, both mother and son were only too familiar with the life of the sea.

   So young George Hunter went to sea, more than eighty years ago, and was destined not only to return safe and sound from this first voyage, but to live thereafter a very long and noteworthy life, and preserve to this day lively and happy memories of those early days before steam had conquered sail.

   Wonderful memories they are, chiefly of the long days when the good ship "William and Jane" was battling with gales and storms, tacking against head winds, or lying becalmed for days on a beautiful blue transparent sea, where it appeared to the boy that he could see hundreds of feet into the depths of the ocean. He saw all the life of the sea, from whales and sharks to porpoises, and the little pilot fish which kept company with the sharks, and also the flying fish. Beautiful birds also, from the lordly albatross to the frigate bird and the little stormy petrels, or Mother Carey's chickens, as the sailors called them.

   He remembers how, at Melbourne, the sailors of his father's ship took the long-boat and went off to the goldfields, as many a ship's crew did in those exciting days. From Melbourne the "William and Jane" carried him all the way to Bombay in India, and when it might be thought that the long voyage was soon to be over, sailed again eastwards for fresh cargo to the Canton River in China, where Chinese troops, trained by the great English soldier Gordon, were fighting the Taiping rebels, and the bodies of dead Chinamen came floating down the river past the anchored English ship.

   Thus it was that the boy spent nearly two years of his early life at sea, and though food ran short on the long, long homeward voyage from China, he built up thereby a splendid store of health and vitality which was to serve him well in after years.

   George Hunter was nearing his tenth year when the "William and Jane" dropped anchor again in a home port, and up to that time he had learned only the lessons which strange oceans and stranger people could teach a keen and observant lad. He had not even begun to read, a fact which made him all the more keen to learn when he took his place at last in the old town school at Sunderland. With an intelligence quickened by his travels and strengthened by the air of the sea, he soon took first place in every class in which he was put. Not content with such lessons as he was given to learn at school, he spent his evenings in studying the pages of a "Popular Educator"; and after he left school at the age of thirteen, he was as well equipped as many an older lad is to-day.

   To this day Sir George Hunter holds that his short schooling was one of the best things that could happen to him. He looks with dismay on the idea of making every lad, no matter what his abilities, or lack of them, or desires to begin his real lifework, spend all his youth, up to sixteen years of age, in the narrow confines of a school. He thinks most boys would be better fitted for the struggle of life if they were well grounded in the elements of learning and then turned out to gain the rest of their knowledge in the world.

  Upon leaving school, Sir George was first articled as engineer-pupil in the offices of the River Wear Commissioners, who were then engaged in the work of dock and harbour extension rendered necessary by the expansion of the trade of Wearside.

  At the age of fifteen an opportunity came to enter the profession which was to occupy him for the rest of his life. His own cousin, William Pile, twenty-two years his senior, was now building those famous clipper ships which brought so much fame to this country, so much credit to their captains, and so much wealth to their owners. William Pile, a kind-hearted benevolent man, much loved by his fellow-townsmen, offered to take his young cousin into the firm as an apprentice, and the boy, with his inbred love of a good ship, was eager to take the chance.

  Those were transition days in shipbuilding as in everything else. William Pile, having built many stout wooden vessels, began in that year to build "composite" ships, iron-framed and wood-planked for the China and India trades. Before long he passed to iron steamships and thus became a pioneer in the trade which has since developed into the great steel warships and ocean liners of to-day.

  In Sir George Hunter as a youth you see the typical "honest apprentice", faithful, hard-working, industrious at all times. After his long days in the shipyard, he spent his evenings working at his books, studying Naval architecture and learning French by reading French books with a friend without a grammar or a teacher. He learned shorthand, too, in his spare time, acquiring thereby an overpowering admiration for phonetic spelling - he would write it "fonetic" - which led him in after years to plead earnestly and strongly for the introduction of a simplified English spelling as a means of time-saving and of extending the use of the English language throughout the world.

  While working so hard at his profession Sir George strove also to strengthen his own character. Early in life he decided to abstain from intoxicating drinks and smoking, and looking back to-day upon his career he is satisfied that the avoidance of the former had been of greatest benefit to him in escaping drink temptation, saving money, and maintaining health. At the same age he became a Sunday School teacher and found great help and benefit from his work in the church.

  In 1869 George Hunter left the shipyard on the banks of the Wear and joined the staff of R. Napier and Sons at Govan on the banks of the Clyde as assistant to the manager, afterwards famous as Sir William Pearce. Here for two years he gave his very best, without thought of rest or profit, to the building of some of the ships which established the fame of the Clyde. He received as well as gave, and considers the experience he gained at this time some of the most valuable in his career.

  Two years later he was back on Wearside as manager of "Pile's Shipyard". Unfortunately, in 1873, Mr. William Pile died when on a journey to London, and his business suddenly stopped, and George Hunter was thrown out of employment only six weeks after his marriage to Annie Hudson of Whitby, Yorkshire, who was a niece of the well-known George Hudson, M.P., known as "the Railway King", and whose eldest son was sometimes referred to as "The Prince of Rails." George Hunter then joined Mr. S. P. Austin in his establishment of a new shipbuilding and repairing yard, a partnership which continued for six years until, in fact, he left Wearside for the Tyne.

SIR GEORGE HUNTER'S great fame as a shipbuilder rests upon the work he did from this time onwards. After the death of Mr. C. S. Swan, who was drowned at sea when crossing from Calais to Dover, George Hunter became the principal partner in the firm of C. S. Swan and Hunter, of Wallsend-on-the-Tyne. The ships built by the firm became known far and wide for their shapely outlines and excellent performance. Contacts came from foreign as well as home shipowners; the yards and works were extended, by construction and purchase, and ship and marine-engine repairing was undertaken on a great scale.

  In 1903 Swan and Hunter amalgamated with a firm whose premises adjoined theirs on the river-front, and the two, buying a third undertaking, formed the amalgamation known as Swan, Hunter, and Wigham Richardson, Ltd., with George Hunter as Chairman of the Board of Directors, and the active head of the whole concern.

  The great achievement of the new amalgamation came early in its history. The Cunard Steamship Company invited tenders for the construction of two new vessels capable of maintaining a cross-Atlantic speed of 25 knots, that is to say about 29 miles an hour, in moderate weather. Behind this provision was an agreement with the Government that the vessels should be capable of transformation in time of war into auxiliary cruisers. The Clyde obtained one of the contracts and built the "Lusitania". Sir George Hunter's firm received the order to build a companion ship, the "Mauretania".

IN building the "Mauretania", under a glass-roofed shed 150 feet in height, with a clear width of 100 feet, in bringing it to perfection, and launching it amid scenes of enthusiasm only equalled since by those which accompanied the birth of  the "Queen Mary", 1934, Sir George Hunter founded his own great claim to lasting fame. This beautiful ship with her amazing and consistent record of thirty years' ocean service, making as many as seventy-two journeys across the Atlantic in a year, has now abandoned her task, but she will for ever hold a place in the annals of great ships and English shipbuilding.

  Many other great ships have come, and will continue to come, from the Tyne. Sir George Hunter, knighted for his services to the country in 1918, retired from the Chairmanship of the great firm he created when he reached his eighty-third year, in 1918. He still lives in Newcastle-on-Tyne, happy to be almost within sight of the sea, and so close to the scenes of his early labours and his later great achievements.

Webmaster's note:- From 1912 to 1933, 'Swan Hunter' operated a yard on the River Wear at Southwick. It commenced building ships there in 1917 & in 1919 at least had three building berths. Detailed listings are available on site page 83 re 20 of the vessels that they built at Sunderland. I list also on that page the names & hull numbers of 29 other vessels that 'Swan Hunter' built there. The exact number of ships that they built at Sunderland is, however, a little confused & the list needs correction.

An image of Mauretania, built at Wallsend by Swan, Hunter, and Wigham Richardson, Ltd. in 1907 follows. A tiny version, in fact, of the giant image that makes available (thanks!). There are a vast number of images available of the vessel, which saw distinguished service with Cunard through 1935.

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