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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Ships Names.

While the shipyard workers called there ships by the allocated yard number, it has been brought to my attention that someone who did not work in the yard would know the ship better by her given launched “Name” (Thanks Derek) so I am starting to show the names given to the ships in a separate post and will work on 10 year spans.
So from opening in 1918 up to 1928 the following ships were launched with the names as follows.

WESTMERE (Ship No 16) Single Screw Tug

BHAVSINHJI (Ship No 17) T. screw Grab Dredger

FAIRPORT (Ship No 20) S. Screw Dredger

WM. MESSINA (Ship No 21) S. Screw Tug

ALBATROSS (Ship No 30) Lightship

RUKAMAVATI (Ship No 35) S. Screw Grab Dredger

“G” (Ship No 60) Hopper Barge

“H” (Ship No 61) Hopper Barge

LAKSHMI (Ship No 62) T. S. Passenger Vessel

CLEARWELL (Ship No 63) Hopper Barge


LENA W (Ship No 75) S. Screw Tug

BUSI (Ship No 76) S. Screw Tug

ULUNDI (Ship No 78) S. Screw Tug/Pilot Boat

BRANKSEA (Ship No 79) Grab Dredger

JERSEY (Ship No 80) Motor Tug

SATURNO (Ship No 81) Twin Screw Tug

Ship No’s that have no name were in the most part Barges or Pontoons, which would be given a number or letter or combination of both by the owners.
The yard would allocate a yard (Ship No) to all vessels built.

So as this is the last post on this blog for 2009 I shall take the opportunity of wishing all a safe and Happy New Year.


Ship No 81

Was an order for a Twin Screw Tug of 213 gross tons, from Wilson Son & Co, she was launched on 22nd of May 1928.
She had an overall length of 108 feet, with a beam of 24 feet.

I have been unable to track down any further info on this vessel up to now.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009


Ship No 80

An order for a Motor Tug, of 14 gross tons for T.B.Davies. She was 40 feet overall with a beam of 11 feet 9 inches.
I have been unable to track down any further info on this vessel up to now.

St Catherine (Ship No 534)


Ship No 79

Was an order from Poole Harbour Commision for a 68 gross ton Grab Dredger, with a length overall of 62 feet and a beam of 23 feet.
I have been unable to track down any further info on this vessel up to now.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


Significant as up to this moment this Ship is the oldest ship built by Henry Robb that I have a photograph of, I am sure that over the course of time and with the help of some of the old hands from Robb’s we shall manage to fill in the gaps as regards photographs and histories of some of the older Ships that were launched from Leith.
She was Called “Ulundi”

The Ulundi is the oldest surviving pilot tug in South Africa. Built by Henry Robb Ltd, Leith, she is 75ft 6 inches overall length with a beam of 18 ft. She was powered by a direct acting compound expansion engine and was in service from 1927. After being withdrawn she was earmarked for the fledgling Port Natal Maritime Museum. Placed on a cradle next on the quayside, she has had doors cut into the side of her hull. Ship No 78 is now a visitor attraction in Port Natal, South Africa.
Ship No 78
On the quayside at Port Natal South Africa, where she is now a visitor attraction.
The photogragh is copyright of D.Walker, who has a great site on Ships in South African waters at

History of the name Ulundi.
Ulundi is a town in the Zululand District Municipality. It was at one time the capital of Zululand in South Africa, and later the capital of the Bantustan of Kwazulu. It is now a part of KwaZulu-Natal Province and from 1994 to 2004 took turns at being the capital with Pietermaritzburg. There is an airport, a five-star hotel, and some museums. Estimated population: 11,102
When Cetshwayo became king of theZulus on 1 September 1873, he created, as was customary, a new capital for the nation and named it uluNdi (the high place). On 4 July 1879 the British army captured the royal kraal and razed it to the ground, in the Battle of ulundi - the final battle of the Anglo – Zulu War. Nearby is Ondini, the site of king Mpande’s's kraal, Cetshwayo's father. Mpande's kraal is a big Zulu hut.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Ship No 77.

A 58 gross ton Crane Pontoon for Wilson Son & Co was next to be allocated a vessel number.

At a length overall of 70 feet by 24 ft 6 inches.

The Cal-Mac Ferry Claymore (Ship No 522)


Ship No 76

Another Single Screw Tug for Beira Boating Co.
A larger Tug at 80 gross tons, with an overall of 75 ft, with a beam of 18feet.

I don’t have any photo’s as yet as she was launched such a long time ago, so if anyone out there has a pic’s or any further info then please feel free to get in touch.

Lena W.

Ship No 75

Single Screw Tug, for Wilson Son & Co.
At 57 gross tons, with an overall length of 65 ft 6 inches, with a beam of 16 feet.

I don’t have any photo’s as yet as she was launched such a long time ago, so if anyone out there has a pic’s or any further info then please feel free to get in touch.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Ship No’s 70 to 73.

The allocation of numbers 70 to 73 went to an order from The Crown Agents for 4 Dumb Barges each of 71 gross tons, and all with a length of 72 feet with a beam of 20 feet.

The Tug Charles Hearn (Ship No 475)

Ship No 69.

A Single Screw Tender ordered from the then aptly named “War Department”
Of 66 gross tons, with a length overall of 75 feet by 18 feet across the beam, I have not been able up to now, to find out anymore information about this vessel.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

A little more History II.

The Rise and Fall of British Shipbuilding

In 1924 with no actual access to waterfront all vessels built by Henry Robb had been built in Dry Dock, this along with a natural need to grow the company necessitated the takeover of another Shipbuilder that had access to slipways and of course meant that any vessels could be built on slips and launched directly into the sea.
So in 1924 they acquired the Shipyard of Hawthorn and Co, along with the two berths that had been used to build trawlers and coasters of up to 1500dwt.So they began with 3 shipbuilding berths.
Then at the end of 1926 Henry Robb also took over the neighbouring yard of Cran and Somerville Ltd, a yard that had specialised in the building of tugs. Giving the Shipyard 4 building berths that could launch into the sea.
In 1934 Henry Robb acquired the next neighbouring yard of Ramage and Ferguson, another famous old Shipbuilding yard in Leith, which had built almost 300 Ships up to the time of takeover by Henry Robb. This famous yard built many fine ships including the Sail Training Ship Kobenhavn, and the Mercator.

The Mercator in Ostend.
The following is a little bit of history in tribute to the men of the Ramage and Ferguson yard, as most of those men would have transferred their undoubted skills to the Henry Robb yard they are also part of the story
The barquentine Mercator lies at anchor in Ostend, Belgium She was named after Geradus Mercator.
(1512-1594), Flemish cartographer. She was designed by the Antarctic explorer Adrien de Gerlache
(1866-1934) as a training ship for the Belgian merchant fleet. She was built in Ramage & Ferguson, Leith, Scotland and launched in 1932.
Besides being a training a ship, she was also used, mainly before World War II , for scientific observations, or as ambassador for Belgium on world fairs and in sailing events.

Mercator at Sea.
She participated in several races, winning the Oslo-Ostend race.
During World War II she was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Mercator. Based in Freetown Sierra Leon where she was used as a support ship for submarine forces in the area.
In 1961 she became a floating museum, first in Antwerp,and finally from 1964 in the marina of Ostend, just in front of the city hall.
During all this time, she has become perhaps the best-known ship of Belgium.
So by 1934 Henry Robb Shipyard had a total of nine building berths all launching directly into the sea.

Ship No 68.

Was a small 18 gross ton Mooring Lighter ordered by The Crown Agents?
I have no name for this vessel, and have found no photographs.

Ship No’s 64 to 67.

The following 4 ship numbers were allocated to another order for Dumb Barges from Wilson Son & Co.
No’s 64 and 65 were both 210 gross tons each, with a length overall of 110 feet and 28 feet across, with numbers 66 and 67 being 114 gross tons, with a length overall of 85 feet by 24 across the beam.



Ship No 63

A 139 gross ton Hopper Barge ordered by Constants, 95feet overall by 23 feet across.
I don’t have any photo’s as yet as she was launched such a long time ago, it must have been around the early 1920’s so if anyone out there has a pic’s or any further info then please feel free to get in touch

Thursday, 24 December 2009


Ship No 62.

Lakshmi is the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity, She was built for the Bombay Steam & Nav Co. A twin Screw Passenger Vessel, with an overall length of 120 feet and 20 feet across the beam, She was 80 gross tons.

South Steyne (Ship No 267)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Ship No’s 60 and 61.

Were only designated by a letter. They were to be the heaviest vessels up to this time built in the yard. The order for 2 S.P.Hopper Barges was taken from L.M.S. Rly. Co
And they were both 591 gross tons. With an overall length of 170 feet and 30 foot across the beam, being 12 foot from keel to deck level. The first Barge was designated by the letter “G” the second Barge was designated “H”.

H.M.S.Pochard (Ship No 514)

Ship No’s 58 to Ship No 59.

With Ship No 58 being a Dumb Barge for Wilson Son & Co at 140 gross tons, and Ship No 59 being a Crane Barge at the same gross tonnage of 140. With both being 95 feet long by 24 feet across. Again another order from Wilson Son & Co.

All this expertise with building barges was to be put to great use more than a decade later during World War II (But more of that later)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Ship No’s 45 to Ship No 57.

A large and very welcome order no doubt for 12 Dumb Barges and 1 Oil Barge for the East Africa Lighterage. 6 of them at 85 gross tons and 7 of them including the Oil Barge at 58 gross tons. Remember this was during the terrible recession of the 1920’s.

Launch of M.V. Longfellow (ship No 428)

Ship No’s 43 and 44.

Made up the rest of the order for Wilson Son & Co, and they were for 1 Dumb Barge, and a Crane Barge at 114 gross tons each.

Ship No’s 41 and 42.

Part of an order for 2 Coaling Lighters for Wilson Son & Co, both of 250 tons each gross weight, with a length overall of 125 ft and a beam of 30 ft.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Ship No 36 to Ship No 40.

Ship number 36 was a small river ferry for the Cape Administration of South Africa, with a gross tonnage of 28t, I have no name for here nor any photo’s so is anyone out there can help with further info then please get in touch.

Ship numbers 37 to 40 were an order of 4 Dumb Barges for East Africa Lighterage all at 85 gross tons each.

Ship No 530 (Patricia)


Ship No 35.

Was the first of a long line of Grab Dredgers that were to be built at Henry Robb. Ordered by Maharao of Kutch she was a Single screw Grab Dredger at 412 gross tons.
She had a length overall of 139 feet 6inches with a beam of 29 feet 6 inches with a height of 12 ft 9 in above her keel.

I don’t have any photo’s as yet as she was launched such a long time ago, it must have been around the early 1920’s so if anyone out there has a pic’s or any further info then please feel free to get in touch.

Ship No 31 to Ship No 34.

The next 4 Ship numbers were all dumb barges with 2 being ordered by Elder Dempster at 38 gross tons each, and a further 2 ordered by Wilson Son & Co both a bit larger at 120 gross tons each.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


Ship No 30.

A Lightship ordered by Irish Lights, she was 253 gross tons, with a length overall of 102 feet by 24ft 3 inches across the beam, with an height of 13ft 4 in above the keel.

I don’t have any photo’s as yet as she was launched such a long time ago, it must have been around the early 1920’s so if anyone out there has a pic’s or any further info then please feel free to get in touch.

The Ferry Claymore (Ship No 522)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Shipyard Paintings.

This is a great painting, that anyone connected with a Shipyard can relate to.
It is a painting of a Shipyard in the North East of England (another great shipbuilding centre) and how well i remember when the horn sounded for the end of the day in Henry Robb Shipyard as well.

The painting is by an artist called Peter Knox and this is one of a limited edition reproduced here by kind permission of


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Shipbuilding in Leith.

As mentioned before there have been shipbuilders in and around Leith for more than 660 recorded years, with the first records of a ship kept involved the building of the world’s mightiest warship at the time The Great Michael, built on Leith Sands at Newhaven in the 14th Century.
With Shipbuilding being such a specialised subject that involved countless different trades etc to complete, the industry has its own language which has built up over centuries and of which we hope to bring you a glossary of shipbuilding terms to help those new to the industry and to help refresh the memories of those that may have forgotten.
The following is from the Great database of information that is From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Shipbuilding is the construction of ships. It normally takes place in a specialized facility known as a shipyard. Shipbuilders, also called shipwrights, follow a specialized occupation that traces its roots to before recorded history.
Shipbuilding and ship repairs, both commercial and military, are referred to as the "naval sector". The construction of boats is a similar activity called boat building.
The dismantling of ships is called ship breaking.

Before recorded history eh! Before all the known machines that have been there have been Ships/boats of some form of other.
You could even say that the Shipwright profession is the second oldest profession in the world; we won’t go into the oldest profession here on this blog.

The first Steamship to cross the Atlantic was built in Leith, starting the race for the Blue Riband fought for by the greatest ships of our times and now resting with Sir Richard Branson when he crossed the 3,000 miles of water in a fast boat a few years ago, to record the fastest crossing.
The First Steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean was,
Name: SS Sirius

Operator: St. George Steam Packet Co. Cork, Ireland
Builder: Robert Menzies & Sons, Leith, Scotland
In service: 1837

Fate: Wrecked and sunk off Ballycotton, Ireland on 16 January 1847
General characteristics

Class and type: Steam merchant ship

Tonnage: 703 tons

Displacement: 1,995 tons

Length: 200 ft (60.9 m)

Beam: 25 ft (7.62 m)

47 ft (14.3 m) across wheels

Draught: 15 ft (4.5 m)

Propulsion: Two masts

One funnel

Two side-wheels

1 x 2 cylinder side-lever by Wingate & Co. 600hp

Capacity: 40 passengers

Crew: 36

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Ship No 21


Built for the Union Castle line, a single screw Tug at 121 gross ton’s.
Length overall of 90 feet being 20 feet at her beam this was a large tug for her day.
I don’t have any photo’s as yet as she was launched such a long time ago, it must have been around the early 1920’s so if anyone out there has a pic’s or any further info then please feel free to get in touch.
The William Messina, spent most of her time in Africa as far as I can find out and she was scrapped in Durban, South Africa in 1967
The following was an order to build 8 Dumb Barges for East African Lighterage, all at 85 tons and with a length of 85feet this would have been a very welcome order indeed.
The barges were designated as Ship Nos 22 to Ship No 29.

S.A.Wolraad Woltemade (Ship No 516) makes short work of a large tow.
When launched she was the biggest tug in the world. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Ship No 20

A Single Screw Dredger for Arbroath T.C. was next to be built; she was 91 gross tons, and 78 feet 6 inches in length, by 17 feet 6 inches in breadth.
Henry Robb did not go over to Metric measurements until the early 1970’s and even then Ships for The Royal Navy were still to be done in Imperial measurements.
I don’t have any photo’s as yet as she was launched such a long time ago, it must have been around the early 1920’s so if anyone out there has a pic or any further info then please feel free to get in touch.

The Hebe
Ship No 482 (1962)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Ship No 16

Was the first Henry Robb built Ship; she was a Single Screw Tug.
She was 44 Gross Tons and the customer was Bromports & Co, She was 60 feet long and 16feet across the beam.I have since found out that she must have been built in Dry Dock as Henry Robb had no waterfront until they took over the yard of Hawthorns & Co Ltd, with there 2 building berths. This was done in 1924.
I don’t have any photo’s as yet as she was launched such a long time ago, it must have been around the early 1920’s so if anyone out there has a pic or any further info then please feel free to get in touch.


Ship No 17

Was next on the stocks, She was a far larger vessel, 139 ft 6 inches long and with a breadth of 29ft 6 in with a gross tonnage of 443 for a customer in Bhavnagar State in India.
She was a Twin Screw Grab Dredger.She was also built in Dry Dock.
I don’t have any photo’s as yet as she was launched such a long time ago, it must have been around the early 1920’s so if anyone out there has a pic or any further info then please feel free to get in touch.
This order from India came at the same time as a further 2 Pontoons for Bombay P.T. and The India Office, the pontoons at 81 and 65 tons respectively were numbered as Ship No 18 and Ship No 19.

Garrison Point (Launch Name) Ship No 520

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Monday, 14 December 2009

Yard Nos 11 to 15.

As you may have guessed the next 5 yard numbers were a collection of various Pontoons and Barges.
Ship No 11 was a 23 ton Pontoon for the River Stour Commission

Ship No 12 was a 67 ton Pontoon for the Tyne Commission.

Ship No 13 was a 38 ton Dumb Barge for McIver & Co.

Ship No 14 was a 17ton Pontoon for Brunner Mond & Co.

Ship No 15 was another Dumb Barge at 80 tons for a customer in Singapore.

I am sure that this work was very welcome in the yard in what must have been pretty hard times just after World War I . We have no record as yet of the many Ships that Henry Robb repaired during this time just after World War I, as there were a great many shattered hulls to be repaired.
It was not until Ship No 16 that a true Ship was designed and built in the yard at Leith.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The First Ten Ship No's.

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The first 10 Vessele to be built in Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith were as follows.

Yard No  Name  Dimensions         Gross Tons  Owners                      Description         Year Launched

1                         50 x 11 x 4.3 ft     23     Board of Agriculture   Pontoon
2                         55 x 19 x 5 ft        42     Barry Rly & Co          S.P.Pontoon
3                         60 x 27 x 7ft         113    Montagu Higginson     Pontoon
4                         50 x 11 x 4.3 ft     23      Board of Agriculture    Pontoon
5                         50 x 11 x 4.3 ft     23      Board of Agriculture    Pontoon
6                         66 x 16.6 x 6.9     60      Bromports & Co         Dumb Barge
7                         66 x 16.6 x 6.9     60       Bromports & Co        Dumb Barge
8                         120 x 25 x 9ft        227    Argintine Navigation Co ltd   Dumb Barge
9                          32 x 9.6 x 3.6 ft     10     Sandbach Tinne          Pontoon
10                        32 x 9.6 x 3.6 ft     10     Sandbach Tinne         Pontoon
You will of course note that they were in fact all Barges of one type or another and the launch date is missing as this info is unavailable for now.
So there you have it the start of a long and proud Shibuilding Tradition at Henry Robb in Leith.
I will find a better way of presenting the info in time.

A Wee bit of History.

The official Henry Robb Shipyard opened up at the end of World War I around 1918.
The yard was closed down by the then Thatcher Government, in there wisdom and wound up around 1984.
This brought to an end over 660 years of Shipbuilding excellence in Leith.
There seems to be a fair amount of information on most of the other Shipyards around at the time in Scotland but as I said before not to much about Henry Robb in Leith, this is a small attempt to rectify this situation just a little bit, so if some of this is wrong or even made up then you will just have to bear with me until we get it correct.
The Company was founded by Henry Robb, a former yard manager for Ramage & Ferguson in 1918.
The Company then expanded through acquisition buying berths fromHawthorns in 1924, the business of Crane & Somerville in 1926 and the yards of Ramage & Ferguson in 1934. The site became known as Victoria Shipyard.
The Company closed its Arbroath and Clyde operations during the 1920's and focused its activities on Leith.
During World War II, Robbs built a large number of naval warships for the Royal Navy, including preparing the designs and building the prototype of the Basset-class anti-submarine /minesweeping trawler.
On 26 February 1940 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the shipyard.
In 1968, Robbs purchased, and amalgamated with, the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Dundee, forming Robb Caledon Shipbuilding. In 1977, under the provisions of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977, Robb Caledon was nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders. The Caledon yard in Dundee closed in 1981; Robb's yard in Leith survived two more years, closing in 1983. The land once occupied by Robb's shipyard is now the Ocean Terminal shopping centre, and home to the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Launch of the M.V.Kiatoa for the Union Steamship Co of New Zealand.
Yard No 443

Lost to History! Leith Shipyards

Before it just becomes yet another forgotten history of a time gone by, lost in the mists of time because no one could be bothered or there was no profit to be made in making this kind of record.
Who knows someone out there may be doing something similar, whatever it would be good to get all this info together in one place eh!
Perhaps instead of a blog a good website can be set up, to do justice to this long and proud History.
If you or your Fathers/Grand Fathers or if you know of some one who worked in the yard, ask them to get in touch with there story of there time in the yard, and we can slowly but surely piece together the history of the men who built Ships in Leith.
I have to say that I have found a fair bit of information about the many ships built in the yard during World War II mainly due to the navy forums set up by the guys who served on the ships during this terrible time in history.
More than Half a Million tonnes of Shipping were built and launched in the yard, by what must have been a few thousand men in the time the yard was open and the official number of Ships built numbered up to the final one at Ship number 535.
There have been Shipyards and Shipbuilding in Leith for many hundreds of years, but the yard that became Henry Robb is the Shipyard that I want to speak about.

The R.F.A.Engadine, Yard No 500
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Henry Robb Shipyard.

The Rise and Fall of British Shipbuilding The Rise and Fall of British Shipbuilding
This is the story of how, from modest beginnings, Britain rose throughout the 19th century to become the greatest shipbuilding nation in the world. It begins with the age of sail, then moves on to the days of iron-hulled steamers. It shows how conflicts arose between the traditional shipwrights and the new men who came from the metal industries, leading to the infamous demarcation disputes. It is also the story of men like Brunel and Armstrong, geniuses who were always looking for change and development. It is also the story of decline in the 20th century, when yards were no longer as innovative as their foreign competitors and the British merchant fleet shrank from being the biggest in the world at the start of the century to ranking number 38 at the end of it. It is a story of great achievements and tragic collapse.

Many years ago I promised myself that there should be some kind of record of the men and the Ships that were built in the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland.
Although the information I have up to this time is a bit sketchy, I do have a full list of all the Ships built in Leith by Henry Robb. For this info my thanks go to Jim Russell one of the former Loftsmen from the yard.
There are also some photographs of a small amount of the Ships, which we hope to add to along the way, along with I hope lots of stories from the men who worked in the yard, who it is hoped will add there own stories to this blog once they know it is available here on the internet.
While searching the internet it is good to see that there is now a hell of a lot more information about the yard available now, although it is varied and scattered, with any luck and some time we should be able to record it all here under the banner of this blog.
As you can imagine it takes a wide and varied amount of skilled tradesmen, labourers, office workers and Draughtsmen among others to bring a ship from a contract quote to the time when she will sail away from the Shipyard to begin a hoped for long life, dealing with all the elements that mother nature can throw at her while at sea, it is also hoped that she will be a safe and lucky ship as she will be looking after the life’s of all the men who will sail on her.
Would like to hear from the Men/Women who sailed on Robb’s Leith built Ships as well, they are a large part of a Ships story as well as the guys that designed and built her.

The Ferry St Helen Yard No 535
The last Ship to be launched from Henry Robb Shipyard, Leith
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