Ships designed by Thomas Andrews

Shan Bullock


So much impressed was the firm with Tom’s industry and capacity that, soon after the time of his entering the Drawing Office in November, 1892, he was entrusted with the discharge of responsible duties. It is on record that in February, 1893, he was given the supervision of construction work on the Mystic; that in November of the same year he represented the firm, to its entire satisfaction and his own credit, on the trials of the White Star Liner Gothic; whilst, immediately following the end of his apprenticeship in May, 1894, he helped the Shipyard Manager to examine the Coptic, went to Liverpool and reported on the damage done to the Lycia, and in November discussed with the General Manager and Shipyard Manager the Notes in connection with the renovation of the Germanic—that famous Liner, still capable after twenty-five years on the Atlantic Service of making record passages, but now crippled through being overladen with ice at New York. In 1894 he was twenty-one years old: a man and well launched on his great career.

It is not necessary, and scarcely possible, to follow Andrews with any closeness as rapidly, step by step, he climbed the ladder already scaled, with such amazing success, by Mr. Pirrie. The record of his career is written in the wonderful story of the Queen’s Island Yard through all its developments onward from 1894, and in the story of the many famous ships repaired and built during the period.

The remarkable engineering feat of lengthening the Scot and the Augusta Victoria, by dividing the vessels and inserting a section amidships; the reconstruction of the China after its disaster at Perim and of the Paris following its wreck on the Manacles: in these operations, covering roughly the years 1896-1900, Andrews, first as an outside Manager and subsequently as Head of the Repair department, took a distinguished part. He was growing, widening knowledge, maturing capacity, and both by the Staff, and by those in touch with the Yard, he became recognised as what the watching crowd terms, not unhappily, a coming man.

Having made his mark in the Repair Department, Andrews was next to prove himself on construction work. Prior to the launch of the Oceanic in 1899, and whilst engaged in the reconstruction operations already mentioned, he had also rendered good service at the building of ships for many of the great steamship lines; but it was perhaps with the building of the Celtic (1899-1901), when he became Manager of Construction Work, that the path of his career took him swiftly up into prominence. The duty of supervising all the structural details of the vessel brought him into close practical touch with the Drawing office, the Moulding loft, the Platers’ shops, and all the other Departments through which he had passed as an apprentice; imposed upon his young shoulders great responsibilities; tested his capacity for handling men; put him in constant and intimate view of his employers; widened his relations with owners, contractors, directors, managers; opened to him not only the life of the Yard, but the vast outer life of the Shipping and Commercial world, and in a hundred other respects helped towards his development as a shipbuilder and a man. Now he had opportunity to apply his knowledge and experience, to express in tangible form his genius. The great ship rising there below the gantries to the accompaniment of such clang and turmoil—she was his, part of him. To the task, one of the noblest surely done by men, he gave himself unsparingly, every bit of him, might and main: and his success, great as it was, had the greater acclaim because in achieving it he worked not for personal success but for success in his work. That was the man’s way. His job, first and last and always.

The names alone of all the ships in whose building Andrews had a hand, more or less, as Designer, Constructor, Supervisor and Adviser, would fill this page. The Cedric, the Baltic, the Adriatic, the Oceanic, the Amerika, the President Lincoln and President Grant, the Nieuw Amsterdam, the Rotterdam, the Lapland (of which recently we have heard so much): those are a few of them. The Olympic and the Titanic: those are two more. Their names are as familiar to us as those of our friends. We have, some of us, seen the great ships on whose bows they are inscribed, perhaps sailed in them, or watched anxiously for their arrival at some port of the world; well, wherever they sail now, or lie, they have upon them the impress of Tom Andrews’ hand and brain, and with one of them, the last and finest of all, he himself gloriously perished.

There are many others, less known perhaps, but carrying the flag no less proudly upon the Seven seas, for whose design and construction Andrews was in some measure, often in great measure responsible: the Aragon, the Amazon, the Avon, the Asturias, the Arlanza, the Herefordshire, the Leicestershire, the Gloucestershire, the Oxfordshire, the Pericles, the Themistocles, the Demosthenes, the Laurentic, the Megantic, and the rest. It is a splendid record. Lord Pirrie may well be proud of it, and Ulster too: both we know are proud of the man who so devotedly helped to make it.

The work of building all those ships, and so many more, from the Celtic to the Titanic, covered a period of some thirteen years, 1899-1912, and in that period Andrews gained such advancement as his services to the Firm deserved. In 1904 he became Assistant Chief Designer, and in the year following was promoted to be Head of the Designing department under Lord Pirrie. His age then was thirty-two, an age at which most men are beginning their career; but he already had behind him what may seem the work and experience of a strenuous lifetime.

“When first I knew Mr. Andrews,” writes one who knew him intimately, and later was closely associated with him in his work, “he was a young man, but young as he was to him were entrusted the most important and responsible duties—the direct supervision of constructing the largest ships built in the Yard from the laying of their keels until their sailing from Belfast. Such a training eminently fitted him for the important position to which he succeeded in 1905, that of Chief of the Designing department. For one so young the position involved duties that taxed him to the full. To superintend the construction of ships like the Baltic and Oceanic was a great achievement, but at the age of thirty-two to be Chief of a department designing leviathans like the Olympic was a greater one still. How well he rose to the call everyone knows. No task was too heavy, and none too light, for him to grapple with successfully. He seemed endowed with boundless energy, and his interest in his work was unceasing.”

Others who knew him well during this important period of his career testify in the like manner.

“Diligent to the point of strenuousness,” wrote one of them, “thinking whilst others slept, reading while others plaved, through sheer toil and ability he made for himself a position that few of his years attain”; and then the writer, whose ideal of life is character, notes approvingly and justly that Andrews worked not as a hireling, but in the spirit of an artist whose work must satisfy his own exacting conscience. Those boundless energies soon were given wider scope. Early in 1907 the Adriatic was finished, and in March of that same year he was made a Managing Director of the Firm, the Right Hon. A. M. Carlisle being at this time Chairman of the Board. Everyone knows, or can judge for himself, what were the duties of this new position—this additional position, rather, for he still remained Chief of the Designing department—and what, in such a huge and complicated concern as the Island works, the duties involved. Briefly we may summarise them.

A knowledge of its fifty-three branches equal to that of any of the fifty-three men in charge of them; the supervising these, combining and managing them so that all might, smoothly and efficiently, work to the one great end assigned, the keeping abreast with the latest devices in labour-saving appliances, with the newest means of securing economical fitness, with the most modern discoveries in electrical, mechanical and marine engineering—in short, everything relative to the construction and equipment of modern steamships; and in addition all the numerous and delicate duties devolving upon him as Lord Pirrie’s Assistant. Furthermore, the many voyages of discovery, so to speak, which he made as representative of the Firm, thereby, we are told by one with whom he sailed often, “gaining a knowledge of sea life and the art of working a ship unequalled in my experience by anyone not by profession a seafarer”; and, lastly, his many inspections of, and elaborate reports upon, ships and business works, together with his survey, at Lord Pirrie’s instance, of the Harbours of Ireland, Canada, Germany, and elsewhere.

It seems a giant’s task. Even to us poor humdrum mortals, toiling meanly on office stools at our twopenny enterprises, it seems more than a giant’s task. Yet Andrews shouldered it, unweariedly, cheerily, joyfully, for pure love of the task.

One sees him, big and strong, a paint-smeared bowler hat on his crown, grease on his boots and the pockets of his blue jacket stuffed with plans, making his daily round of the Yards, now consulting his Chief, now conferring with a foreman, now interviewing an owner, now poring over intricate calculations in the Drawing office, now in company with his warm friend, old schoolfellow, and co-director, Mr. George Cumming of the Engineering department, superintending the hoisting of a boiler by the two hundred ton crane into some newly launched ship by a wharf. Or he runs amok through a gang—to their admiration, be it said—found heating their tea-cans before horn-blow; or comes unawares upon a party enjoying a stolen smoke below a tunnel-shaft, and, having spoken his mind forcibly, accepts with a smile the dismayed sentinel’s excuse that “’twasn’t fair to catch him by coming like that into the tunnel instead of by the way he was expected.” Or he kicks a red hot rivet, which has fallen fifty feet from an upper deck, missing his head by inches, and strides on laughing at his escape. Or he calls some laggard to stern account, promising him the gate double quick without any talk next time. Or he lends a ready hand to one in difficulties; or just in time saves another from falling down a hold; or saying that married men’s lives are precious, orders back a third from some dangerous place and himself takes the risk. Or he runs into the Drawing office with a hospital note and a gift of flowers and fruit for the sick wife of a draughtsman. Or at horn-blow he stands by a ship’s gangway, down which four thousand hungry men, with a ninety feet drop below them, are rushing for home and supper, and with voice and eye controls them … a guard rope breaks … another instant and there may be grim panic on the gangway … but his great voice rings out, “Stand back, men,” and he holds them as in a leash until the rope is made good again.

All in the day’s work, those and a thousand other incidents which men treasure to-day in the Island, and, if you are tactful, will reveal to you in their slow laconic Northern way. He has been in the Yard perhaps since four or five o’clock—since six for a certainty. At seven or so he will trudge home, or ride in a tramcar with the other workers, to sit over his plans or his books well into the night.

One recalls a day, not long ago, spent most of it in tramping over the Island Works, guided by two men who had worked for many years with Andrews and who, like others we saw and thousands we did not see, held his memory almost in reverence. In and out, up and down we went, through heat and rain, over cobble stones and tram lines; now stepping on planks right down the double bottom, three hundred yards long, from which was soon to rise the Titanic’s successor; now crouching amongst the shores sustaining the huge bulk of another half-plated giant; now passing in silent wonder along the huge cradles and ways above which another monster stood ready for launching. Then into shop after shop in endless succession, each needing a day’s journey to traverse, each wonderfully clean and ordered, and all full of wonders. Boilers as tall as houses, shafts a boy’s height in diameter, enormous propellers hanging like some monstrous sea animal in chains, turbine motors on which workmen clambered as upon a cliff, huge lathes, pneumatic hammers, and quiet slow-moving machines that dealt with cold steel, shearing it, punching it, planing it, as if it had been so much dinner cheese. Then up into the Moulding Loft, large enough for a football ground, and its floor a beautiful maze of frame lines; on through the Joiners’ shops, with their tools that can do everything but speak; through the Smiths’ shops, with their long rows of helmet-capped hearths, and on into the great airy building, so full of interest that one could linger in it for a week, where an army of Cabinetmakers are fashioning all kinds of ship’s furniture. Then across into the Central power station, daily generating enough electricity to light Belfast. On through the fine arched Drawing hall, where the spirit of Tom Andrews seemed still to linger, and into his office where often he sat drafting those reports, so exhaustively minute, so methodical and neatly penned, which now have such pathetic and revealing interest. Lastly, after such long journeying, out to a wharf and over a great ship, full of stir and clamour, and as thronged with workmen as soon it would be with passengers.

And often, as one went, hour after hour, one kept asking, “Had Mr. Andrews knowledge of this, and this, and that?”

“Yes, of everything—he knew everything,” would be the patient answer.

“And could he do this, and this, and this?” one kept on.

“He could do anything,” would be the answer.

“Even how to drive an engine?”


“And how to rivet a plate?”

“He could have built a ship himself, and fitted her—yes, and sailed her too”—was the answer we got; and then as one dragged wearily towards the gateway (outside which, you will remember, young Tom waited one bitter morning, disappointed but staunch) the guide, noting one’s plight, said, “You will sleep well to-night?”

Why, yes, one felt like sleeping for a week!

“Ah, well,” was the quiet comment, “Mr. Andrews would do all that and more three times maybe every day.”

All in the day’s work, you see. And when it was done, then home in a tramcar, to have his dinner, a talk with his mother over the telephone, and so to work again until eleven.

In 1901 Andrews became a Member of the Institution of Naval Architects, and in the year following a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was also a Member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (New York), and an Honorary Member of the Belfast Association of Engineers.

In 1908 he made a home for himself at Dunallan, Windsor Avenue, Belfast, marrying, on June 24th, Helen Reilly, younger daughter of the late John Doherty Barbour, of Conway, Dunmurry, County Antrim, D.L.—worthiest and most loyal of helpmates.

Concerning his married life, so woefully restricted in point of years as it was rich in bounty of happiness, it is perhaps sufficient to say here that, just before he sailed from Southampton, in April last, on that final tragic voyage, he made occasion, one evening whilst talking with a friend, to contrast his own lot with the lot of some husbands he knew; saying, amongst other things, that in the whole time since his marriage, no matter how often he had been away or how late he had stayed at the Yard, never had Mrs. Andrews made a complaint.

She would not. With Jane Eyre she could say, “I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine.”

In 1910 a child was born to them and named Elizabeth Law Barbour.