S & H Morton,
Shipbuilders and Engineers
Thomas Morton (Shipwright)
To arrive at the shipbuilders who occupied the Victoria Shipyards site originally, we have to first look at the man who set up the first shipyard at the site.
While many other shipyards and shipbuilders were all around Leith and on the banks of the Water of Leith, it was Morton who set up first. On the site that would eventually be known as the Victoria Shipyards.
Thomas Morton was born in Leith in 1781, growing up to become a shipwright just like his father, Hugh. He started out working for his father before branching out to set up on his own. He set up at Leith as a shipbuilder and his firm would go on to become S&H Morton & Co.
As he was unable to afford his own dry dock in his Leith Shipyards, he resorted to the very dangerous process of hauling up ships on greased ways, not just dangerous but very time consuming he set his mind to resolving this challenge. By 1818 he had invented and installed the first patent slip. This was a slipway with a cradle to haul ships out of the water. He was granted a patent for his invention the following year.
As with most good inventions this could be easily replicated and sure enough before he knew it every man jack who thought he could build one had a go. In 1824 he sued john Barclay in Edinburgh for patent infringement after he had installed a similar contraption in the yards of his company, Stobcross, which had been described three years previous by fellow shipwright William Denny as a poor copy. The court found in favour of Morton.
His invention was very successful and should have made him a fortune, some 45 slips were built in Scotland, England and in Ireland, along with many in America and in Russia, he made some money but when it came time to re-new the patent rights Parliament denied him his rights and only awarded him the small sum of £2,500 pounds. Morton had spent a lot of his time fighting the profiteers of his invention and he died pretty young in December of 1832, he was interned in South Leith Parish church, while his company would continue operating as S & H Morton & Co.
Ships built by S. & H. Morton & Co.
The full list of ships built at the S & H Morton shipyard will show here over time, if you have any information on the ships or images then please send them in to Ron@theloftsman.com
S & H Morton was the shipyard owned and run by the sons of Thomas Morton, Samuel and Hugh Morton
SS Wendouree was built as Yard No 32 and launched in 1882. This image is from the State Library of Victoria. From the late A. Green collection.
SS Britannia was built as Yard No 46 in 1885-the above is a rough sketch of how she may have looked produced by salvage experts and first shown on the following dive site..
Iron screw cargo steamer
The following is from Flotilla Australia-
TOM MORTON 1,402 gross tons. Iron cargo steamship built by Morton, S&H, yard 21, Leith for 'unknown'. Launched November 1872, Date completed unknown. 1874 chartered from H. Moreton for 12 months taking mail from Singapore. First voyage of charter January 18 1874. 1876 sold to G. V. Turnbull. Went missing - sailed Cardiff 4 December 1886 for Constantinople
Iron screw cargo steamer
Fate - SS Punta Teno, built by S. & H. Morton & Co., Leith in 1883 launched as SS Pizzaro and owned at the time of her loss by Cia. Anon. Navegacion de Tenerife, Orotava, Tenerife, was a Spanish steamer of 1042 tons. On January 29th, 1917, Punta Teno, on a voyage from Santa Cruz de Tenerife to Bordeaux with a cargo of bananas and onions, was sunk by the German submarine U-67 (Hans Nieland), off NW coast of Spain. There were no casualties.
Iron screw cargo steamer, Wendouree was built as a collier by S & H Morton & Co., Leith, Scotland for Huddart Parker & Co. Pty, Ltd of Geelong, near Melbourne, Victoria. She was later refitted to carry passengers for the Melbourne to Sydney run. She was wrecked on the Oyster Bank at the mouth of the Hunter River, as she left for a run from Newcastle NSW to Adelaide, South Australia, with a cargo 1850 tons of coal. She stranded on the bar on 20th July 1898. Fortunately, there were no casualties and all 24 of her crew got away safely.
Iron screw cargo steamer
Fate- SS Midlothian, built by S. & H. Morton & Co., Leith in 1871 and owned at the time of her loss by Richard H. Littlehales, Manchester, She was flying the red Duster as a British steamer of 1321 tons. On September 30th, 1917, SS Midlothian, on a voyage from Famagusta to Deir el Ballah with a cargo of firewood, was sunk by gunfire by the German submarine U-73 (Ernst von Voigt), 80 miles south from Cape Greco, Cyprus. There were no casualties.
Steel screw passenger/cargo steamer
Fate - SS Britannia 1885 had the dubious distinction of sinking twice, the first time she sunk after a collision with SS Bear in 1891 off St Abbs Head, she was salvaged and ironically she was repaired and returned to working service by the shipyard of R&F which was based right next door to S&H Morton shipyards.
Her second sinking is here re-told by the diving club that has dived on her wreck many times - On a foggy morning in the Farne Islands, September 1915 the SS Britannia ran aground. She was on a trip from Newcastle to Leith and hit ‘the Callers’ early morning on the 25th of September.
Word was sent to Seahouses of the wreck and the lifeboat dispatched. It was hoped that the Britannia might re-float on the next tide; however, it soon became apparent that this would not be the case owing to the amount of water in her holds. The lifeboat took off Captain Halerow, 19 crew, and 2 passengers and she was abandoned.
It is not clear exactly what her cargo was at the time of the sinking, whatever it was she was quickly relieved of it by local fishermen who report they had found nothing but boots, all of which were ‘left’.
You can read a lot more about all the early Leith Built Ships in my book Leith-Built Ships Vol. I, They Once Were Shipbuilders