Robert Steele

Robert Steele © McLean Museum

The Steele family connection with Greenock shipbuilding began in 1786. James Steele was a Burgess and Guild Brother of the burgh of Ayr. His son Robert, born in 1745, was for some time engaged in building fishing vessels and coasters at Saltcoats, and on the death of his father in 1786 he entered into partnership at Greenock with John Carswell, the firm being known as Steele & Carswell. This partnership was dissolved in 1816, when Mr. Steele assumed his sons Robert and James as partners under the designation of Robert Steele & Co. The firm almost at once began to build steamships, many of the fine vessels of the Burns, Clyde Shipping Company, Dublin Steam Packet Company, and Isle of Man Steam Packet Company fleets coming out of their Yard. The head of the company died in 1830, aged 85, his son James, had predeceased him, and Robert Steele secundus was left to carry on the concern. The business continuing to expand and, in course of time he took into partnership his sons Robert and William and the firm was soon building for the Cunard, Allan, North German Lloyd, Donald Currie & Co., George Smith & Sons, and other great lines. They turned out one of the first of the Cunard fleet. They also built a number of racing yachts that were successful at many of the regattas round the British coast. In the construction of clippers they occupied great the renown of their China clippers being world-wide. After the new co-partnery, the company, took over the works of the Shaws Water Foundry and Engineering Company. About this time also, when iron was coming into vogue for ships' hulls, they opened a new yard in Cartsdyke for the building of iron vessels, keeping the older Yard it the West Burn for wooden ships and Yachts. Robert Steele secundus died in 1870, in his 88th year. He was a notable citizen of his day, public spirited, entering into all movements which, aimed at benefiting the community, and in business a man of singular integrity. It was said at his decease that " to him it was not simply a question of pushing trade and dispatching orders, but the execution of examples of naval architecture that should disarm criticism with respect to material, form, and finish, and that should meet all the demands of commerce with reference to stability, speed, and capacity." Robert Steele tertius and his brother William carried on the business for some years, but on account of financial difficulties entirely unconnected with shipbuilding, and contracted in their father's lifetime, the firm was in 1883, obliged to go into liquidation, and was wound up.

RM Smith