De Winton Ships and Marine Engineering

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Diversified De Winton[edit]

Amongst those interested in narrow gauge railways the fact that the De Winton Ironworks built vertical boilered locomotives and quarry equipment is well known. Less well known is that Thomas & De Winton also produced marine boilers and ships' engines. They even owned sailing ships which brought timber to Caernarfon. [1]

Ship Ownership[edit]

The association between Owen Thomas and de Winton sparked off a new enterprise - the owning and operating of ships involved in the timber trade. A new schooner was launched from the foundry site in 1854, the Emily Annina. She was built by shipwright Griffith Owen and launched by the daughter of Lord Newborough who had that name. The bowsprit carried the bust of a girl - doubtless the one after whom she was named. The schooner belonged according to the shipping register solely to Thomas and not de Winton. She was of 165 tons and lost at sea in January 1866.

Thomas and De Winton had more rewarding things to do on their site than build small ships so they bought the Beta (502 tons) and the Volant (459 tons) both built in Canada in 1853. A further Canadian barque the Alan Keir (564 tons) was bought later. These ships sailed between Caernarfon and North America taking various cargoes including slate and coming back with timber. Sometimes they brought timber to other destinations such that taken to Scotland by the Alan Keir in 1861. From there she brought iron, coke, and casting sand for the iron works. Sometimes three round trips were possible in a year. An advertisement from 1867 shows the types of timber - yellow pine, elm, american oak, tamarac, red pine and baltic and spruce deal. As can be seen the timber included that from the Baltic so they did not just deal in North American timber. The vessels used Victoria Dock once it was available in 1868. The timber trade was very lucrative for a while with demand to roof quarry mills, non-conformist chapels and other new buildings of the period. There were significant risks associated with the trade with ships sometimes getting trapped in pack ice in the St Lawrence River and others just disappeared in storms at sea,

The Beta which had earlier had an episode in 1863 of getting trapped in pack ice in the St Lawrence but managed to get free, sank in June 1867 when on passage from Cardiff to Quebec after throwing 70 tons of cargo overboard and after working the pumps for 24 hours. Her crew were picked up but the Allan Keir disappeared on passage from Dublin to St John, New Brunswick in September 1862 and her crew were never seen again.

One Last Launch[edit]

The schooner Heroine (87 tons) was built by the shipwright Mr Owen on the land which later became occupied by the office of the De Winton works. She was launched by Thomas's eldest daughter. Although small she was useful and owned first by Thomas, then by de Winton and finally by Thomas Turner in 1870. In 1869 she brought a part cargo of nitro-glycerine from Hamburg to Aber Menai. Tumbrils of it exploded while being moved in carts and two cart drivers and three passers by were killed. Then in 1874 she was in a collision with a French barque off Point Lynas, Anglesea. Following the loss of the Heroine, Beta and the Alan Keir the firm appears to have given up ship ownership although de Winton was involved with the setting up of the Liverpool, Caernarvon and Menai Steam Ship Company Ltd. (See Caernarfon Packets and Coasters.) It was probably a good move to get out of the timber trade when they did because there was a huge drop of profits in this trade in the 1880s. Perhaps they saw it coming.


Jeff de Winton had a long association with Lord Newborough's yacht Vesta. The yacht was built in Glasgow in 1848 and was 178 tons with a length of 112 feet with a 40 hp engine. The first owner was not Newborough but he bought it and the first recorded contact between Jeff and Newborough about Vesta is dated April 1850. At the time Jeff was employed by Fawcett, Preston's establishment and he wrote frequently to Newborough. There was trouble with the screw. He recommended a new screw with two blades in place of three and gunmetal in place of brass. The new screw was made by Fawcett, Preston. He was also having a new steam chest made and fitting it and the new screw to the yacht. Then 54 tubes arrived for the boiler. The Vesta did not sail until 1852 but in 1856 she circled Great Britain stopping at among other places Edinburgh, Oban, Waterford, Plymouth, Calais and Rotterdam. At about this time he designed a variable pitch screw which would get around the problem of a yachts' propeller impeding progress when under sail.

Jeff went on to work on several more yachts including the Gwendoline of 55 feet for Newborough's son, the Hon. F.G Wynn. She was built by Edwards of Beaumaris in 1879 and operated until at least 1893. F.G Wynn's brother Frederick in 1882 commissioned a small steam launch of 36 feet length also built by Edwards. Much of the engine design was very similar to the quarry locomotives de Winton made. She seems to have been disposed of in 1886. She survived until at least 1891 when she disappears from the register. This yacht for Frederick Wynn was followed by another the Pelican of 68 feet length again by Edwards of Beaumaris with a De Winton engine. After trials Jeff reported that with the boiler maintaining 100 lbs of steam and with 250 rpm she moved at 9.57 knots. Even so by 1890 it had been renamed Sunbeam and sold to W. G. Hughes with who it remained until sunk in a collision in 1905. The Gelert a large yacht of over 100 feet length was built for the mayor of Conway, Albert Wood JP, in around 1882 by John Fullerton and Co. of Paisley with engines provided by De Winton. The final three yachts were the Agnes(1882), Glyn (1885) and Madge (1888) but there is some confusion over their stories.

Commercial Ships[edit]

Thomas & De Winton produced their first commercial steam ship engine for the tug Victoria built in Bangor in 1854. It was used on the Mawddach estuary to bring vessels buit at Pemaenpool downstream to Barmouth foe fitting out. In the summer it acted as a pleasure boat for visitors. The next vessel Quarry Maid was a small screw steamer built for the slate trade in Aberdovey in 1858 and towed to Caernarfon to be fitted with her engine. She was intended to do ten trips per year from Aberdovey to London but she ended up as a coaster at Abeystwyth and other Cardigan Bay ports. Then a dredger was built in 1872 for Carnarvan Harbour Trust but it was not a success. It foundered in St David's Sound on its way to Milford Haven or New Shoreham.

The larger ships for which De Winton built engines include those for Richard Mills & Co and built by R & J Evans of Brunswick Dock Liverpool. The Mimosa was 219 feet long and 847 tons gross registered in 1872. The engines were sent by rail to Liverpool but the boilers were floated in the sea and towed down the harbour to be collected by a tug sent from Liverpool for the purpose. Mimosa's sister ship was the Linda but in this case the hull was towed from Liverpool to Caernarfon and berthed alongside the works where the boilers and engines were installed. This was the model for all future projects. Her length was 248 feet, her beam 29 feet and her registered tonnage 1020. Sadly this ship was lost to fire at sea in 1874. The Mimosa was eventually sold and ended up in Sicily as the Bagnara, registered in Palermo until 1904. A succession of similar orders for Evans followed the first of which was the Cincora launched in 1874. From 1890 she was owned by Napier Shipping of Glasgow and disappears from Lloyd's register in 1893. The Brecon followed in 1874 but it was soon renamed the Taurida and was back at the works for a new engine in 1884. She was sold to Norway in 1890 but ceased to be on the register two years later.

Later Commercial Ships[edit]

It was three years later in May 1878 that the Lavidia was completed. The engines were 120 hp. She weighed 1254 tons gross and was 240 feet long. She was under joint ownership of Messrs. Mills and Company, Liverpool and Messrs. Richards, Tweedy and Company of London and was intended to trade between Liverpool, London and ports on the Black Sea. The Orianda was finished in 1879 and was 256 feet in length - never to be exceeded by any other De Winton engined ship. Her engines were the same as those of the Lavidia. The final three ships of the Lavidia type were Nesta in 1882 (length 265 feet) the Minera in 1882 and the Bernina in 1883 which lasted in service until 1918.

A much smaller ship engined by De Winton was the Menai which was an 80 foot twin screw steamer launched in 1878. She carried pleasure passengers from Menai Bridge, Beaumaris, Bangor and Llandudno. It was laid up in winter. It later, and by 1903, was a ferry boat in Milford Haven and its last entry in the register is in 1922. The next was the Lady Kate which was built in 1881 in Tomas Duddon's shipyard in Millom Cumbria. It was schooner rigged and 99 feet long. All these vessels were equipped with sails as well as steam engines and it is only in the 1920s that sails were abandoned. The Lady Kate had a new boiler fitted in 1904 and she ran based in the Liverpool area until she disappears from the register in 1932. She was followed by the Lady Bessie from the same builders in 1884. She was 116 feet long. The two Millom built vessels were primarily sailing ships with steam auxiliary power so they were able to sail from Millom to Caernarfon but the Menai had had to be towed. A single ship the Herbert was built in 1881 in Liverpool by R & J Evans and came to De Winton's to be fitted with her engines which were similar the the Lady Kate's. Little more in know about her.

The next ship came from the Amlwch yard of Thomas in 1883 and was called the W S Caine She was 122 feet long and was fitted with a 35 hp engine. In later life she was at Neyland in Pembrokeshire and then Lerwick up to about 1923. The real person William Sproston Caine was a liberal politician and MP, keen on temperance and particularly interested in India. Also from the same builder in Amlwch came the Anglesea which was ketch rigged and only 95 feet long. She ended up being sold by the first owner (the builder's son) to Bordeaux and then Bilbao, renamed Goeland and then Comercio. She disappears from the registers in 1919. In the same year of 1884 Thomas also built the Exchange at Amlwch with a length of 135 feet and a 50 hp engine. She spent some time on the Mersey owned by the Liverpool and North Wales Steamship Company. She was sunk in 1917 by a U-boat on passage from St Valery sur Somme to Newhaven. There then seems to be a gap in the fitting of ships' engines by De Winton but it may be because the records are not complete.

The Prince Jaja is contender for the most famous of De Winton engined ships and it was in service until 1932. It was a steel vessel built at Amlwch in 1890 and 140 feet long. She was ordered by and operated by the Liverpool, Carnarvon and Menai Straights Steamship Co. In 1902 she was sold away to Scotland and renamed the Matje. In the period 1928 - 1930 she had destinations in most Irish ports, Cardill, Tyneside, Cornwall and the near continent.

The decline in De Winton's maritime business is not hard to understand. Ships were getting larger and could no longer be built in the old shipyards of North Wales. The Seiont River beside which the De Winton works stood could not accommodate large vessels. In addition the development of triple expansion engines represented a new generation of more complicated larger engines and this was a market in which De Winton could not compete.


  1. ^ Fisher D, Fisher A and Jones G P (2011) De Winton of Caernarfon: Engineers of excellence, RCL Publications, Cambrian Forge, Garndollbenmaen, Gwynedd, LL51 9RX pp 119 - 137.