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Conference report: Scottish Maritime History Conference, 2022

Posted: Friday 13th January 2023

Conference report: Scottish Maritime History Conference, 2022

The Scottish Maritime History Conference resumed on 21 & 22 June 2022 following two years of cancellations due to the Covid pandemic. Despite the rail strikes planned for the week of the Conference, attendance was well up to previous years. Belying its name, the Conference is by no means restricted to Scottish topics nor to Scottish speakers: four of the 2022 contributors live in England.  The organiser is the Centre for Business History in Scotland, part of the University of Glasgow.  The lectures this year took place in the St. Andrews Building.

The Conference opened on the evening of Tuesday 21 June with a public lecture entitled ‘How Clyde-built Liner Interiors were Created’, by the well-known art and design historian Professor Bruce Peter of the Glasgow School of Art.  This was followed by a reception for delegates.

The all-day session on Wednesday 22 June began with a paper by Dr. Catherine Scheybeler, representing King’s College, London.  ‘The Purchase of Guns from the Carron Company by the Spanish Monarchy in the 1770s’ linked Catherine’s research interests in Spain with the work of a major Scottish iron works.

Alec Ritchie’s talk, intriguingly titled ‘The Sheriff, Shipbuilding and Spin’, featured Robert Speirs, dubbed the ‘marine superintendent of the Free Church of Scotland’. He was known for his championing and designing of churches for remote locations, including the ‘floating church’ at Strontian.

Following a coffee break, Dr Roy Fenton lamented the fate of the British tramp shipping industry whose steam and motor ships had maintained world dominance in the bulk cargo trades for 140 years. The reasons for its catastrophic decline since the 1990s were explored.

The Burrell family are well known for building a fortune by astute buying and selling of ships. But as Dr Martin Bellamy related, their interests were considerably wider, also involving beer and rum in the West Indies.

Following lunch, Eamonn Connor of the University of Glasgow explored the diary of a cruise passenger, kept in the early part of the Twentieth Century. As his title reflected, the cruise evoked ‘Scenes of Great Animation’ for the diarist. 

The steamers of MacBraynes have been synonymous with travel around the West of Scotland for almost two centuries. Dr Claire O’Mahony from the University of Oxford discussed how innovative graphic design, exploiting the scenery of the West Highlands and Islands, helped to promote MacBrayne’s services.

Glasgow was synonymous with shipbuilding, and the final two papers explored aspects of this industry. In a labour-intensive industry, with yards employing thousands of men with a variety of trades and skills, regulating the labour supply was crucial to the ship yard’s survival through good times and bad. This was explored in a joint presentation by Dr William Knox, University of St Andrews and Professor Alan McKinlay of Newcastle Business School.

Despite the advantages of electric arc welding over the more traditional method of joining steel by riveting, the transition took many years in British shipyards. Each method had quite different physical demands, and had distinct effects on the health of those carrying out the work. Joint organiser of the conference, Professor Hugh Murphy addressed these health issues in the last of eight papers. 

Thanks to generous support by Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the BCMH (using funding bequeathed to the Commission by the Maritime Information Association), attendance at the Conference was free. As the one annual United Kingdom conference which is open to allcomers, attendance and especially participation is welcomed.

The 2023 Scottish Maritime History Conference is provisionally planed for Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 October, registration will open shortly. Prospective participants are advised to contact co-organiser Dr Martin Bellamy  Delegates and lecturers are assured of a warm welcome. 




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