Early Days

David Tod was born in Colen, parish of Scone, Perthshire, on 17 May 1795. He was the fifth child of Thomas Tod and Elspet Gray and his father was a farm servant at the time of his birth. The evidence indicates that Tod, senior died in 1808 – when David was nearly thirteen – and it may be that he left home shortly afterwards to start an apprenticeship. He served his time in a millwright's shop. David Tod married Jane Walker in Barony Church, Glasgow, on 6th July 1823 and they had eight children, three of whom – all boys – reached maturity.

John Macgregor was christened in the village of Fintry, Stirlingshire, on 24th August 1802, the fourth child of James McGregor, clockmaker, and Anne McNicol. It appears that the family were incomes to Fintry – James and Anne having been married in Balfron on 6th August 1792 – and remained there for about fourteen years, before moving on to Comrie, where the last two of the eight children were born. The stay in Comrie must have been short, as the whole family came to Glasgow before John began apprenticeship as an engineer. He married Margaret Fleming, in about 1830, and they had seven children, of whom two boys and three girls survived.

David Napier and his cousin, Robert, were primarily responsible for the larger scale development of marine engineering on the River Clyde. David Napier, an engineer of great originality, began making marine engines in 1816 and throughout his career made significant improvements in their reliability. His first works were in Glasgow at Camlachie, which he leased to his cousin, Robert, in 1821, moving his business to the new Lancefield Foundry, at the lower east corner of Lancefield Street in the district of Finnieston.

David Tod was chosen to be engineer on board David Napier’s pioneer paddle steamer ship Rob Roy, built by Denny of Dumbarton and engined by Napier from 1818 to 1821. By 1830 he was a senior employee of Napiers at Lancefield. John Macgregor began apprenticeship as an engineer under David Napier at Camlachie. Macgregor went to Lancefield Foundry with the others in 1821 and was a sea-going engineer on Belfast – which had Napier machinery – while still in his early twenties.

By the early 1830s still under the age of fifty, David Napier appeared to feel that his pioneering engineering achievements in Scotland were at an end as he considered a move to London; by 1835 he had disposed of his Glasgow interests and moved. It has been said that David Napier offered Lancefield Foundry to two of his employees, David Tod and John Macgregor. His regard for both of them is set down in a memoir which he wrote subsequently: “During the latter part of my career, I was very much assisted by two excellent workmen, David Tod and John Macgregor”. His offer of the foundry was not taken up, the two perhaps deciding to start at a more modest level.

One of the stories which describes the relationship between David Napier and David Tod relates to the night that Napier first conceived the idea of the steeple engine. It occurred at midnight, when Napier was in bed. He immediately got up, cleared his dining room of its furniture and carpet and drew his rough plans with chalk on the floor. A servant was sent off for Tod who rushed to the house thinking tat his employer was ill, then the pattern maker who acted as Napier’s draughtsman was sent for and the first set of rough plans were completed by morning.

David Napier perfected his steeple engine in the early 1830s and the first engine appears to have been installed on the Clyde, a steamer owned by J. and G. Burns operating the Liverpool run. Macgregor was engineer in charge of this new installation at sea.

David Napier’s intention of moving south may have resulted in these two senior employees, David Tod and John Macgregor, deciding that they could be successful in business under their own names. The two men began their engineering business in 1833, in Carrick Street (at no 90), which ran northwards from the Broomielaw. Tod was then aged about thirty-eight and his associate some six years younger. They appear to have already established something of a reputation as they were given orders immediately. In January 1834, the shipbuilder Robert Barclay launched the Benledi, which was towed upriver from Stobcross to “the great crane to receive her engine, of nearly 100 horsepower. From Messrs. Tod and Macgregor, marine engineers Carrick Street, whose experience and ability ensure her speed to be of the very first class.” The steamer Rob Roy received their other completed engine that year and it was noted that the machinery “is on a new construction and stands in a very small space.” This was the steeple engine, not long evolved by David Napier.

Warroch Street

Before the end of the first year, the two men had decided that Carrick Street was not suitable for their intentions. In December 1834 they registered possession of 4,321 square yards of open field on the west side of Warroch Street and on the western edge of the borough of Anderston. It was part of the New Brewery Part and the southern boundary of their property was to be on “the north side of the road from Broomielaw of Glasgow to Pointhouse”. A bond of £4,000 was arranged and the new premises were named the Clyde Foundry.

The partners appear to have concentrated on building engines and installing them in hulls made by local shipbuilders. The vessel Northern Yacht – again built by Barclay – received her engine from Tod and Macgregor. It was described as a large one and was installed complete in six working days, a timetable which brought comment in the press. They did build one ship in these earliest years. The steamer was somewhat unusual as the Glasgow Herald reported on her launch on 16th July 1835. There was:

“Conveyed upon a carriage from the manufactory of Messrs. Tod and Macgregor, engineers, to one of the cranes at the Broomielaw, a small iron steamer, having all her machinery and equipment complete, and her steam up. She was at once lowered into the river and immediately preceded on a trial trip. This handsome little vessel is on 10 horsepower and has been constructed by Messrs. Tod and Macgregor for river navigation, to which she appears admirably adapted, her draught of water being 20 inches. She is names the Plata and is, we understand, to be carried on the deck of a sailing vessel, her whole weight being under ten tons.”

More particulars emerge three months later when it was noted that, since her launch, Plata had made regular trips up and down to Greenock and had become well-known on the Clyde. She was about to travel down the river for the last time, to be dismantled and shipped to Africa to explore the River Niger. It was hoped to trade with the natives and the little ship was to be loaded with ‘ammunition supplies’, cowie shells, toys, etc. In return would come gold, ivory and other local products. Matters did not work out at first. The parent ship – described as an old slaver – found the additional weight on her top too much in a sea and was forced to put back to Greenock. There Plata was unloaded and finally went out on a later sailing.

The second stage of Tod and Macgregor’s evolution into shipbuilders dates from the beginning of 1836. They started to build hulls, which they took on a special carriage to the adjacent Steam Boat Quay and placed them into the water using launch ways. By mid-May, three ships had been dealt with in this way and a fourth was nearly ready. One of these was Vale of Leven, the first iron ship to be launched on the River Clyde. Another was certainly launched sideways. In May, the largest iron boat built in Glasgow, at 127ft length of keel, was put into the water. The report added that “she is to get her upper-works at Messrs. Robert Barclay and Co’s slip and will then be fully 140 feet on deck.” This was probably Royal Tar.

Further expansion was finalised by July 1836. Tod and Macgregor had obtained possession of an extension to their existing Clyde Foundry, being part of the lands and estate of Stobcross. This plot was almost the same area as the first and was immediately adjacent to it, on the west side. The new tenants now had a direct route from their works to the river and future launches could be carried out without any transport charges. The money for each of the Warroch Street purchases was obtained from James Anderson, junior, who lived at ‘Highholm’ in Port Glasgow. He had been a merchant, but he described himself in 1851 as ‘Ship-owner, landed proprietor and Commissioner for Supplies for Renfrewshire’. He was to help them again in the purchase of land for houses after they moved to Meadowside.

An early reference to a launch ‘from their works’ relates to the Clyde Foundry on 2nd November 1836, when an iron steamer of 130 feet keel length was put into the water. Rothesay Castle, launched in 1837, quickly gained a reputation for speed. Her times of 1 hour 35 minutes to Greenock and 2 hours 55 minutes to Rothesay made her ‘by far the quickest sailing steamer on the Clyde’, and the machinery for the three vessels built for the Castle Steam Packet Company in 1837 and 1837 ‘bid fair to establish the reputation of these engineers’. There is a brief reference to the launch in November 1837 of a new ship made of sheet iron. This would appear to be the Vesta. One spectator was quoted as saying that Tod and Macgregor should have a slip up to the gate of their premises, which might be covered when not required.

The firm built up strong connections during these early years and its products became increasingly known and in demand. One connection was with the Glasgow / Stranraer Steam Packet Company. Tod and Macgregor had engined the first Maid of Galloway in 1836 and the second was to follow in 1844. David Tod – nephew of the original – was appointed engineer of the Maid based at Stranraer and later became a trustee of the Company. Matthew Langlands, the Clyde agent for the Glasgow / Stranraer Company, was a close associate of Tod and Macgregor for the next thirty years. He had an office in St Enoch Square and was also agent for the Glasgow / Liverpool Royal Steam Packet Company. There was also an involvement with the Galloway Steam Navigation Company and orders for two Countess of Galloway boats were completed in 1835 and 1847. The partnership of Tod and Macgregor showed that it was prepared to build and part-own in its association with Duncan McKellar and his Largs / Millport Service. From 1838 it proved that it was also ready to build and own, setting up the Citizens River Steamer Company. Starting with Queen in March 1838, a fleet of four ships was built up on the River Lee, based on Cork.

By the summer of 1839, Tod and Macgregor had two ships in the water which were referred to as the largest iron vessels built in this country and each were sub-divided into five safety compartments. After the annual Glasgow Fair Holiday in July, one of these two was amongst four ships being engined within two hundred yards of Glasgow Bridge and the men involved were working ‘double tides’. However, not everyone was enthusiastic and opinion was reported to be ‘much divided as to the capabilities of these iron boats which are of light draught of water for ocean navigation, and, doubtless, the ensuing winter will test this very interesting experiment’. The two vessels were Royal Sovereign and Royal George, built for the Glasgow / Liverpool Royal Steam Packet Company, the Sovereign being the first iron seagoing steamer. Liverpool newspapers reported in generous terms on Clyde-built vessels, maintaining that they had a distinction lacking in others. A reporter from Liverpool Albion went on board Royal Sovereign and gave her dimensions as 180ft long, 22ft inside and 44ft overall width, of 450 tons burthen and powered by two engines of 220 horsepower.


During that summer, the partnership was involved in a further expansion of its premises. Part of the grounds of the country house Greenlaw at Mavisbank, on the bank of the river, was purchased in November 1839. The ground was diagonally across from the Clyde Foundry, on the other side of the river and measured about 85 yards square. On the east and west sides of the plot, they built long workshops, including an engine shop. This new building yard appears to have measured less from back to front than the maximum available from Anderston, but there were no complications such as a roadway outside the entrance. It is possible that it was an investment. Land prices were rising sharply as the upper harbour was developed and there were instances where a minor part of a landholding had been sold for more than was originally paid for the whole. The adjacent lands of Windmillcroft were to become a wet dock and the valuation of these had been completed earlier in 1839. Alternatively, Tod and Macgregor perhaps needed more space for building, but primarily they would need a yard for fitting-out, away from the busy Steam Boat Quay on the north bank.

Whatever the reasons, the two men committed themselves to the purchase price of £2,500. They obtained the money from John Burns, Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University. Professor Burns was the eldest son of a celebrated minister of the Barony Church in Glasgow and was an uncle of David Macbrayne, who was later to make his name synonymous with travel in the West of Scotland. He was also the brother of George and James Burns, two of the earliest of Glasgow ship-owners and subsequently amongst the co-founders with Samuel Cunard of the famous shipping company. The acquisition of Mavisbank did not mean the end of hull construction at Clyde Foundry and for the next six years both sites seem to have been fully occupied.

A further connection which was to prove of great value arose from the decision by P. & O. to come to the Clyde Foundry for their 160ft long iron paddle ship Pacha. This order was to be followed by many other larger vessels for the same owners. The steamer Prince (of Cork) was taken on an experimental trip to Rothesay in February 1843. She completed the thirty-seven miles in 2 hours 42 minutes, including several stops in the river and at Greenock. ‘We believe,’ said the report, ‘this vessel is intended for a station in the south of Ireland’.

A note was published in August 1844 following the launch of the second of the sister ships Her Majesty and Royal Consort. A dinner had been held in the Black Bull – an inn on Argyle Street – and this was attended by a party of the Scottish and English owners. Also there were Fred Kemp, manager of the Preston and Wyre Railway Company and Henry Smith of the North Lancashire Steam Navigation Company. The two ships had been built to order, but it had not been settled beforehand which belonged to whom. John Macgregor, acting as croupier, announced that the ships were officially almost identical and lots were then drawn to determine the issue. As a result, the English shareholders got Her Majesty and Royal Consort went to the Scottish. The ships were expected to complete their Ardrossan / Fleetwood run in twelve hours at most.

There was a special outing to form the trial ship Sea King in 1845. A large number of guests travelled from Glasgow to Stranraer in a time of 5 hours 23 minutes which ‘has no parallel.’ The paddles of the new ship were 20ft in diameter and turned at a rate of about nineteen revolutions per minute. The Sea King did not maintain the Belfast / Liverpool run for long. In 1847 she was described as ‘ill-fated’, following her going ashore in a midsummer fog and subsequently capsizing. She was reported to have cost £24,000.

Amongst the launches of 1846 were Prince of Wales and Sultan and both came from the Clyde Foundry. The first was for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company on a run between Liverpool and Wales and the second was for P. & O., a renewal of the connection begun with Pacha in 1842. This new ship was the largest iron steamer yet built on the Clyde.


By then, plans were being drawn up for a new wet dock in Kingston. In 1843 the Clyde Trustees and Robert Napier reached agreement on the purchase of his land and wet basin at Lancefield, opposite the Mavisbank shipyard. This allowed plans for widening that section of the river to go ahead. These prospects, and the ever-increasing size of ships, no doubt gave impetus to Tod and Macgregor’s decision to move away from the inner harbour, indeed away from Glasgow Harbour itself. The move was to Meadowside, in Partick, a small village, separate from the city, being then part of the parish of Govan.

Partick Bridge over the Kelvin 1846

On 23rd November 1846, Tod and Macgregor launched Countess of Galloway from the Mavisbank shipyard. She was reported to be the forty-fifth built and launched by the partners and she was the last to come from the south side of the river. A newspaper reported that:

“as the building yard of Tod and Macgregor has been purchased and will be taken possession of next week by the General Terminus and Glasgow Harbour Railway Company, this firm has erected commodious new premises n the large field at the angle of the Clyde and the Kelvin, to which they will immediately remove.”

In fact, the formalities with regard to Mavisbank had been completed in the previous April and Professor Burns had been repaid his money out of the proceeds of the sale before the Countess of Galloway had left the building birth.

P. & O. got further new tonnage in 1846 and 1848 and this latter year brought the first order from young William Inman, recently made a partner in the ship management business of Richardson Brothers in Liverpool and soon to set up his own company. His pleasure yacht Vesta began a long association with Meadowside. It brought to the shipyard, orders for fifteen trans-Atlantic ships and various conversions and repairs.

City of Glasgow

Tod and Macgregor was to make a significant impact on the international shipping scene. The building of a passenger liner for Trans-Atlantic service had long been discussed. In Liverpool in 1838, the venture was agreed to be practicable but unlikely to be profitable and there was a proposal to form a joint stock company in Glasgow the following year. The intention then was to provide a sailing to New York and back once every month, on a ship capable of at least ‘16 miles per hour’ and the capital sum sought was £50,000. Nothing came of this, but Tod and Macgregor decided to build to their own account an iron screw propelled passenger steamship which would inaugurate a regular run across the Atlantic.

The resulting City of Glasgow was 227ft long and 1,609 tons. She had a two cylinder lever beam engine of 350 horsepower and a screw of 13 feet in diameter, 18ft pitch. The engine was geared to a single shaft, the engine being on one side of the ship with the beam crossing the keel line to gearing on the other side which reduced the engine speed three to one. They were manufactured in the Clyde Foundry and were ready when the hull was launched at the end of February 1850. The engines were installed and steam raised about two weeks afterwards and the ship was then sent out on a private trial trip, which lasted until the end of March. Her hull was described by her first master as the strongest he had seen and she had five watertight bulkheads.

On her return to Glasgow, she berthed on the south side of the river and was visited by thousands of people. She set out on her maiden voyage on 16th April 1850 and it is a reminder of the port conditions obtaining in these early days that she was schedules to sail ‘the moment she is afloat’. The final paragraph of a newspaper report forecast well what the future held:

“It is an effort to combine a reasonable degree of speed with certainty and cheapness, and it is intended to link the West of Scotland with the principal seaport of the New World. We may expect in due course to see tourists taking advantage of The City of Glasgow for a pleasure trip to the United States, in the same way as they hereto made a voyage up the Rhine, or a run to the Highlands of Scotland; and there is little doubt that the same facilities, and moderate scale of charges, will induce our Yankee friends to extend their personal acquaintance with the land of their fathers.”

She carried a crew of seventy – reported to be hand-picked by the two owners and the captain – and these included a baker, two stewardesses, a band of musicians and a doctor. Milk came straight from a cow and fresh water from tanks built in the hull. The ship could carry about 1,200 tons of well-paying cargo and 52 passengers in her first class and 85 in her second class accommodation. Space was set aside too for a further 400 berths in steerage spaces, thus carrying steerage passengers by steam for the first time. She carried six boats.

The owners / builders placed the ship under the management of their agent, Matthew Langlands, and her first round trip took about six weeks, including a two-week stay in New York. City of Glasgow completed three round trips and was then bought by Richardson Brothers, who appointed William Inman to manager the new Liverpool to Philadelphia service which the ship allowed. This Meadowside product has been generally accepted not only as the first screw propelled steamer to cross the Atlantic, but also as setting the pattern for most future liners. It was the beginning of much success for the partners. In 1852 they were able to clear off the £8,000 to which they were committed and the Clyde Foundry became their own property.

When City of Glasgow was removed to Liverpool in autumn 1850, it meant that there was no direct service from the Clyde to the United States. Once again, Tod and Macgregor acted as owners and builders and the replacement set out on her maiden voyage to New York less than one year after the sale of City of Glasgow. The new ship Glasgow was longer and larger than her predecessor and with an ultimate capacity of carrying 860 passengers. The ship maintained the service for about four years and was then chartered to the French Government for service as a transport for the war in Crimea. Two other vessels followed. The first, New York, was immediately requisitioned for war service with the French. The other, Edinburgh, made a normal maiden voyage at the end of 1855. In 1859, the Glasgow and Edinburgh were bought by Inman (New York having been lost) and moved to Liverpool. Once again, there was no sailing between the Clyde and the New World, but it did not remain so for long.

Dry Dock

In 1856, the partners settled their requirements for a dry dock and adjacent quay at Meadowside. The successful tender was accepted in June 1856 and the dry dock opening ceremony took place on 28th January 1858, eighteen months later. The cost was reported to be ‘over rather than under £100,000’. The new dock had two 17-ton jib-cranes and a steam crane to lift 60 tons. Statistics given at the time include digging out 320,000 cartloads of material, laying out more than 7,000 cartloads of concrete as a foundation, granite walls tapering from 23 feet thick at the base and more than 30,000 cubic feet of timber towards the make-up of the piling and the quays. The pumps were capable of emptying the dock in two hours, a time which was still considered acceptable for any dry dock a hundred years later.

                            The Dry Dock Entrance Now                                                        A similar Dry Dock in Greenock

The shipbuilders’ involvement in the planning of the new dry dock had been interrupted in February 1856 by a severe gale. The force of the wind did extensive damage throughout the West of Scotland and brought down the two building sheds which had been erected over the slipways in 1853, these had been nicknamed the ‘Meadowside Ship Palaces’. One of these was 340 feet long, 60 feet wide and 60 feet high, the other similar dimensions but 280 feet long. Each had a roof of corrugated glass and was complete with overhead craneage. The damage was estimated at between £15,000 and £20,000. These sheds had been another pioneering achievement for the two engineers and they are believed to have been the first of their kind in the world. Gas lighting inside permitted work to be carried on at all hours and the cranes also accelerated production. John Macgregor recalled them in his speech at the opening of the new dry dock, saying “…we put up a castle in the air – it was an ornament to the River Clyde; but one windy night threw it all down” (they were not replaced).

The responsibilities within the partnership were confirmed by Tod in his speech on the same day. He said that his audience “were perfectly aware of the relative positions of Tod and Macgregor. Mr Macgregor takes the shipping department and I take the engineering department.” At Meadowside, work continued on a wide range of craft. A Clyde steamer, tonnage for Stranraer and Liverpool, a novel twin-hulled tug for the Glasgow designer George Mills and two ships for the run to Rothesay, built to their own account and one put into the name of Peter Macgregor.

One point of note: Archibald Gilchrist (1820-1900) was an engineer and shipbuilder. Gilchrist was manager of Tod & Macgregor's engine works before becoming an engineering partner in Barclay, Curle & Co in 1857. He was Chairman of the latter company, 1887-1900. he was elected Deacon Convenor of the Trades House in 1875.

In 1872 Gilchrist purchased Dunoon Castle for his home. His son James was Chairman of Barclay, Curle & Co, 1900-1917.

Final Years

Twenty five years of partnership ended with the death of John Macgregor in the autumn of 1858. His share in the business was sold to David Tod, but four months later he himself died, on 24th January 1859, leaving two sons to carry on the business – William, aged 25, and David II, aged 18 years. Their first year in charge saw the delivery of an order certainly negotiated by the two original partners. It was the start of a long and significant association when Handyside and Henderson, the ship-owners, received United States, their first ship from Meadowside. They placed orders for three more in the same number of years.

Doctor Livingstone took delivery of Lady Nyassa in 1861. She was a twin-screw steamship, shipped to Africa in sections, but never reaching her destination because of her size. A model of this steamer is in the church at Rhu in Dunbartonshire. Business was good for the next five years, the old connections with Stranraer and Liverpool and Belfast continued, while Inman and Henderson provided orders for larger vessels. A slip dock was constructed in the middle of the 1860’s, being sited at the northern boundary of the property and running off the Kelvin on a northeast to southwest line. It remained for some sixty years. The shipyard was also extended westwards. By 1867, however, the orders seemed to disappear. There was a business depression and a large barge was the only completion in that year. The internal stability of the firm was further disturbed by the death in March of the elder partner, William, at the age of 34. David Tod was then left as the sole owner. There was again only one ship for the year 1868, for William Inman. This company also placed an order for each of the next three years.

A proposal to make the firm a limited company was put forward at the beginning of 1872, with new directors taking up about one-third of the total number of shares. The main purpose was given as the raising of funds to build a second dry dock, but support was not forthcoming and the matter was dropped. The Meadowside shipyard, together with the Clyde Foundry, were bought later in that year by the ship-owners Messrs Handyside and Henderson and the ship agency brothers, David and William Henderson. Following the sale of the family business, David Tod II moved house to live in Eastwood Park, on the south side of Glasgow. It was to be his home for the rest of his life.

Eastwood House now

When he moved he was still in his early thirties and later became a director of various railway companies. He was a keen yachtsman and owned Melita. In 1898 he obtained the Hartfield Estate – situated in the hills on the west of Neilston in Renfrewshire. He died in London, where his second son was a surgeon, 30th January 1910. His obituary notice in the Glasgow Herald named eight Tod and Macgregor ships which were then still afloat.

A recent photo of the shipyard site, note the entrance to the dry dock at the bottom left.

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