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William Stephen Esquire

A descendant of a line of shipbuilders, he ran the Dundee operations of his father's firm, producing many fine ships and expanded his business into oil refining and the fur trade. He was credited with resuscitating Dundee's whaling industry.

Subscription value in 1865:

£10

Relative to inflation up to 2019:

£1000

Relative to income compared to 2019:

£8000

Personal details and history

Full name

William Stephen

Date of birth

11-01-1826[1]

Place of birth

Aberdeen[1]

Gender

Male

Marital status

Married twice

Name of spouse

Jean Skair Henderson, 1851[2] and after she died in 1877[3] he married Elizabeth Margaret Henderson, 1878.[4]

Children

Jane, 1851;[5] Anne, 1853;[6] Alice Murray, 1854;[7] Helen, 1855;[8] Alexander, 1859;[9] Andrew Henderson, 1861;[10] William, 1863;[11] Edith Mary, 1865;[12] Frederick Somerville, 1870;[13] Mary Henderson, 1879;[14] Charles John, 1880[15] and Edward Freer, 1882.[16]

Home address

9 Forebank Road, Dundee, c.1853-1854.[17]
Retreat Cottage, Broughty Ferry, c.1856-1857.[18]
Airlie Place/Airlie Lodge/1 Airlie Place, Dundee, c.1858-1872.[19]
Helenslea, West Ferry, Dundee, c.1874-1893.[20]

Age at death:

Place of death:

Grantown-on-Spey[22]

Date of death:

24-11-1893[21]

Buried:

Western Cemetery, Dundee where he owned several lairs

Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers

Religious affiliation

Free Church of Scotland - member of West Free Church, Broughty Ferry.[23]

Political affiliation

Unknown

Clubs / societies

President, Broughty Bowling Green, c.1876-1877.[24]

Public offices

None

Related subscribers

Career and worklife

Occupation

Shipbuilder[25]

Employment

Partner

Place of work

Alexander Stephen & Sons, shipbuilders, Dundee.[25]

Work address

Marine Parade, Dundee.[25]

Career to date:

William Stephen came from a "race of shipbuilders"[22] dating back to the mid 18th century in Burghead before the family moved their operations to Aberdeen and Arbroath.[26] He was born in Aberdeen to Alexander Stephen and Elspet Murray in 1826;[1] He was educated firstly in Arbroath, where his father moved the business after closing down the yard at Footdee in Aberdeen,[26] and latterly at Madras College, St. Andrews.[22] Alexander Stephen moved much of his production to the Panmure yard in Dundee in 1842 and in 1850 arranged a lease of the Kelvinhaugh yard in Glasgow. William was apprenticed to his father at an early age, and was able to take over the management of the Dundee Yard when Alexander Stephen began shipbuilding on the Clyde. His father's trust was justified, as William took an active part in the development of the business from an early age. He proved an adept at his trade, and the vessels turned out from the greatly extended yard at Marine Parade were some of the finest of their time.[26][22] He married Jean/Jane Skair Henderson from Aberlemno in 1851 and shortly afterwards, at the time of the census, the couple were living in King Street, Dundee with his older sister, Elsie, a ship's captain's wife, and two younger brothers: Alexander, a shipwright, and Andrew, a "scholar at home" along with two female servants. William is described as "Shipbuilder, master emp. 140 men."[27] As his father and brothers concentrated on their operations on the Clyde William must have taken more and more responsibility for the Dundee yard. The Arbroath yard finally closed in 1857.[26] Unlike many of his fellow subscribers to the Albert Institute William did not seem to be involved in any of the local charitable and philanthropic organisations in any official capacity.[28] His reputation as a shipbuilder grew far beyond Dundee[26] and in time his business interests would also diversify greatly.[29]

More information

The reputation of the ships built under William’s direction attracted the attention of shipowners throughout Britain, including Joseph Soames & Co., for whom he built almost exclusively for several years.[22][26] Iron construction started to supersede wood and he took up the new method with great success. This led to the enlargement of the yard at Marine Parade on several occasions.[22] He also built ships for the Dundee Clipper Line including the Lochee, Duntrune, Glamis, Southesk and Maulesden. The latter made a remarkably fast passage of sixty-nine days from the Clyde to Australia in 1883, beating the times of the Cutty Sark, Loch Torridon and other famous ships.[26] The Glasgow operations of the firm at the Kelvinhaugh yard moved to a new site at Linthouse in 1870.[26] In the early 1870s William Stephen and his family moved from Airlie Place[30] to take up residence at Helenslea, West Ferry. This would remain William’s home for the rest of his life.[31]William’s father, Alexander Stephen, died aged 80 at Corona House, his Broughty Ferry home in 1875,[32] thus leaving the Dundee yard completely under the control of William. The business continued to trade as Alexander Stephen & Sons.[33]

William also began to appear in the directories as owner of a number of vessels: Arctic,[34] Aurora,[35] Corona,[36] Cyphrenes,[37] The Earl of Dalhousie,[36] Helenslea,[36] Woodlark,[36] Terra Nova,[38] Thetis,[39] Doris,[40] Eudora[41] and Galena.[42] Not all of these vessels were of iron, as wooden vessels remained important to the whaling industry. The company described itself as iron and wood shipbuilders.[43] William was given the credit for the resuscitation of the Dundee whaling industry: building steam whalers[22] and diversifying his business to deal with some of the products of the industry. In addition to shipbuilding Alexander Stephen & Co. also became seal and whale oil merchants and a separate firm William Stephen and Co., Arctic Yard, Marine Parade, Dundee was established for this business.[44] Another firm: William Stephen & Sons, tanners and curriers, Arctic Tannery, Marine Parade, Dundee was established to deal with skins and furs from the Arctic.[45]

William and Jean had at least five daughters and four sons, although some of them died quite young.[46][47][48][49] William’s first wife, Jean, also died relatively young aged 47 in 1877 and the following year he married Elizabeth Margaret Henderson, the daughter of the late John Henderson of Ganthorpe, Yorkshire. The importance of William to the whale industry and trade is demonstrated by how widely his second marriage was reported in Newfoundland, Canada.[4] They had a further two sons and a daughter. Some of William’s sons from his first marriage entered into the family businesses: Andrew Henderson Stephen (1861-1921) was a tanner,[50][51] William Stephen junior (1863-1888) was part of Alexander Stephen & Sons[52][48] and their younger brother, Frederick Somerville Stephen (1870-1926) followed in due course.[53][54]

William died during a family tour of the Highlands. He took ill while at his sister’s in Grantown-on-Spey, dying there on 7 September 1893. He was described as the sole partner of Alexander Stephen & Sons, shipbuilders, Dundee; William Stephen & Sons, tanners there and William Stephen & Co., seal and whale oil merchants there and at St. John’s, Newfoundland.[55] He left a widow, four sons and two daughters.[22] The value of his estate was £219,296 17s. 4d.[56]

 

Sources

  1. Old Parish Records. Aberdeen. Baptism. 11 January 1826. 168/A210 289. ScotlandsPeople website.
  2. Old Parish Record. Aberlemno, Forfarshire. Marriage. 18 February 1851. FHL Film no.993327. Ancestry website.
  3. Statutory Registers. St. Andrew, Dundee. Death. 1877. 282/4 285. ScotlandsPeople website.
  4. Royal Newfoundland Gazette, The Public Ledger and Patriot and Terra Nova Herald, 25 June 1878. Ancestry website.
  5. Old Parish Record. Dundee. Birth. 10 November 1851. FHL Film No 0993405, 0993408, 993403, 993408. .Ancestry  website.
  6. Old Parish Record. Dundee. Birth. 8 April 1853. FHL Film No. 0993405, 0993408, 993403, 993408. Ancestry website.
  7. Old Parish Record. Dundee. Birth. 2 October 1854. FHL Film No. 0993405, 0993408, 993403, 993408. Ancestry website.
  8. Statutory Registers. Monifieth. Birth. 1 November 1855. FHL Film No. 6035516. Ancestry website.
  9. Statutory Registers. Second District, Dundee. Birth. 5 May 1859. 282/2 638. ScotlandsPeople website.
  10. Statutory Registers. Dundee. Birth. 1 October 1861. FHL Film No. 6035516. Ancestry website.
  11. Statutory Registers. Dundee. Birth. 27 July 1863. FHL Film No. 6035516. Ancestry website.
  12. Statutory Registers. St. Andrew, Dundee. Birth. 16 September 1865. FHL Film No. 6035516. Ancestry website.
  13. Statutory Registers. St. Andrew, Dundee. Birth. 7 October 1870. FHL Film No. 6035516. Ancestry website.
  14. Statutory Registers. St. Andrew, Dundee. Birth. 1879. 282/4 536. ScotlandsPeople website.
  15. Statutory Registers. St. Andrew, Dundee. Birth. 13 December 1880. FHL Film No. 232639. Ancestry website.
  16. Statutory Registers. St. Andrew, Dundee. Birth. 1882. 282/4 1325. ScotlandsPeople website.
  17. Dundee Directory, 1853-54. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  18. Dundee Directory, 1856-57. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  19. Dundee Directories, 1858-1872. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  20. Dundee Directories, 1874-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  21. Statutory Registers. Inverallan. Death. 24 November 1893. 128/2 31. ScotlandsPeople website.
  22. Leng, John, & Co. (1894) Dundee Year Book, 1893. Dundee: John Leng & Co. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  23. Leng, John, & Co. (1894) Dundee Year Book, 1893. Dundee: John Leng & Co. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  24. Dundee Directory, 1876-77. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  25. Dundee Directories, 1853-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  26. A Shipbuilding History. 1750-1932 (Alexander Stephen and Sons): Chapter 4. Grace's Guide to British Industrial History website.
  27. 1851 Census Scotland. Dundee. 282 ED57 p.11. Ancestry website.
  28. Dundee Directories, 1853-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  29. Dundee Directories, 1880-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  30. 1871 Census Scotland. St. Peter, Dundee. 282/1 ED7 p.57.
  31. Dundee Directories, 1874-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  32. Statutory Registers. Monifieth. Death. 1875. 310/52. ScotlandsPeople website.
  33. Dundee Directories, 1876-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  34. Dundee Directories, 1876-1880. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  35. Dundee Directories, 1878-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  36. Dundee Directories, 1880-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  37. Dundee Directory, 1880-81. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  38. Dundee Directories, 1885-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  39. Dundee Directories, 1886-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  40. Dundee Directories, 1887-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  41. Dundee Directories, 1888-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  42. Dundee Directories, 1891-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  43. Dundee Directories, 1884-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  44. Dundee Directories, 1880-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  45. Dundee Directories, 1884-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  46. Statutory Registers. Dundee, Second District. Death. 1860 (Alexander aged 0). 282/2 331. ScotlandsPeople website.
  47. Statutory Registers. St. Peter, Dundee. Deaths. 1870 (Anne, aged 17). 282/1 320 and 1871 (Helen, aged 16). 282/1 511. ScotlandsPeople website.
  48. Statutory Registers. Ferry Port on Craig. Death. 1888 (William, aged 24). 429/17. ScotlandsPeople website.
  49. Statutory Registers. St. Andrew, Dundee. Death. 1891 (Edith Mary, aged 25). 282/4 563. ScotlandsPeople website.
  50. Dundee Directories, 1884-1886. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  51. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. 8 December 1921. SC45/34/42. ScotlandsPeople website.
  52. Dundee Directories, 1884-1888. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  53. Dundee Directories, 1891-1893. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
  54. Statutory Registers. Ferry Port on Craig. Death. 1926. 429/8. ScotlandsPeople website.
  55. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. 24 November 1893. SC45/31/45. ScotlandsPeople website.
  56. Calendar of Confirmations & Inventories, 1893. Local & Family History, A.K. Bell Library, Perth.

Credits

Thanks to staff at Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee and John Irvine for initial research.

The information above about William Stephen has been collated from a range of digital and hard copy sources. To the best of our knowledge it is correct but if you are relying on any information from our website for the purpose of your own research we would advise you to follow up the sources to your own satisfaction. If you are aware of an inaccuracy in our text please do not hesitate to notify us through our Contact page.