21st June 1791

Engineer Robert Napier is born

Dumbarton-born Robert Napier’s first job was as an apprentice to his blacksmith father. The two worked side by side for five years, before Napier took up employment with Robert Stevenson, who was responsible for the design and construction of many of Scotland’s most notable lighthouses.

Within three years, he had set up his own marine engineering firm and, following his father’s lead, he employed his own sons. Robert Napier and Sons was renowned for the quality of the engines that it produced, and these were commissioned by both private enterprise and the Admiralty. Its private customers included the liner operator, Cunard.

Napier’s shipyard

The Dundee Courier of 27 June 1876, in his obituary, noted that although his business had had humble beginnings “his active and ingenious mind soon induced him to branch into the manufacture of hydraulic presses and other machines, and ultimately to concentrate his energies on the construction of steam engines, in which he achieved the highest eminence and laid the foundation of his prosperous fortune.”

This allowed the company to expand and, eventually, it set up its own shipyard so it could produce its own vessels. This became part of Harland & Wolff through a series of mergers.

President of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers

Napier’s work was known and respected around the world, and he received several honours including, from Napoleon, France’s Decoration of Knight of the Legion of Honour. During his lifetime, he was also appointed president of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

Robert Napier died in 1876 at his residence in Gareloch, shortly after he had been widowed, and he was buried at the parish church of Dumbarton. He was 86 years old, and so respected that special trains were put on to take people to and from his funeral.

“These, it is calculated, would carry between 800 and 900 passengers, in addition to whom large numbers of persons desirous of joining in the mournful proceedings arrived in Dumbarton both by the ordinary trains and from the surrounding districts,” reported the Glasgow Herald of 28 June 1876. In total, the paper estimated that 1500 attendees packed the church to pay their respects. This was despite the family having sent out no invitations, in accordance with one of Napier’s final wishes.



Other events that occured in June

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