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Archibald Douglas Bryce-Douglas






Archibald Douglas Bryce-Douglas Archibald Douglas Bryce-Douglas (born Archibald Douglas Bryce) (1840-1891) was a Marine Engineer and Shipbuilder.

On the morning of Sabbath 29 March, Mr A D Bryce-Douglas landed at Ardrossan from the Empress of Japan, then on her trial trip and after a week of severe suffering died at Seafield Tower, his residence here on the morning of Sabbath last (4 April 1891).

Need we say a shadow of a great sorrow hung over the community of Ardrossan all week. It was known that Dr Macdonald was in all but constant attendance, that Dr Moore, Glasgow, made daily visits, that enquiries by telegraph were coming from all parts of the country and day by day the first enquiry in the morning and the last at night was an anxious enquiry as to his condition and this and this anxiety was not to be wondered at.

The parish was proud of the eminence he had attained as a marine engineer. He was the son of their old parish minister whose qualities as a preacher and freedom from denominational prejudices were still remembered. He had purchased Seafield Tower because of old it had been in the family. The poor he had helped. The New Parish Church had the benefit of his large-hearted generous contributions for late improvements and hundreds of young men were indebted to him for situations at Fairfield, at Barrow and in other parts of the world. All this had endeared him to the community.

He was looked up to because of his genius for unquestionably, he was a mechanical genius of a high order. He was respected for his great administrative abilities as a large employer. He was one of the kings of labour and liked for his warm-hearted kindly deeds, his frank intercourse with gentle and simple and his independent bearing. When his death became known, there was everywhere in the district an expression of sincere sorrow. It was felt that Commerce had sustained a great loss and that the poor and the needy were the poorer and the more helpless because he had passed away. Nor was this feeling confined to his native parish.

All last week, a like anxiety was felt by all classes at Barrow, by Lord Harrington and the other noblemen and gentlemen associated with him in the works there and when the news of his death became known, public testimony was borne to the respect in which he was held by the display of flags half-mast high on public buildings, on public works, on shipping and elsewhere.

Mr Bryce-Douglas was born at The Manse, Saltcoats on 3 October 1840 being the youngest son of the late Reverend John Bryce, parish minister of Ardrossan (and his wife, Mary Ann Douglas, daughter of Archibald Douglas, of Burnbrae). He was educated at Irvine Academy under Dr White, master of the Commercial department and afterwards at Glasgow High School under Dr Bryce, finishing at the university. Like many another son of the manse, young Bryce was destined by his parents for the ministry of the church but his bent lay in another direction and as from his earliest days, he had a mind and a will of his own. His father wisely gave way and allowed him to carve out his own path through life. Indeed, if it be true that the boy is father to the man in the case of those who rise to distinction, it was so in his.

'Still life' was unknown to him as a boy. His restless energy even then was conspicuous. When seventeen years of age, he was apprenticed to Mr Robert Drape, joiner, Ardrossan with whom he remained for two years. He also served for one year as a mill-wright with Mr Hendry, West Kilbride but not yet had he found his vocation and at the end of that time, he removed to Glasgow and entered the engineering establishment of Randolph, Elder and Company then situated in Centre Street, in the evenings attending classes for the study of mechanics at the Andersonian University.

In Messrs Randolph, Elder and Company's employ, he found congenial work and throwing himself into it with all the ardour of his nature, he soon attracted the attention of Mr Randolph, the head of the firm who predicted for him, even at that early age, a distinguished career but he was not content to remain for more than a few years in the Centre Street establishment.

He had always been possessed by a spirit of adventure and early in the sixties he shipped as a passenger in a sailing vessel for Auckland where he had the promise of taking charge of an important machinery plant. On the way out, the carpenter died and Mr Bryce was offered and accepted the situation rendered thus vacant.

On arriving in New Zealand, the Maori war had just broken out and taking the situation in at a glance, he soon found an opportunity of working his passage with a well-known captain with one of our ocean liners to the Pacific coast. For about a year, he was in the service of the Peruvian Navy at the end of which time he was offered and accepted a situation as seagoing engineer with the Pacific Steam Navigation Company.

In the year 1865, he revisited Scotland and after taking a few months with his friends and taking his examination for extra first-class engineer, in which he was successful, he returned to Callao to become assistant engineer of the Pacific Company. This position he occupied till 1869. In that year, the headquarters of the company were removed from the island of Tobogo in the Bay of Panama to Callao on the establishment of a line of steamers to sail direct between Liverpool and Valparaiso and a vacancy taking place at the same time in the office of the superintending engineer through the resignation of Mr Jamieson. Mr Bryce received the appointment which he held for a period of six or seven years.

On his way home an incident occurred which was an index of the character of the man. A small coal-laden vessel had stranded in the Bay of Panama. He took with him, from Callao, a staff of men and the necessary appliances with the view of raising her. On arriving in the bay, he learned that the Tagus, one of the Royal Mail Company's steamers had gone ashore near Colon. Unable, on account of the heavy sea, to accomplish the work he had come to do, he crossed the Isthmus with his staff and appliances and successfully carried out the more difficult of raising the Targus. The other vessel was also raised in due course, Mr Bryce, not only directing, but taking an active part of working in the diving bells and repairing the hulls, his fertility of resource being displayed on occasion by the employment of a locomotive to work the pumps.

For the raising of the steamer, the Pacific Company claimed £30000 as salvage on the ground that Mr Bryce had used their appliance. This claim Mr Bryce resisted and raised an action in the Court of Session which proved unsuccessful. On carrying his case, however, to the House of Lords, his contention was partially sustained and he received a sum of £6000.

Shortly after his return to this country, Mr Bryce resumed his connection with the firm in which he had received his early training becoming head of the engineering department at the Fairfield Works which were then carried on under the denomination of Messrs John Elder and Company. He had found, as told us, the first month of absolute rest delightful after the close attention of everyday work of previous years, the second became wearisome and before the close of the third, he was again glad to be in harness. He remained at the Fairfield Works until he removed to Barrow in 1888.

The history of the Fairfield Works during that period it is unnecessary to recapitulate. Briefly, it may be stated it was during this time that the Arizona, Alaska and Oregon and other vessels for the Cunard fleet were built and that the revolution in the construction of ocean-going steamers, which has not yet seen its close, was commenced. The whole of these vessels were engined under the superintendence of Mr Bryce-Douglas as well as the Orient, the Austral and the Ormuz for the Orient Line. He also constructed the engines for the Czar's yacht, the Livadin for the Italian iron-clad Magicienne and for several of the numerous vessels for the British Navy which were turned out of the Fairfield yard. He also re-engined the Russian warship, Peter The Great.
Mr Bryce-Douglas's connection with Barrow commenced in 1886 when engines of his design were built under his supervision for the Navigation Steam Navigation Company's Orula and Orizaba which were constructed by the Barrow Shipbuilding Company. These were two of the earliest examples of engines of the triple expansion type put into ocean-going steamers.

In 1888, influenced by Lord Harrington and other capitalists, Mr Bryce-Douglas accepted the position of managing director of the Naval Construction and Armaments Company which took over the works of the Barrow Shipbuilding Company. The latter company had all along been an unsuccessful enterprise but, under the new regime, several and extensions were made and new plant and machinery were laid down. Important contracts were soon secured which rapidly brought about a renewal of activity in the shipbuilding and engineering trades of the port.

Among the first orders, Mr Bryce-Douglas procured were four steamers of large size and full power for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, a number of steamers for the British and African Steam Navigation Company and for Messrs Elder, Dempster and Company of Liverpool. He also obtained the contract for three second-class cruisers to be built for the Admiralty all of which have been launched and one, the Latona, delivered while a second cruiser, the Melampus, will be handed over to the Admiralty at the close of this month. He also undertook the building of three high-speed 5000 tons steamers for the Caledonian Pacific Railway Company and intended for the service between Vancouver and Japan and China. The pioneer of these steamers, the Empress of India, is now on her way from Hong Kong to Vancouver on her maiden voyage. The sister ship, the Empress of Japan, ran most successful trials last week as reported in another column and was taken over by her owners and the third steamer, the Empress of China was launched a fortnight ago.

In the yard, there are at present building nine steamers of various sizes. There are over 5000 employees in the works and the weekly payments in the shape of wages amount to about £8500. Thus, if at Fairfield, Mr Bryce-Douglas made an advance on his achievements on the Pacific coast by constructing swifter-sailing steamers than companies up till that time constructed, it was at Barrow where he gave the fullest token of what he was capable of accomplishing. The directors had the fullest confidence in him, a confidence justified by his few years of management and with practically a free hand, he was further a development both as respects increased speed and beneficial results to commerce and civilisation which would have marked a new era in steam navigation.

Long ago, at Fairfield, the idea was conceived of crossing the Atlantic by fast-sailing steamers of twin-screw, triple-expansion type from Liverpool to Canada in five days and then by equally fast-sailing steamers from Vancouver to Australia thus developing new routes to the east and establishing a new direct line from England to Australia, crossing the British territory of Canada by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Last autumn, he visited Canada to take the initiative in this great scheme and the Premier of the dominion, Mr John MacDonald granted him a grand subsidy of $750000 per annum for ten years if he would establish the line. Had he lived to carry out this scheme, it would have been regarded as one of the greatest conceptions in the history of Commerce and for the sake of the great works at Barrow, with which from henceforth his name will ever be connected, it is hoped that the proposed Imperial Steam Navigation Company will be formed and the enterprise entered upon in the spirit and confidence which commands success.

No better monument could be raised to the memory of him whom Lord Brassey, at the launch of the cruiser Naiad, said was "a great benefactor to the place" than by realising his dream and for which it is said he had secured nigh a million of money.

The immediate cause of death was a cold caught, it is believed, at the launch of the Empress of China and which developed into peritonitis. He was ill on board and was prescribed for by a medical gentleman of the party and when he landed at Ardrossan on a bitterly cold morning, he was able to walk to Seafield. No time was lost in calling in medical aid and all that human skill and good nursing could do was done for him. The inflammation, however, had got too firm a hold and a constitution, remarkable for its strength, succumbed and at the comparatively early age of fifty, a life of much usefulness and still greater promise came to a close.

He had probably when at sea faced death too often to dread the approach at the last. This at least is certain, that when told the illness might have a fatal termination, he received the tidings with the greatest calmness and with the utmost composure, awaited the end.

Seafield Tower
Seafield Tower
Beside possessing several patents, Mr Bryce-Douglas was proprietor of Seafield, Ardrossan which he purchased from the liquidation of the City of Glasgow Bank and greatly enlarged and beautified. By inheritance, he was also the owner of Brownhill Estate in the parish of Dalry and Burnbrae Estate, Dunbartonshire and it was when entering into the possession of this last, on the death of his cousin Captain McAlister Douglas, that he took the name of Douglas.

In politics, Mr Bryce-Douglas was an advanced Liberal and at the general election of 1885, he was approached with the view to his being brought forward as a candidate for the representation of the Burgh of Govan. Assurances were given of almost certain success but he declined to oppose the late Sir William, then Mr William Pearse.

He was also for some years an honorary member of the executive of the Liberal Party of North Ayrshire and as an indication of the estimation in which he was held by his professional brethren, it may be mentioned that he was elected as their representative in Lloyds new sub-committee by the Institution of Naval Architecture.

He was married to Miss Jessie Caldwell of Boydstone, Ardrossan, who died while they were resident on the Pacific coast and her death was a great blow to him. She was survived by one daughter but she also died about then years ago (10?), another daughter predeceasing her. Two of Mr Bryce-Douglas's sisters remain with many devoted friends to mourn his sudden and unexpected death.

The funeral took place on Wednesday (8 April 1891). In accordance with the expressed wish of the deceased, it was strictly private and beyond the two male relatives, the trustees, representatives of the Barrow works, one of the directors representing the board, and a representative of the Canadian Pacific Railway only a few intimate friends were present. The day was one of the finest of the season and all along the route from Seafield to the cemetery, crowds of townspeople had gathered to see the cortege pass. Before the coffin was placed in the hearse, the Reverend J D McCall of the New Parish Church (now Barony Saint John's Church) conducted a brief but impressive service and shortly thereafter the sad procession began. Eleven mourning coaches followed the hearse and upon the coffin and in those coaches in which the blinds were not drawn, beautiful wreaths of flowers could be seen.

As a public tribute to the memory of the deceased, the shops in the town were closed between the hours of one and two and the bell of the New Parish Church, of which he was a trustee, tolled.

The wreaths were given by Mr Samson Fox; Mr and Mrs Bagshawe, Leeds; Lord and Lady Edward Cavendishe, Holker Hall; Sir James Ramsden, Abbotswood, Furness Abbey; Mr and Mrs Evans, Furness Abbey; Mr and Mrs E H Clarke, Haverthwaite; Mr Joseph Mitchell, Rotherham; commercial staff; managers and secretaries; draughtsmen; patternmakers; joiners; mechanics; boilermakers; shipsmiths department; plumbers; foremen of the shipbuilding department; caulkers of the shipbuilding department; engineers and brass finishers; platers and angle-ironsmiths; riveters and shipwrights of the Naval Construction and Armaments Company Limited, Barrow-in-Furness; tradesmen of Barrow; managers and officials of the Barrow Hermatite Steel Company; president of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company; Mr H Maitland Kersey of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company; Dr and Mrs Macdonald, Ardrossan; Mr and Mrs McCulloch, Liverpool; Mr Thomas Reynolds, London; Mr Daniel Taylor, Liverpool; Mrs Adamson, Barrow; Sir William Pearse, Govan; relatives and men- and women-servants at Seafield. Among those present at the funeral were Mr Robert Harvey, London; Mr Albert Vickers, London; Mr Asplan Beldam of London; Mr R Ewing, Burnbrae, Perth, cousin of the deceased; Mr James Caldwell, Blackshaw, brother-in-law of the deceased; Messrs A M McCulloch, Liverpool; Alexander Comrie, Dalry, trustees; Mr James Wylie, Border Farm, Saltcoats; Mr John Wylie, Mayfield Farm, Stevenston; Messrs C Dunderdale, Glasgow; Alexander Macdowall, Glasgow; Mr R McAlpine, Bearsden; Dr Macdonald, Ardrossan; Mr Hugh F Weir of Kirkhall; Messrs Henry Benham, director; A Adamson, managing director, pro tem; Archibald Buchanan, shipyard manager; John Macgregor, engineworks manager; John Hair, engineworks assistant manager, Naval Construction and Armament Company, Barrow; Robert Neil, private secretary; James Reid, shipbuilder, Port Glasgow; George Napier, 9 Woodside Place, Glasgow; Samson Fox, Leeds Forge, Leeds; R Le Doux, Liverpool; J Blair, Glasgow; James Mutter, Meiklelaught; A Stewart, 17 Park Terrace, Glasgow; H Maitland Kersey, Canadian Pacific Railway Company, London; John McPherson, Blantyre Farm; James M McCosh, solicitors, Dalry; John Walker, Falkland Bank, Partickhill, Glasgow; James Weir of the firm G and J Weir, Glasgow; Robert K Gray, London; Arthur Guthrie, editor, Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Ardrossan; Reverend William Ross Brown, MA, Saltcoats; Mr Richard Cunliffe, Glasgow and Mr J Scarlett, Furness Abbey.

Many expression of sympathy have been received by the relatives and the board of the Barrow Company met specially on Tuesday (7 April 1891) and a resolution of sympathy, drawn up by the Marquis of Hartington, the chairman, was unanimously passed and specially conveyed to the relatives.
Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 10 April 1891


There is a pair of memorial windows in Barony St. John church to the family.  Below are the credits:


marriage certificateMarriage certificate


1.  I can find no trace of

  • his cousins Captain McAlister Douglas, Burnbrae Estate, Dunbartonshire.  * Now known to be the wife of Agnes Douglas, who inherited Burnbrae as her brother, James had no heirs.
  • Mr R Ewing, Burnbrae, Perth, cousin of Archibald Douglas Bryce-Douglas
  • his brother-in-law Mr James Caldwell, Blackshaw  * Now thought to be Agnes's uncle, a surgeon of Johnshill; he married Margaret Cochran.

2.  A Will Instruction from Archibald Douglas which reads He has left the Burnbrae estate to his son James, if no heirs to his daughter Agnes, if no heirs to his second daughter Marion, if no heirs to his youngest daughter Margaret if no heirs to his brother William (residing at Burnbrae) if no heirs to his other brother Joseph if no heirs. to his sister Janet. Janet married a Robert Hay in 1764

3.  Dec 3 1823 Marriage -Burnbrae, William MACALLESTER, writer, Irvine, to Agnes, eldest dau. of late Archibald DOUGLAS, Burnbrae.

4. Archibald Campbell Douglas, son John Campbell Douglas, 18th of Mains, married 10 Oct 1867 Elizabeth Christian Stirling, only daughter of Robert Speirs, of Burnbrae, Renfrewshire, and Culdees Castle, Perthshire

Erected to the memory of Mrs Margaret Smith of Brownhills ###…### Archibald Douglas Esq. of Burnbrae ###…### St.Margaret's Churchyard - Dalry, North Ayrshire

Mary Ann Douglas, d. 20 Mar 1867 daughter of Archibald Douglas married 27 Dec 1830 Rev. John Campbell Bryce, (b. 1800, d. 14 May 1858)


See also:

•  Descendants of John Buntine [Bontine] 1st of Ardoch whose descendants are connected with the Douglas family of Burnbrae [pdf]

•  Burnbrae, Dunbartonshire


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