The Denny History. From Denny Test Tank


   The Denny family have had a shipbuilding connection with Dumbarton since 1814. William Denny (I) [1779–1833] was associated with Archibald McLachlan when they constructed the paddle steamer TRUSTY in February, 1814, at the Woodyard on the opposite side of the River Leven to the town, where they built 11 vessels. Four months later they built the paddle steamer MARJORY which is claimed to be the first steamer on the Thames in January, 1815. In 1816 they built the PS MARION for David Napier who placed it on Loch Lomond and in 1818 the paddle tug SAMSON for the Clyde Shipping Co.

   In 1819 William Denny (I) starts up on his own under the title of William Denny at the Albert Yard on the north side of the Leven between the bridge and the town quay. Here, he remains until 1826, at which time he moves back to the Woodyard where he installs the first Morton patent slip in Scotland for repairing vessels, duly paying £75 for the privilege of doing so. They appear to have built about 40 vessels, both sail and steam. The largest of the latter being the SUPERB at 155 ft long for David Napier, the first steam vessel to have a copper boiler. They also built the 65 ft long TRINIDAD in 1832, the first steam vessel to reach the West Indies.


William Denny (I)       MARION b1815         The Woodyard by Wm Clark in 1850

  In 1833, William’s eldest son John [1802–1838], formed a partnership with Archibald McFarlane, known as Denny & McFarlane, and constructed at the Woodyard until 1838, 10 sailing vessels and one steam vessel, the INNESHOWEN in 1834.

   In 1822 Peter Denny (I) [1788–1856], of Castlegreen, joined with James Lang [1765-c1835], and started building vessels at the yard near the Parish Church in 1816, their designation being Lang & Denny. James Lang’s dry dock had been completed by 1822. By the end of 1839 they had built 42 sail and steam vessels. The largest being the 120 ft wooden paddle steamer FOYLE for the Glasgow, Greenock, Campbeltown & Londonderry Steam Packet Co. In April, 1835 James Lang was declared bankrupt. In 1836 Charles Wood leased the yard until it was advertised for sale in 1839 for £2,700. In July 1846, Archibald McMillan moved into Lang’s Dockyard.


Dumbarton Shipyards & Engineering Works in 1867

   Following the death of John Denny in 1838, Peter Denny (I) then went into partnership with Daniel Rankin to form Denny & Rankin over at the Woodyard where they built about 42 wood sailing vessels and one wood paddle steamer until 1844. In 1842 Charles Wood gave up the Victoria Yard over at the Castlegreen and Denny & Rankin then moved over to here. Following Peter’s death in 1856, James Rankin joined his father Daniel and continued building another 116 vessels, mainly iron and wooden sailing ships, until 1866. The largest was the 229 ft long iron passenger/cargo vessel GLEN ROY in 1854 at 1138 gross tons, for Aiktman & Co of Glasgow. In July, 1846, the Woodyard was offered for sale at which time Denny Brothers occupied it. The yard was then purchased by William Denny (II) in 1847.

   In the spring of 1844 William Denny’s two sons, namely William (II) [1815-1854] and Alexander [1818-1865] went into partnership to form Denny Brothers, Marine Architects, Glasgow. William had overseen the building of Robert Napier’s first iron paddle steamer VANGUARD in 1843, while Alexander had designed in 1842, the iron paddle steamer LADY BRISBANE at Barr & McNabb’s yard, Paisley.

   In October, 1844, the brothers William and Alexander leased the ground at the Kirk Yard to form Denny Brothers, Shipbuilders, employing 14 men and were joined by their brother Peter (II) [1821-1895] on 1st January, 1845. Peter had been a clerk in the glass works until May, 1843, when he was dismissed for insubordination, after which he then lodged with his brother William, who was a manager in Napier’s yard in Govan. It was here that Peter learned the art of building ships. Their first vessel was the iron paddle steamer LOCHLOMOND for the Dumbarton Steamboat Co. In 1845 the brothers also leased Denny & Rankin’s old yard across the Leven at the Woodyard. This yard was purchased in 1847 by William Denny (II). William managed the Woodyard while Alexander was in charge of the Parish Kirk or North Yard. Another noted vessel in 1845 was the iron paddle steamer WATERWITCH, this was the first merchant vessel to be fitted with a screw propeller on the Clyde, and cost £5,501 11/5d. Between the two yards they built 15 iron vessels, the largest was the 155 ft steamer CELT for the Campbeltown & Glasgow S.P. Joint Stock Co., Glasgow, in 1848. The firm was dissolved 23rd May, 1849, and taken possession of by William Denny & Brothers who continued to build vessels there until 1867.


 PS LOCHLOMOND b1845     Wm Denny II Alex Denny   Parish Kirk yard 1853

   The two other brothers Alexander [1818-1865] and Archibald [1825-1866] went into partnership at the old Albert Yard to form Alexander Denny & Brother from 1845 to 1859. From 1856 Alexander built his own steam engines at the Artizan. However, in 1853 Archibald broke away and went into partnership with John McLean [1825-1876] and built 45 iron vessels at the Kirk Yard, mainly steamers whose engines were constructed at Tulloch & Denny’s engine works, near the railway station on ground formerly occupied by the glassworks.

   Tulloch & Denny, Engineers, were formed on 1st May, 1851, when Peter Denny (II) [1821-1895] joined forces with John McAusland [d1901] and John Tulloch (b1826), a Greenock engineer. The first engine was for Alexander Denny’s PHOEBE. In 1862 John Tulloch retired and the firm’s name changed to Denny & Company. Here they started constructing the boilers and large simple type heavy beam and side lever engines, having cylinders of 66” diameter in 1852, for Cunard. They also constructed the shafting, paddle wheels and screw propellers for Denny vessels. By 1870 they had moved on to compound expansion engines with cylinders of 100” diameter for Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., and in 1884 Engine No 284 was triple expansion engine and their first quadruple engines were fitted in 1886.


Peter Denny (II) Wm Denny (III)  John Tulloch   John McAusland

   William Denny & Brothers (North Yard) at the railway bridge was formed in 1859 when Peter Denny purchased the ground for £212. Here, they built several Blockade Runners for the American Civil war. Altogether, they built 12 blockade runners between 1850 and 1864. The CYCLONE was their first composite built steamship built in 1864, having a wooden coppered hull and iron frames, costing £45,000. In 1865 this ground reverted to Denny & Co.

   William Denny & Brothers, Leven Shipyard was formed in 1867 when the Woodyard lease expired and Peter (II) acquired the land at the Victoria Yard and also the land between this and Archibald McMillan’s yard. The first priority was to raise the level of the new land, which they did by constructing a fitting out basin with 60t sheerlegs. This was done by excavating the land east of the Knowle burn and using this material to form the new building berths. At the instigation of Wm Denny (III) [1847-1887] further land to the east, including the old Castle Road, was acquired in 1882. Part of this land was laid out for housing to form Knoxland. Here again they carved out an even larger fitting out basin with 100t sheerlegs at the Castlegreen. For transporting material around the yard 7 miles of Decauville narrow gauge railway was laid out.

   The first vessel launched from the Leven yard was the iron 275 ft long passenger/cargo screw steamer SATURNO on 11th January, 1868, for the Austrian Lloyd Steam Navigation Co., Trieste, Austria-Hungary. By 1872 the iron 360 ft long passenger/cargo steamer CATHY for Peninsular & Oriental S.N. Co., Glasgow. In 1870 they built the steamship PARTHIA for Cunard, used as a transport to support General Gordon at Khartoum in 1881, ran out to Australia via Cape Horn, operated between Vancouver and the Far East, carried American troops to the Philippines, and gold-diggers to Nome in Alaska until she was finally broken up in 1956. Her hull was made of Swedish hand-wrought iron plates up to 1¼” thick.

   In 1879 they pioneered the use of steel in the construction of ships, when the built the ROTOMAHANA for the Union S.S. Co. of New Zealand Ltd., Dunedin, referred to as “The Greyhound of the Pacific.” At the same time they were building steam launches a 10th of this size. In 1883, the company completed the construction of their model test tank. The first commercial test tank in the world. The completed tank and apparatus costing about £6,000. This tank was to pay for itself many times over when they built in 1888, PS PRINCESSE HENRIETTE, the first commercial vessel to attain 21 knots, for the Dover to Ostend cross Channel service for the Belgian Government. With the introduction of Parson’s steam turbine fitted to the KING EDWARD in 1901, they started manufacturing their own turbines in 1905, for the INVICTA.