Thomas B Seath 30/112021 1137 words


Thomas left school at14, and served with his father on the steamer which plied between Glasgow and Liverpool, showing an aptitude for life at sea and gained his masters certificate.

His employers showed great confidence in Seath, placing him, aged 18 in charge of the steamer Vulcan. 

He began building iron ships at Meadowside in Patrick, on the Clyde,  in the early 1840’s , where he built his first three ships, NELSON, ALMA, and ARTISAN. ARTISAN seems to be a link between Seaths shipbuilding the moving of the yard to Rutherglen, as ATISAN was built to run a passenger service between Rutherglen and Glasgow. As in the mid-1850’s railways were still in there infancy, so the thinking was that the quickest way to get from the Royal Burgh to the City was by down steamship down the Clyde. Seeing an opportunity, he set up his Upper Clyde Navigation Service.  On 24th May 1856, Queen Victoria’s birthday, ARTISAN, with 400 passengers onboard and watched by thousands of spectators, she went on her first trip to Glasgow. The ship plied the 15 minute journey between Rutherglen Quay and Hutchesontown Bridge street in Glasgow, six times a day in each direction. Charges were 3d in the cabin, and 2d steerage, with a cabin return of 4d. The service was a major success and in the first four months, she carried no fewer than 36,000 passengers. 

ARTISAN was a remarkable vessel operating with a draft of only 27 inches, with the main engine controls operated from the bridge-arguably a maritime first, later she was sold onto Killarney her replacement, ROYAL BURGH , was sold in turn for service on the Rhine in Germany, her replacement on the Glasgow service, ROYAL REEFER was sold for service on the River Neva, in Imperial Russia. This indicates that the reputation of the quality of these ships was spreading internationally. 

The increasing focus on shipbuilding meant Seath had to reluctantly give up his interest in the passenger service , as he could no longer devote the time to it. Although Rutherglen had lost its river service, with Seath setting up his little shipyard there, it had gained a new industry. Business at the shipyard grew steadily, over the next 46 years, the yard built 325 ships.  The yard location , immediately to the east of Rutherglen Quay, was carefully chosen as the bend in the river to the west of the yard allowed the diagonal launching of his ships. The shallow, twisting non-tidal nature of this part of the river restricted the length of the vessels being built to 60m, with a very shallow draft. 

After launching, the vessels were towed downstream to have engines fitted, at either Patrick or Port Glasgow, as minimum draft was required to pass over the old weir which was not removed until 1879.

Larger ships were built here including the Isle of Arran, built on the slip pointing across the river to Rutherglen, when launched she she ran onto the brick embankment near it, but without sustaining serious damage. 

Tugs could not always get up the river  at suitable times, it was a great occasion when the ISLE of ARRAN in 1892, was taken down the river, with hundreds of men at the haulage ropes on each bank. The pilot onboard was a blacksmith who new every inch of the river. No serious hitch occurs, and steamer successfully berthed at the Broomielaw. 

A huge growth in demand for ships in the 19th century for the overseas markets, enabled him to break into the ‘knock down’ market. He developed an enviable expertise in building small vessels for delivery in as deck cargo on larger ships, or a knockdown package to be built locally, to places as far away as Burma and Australia. 

Some believe that Seaths most famous hull, paddle steamer LUCY ASHTON ship No 258, built in 1888 built for the North British Steam Packet Company. Throughout WW2 she served year in and  year out, round the clock passenger and mail services, also tendering troop,ships at the Tail of the Bank. 

As well as the many passenger ships for the lower reaches of the Clyde, he built six CLUTHAS for the Clyde Trustees, the first was built in 1884 for their’Up and Down’ service, between Stockwell Street Bridge and Whiteinch. In all there was 12 of the numbered 1,2,3,4 etc. the other six being built at different yards, 

they operated a very successful service for nearly 20 years, carrying annually over 2.5 million passengers. The opening of the underground in 1897 and the trams in 1901 reduced their viability, and sadly they were withdrawn on 30th November 1903.

Seath also designed other ships including :-


Thames Advertiser . Volume XV1. issue 5359, 25 December 1885, page 3.

Mr T.B. Seath shipbuilder, Rutherglen has submitted to the Admiralty plans of a novel war vessel, such as it is thought would be of great service in defending the estuaries of Clyde and other British rivers. The vessel is 150 feet in length, with the extraordinary beam of 30 feet. By three fore and aft bulkheads, and eight cross bulkheads, she is divided into 32 water tight compartments, an arrangement which it is thought would make her pretty unsinkable. The bottom part of the shell, from stem to stern, describe the segment of a circle , which would allow the steamer to turn upon her own axis, like one of our small up-and-down river ferry boats. Above the water line she has a steel belt two feet in thickness, tapering off upwards and downwards. It is calculated that a heavy, shot striking her on the apex of the belt would be broken into pieces, whereas should it hit on on the slope or the triangle, it would glance off harmlessly. Her armament consists of two heavy immovable guns , one stationed fore and the other aft, but the vessel can be made to turn on her axis so rapidly that it would be possible to deliver the fire of each gun alternatively at one object within half a minute. On deck, when in action, with the exception of the guns, there is nothing upon a shot could take effect, the funnel being erected on the telescopic principle. The vessel would run at the high rate of fully 18 miles per hour, a speed which would enable her to make rapid and unexpected attacks, and allow her as smartly to retire or keep beyond reach of an enemy. A number of gentlemen practised in naval warfare and maritime affairs, to whom the plans were submitted, have commentated favourably on the vessels, and the builder is prepared to construct two of them at a cost of £25,000 each. The plans were presented to the Admiralty by earl.de La Warr

(This information was supplied by Frank Quinn September 2017)

Ships built at Rutherglen ended up in service far from the Clyde. Windermere,Ullswater,Loch Maree, Loch Etive, for example. These handsome vessels designed and built by Thomas Seath, transporter in parts and sections, then later rebuilt and launched at their final homes. This was the ‘knock-down’ concept mentioned earlier. 

M.Y. LADY of the LAKE  launched 26th June 1877, is believed to be the oldest working passenger vessel in the world. Transported in three sections by rail to Penrith and thereafter by horse drawn carts to the lakeside, where she was reassembled. Joined in 1889, by her sister ship, M.V.RAVEN , also built at Rutherglen, not to be confused with the S.V. RAVEN,also built at Rutherglen, in 1871, currently in storage at the Windermere Jetty Museum 

Two royal yaughts are also included in the variety of ships built by Seath. FAIRY built in 1872 for the King of Burma and LITTLE EASTERN for the King of Sian. Many vessels ended up far from Rutherglen including the M.V.NELEBEE which served in the Australian coastal trade. 

Towards the end of 1902, Seath retired from business, and died February 1903 and is buried in the Southern necropolis, Glasgow. 

He had built over 300 ships an average of one every eight weeks , a weir built at Glasg Green finally closed off access to the sea. 

Chalmers & Co shortly after his death, they moved their shipyard from Govan to Seaths old shipyard where they produced over 100 ships before the yard finally closed in 1923. 

Seath built ships for Loch Lomond and Loch Maree,Windermere and Ullswater, luxury steam yachts most Notably’THE FAIRY’ for the King of Burma, ‘LITTLE EASTERN’ for the King of Siam, both commissioned in 1872.


NELCEBE built 1883, taken to Australia as a knockdown onboard the sailing ship call THE CITY of YORK. And built in 1883 at Port Adelaide. She was retired from service in 1982 at the ripe old age of 100. Still in existence on dry land at Port Adelaide 

SS BRIGHTON built 1882, and sailed to Sydney with all openings boarded up. They had to use the boarding off Cape York (Northern Australia) for firing the boilers as they were running short of fuel She was 220 ft long.


dalmadan.com.        Still to research .   

1877. MY LADY of the LAKE 43 GRT.  still in service on the lakes of Ullswater in the English Lakes

1883. PS BRIGHTON.             417 GRT  hulked in 1916 in the Port Stephens estuary New South Wales, Australia 

1883 MV NELCEBEE                               on display at South Australian Maritime Museum.

1888. PS LUCY ASHTON        271.3 GRT. scrapped 1951

1889. MY RAVEN.                    63 GRT.     still in service on the lake of Ullswater in the English Lake District

1892.  PS LUNE.                    253 GRT. scrapped 1923/4

Local and family history : Rutherglen- history in the making, South Lanarkshire Council

Seaths Shipyard ,  Rutherglen Heritage Society 2018

Thomas B Seath, Graces Guide

Clutha No 5 Museum of Transport. The Glasgow Story

Thomas Bollan Seath. Southern Necropolis Heritage