Clan Coutts Society

Clan Coutts Society

John, Shipbuilder

Aberdeen’s Links With
Tyneside Shipbuilding

John Hanry Sangster Coutts (1810-1862) was a gifted Aberdonian who went south to become a notable iron shipbuilder with 2 shipyards on Tyneside, between 1840-1862. He was born in Aberdeenshire, son of a farmer, Patrick Coutts. This sparse information has been culled from census returns and marriage certificates.  John Coutts was the eldest of ‘Three Wise Men’ from Aberdeen who were to be the bedrock of the iron shipbuilding industry on Tyneside from c1840. The others were Charles Mitchell (a benefactor to his hometown university) and the Shetland-born Andrew Leslie. All 3 were previously known to each other in Aberdeen and had their own independent shipyards on the Tyne. John Coutts was adamant he was not related to the banking family of that name, and that he was a partner in the Aberdeen Shipyard of John Ronalds, who in 1839 built the well-known iron sailing ship John Garrow. This seems to have inspired him to go solo and he went South to take up an old wooden shipyard at Low Walker on Tyne, where in 1842 he launched the paddle steamer Prince Albert, destined to ply the Thames Estuary. This he claimed to be the first sizeable iron ship built on this river.

A Iron sailing ship called the "John Garrow" was built in 1840 at the
Aberdeen shipyard of John Ronalds & John Coutts.
Port of registry: Liverpool
in 1849/50 she sailed from Liverpool to New Orleans.
Rigged with standing bowsprit, square stemmed, no galleries and male figurehead. Owned by John Anderson, William Garrow, Alexander Smith and Thomas Irvine, all of Liverpool, trading as Anderson, Garrow & Co

The Times, Thursday, Apr 02, 1840
"The John Garrow iron ship, Captain J. Wilson, an iron vessel of 895 tones, calculated to carry 40 keels of coals, arrived in the River Tyne on Friday last. When she entered the narrows she was drawing 10 feet of water. Since her arrival she has continued to excite much curiosity; part of her standing rigging is made of wire, and except her top and decks she is exclusively made of iron. Captain Wilson has ordered that parties visiting her shall pay 1s. each, which will be given to the Shipwreck Society. She is named after the principal in the firm in Liverpool who are her owners. The John Garrow will load here immediately for Bombay. It is understood she sailed well during her passage from Aberdeen, and every day comes up to the most sanguine expectation that was formed of her capabilities -Newcastle Chronicle."

Coutts went on to build in 1844 an iron-hulled barque named Q.E.D., which had an auxiliary steam engine and the (world first) innovative feature of water ballast, carried in double bottoms. This would eventually become the norm in the collier trade and elsewhere, replacing the sand-and-gravel ballast previously used. A volatile and innovative man who built the largest sailing ships of the day in his time on Tyneside, but he suffered 2 bankruptcies and died alone and seemingly friendless in 1862, in lowly lodgings in North Shields.

In 1848 he entered into a partnership with William Parkinson trading as Coutts & Parkinson with a Yard at Willington Quay. He employed Charles Mitchell as his designer.

The O.P.R. of Keig in 1794 shows a marriage of one Patrick Coutts of Tough, to a local lassie, Isobel Ronald of Keig.

Coutts recruited many of his workers from Aberdeen, particularly at his second shipyard at Wellington Quay on Tyne 1849 - 1855.  He was followed from Aberdeen by Charles Mitchell, who eventually had his own adjacent shipyard on the Tyne, at Low Walker. Mitchell went on to fame and fortune, and in later years was to be a generous benefactor to Aberdeen University.

In 1853, on the south bank of the Tyne, at Hebburn, the third man from Aberdeen arrived, to set up an iron shipyard, he was Andrew Leslie, a Shetlander, who had served as a boilermaker in Aberdeen, before coming south to England.

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