View Full Version : Shipwright or ships carpenter

June Welsby
28-12-2005, 6:12 AM
Could someone please tell me what the difference is between a shipwright and ships carpenter? My g.grandfather Andrew Higgie is listed as being a ships carpenter on his marriage certificate and on several of the birth certificates on some of his children in Australia, except for 2 where he states he is a shipwright. Andrew was born in Newburgh, Fife, Scotland; I would still like to find out where he learnt his trade whether it be Dundee or Glasgow. He married in Glasgow in 1870. Is there an apprenticeship for this occupation and how do I find out about it?
June Welsby

28-12-2005, 9:57 AM
Shipwright, another name for a ship's carpenter

Ship's Carpenter, another name for a shipwright
(Note though that a shipwright was also another name for someone who built ships.)

Someone familiar with Scottish records may be able to advise on differing local practice with regard to apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships were for the most part private transactions. Records of large firms may possibly still survive in record offices. But if he apprenticed to a small firm, any record may not have survived.

Those who qualified may have been accepted into a guild or professional organisation. You might check the local record office to see if they have such information.


Dennis Harker
31-12-2005, 12:43 AM

Having just retired from almost 39 years in the Merchant Navy I will try to offer a modern interpretation of the two different titles. Whether this will help your research or not is questionable.

Ship's Carpenters were very common when I first went to sea in the 60s but they are becoming a rare breed now as crews are slimmed down and technology is used to replace them. Apart from the obvious woodworking, timber repairs, dunnage etc. a ship's carpenter was responsible for the anchors and would get involved in actual anchoring procedures and then the cleanliness, securing etc. of them once they were back on board. He also looked after some of the securing of cargo in conjunction with the Chief Officer/Mate and would also be responsible for loading and accounting of fresh water when in port. Fresh water is normally loaded from shore supplies when in port and but made by the engineers when at sea for long periods. Generally a very busy man even on modern ships and I would guess extremely busy in the days of sail.

A shipwright is someone we would meet when in for repairs. This term generally referred to someone involved in the building and repair of ships and boats, based ashore. I've not known anyone actually on a ship referred to as a shipwright but that may have been a possibility in the days of sail. It could be that your man sailed as a ship's carpenter for a number of years and then transferred his skills ashore to ship and boat repair. Many seafarers do come ashore once married and with a young family.

03-01-2006, 12:19 PM
AN important part of a shipwrights job on the Clyde anyway was to make scale models of the ships to check that all fitted & was "Aok"
My GGrandfather was a Master Shipwright & there are models of his surviving to this day.He died 1927 & apart from his work in the shipyards he made toys & also stage props for Houdini.

June Welsby
11-02-2006, 2:16 AM
Thank you to Joette, Dennis and Geoffers for your reply to above, sorry it's taken so long to answer but I do appreciate any reply I can get. Geoffers which record office should I contact for Dundee or Glasgow? On Andrew's marriage certificate it states that he was a Ships Carpenter and Storeman (Merchant Service), he resided in Newburgh, Fife-shire and his wife was living at 13 Muir St., Plantation, Parish of Govan.
As I live in Australia I will have to write or e-mail somebody for advice so I need to know where to go to; maybe they will be able to tell me whether there is any apprenticeship records still available and if there is a guild for Shipwrights.
I do not know how Andrew came out to Australia because I can't find any passenger records for him but I do know that his wife and children sailed at a later date and went straight to Port Adelaide in 1878, so Andrew may have been a crew member when he immigrated. He worked for Mephan Ferguson here in Australia and I supposed that he was recruited in Scotland to work for him here, but it is only supposition.
Hope somebody can help.
June Welsby

Dennis Harker
11-02-2006, 10:13 AM

Try this link and see if it will help


I see that the Guildhall Museum, in London, is mentioned as holding certain Merchant Navy records. From personal experience I can recommend them as being very helpful - whether they will hold the records you require I cannot say.

When he was at sea your relative would have held a Discharge Book. This gives a seafarers' record of service and discharges. It also acted as a passport in the early days. If you can find any reference to his 'Discharge No.' then this would be invaluable in trying to track down which ships, when and where.

30-10-2009, 11:45 AM
Hi All,
A very good program all about the Ship building industry on TV last night, based on the 33 Ship yards on the River Clyde in Glasgow and the demise of the industry over the next 200 Years. Some good points on the Ships trades Carpenters, Shipwrights, Platers, Welders Corkers etc. Several highlights of the Big named ships i.e the Queens. [Well I thought it was good, but I worked in the yard's there for 7 years]
By the way the Ships Carpenters went to sea in the old days 17C -19C they usually had 2 or more jobs [that of Mate or Harpooner etc] or at least my Master mariner family did whilst Whaling.

30-10-2009, 9:26 PM
Hi all.. and help

Am I correct in assuming that a ship's carpenter would have been on board when the ship travelled and a shipwright would have been on shore or am I completely off the mark here?


31-10-2009, 1:02 AM
I knew a shipwright and he was very proud and specific about his job, he worked, as spison says, on shore and fitted out the boats/ships. All the wonderful wood panelling, the wooden seats, the mouldings and polishing in the cabins were his responsibility. I spent many hours watching him work.

He said the carpenters were only there to repair other stuff. I bet though there will be ships carpenters that are just as proud of their jobs and perfectly able to argue the point. ;)

04-11-2009, 8:14 AM
Im a shipwright by trade and completed a uni course in naval architecture at the end of 3 practical phases of training [ship and shore].

I served for 12 years in the RAN and was the last to complete my trade as a shipwright.(1983) Future intakes were called 'metal fabricators such was the demise of the trade and wooden ships and fittings

We were often referred to as my [subject title].
We repaired mainly wooden craft when based on land such as rubbing strakes on Torpedo Recovery vessels and other marine repairs on smaller boats.

My role at sea encompassed carpentry, plumbing, welding, brazing, signwriting, fibreglassing, sheet-metalwork, and engineroom and auxilliary machinery watchkeeping.
We were also responsible for ship stabilty,firefighting and damage control.

Im not sure what todays 'ships carpenter' would do apart from repair to wooden furnishings and fittings such as locks/door sets and the like.

Im guessing the shipwrights of yesteryear were competent in brandishing an adze (a tool used to shape roughly hewn timber and a drawknife for dressing spars and oars.
Caulking hemp, tar and later copper nails would probably have factored into his toolbag.

My GGG Father was a shipwright too :) I wonder if he ever went to sea?

04-11-2009, 12:28 PM
Hi All,
Looking back through my family tree on the Ships Carpenters/Carpenters pre 1881 Census then later on they had changed to Ships Platers, this was due to the Metal ships being brought into service.

04-11-2009, 1:02 PM
... My g.grandfather Andrew Higgie is listed as being a ships carpenter on his marriage certificate and on several of the birth certificates on some of his children in Australia, except for 2 where he states he is a shipwright. Andrew was born in Newburgh, Fife, Scotland; I would still like to find out where he learnt his trade whether it be Dundee or Glasgow. He married in Glasgow in 1870. ...

Hi June Welsby,

I'm a bit puzzled where Dundee, Angus comes into the equation. Have I missed something?

You say that he was born in Newburgh, Fife and married Jemima MCKAY in 1870 in Glasgow, Lanarkshire at which time you say he was a Ship's Carpenter and was living in Newburgh, Fife.

So why Dundee (in Angus/Forfar, the other side of the Firth of Tay)? :confused:

Best regards,


Geoff Clarkson
12-12-2013, 9:27 PM
Your original post was over 9 years ago, I wonder if anyone is still there.

My father was a carpenter in the Royal navy 1915 - 1943. Carpenters Crew were usually former civilian carpenters who then joined the navy. You could rise up to leading Carpenters Crew (equivalent to leading seaman), thereafter ( as in my Dads case you became a PO (Petty Officer) then maybe chief PO but you became a shipwright then. Friction did arise between promoted carpenters and those who joined and trained as shipwrights who were considered by the carpenters and joiners as 'jacks of all trades' rather than timed served craftsmen. I am happy to forward you a link to my dads audio records which are with the Imperial ar Museum and available online. The interviewer went into all the details of his service in the navy.

I am very happy to help.

Geoff Clarkson

16-08-2017, 8:35 AM
I was very interested in this thread as my grandfather Arthur James Denney (born in Brightlingsea in 1883) was a ship wright. He did his apprenticeship in London - I found him on the 1901 census living with his older brother Worner and family in Poplar so I presume he worked on/near the docks. East India Docks? He married in 1908 at St Lukes Millwall
In 1911 he was in Lincoln as a machine erector - what is that? Why would he be in Lincoln?
I know he was in Edinburgh prior and during the war when he went to Rosyth so he must have been back into repairs etc for the war effort.
I'd be interested in comments here please.

Megan Roberts
16-08-2017, 10:39 AM
Shipwrights often moved around the country from dockyard to dockyard. Today there is a news item about the Royal Navy's latest and biggest ever ship arriving Portsmouth with x hundred sailors and y hundred fitters to finish fitting it out.

There's a research guide that the National Archives have that might help you:

Lesley Robertson
16-08-2017, 10:59 AM
People made boats for freshwater use as well, and they had to be repaired/built.

Lincoln has a harbour, also known as Brayford Pool and now more of a marina. Water travel around there goes back to the Romans.

Peter Goodey
16-08-2017, 12:56 PM
Why would he be in Lincoln?

The 1911 says he was an Engineer's Machine Erector in a Woodworks. His occupational classification was 629 - Other or undefined Workers In Engine and Machine Making. One of his lodgers was a labourer in a woodworks.

Lincoln was an important centre of engineering. See Wikipedia.

Incidentally, he married in 1906, not 1908, and his marriage certificate shows he was then living in Lincoln.

What was his occupation on his son's birth certificate?

16-08-2017, 11:21 PM
Had a good read through thanks Megan; I don't think my Grandad was a naval person. If he worked at East India dockyards where else would I look? Will go to the maritime museum and will google East India dockyards when I next have a bit of time.

16-08-2017, 11:24 PM
Mmm good points Peter; was going by memory when I did the post. Harold's birth cert? Don't know - I shall find out... Thanks for your comments

16-08-2017, 11:25 PM
Several things to follow up thanks to the comments received

Megan Roberts
17-08-2017, 7:37 AM
If he worked at East India dockyards where else would I look?

Try the London Metropolitan Archives and see what they hold: