William Muir

by Morag T Fyfe
Originally published in Grave Matters 3, Spring 2018

A young man who met an untimely end was William Muir a 23-year-old painter buried on 24th March 1842. At this date the cause of death was recorded in the burial registers and his was very informative. It said ‘accident from explosion of boiler on board Telegraph steamer at Helensburgh’. This was the second time the victim of a steam ship explosion was buried in the Necropolis. In 1835 the boiler of the Earl Grey steamer blew up when she was alongside at Greenock killing six people and severely injuring fifteen. One of the injured, Ebenezer Bell, later died from his injuries and is buried in the Necropolis.

The Telegraph was a wooden paddle steamer built by Hedderwick & Rankin in 1841 for the Glasgow-Greenock-Helensburgh service. She was lightly built for speed, with an experimental high-pressure engine provided by John Rowan of Glasgow, in order to compete with the Glasgow and Greenock Railway. On Monday 21st March she had just disembarked some passengers at Helensburgh and was backing away from the quay to proceed to Gareloch when her boiler violently exploded. The force of the explosion completely shattered the hull and threw the engine and boiler, which were combined into one piece and weighed 8 tons, 100 feet from the ship. The noise of the explosion was heard on the other side of the Firth of Clyde at Greenock from where steamers immediately set out to render assistance. Sixteen people were killed immediately and about fifteen seriously injured while the final death toll reached twenty.

William Muir was one of a group of six or eight painters (reports vary) travelling to Gareloch to work on the painting of a new ship launched by Hedderwick and Rankin in October 1841 called Precursor (below). Precursor was a completely different type of vessel to Telegraph, the river steamer. Her first owner was the Eastern Steam Navigation Co and she plied the Suez-Calcutta route until she was withdrawn in 1858. Another passenger travelling to Gareloch was Peter Hedderwick partner in Hedderwick & Rankin who also lost his life that day.

It has proved impossible to identify William any further than the details given in the burial register. His father, William Muir, weaver, was already dead and William was buried by an unnamed brother in common ground in compartment Iota. It is not known whether he was married and he could not be identified in the 1841 census.

The Telegraph Paddle Steamer

The Telegraph Paddle Steamer


Back to top