TAMH: Source Material
Arbroath Harbour 1895-6 from Arbroath Year Book, 1896 - 1| 2| 3| 4| 5| 6| 7

Annual 1985

David G. Adams Reviews the Heyday of


The Kenny Family

and the beginnings of the industry.

Even before the building of new vessels became a regular event, by the end of the 18th century there must always have been one or two shipcarpenters kept employed mainly in repairs and maintenance of vessels, known as 'tidework', which was the scraping off of barnacles etc. and re-caulking of ship hulls.

The earliest recorded shipcarpenters are David and John Kenny, members of a seafaring family resident at (Old) Shorehead active from the 1750's or earlier, to the 1770's. David was a Town Councillor who died in 1773 so he must have been a prosperous and prominent citizen.

Until 1800 sloops of 40 or 50 tons burthen and perhaps an occasional small brig of up to 80 tons would have been built locally but in 1776 a brig, Unity, of 130 tons was built, presumably by the Kennys. Vessels of such size were not commonly built locally until the 1830's, being mostly of 120 tons maximum prior to that time.

Sloops were completed in 1778 1785, 1789 and 1799 and from then on one vessel annually is recorded as having been built, brigs and sloops with a schooner, the first recorded in 1803. Schooners evolved in New England in the 1740's but were uncommon n east coast Scotland until the 1780's.

Originally entirely for-and-aft rigged with triangular lopsails, when adapted here they invariably had square for-topsails. Properly known as topsail schooners, they were used mainly in coastal trade, complementing the singlemasted sloops.

The Kennys used the ground now occupied by Gerrard's boat-yard. In 1779 William Kenny, a native of Arbroath, who had served an apprenticeship with the deceased John Kenny (either his father or an uncle), and under a 'sufficient' master at Leith, requested from the Town Council use of the ground immediately west of the harbour and a 'lodge' which John Kenny had used to keep tools in the ground being unenclosed, merely a stretch of open beach sloping down to the tidemark. Kenny was initially given a two-year lease at £1 annually, on condition he kept the 'lodge' in repair and maintained a proper stock of materials to build and repair vessels.

He must have been active for 34 years, as he is recorded as having repaired the town's ballast boat n 1792 and, n 1800 having built a wooden crane for the harbour. By August 1813 he had retired through ill health and was compensated by the town Council for a 'block-house' he had built in the area immediately west of the harbour presumably as a store or workshed.

Kenny may have been the only builder of new vessels until about 1800. An Alexander Fernie built at least two schooners, in 1808 and in 1816, the first recorded being the Sir Joseph Banks, specially commissioned for use during the building of the Bell Rock lighthouse. Fernie like his successor probably occupied open ground between the harbour and Signal Tower.

His last vessel, the Panmure must have been well-built or lucky, or both, as it sailed from Arbroath until 1885, most vessels having a life of only forty years if they escaped being wrecked by storms.

Fernie afterwards left for London where his sons founded a shipping line. Thomas Dickie, a Montrose shipcarpenter, also built two sloops in Arbroath in 1808.