Guides

Ships and shipbuilding

Queen Elizabeth 2 on sea trials, 1968 (Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, UCS1/118/736/3313)

Background information

John Brown (Upper Clyde Shipbuilders) photographs

Ocean liners and passenger ships

Warships

Shipyard and shipbuilding scenes

Further reading

Background information

Scotland had one of the world's largest and most successful shipbuilding industries until the late twentieth century. The resulting historical records of shipbuilding are consequently voluminous and they are cared for by several Scottish local and university archives, as well as National Records of Scotland (NRS). In terms of photographic material, the principal collection held by NRS is that of the John Brown's shipyard, which became part of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.

This guide is concerned mainly with the John Brown (Upper Clyde Shipbuilders) photographic collection and other photographs of ships and shipbuilding in the ScotlandsPeople Image Library.

John Brown (Upper Clyde Shipbuilders) Photographs

The records of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) were acquired for the Scottish nation in 1973 following the collapse of the consortium in 1971. They were jointly purchased by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland with the City of Glasgow, Clydebank Town Council and Dunbarton County Council.

NRS holds a collection of around 40,000 photographs. These date from the 1880s to 1980s and document the construction and sea-trials of ocean liners, passenger ships and warships at the John Brown shipyard at Clydebank on the west coast of Scotland. The photograph collection contains many famous ships, including the ocean liners, RMS Lusitania and Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2), and battlecruisers HMS Tiger and HMS Hood. 1,196 images from the collection are available to consult and purchase in the Image Library.

Ocean Liners and Passenger ships

RMS Aquitania

RMS Aquitania was a passenger liner built for the Cunard Steam Ship Company Limited, Liverpool, by John Brown & Company Limited, Clydebank (Yard Number 409). She was launched on 21 April 1913 and completed on 12 May 1914. She served as an armed merchant cruiser and hospital ship in the First World War. She passed to the Cunard White Star Line Ltd in July 1934 and served as a troopship in the Second World War. She was withdrawn in 1950 and broken up at Faslane on 23 February 1950.

Browse our image library photographs of RMS Aquitania.

SS Avila Star

SS Avila Star was a passenger and cargo vessel built for the Blue Star Line (1920) Ltd, London, by John Brown and Company Limited, Clydebank (Yard number 514). Originally named Avila, she was renamed Avila Star on 26 June 1929. She was launched on 22 September 1926 and completed in March 1927. She was torpedoed by the German submarine U.201 in 38.04N - 55.48W, north-east of the Azores on passage from Buenos Aires via Freetown for Liverpool. On 18 August 1942 British registry was closed.

Browse our image library photographs of SS Avila Star.

SS Montcalm

SS Montcalm was a passenger liner built for Canadian Pacific Railway Co. - Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd., Liverpool, by John Brown & Company Limited, Clydebank (Yard number 464). She was launched on 3 July 1920 and completed in December 1921. During the Second World War, she was acquired by the Admiralty and renamed HMS Wolfe. She served as an armed merchant cruiser, troopship, submarine depot ship and destroyer depot ship. She was withdrawn in 1952 and broken up at Faslane on 7 November 1952 by Metal Industries Ltd.

Browse our image library photographs of SS Montcalm.

SS Montclare

SS Montclare was a passenger liner built for Canadian Pacific Railway Co. - Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd., Liverpool, by John Brown & Company Limited, Clydebank (Yard number 465). She was launched on 18 December 1921, and completed in August 1922. Requisitioned by the Admiralty in August 1939, renamed HMS Montclare and served as an armed merchant cruiser. Bought by the Royal Navy in June 1942 and converted into a submarine depot ship. She was withdrawn in 1958 and broken up at Inverkeithing by T W Ward Ltd on 3 February 1958.

Browse our image library photographs of SS Montclare.

SS City of New York

SS City of New York was a passenger liner built for the New York to Liverpool service for Inman & International S.S. Co. Ltd., Liverpool, by James and George Thomson Ltd, Clydebank (Yard number 240). She was launched on 15 March 1888 and completed in July 1888. In 1893 she was sold to the International Navigation Company, New York, and renamed New York. She won the Blue Riband in August 1892 (for highest speed record for a passenger liner in crossing the Atlantic Ocean), for a run between New York and Liverpool at an average speed of 20.11 knots. From April to September 1898 she was requisitioned by the US Admiralty as an auxiliary transport and troopship and briefly renamed USS Harvard. She was sold in 1903 to the International Mercantile Marine Co., New York. During the First World War, she served in the US navy as a troopship in 1918 with the name USS Plattsburg. Renamed New York again she was placed on the New York to Danzig and Mediterranean services after 1921. She was sold in 1921 to the Polish Nav Co. of New York and then again in 1922 to Worden & Co. Inc., New York. She was broken up at Genoa in the first quarter of 1923 (having been sold by auction while laid up at Constantinople).

Browse our image library photographs of SS City of New York.

SS Duchess of Bedford

SS Duchess of Bedford was an Ocean liner built for Canadian Pacific Steamships by John Brown and Company Ltd, Clydebank (Yard number 518). She was launched on 24 January 1928. She was built as a sister ship for SS Duchess of York, SS Duchess of Richmond and SS Duchess of Atholl. In 1939 Duchess of Bedford was commandeered by the Admiralty to bring civil and military officials from England to India. She helped to evacuate Singapore in 1941. She ferried US troops for the invasion of Algeria in Operation Torch on 8 November 1942. She also served as a troopship in the invasion of Sicily in 1943. After the war in a refit in 1947 she was renamed Empress of France. Following this she served on the Liverpool to Montreal crossing. She was streamlined in a refit in 1958/59 before being taken out of service in 1960. She was broken up at Newport, Wales, in December 1960.

Browse our image library photographs of SS Duchess of Bedford.

RMS Empress of Britain (1930)

RMS Empress of Britain was an Ocean liner built for Canadian Pacific Steamships by John Brown and Company Ltd, Clydebank (Yard number 530). She was launched on 11 June 1930 and completed on 5 April 1931. She served on the Southampton to Quebec cross Atlantic service. In the Second World War she was requisitioned as a troopship. She ferried troops from Canada to England and then was sent to Wellington in New Zealand before returning to Scotland in June 1940 as part of the “million dollar convoy” of seven luxury liners comprising Andes, Aquitania, Empress of Britain, Empress of Canada, Empress of Japan, Mauretania and Queen Mary. On 26 October 1940 she was bombed 70 miles north-west of Ireland by a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200C Condor long range bomber and struck by two bombs. She was evacuated and taken in tow. During the tow, on the night of 27/28 October 1940 she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-32 and sank northwest of Bloody Foreland, County Donegal.

Browse our image library photographs of RMS Empress of Britain

RMS Queen Mary

RMS Queen Mary is a retired British ocean liner. She was built for the Cunard-White Star Line by John Brown & Company Limited, Clydebank (Yard number 534). She was launched on 26 September 1934 and made her maiden voyage on 27 May 1936. She served primarily on the North Atlantic on the Southampton, Cherbourg and New York route. She won the Blue Riband in August 1936 and again in 1938, holding it until 1952. In the Second World War she served as a troopship ferrying allied soldiers during the conflict. After the war she returned to the transatlantic crossing. She was retired on 9 December 1967 to be replaced by RMS Queen Elizabeth 2. She was sold to Long Beach, California in 1967 for $3.45 million. Queen Mary is permanently moored as a tourist attraction, hotel, museum and event facility at Long Beach, California.

Browse our image library photographs of RMS Queen Mary.

RMS Queen Elizabeth

RMS Queen Elizabeth, (Yard no. 552), was an ocean liner built by John Brown & Company, Clydebank for Cunard White Star Line during 1936 to 1938. She was laid down on 4 December 1936 and launched on 27 September 1938. Her final fitting out was cancelled by the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1940 amidst great secrecy, she was sent to New York where she was berthed with Queen Mary and Normandie, the only time these three great ships were berthed together. Queen Elizabeth was sent on to Singapore where she was fitted out as a troopship. Initially she carried Australian troops to theatres in the Pacific. Later she ferried American troops to Europe.

After the war she was finally fitted out as an ocean liner and made her maiden voyage as such on 16 October 1946. Together with Queen Mary she worked the transatlantic route between Southampton and New York. She was retired by Cunard in 1967 due to her deep draught and width (she couldn’t use the Panama Canal) and high fuel costs. She was sold to a group of American businessmen with a company called The Queen Corporation in which Cunard had a 15% stake. She was renamed Elizabeth and based at Port Everglades in Florida. But the southern climate was very hard on her and after losing money she was sold to Hong Kong tycoon Tung Chao Yung.

She was intended for use on the World Campus Afloat program organized by the Institute for Shipboard Education (based at Fort Collins, Colorado) under the ownership of Tung’s Orient Overseas Line. She was renamed Seawise University and sailed to Hong Kong for refit. This voyage turned into months due to her poor condition – she had been allowed to decay by her previous American owners. She suffered from boiler problems and a fire but eventually made it to Hong Kong harbour.

On 5 January 1972 with her £5 million refit nearing completion, Queen Elizabeth caught fire. There was suspicion that the fire was deliberate. Some said Tung had bought the ship for £3.5 million and insured it for £8 million and so was trying to defraud his insurers. Others said that it was a Communist act of revenge against the strongly Nationalist Tung. The ship was completely destroyed by the fire and partially sank at its moorings in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong due to the heavy amount of water sprayed on it by the fireboats. The ship was eventually declared a shipping hazard and dismantled for scrap between 1974 and 1975.

Famously in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun, the wreck featured as a fictional MI6 Headquarters.

Browse our image library photographs of RMS Queen Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth 2

Queen Elizabeth 2, often referred to as QE2, is a retired British ocean liner converted into a floating hotel. She was built for the Cunard Steamship Company Limited by John Brown & Company Limited, Clydebank (Yard number 736). She was launched on 20 September 1967 by Queen Elizabeth II and completed on 26 November 1968. She served primarily on the Southampton to New York transatlantic service. She also undertook numerous world cruises during a 40 year career. She was retired from active Cunard service on 27 November 2008. She was sold to the private equity arm of Dubai World. She is moored permanently at Istithmar, Dubai where she serves as a floating luxury hotel.

Browse our image library photographs of Queen Elizabeth 2.

RMS Caronia

RMS Caronia was a passenger liner built for the Cunard Steam Ship Company Limited by John Brown & Company, Clydebank (Yard number 362). She was launched on 13 July 1904 and completed in February 1905. She was the only Cunard liner named after an American, Caro Brown, granddaughter of Cunard’s New York Agent. She was primarily used for cruises in the Mediterranean from New York. During the First World War, from 1914 to 1916, she served as an armed merchant carrier, returned and then ran as a troop carrier until 1919. In 1920 she was converted to burn oil instead of coal. She then served on various routes: Liverpool to New York/Boston, London to New York, Hamburg to New York, Liverpool to Quebec and New York to Havana. Her last voyage was on 12 September 1932. She was sold for scrap for demolition at Blyth but was re-sold, renamed Taiseiyo Maru and sailed to Osaka, Japan where she was scrapped in 1933.

Browse our image library photographs of RMS Caronia.

RMS Lusitania

RMS Lusitania was a four funnelled ocean liner built for the Cunard Steam Ship Company Limited by John Brown & Company, Clydebank (Yard number 367). She was launched on 7 June 1906 and her maiden voyage was on 7 September 1907. She served the transatlantic route from Liverpool to New York. She won the Blue Riband in 1907 and 1909, but lost it both times to her sister ship RMS Mauretania. In the First World War she was requisitioned by the Admiralty as an armed merchant cruiser. On her return from New York to Liverpool on 7 May 1915 off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20 with the loss of 1198 lives, 128 of them American. This act turned American opinion against Germany and led to the USA entering the war on the side of the Allies. She was carrying ammunition in a secret compartment but no weapons.

Browse our image library photographs of RMS Lusitania.

RMS Saxonia (1)

RMS Saxonia (1) was a passenger liner built for the Cunard Steam Ship Company Limited by John Brown & Company, Clydebank (Yard number 339). She was launched on 16 December 1899 and completed in April 1900. Between 1900 and 1925 she operated on North Atlantic and Mediterranean passenger routes. In the First World War she was requisitioned for government service and taken off her Trieste-Boston route. She made a single voyage as a troopship, carrying troops from the 41st Battalion of the CEF arriving in England on 28 October 1915 then was tied up in England on the River Thames as an accommodation ship for German prisoners of war. In March 1915, she resumed service as a troopship. After the war she returned to the Liverpool to New York route and then between London and New York. On 17 April 1919, one of her propellers struck the United States Navy tug USS Freehold (SP-347) while Freehold was assisting in docking her at New York. Freehold sank with the loss of one crew member killed, but soon was refloated and repaired. In 1925 she was withdrawn and sold to Hendrik Ido Ambracht for scrapping in the Netherlands.

Browse our image library photographs of RMS Saxonia.

RMS Windsor Castle (1921)

RMS Windsor castle was a passenger liner built for the Union-Castle Mail Steam Ship Co. Ltd., London by John Brown and Company Ltd, Clydebank (Yard Number 456). She was launched on 9 March 1921 and completed in March 1922. She was used on the service from London to South Africa. In the Second World War she was commissioned as a troop transport. On 23 March 1943 off Algiers, Algeria, as part of Convoy KMF-11 she was sunk by a torpedo launched from a German aircraft with the loss of one crew member. She did not sink for some hours therefore 2,699 troops and 289 crew were successfully evacuated.

Browse our image library photographs of RMS Windsor Castle.

SS Friesland

SS Friesland was a passenger liner built for Societe Anonyme de Navigation Belge-Americaine, Antwerp (Red Star Line) by James & George Thomson, Clydebank (Yard number 242). She was launched on 15 August 1889. She served the Antwerp to New York route until 1903. In 1903 she was transferred to the Liverpool to Philadelphia route. She made her last American line voyage in May 1911. In 1912 she was sold to Fratelli Cerutti fu A., Genoa and renamed La Plata. In September 1912 she was laid up at Genoa and broken up there.

Browse our image library photographs of SS Friesland.

Warships

E35 (submarine)

HMS E35 was an E class submarine built for the Royal Navy by John Brown and Company Ltd, Clydebank (Yard number 436). She was launched on 20 May 1916 and completed on 14 July 1916. She was commissioned on 14 July 1917 and sank the German submarine U-154 off Madeira on 11 May 1918. She was sold at Newcastle on 6 September 1922. She was scrapped in 1935.

Browse our image library photographs of E35 submarine.

HMAS Australia (512)

HMAS Australia (512) was a County-class heavy naval cruiser built for the Royal Australian Navy by John Brown and Company Ltd, Clydebank (Yard number 512). She was launched on 17 March 1927 and completed on 24 April 1928. In the Second World War she started out as a submarine hunter in the eastern Atlantic. From 1941 onwards she operated in the Pacific participating in the Battles of the Coral sea, Savo island, the amphibious landings at Guadalcanal and Leyte Gulf and numerous actions in the New Guinea campaign. She was badly damaged in kamikaze attacks during the invasion of Lingayen Gulf. After the war she served in British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. She was re-tasked as a training ship in 1950. She was decommissioned on 31 August 1954, sold for scrap on 25 January 1955 and broken up at Barrow-in-Furness by T W Ward Ltd during 1956.

Browse our image library photographs of HMAS Australia.

HMS Barham

HMS Barham was a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship built for the Royal Navy by John Brown and Company, Clydebank (Yard number 424). She was launched on 31 December 1914 and commissioned on 19 October 1915. During the First World War, she participated in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May to 1 June 1916 and in the Inconclusive Action of 19 August 1916. In the Second World War, she participated in Operation Menace, the Battle of Dakar, in September 1940 and the Battles of Bardia and Cape Matapan in early 1941. She was then stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to hunt Italian convoys. On 25 November 1941 off Alexandria, whilst escorting eight destroyers with HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant in the 1st Battle Squadron to cover 7th and 15th Cruiser Squadrons hunting Italian convoys, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-331 killing 862 officers and ratings.

Browse our image library photographs of HMS Barham.

HMS Hood

HMS Hood was the last Admiral-class battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy by John Brown and Company, Clydebank (Yard number 460). She was launched on 22 August 1918 and commissioned on 15 May 1920. She became the flagship of the Battlecruiser Squadron of the Atlantic fleet. During the Second World War she participated in the destruction of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir in July 1940 to prevent it falling into German hands. She was sunk on 24 May 1941 during the Battle of the Denmark Strait by the German battleship Bismarck with the loss of 1,415 officers and men.

Browse our image library photographs of HMS Hood.

HMS Jupiter

HMS Jupiter was a Majestic-class pre-dreadnought battleship built for the Royal Navy by J & G Thomson, Clydebank. She was launched on 18 November 1895 and commissioned on 8 June 1897. She was present at both the fleet review at Spithead for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria on 26 June 1897 and the Coronation Fleet Review for King Edward VII on 16 August 1902. She served in the channel and home fleets. During the First World War she covered the passage of the British Expeditionary Force to France in September 1914. She then joined her sister ship HMS Majestic as a guard ship at the Nore. She was refitted in 1915 and then joined the Suez Canal Patrol in Egypt before transferring to the Red Sea Patrol as a guard ship at Aden. She returned to the Suez canal Patrol in December 1915. In November 1916 she returned home and after a period as a special service and auxiliary patrol ship she became an accommodation ship. She was decommissioned in February 1918. She was sold for scrap on 15 January 1920 and on 11 March 1920 was towed from Chatham to Blyth where she was broken up.

Browse our image library photographs of HMS Jupiter.

HMS Pegasus (431)

HMS Pegasus (431) was an aircraft/seaplane carrier bought by the Royal navy on 27 February 1917 during the First World War. She was originally laid down in 1914 as SS Stockholm for the Great Eastern Railway by John Brown & Company, Clydebank (Yard number 431) but construction was halted by the outbreak of war. She was launched on 9 June 1917 and commissioned on 14 August 1917. She joined the Grand Fleet on completion and was assigned to support the Battlecruiser Force. She supported the British intervention in the Russian Civil War in 1919 and was based at Archangel. She was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet in March 1920. She ran aground at Kerch in the Crimea on 9 March 1920 but suffered no damage. She participated in the evacuation of Novorossiysk of the Russian Whites at the end of the Russian Civil War. She remained with the fleet until 1924. She was stationed at Singapore in 1924-5. On 5 July 1925 she was placed in reserve at Devonport. On 22 August 1931 she was sold for scrap at Morecambe.

Browse our image library photographs of HMS Pegasus.

HMS Ramilies

HMS Ramilies was a Revenge-class super-dreadnought battleship built for the Royal Navy by William Beardmore and Company, Dalmuir (Yard number 516). She was launched on 12 September 1916 and commissioned on 1 September 1917. She saw no combat during the First World War due to the more cautious strategy adopted by both the British and German fleets, because of the increasing threat of naval mines and submarines. In the 1920s and 1930s she alternated between the Atlantic and Mediterranean fleets. She started the Second World War in the Mediterranean where she supported the attack on Taranto in November 1940. She returned to Atlantic escort duties in 1941. She participated in the hunt for Bismarck. In late 1941 she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet. She was the flagship for the invasion of Madagascar, May to November 1942, during which she was torpedoed and badly damaged by Japanese midget submarines. She was updated for coastal bombardment and in 1944 supported Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of Normandy and Operation Dragoon - the invasion of Southern France. In 1945 she was used as a barracks ship attached to the training establishment HMS Vernon. She was sold for scrap on 2 February 1948 and broken up at Cairnryan in April 1948.

Browse our image library photographs of HMS Ramilies.

HMS Repulse

HMS Repulse was a Renown-class battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy by John Brown & Company, Clydebank (Yard number 443). She was launched on 8 January 1916 and commissioned on 18 August 1916. She participated in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight in 1917, the only combat she saw in the First World War. The ship spent the first months of the Second World War hunting for German raiders and blockade runners. She participated in the Norwegian Campaign of April to June 1940 and searched for the German battleship Bismarck in 1941. Repulse escorted a troop convoy around the Cape of Good Hope from August to October 1941 and was transferred to East Indies Command. She was assigned in November 1941 to Force Z which was supposed to deter Japanese aggression against British possessions in the Far East. Repulse and her consort Prince of Wales were eventually sunk by Japanese aircraft off Kuantan in the South China Sea on 10 December 1941 when they attempted to intercept landings in British Malaya.

Browse our image library photographs of HMS Repulse.

HMS Terrible

HMS Terrible was the second and last of the Powerful-class protected cruisers built for the Royal Navy by J & G Thomson, Clydebank (Yard number 272). She was launched on 27 May 1895 and completed on 8 March 1898. She was temporarily commissioned to be present at the Fleet review at Spithead for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria on 26 June 1897. Commanded by Captain Percy Scott she participated in the Boer War whilst on her way to the China Station in 1899. Many of her guns were dismounted and with the Naval Brigade participated at the battles of Colenso (December 1899) and Spion Kop (January 1900) and the relief of Ladysmith on 28 February 1900. After recovering her guns she proceeded to Hong Kong. She participated in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. She supported the attack on the Taku Forts and some of her guns dismounted and used in the capture of Tientsin and the relief of the siege of the Legation Quarter in Peking. She continued to serve the China Station until 1909. During the First World War she was used to transport troops to the Dardanelles in 1915. She became a depot ship on her return. The ship was assigned as tender to HMS Vernon in January 1918 and then to HMS Fisgard a year later. In September 1919 Terrible was hulked, disarmed and had most of her propulsion machinery removed to convert her into a training ship for engineering apprentices. When the conversion was completed in August 1920, she was renamed Fisgard III. When Fisgard moved to accommodation ashore, the ship was listed for sale in January 1932 and was purchased in July 1932 by John Cashmore Ltd. She was towed to Newport, Wales, in September and broken up.

Browse our image library photographs of HMS Terrible.

HMS Tiger

HMS Tiger was a battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy by John Brown & Company Limited at Clydebank (Yard number 418). She was launched on 15 December 1913 and commissioned on 4 October 1914. During the First World War, she served in the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron of Admiral David Beatty. She participated in the Battles of Dogger Bank on 24 January 1915 and Jutland 31 May 1916. In both these battles she suffered shell damage. In the latter battle she sustained 18 hits. After repair she supported forces involved in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight on 17 November 1917. After the war she was placed in reserve on 22 August 1922. She was decommissioned on 15 May 1931 at Rosyth, before being sold to Thomas W Ward of Inverkeithing for breaking up in February 1932.

Browse our image library photographs of HMS Tiger.

Shipyard and shipbuilding scenes

Aside from browsing the image library for photographs of individual ships, you can also search for shipbuilding scenes relating to their construction from keel-laying, to completion to sea-trials.

Browse our image library photographs of shipbuilding scenes.

Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 under construction at the shipyard of John Brown & Company, Clydebank, 1966 (Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, UCS1/118/736/61)

 

Further reading

For information about other sources for the history of shipbuilding and individual ships, please see the NRS research guide on shipbuilding.

Discover more about the UCS photographic collection and read our features on the NRS website on the Battle of the Falkland Islands and the Battle of Jutland to learn about the key role that UCS built warships played during the First World War.