John Williamson J.P
(1829- 1915) Shipping magnate
John Williamson was born in approximately 1829. His grandfather Stephen Williamson, was a Kilrenny shipowner, farmer, and maltster. John’s father, Archibald, commanded a family brig, but later settled ashore as a shipowner. An accident befell John when 14 years of age, and he depended on crutches for the remainder of his life. He did not allow this physical disability to hamper him in his career. He and his brother Stephen were educated at the Anstruther Burgh School and Madras College.
John moved to Liverpool in 1849 and, with his business partner he established the sailing-ship firms of Williamson, Milligan & Co., one of the largest sailing-ship owning firms in the country. They also established Milligan and Williamson of Buenos Ayres.
He became a director of the Cunard Line at its formation as a public concern in 1880, and served as deputy Chair. He remained on the directorate until 1902. During his association with the Company, John Williamson witnessed the evolution of the steamship including the building of such giants as the Campania, Saxonia, Ivernia, and the preparation for the plans of the Lusitania and Mauretania.
John Williamson was perhaps one of the most important men in the shipping industry on Merseyside with wider shipping interests than his M.P. brother Stephen. He was Chairman of multiple Committees including, Liverpool Shipowners’ Association, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, London and Liverpool, and on the Committee of inquiry into the condition of the merchant seamen, 1870- 1880, He advised many other organisations including the Admiralty He resided in Claughton Grange, Birkenhead from 1850 and was a Birkenhead Commissioner, one of the first borough Magistrates, he was presented to the King in March, 1914.
He was a moderate smoker and a temperate man, but “not a teetotaller”. John Williamson had been ill for over a year when he died, aged 86 in December 1915. His funeral was attended by all the great and good of the shipping industry. His worth was the equivalent of over £12 million today. His bequest of £20,000 to Birkenhead Corporation opened The Williamson Art Gallery in 1928 and £200 (equivalent of almost £22k today) was disbursed among the poor of the Anstruther and Kilrenny Burghs.
Research by Richard Wemyss