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Lindsay, William Schaw, 1816-1877


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Biographical details WS Lindsay began his career in the merchant navy in which he served from 1831-40, becoming master in 1836. From 1841-45 Lindsay was an agent of Castle Eden colliery in nearby Hartlepool and also acted as representative for the sale of iron in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for his brother-in-law, a Glasgow ironmaster. He moved to London in 1845 to act as Castle Eden colliery agent there. Using his knowledge of ships he set himself up as a shipbroker, and within a few years his firm was a leading concern with agencies in Sunderland and Liverpool and contacts with American trade. He then became a ship owner and his willingness to experiment with different types of ship enabled him to overcome a depression in shipping and WS Lindsay & Co became one of the world’s major ship-owners. Lindsay took a close interest in public affairs. In Hartlepool he was active in reform measures, and in London concentrated on maritime and commercial reform. He became an expert on shipping issues and entered national politics through his interest in the repeal of the Navigation Acts. Having failed to gain a seat in the House of Commons in 1852, he was elected for Tynemouth and North Shields in 1854. In 1859 he left this seat and was elected for Sunderland, where he sat until 1865. Though a Liberal he was highly critical of the Aberdeen and the Palmerston ministries, considering that they lacked energy for reform and the business and technical knowledge required to advance British commerce. Throughout his parliamentary career, he strongly advocated maritime reform, both mercantile and naval, and the removal of restrictions on free trade. He became involved with the Administrative Reform Association in 1855, being particularly concerned with what he regarded as the government’s inept handling of the Crimean War. He made many enemies, and won some respect, because of his outspoken manner and his severe criticism of others’ incompetence. During the American civil war Lindsay supported the Confederate cause in Britain, trying to win recognition of the Confederate states in Parliament, arranging a loan to the Confederacy and sheltering the families of the Confederate commissioners involved in the ‘TRENT affair’ in his own home at Shepperton. In 1864 Lindsay suffered a stroke and withdrew from public life. Thereafter he devoted himself to writing. His great work was the ‘History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce (London 1874-6), but he wrote several other books including ‘Our Navigation and Mercantile Marine Laws (London 1852), ‘Our Merchant Shipping: its present state considered’ (London 1860) and ‘Manning the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine’ (London 1877). He also took an interest in planning and developing his estates which included the manor of Halliford, the Donny House at Weybridge, the estate at Woodham, lands and farms in Hailsham and Chertsey and his residence, the manor at Shepperton in Middlesex, the Lordship of which he acquired. Here he was visited by government ministers and other public figures, who sought his advice on shipping matters and he continued a voluminous correspondence with such men until his death in 1877.
Description The Papers were purchased by the National Maritime Museum at auction in 1988. The collection consists of almost all the papers Lindsay left to his family. A notable exception is a volume of letters to Richard Cobden (mentioned in Lindsay’s preface to LND/1) which was given to Cobden’s biographer John Morley by Lindsay’s widow before 1881.

The papers have been arranged in 6 sections reflecting Lindsay’s various interests. The first section is made up of bundles of papers or volumes which cover the whole of Lindsay’s concerns and cannot be given a particular category. Section 2, 3 & 4 cover his main areas of activity- writing, business and property matters.

Lindsay had many friends and contacts in business and politics and his correspondence included many of the foremost men of his time in the fields (LND/2,3,4,6). His interest in the maritime affairs of the USA, and the civil war of 1861-5, is reflected in the compilation of 1867 of his correspondence with leading participants in the war, particularly Confederate politicians. This together with Lindsay’s notes was brought together in a single volume (LND/7).

Lindsay’s writings on maritime matters are represented by a working manuscript of the History of Merchant Shipping (LND/12), printed proofs of the first two parts of the work (LND/13) and various notes and correspondence relating to it and other works on the navigation laws (LND/8,9,10,11). Lindsay also turned his hand to poetry (LND/18), biography (LND/19) and autobiography (LND/16).

Activities on Lindsay’s estates at Shepperton and elsewhere are also reflected in various papers LND/2 23-32).
Date made 1845- 1877

Finding Reference LND
Catalogue section Personal collections
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
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