In the mid-1850s the Crimean War was raging. Troops were enduring immense hardships: severe weather, lack of equipment, poor management, and officers with an outdated strategy.  In the midst of all this a politician shipbroker William Schaw Lindsay in London was chartering hundreds of ships for the French to deliver troops and cargo to the seat of the war. Four of his own ships were requisitioned by the British to act as transport ships packed with soldiers and arms. The British, French and Turks were determined to prevent the Russians expanding their boundaries westward.  In Parliament Lindsay was challenging the Admiralty and highlighting their mismanagement.

Who was Lindsay and what was his background? Born in Ayr in 1815, he was orphaned by the age of ten, several years later he ran away to sea as a cabin boy and endured many life-threatening situations whilst sailing the Atlantic Ocean. Within nine years he was a ship’s captain sailing to India and the Middle East. He retired from the sea, became an Agent shipping coal from NE England, then moved to London to set up a ship brokerage. Within a few years it was a success, and it became one of the largest shipping companies in Britain. He owned twenty-two ships and was chartering seven hundred. He became a Liberal MP and focussed on shipping matters in Parliament. A strong advocate of Free Trade, he was a reformer.

William Schaw Lindsay c.1850. (William Schaw Lindsay, Amberley Publishing)

He was an early pioneer in steam ships. Instead of developing expensive fully powered steamers he chose auxiliary steamers; sailing ships with a small engine used to negotiate harbours and rivers and to escape being becalmed in the doldrums. His ships were involved in emigration to Australia and Canada, exporting iron railway tracks to the United States and importing cereal and cotton, and importing tea from India and China.

He visited the Northern States of America in 1860, just prior to the American Civil War, to discuss Navigation Laws. During his tour he met President James Buchanan and members of his senate and visited the President-Elect Abraham Lincoln in his home. He was a strong advocate for Independence of the South, mainly because he felt that they were underrepresented in the Senate and were unfairly taxed. As a pacifist he was keen that the war ended as soon as possible. Much to the annoyance of the British Government he visited Emperor Napoleon III four times to try to persuade him to support Southern Independence. During the war he halted his ships trading with the United States as this would politically sensitive. He therefore sold his shipping company to his partners.

Painting of Lindsay’s vessels, Swedish National Maritime Museum, Stockholm. Inv. Number SM 20028. Artist unknown. From left: Coromandel, Barrackpore, Cossipore, Tynemouth, Robert Lowe (broadside on), W S Lindsay, Dinapore, Gladiator, Jenny Lind, Mirzapore, Alipore, c.1855. (William Schaw Lindsay, Amberley Publishing)

A year before the war ended, he had a stroke which left him wheelchair-bound for twelve years prior to his death. During this time, he wrote extensively and published a History of Merchant Shipping in four volumes.

As an MP he met many famous people in his day: Gladstone, Disraeli, Garibaldi, Brunel, Queen Victoria, Livingstone, Dickins, Paxton to name a few. He wrote extensive journals which are now housed in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. He was well known in his day and now is largely forgotten. He had an amazing life. I knew nothing of his existence until I started to investigate my family tree. He was my great-great-grandfather. I was determined that his achievements gain some recognition. It took me six years to transcribe his papers. My new book, his biography is the result.

Bill Lindsay's book William Schaw Lindsay is available for purchase now.