Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lindsay, William Schaw

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LINDSAY, WILLIAM SCHAW (1816–1877), merchant and shipowner, was born at Ayr in 1816, and lost both his parents when only ten years of age. He was brought up by his uncle, a free kirk minister, who wished him to follow the same calling, but Lindsay inclined to a seafaring life, and leaving home in 1831 worked his passage to Liverpool by trimming coals on board a collier. He was subsequently engaged as a cabin-boy in the Isabella, West Indiaman. In 1834 he became second mate, but soon afterwards received severe injuries by shipwreck. On his recovery he was made in 1835 chief mate of the Olive Branch, a merchantman owned by Mr. Greenwell of Sunderland. In 1836 he was appointed captain of the vessel, and in 1839, when in the Persian Gulf, he had a brisk encounter with a pirate, in which he was wounded. He retired in 1840. In 1841 Mr. Greenwell obtained for him the post of fitter at Hartlepool to the Castle Eden Coal Company, and in that capacity he was mainly instrumental in getting Hartlepool made an independent port, and helped to create its docks and wharves. In 1845 he removed to London to represent his company. With the coal-fitting business he combined that of shipbroking and an agency for his brother-in-law, a Glasgow iron merchant. He established the firm of W. S. Lindsay & Co., which soon became one of the largest shipowning concerns in the world, and he retained his connection with it until ill-health compelled him to retire in 1864.

Lindsay was an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate for Monmouth in April and for Dartmouth in July 1852, but was elected, after a severe contest, for Tynemouth and North Shields in March 1854. He continued to represent Tynemouth until the general election in April 1859, when his warm advocacy of a repeal of the navigation laws compelled him to withdraw before the polling. He was returned, however, for Sunderland. In 1865 he was forced by illness to retire from public life. While in the House of Commons he did all he could to protect maritime interests, both naval and commercial, and he took an active part in the formation of the Administrative Reform Association. After his retirement Lindsay occupied himself with literary work. He died at Shepperton Manor, Middlesex, on 28 Aug. 1877. In 1842 he married Miss Helen Stewart of Glasgow.

Lindsay strove by his pen to improve the shipping laws, not only in England, but in foreign countries, particularly in France and America, and he persistently advocated the removal of all restrictions on free trade in maritime affairs. His great work, entitled ‘History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce. … With illustrations,’ 4 vols. 8vo, London, 1874–6, will long remain the most comprehensive book on the subject. Among his other writings may be mentioned: 1. ‘Letters on the Navigation Laws,’ 8vo, London, 1849, reprinted from the ‘Morning Herald.’ 2. ‘Our Navigation and Mercantile Marine Laws, considered with a view to their general revision and consolidation; also, an Enquiry into the principal Maritime Institutions,’ 8vo, London, 1852; 2nd edit., condensed, 1853. 3. ‘Confirmation of Admiralty Mismanagement … with Reply to the Charges of Sir C. Wood … June 22 and July 10,’ 8vo, London, 1855. 4. ‘Remarks on the Law of Partnership and Limited Liability,’ 8vo, London, 1856, being correspondence with his friend Richard Cobden, M.P. 5. ‘Our Merchant Shipping: its present state considered,’ 8vo, London, 1860. 6. ‘Manning the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine … also Belligerent and Neutral Rights in the event of War: a Review of the past and present Methods,’ 8vo, London, 1877. A collection of his speeches on navy expenditure was privately printed. Lindsay related many of his sea experiences in the ‘Log of my Leisure Hours,’ 3 vols., and in ‘Recollections of a Sailor;’ the latter work he did not live to complete.

[Sunderland Times, 31 Aug. 1877; Sunderland Herald, 31 Aug. 1877; Morley's Life of Cobden, ii. 221–2.]

G. G.