William Symington 1764-1831
Engineer, Inventor and Steamboat Pioneer
Notes on his life and times, his family and his descendants, his supporters and contemporaries.
Prepared by Graeme Symington MD
I have prepared this site in recognition of the contribution of the steamboat pioneer William Symington, my four times great grandfather. My line of descent is from his eldest son, James Symington 1789-1862. William Symington has been considered by many to be the "inventor of the steam-boat" but it is more appropriate to recognise him as the individual responsible for the first effective steam boat, the paddle steamer Charlotte Dundas of 1803. Furthermore, he was the first to demonstrate working examples of steam powered transport on both land and water.
Much of this material included here is unpublished and has been drawn from documents prepared by William Symington himself and from other primary sources not previously explored.
Any inquiries or feedback would be most welcome. My best contact is via email: email@example.com
The first biography of William Symington was produced by his son-in-law Dr. Robert Bowie, husband of his second daughter Margaret. In 1833, Bowie published his "BRIEF NARRATIVE, Proving the Right of the Late William Symington, Civil Engineer, to be considered the Inventor of Steam Land Carriage Locomotion; and also the Inventor and Introducer of Steam Navigation."
John Rankine 1812-1870, the son of William Symington's eldest daughter Elizabeth, published his Biography of William Symington in 1862. This work was serialised in the Falkirk Herald.
William Symington's life and work has been thoroughly researched by the late Bill Harvey and Geoff Downs-Rose who published their definitive biography, William Symington Inventor and Engine builder in 1980. This elegant and scholarly work captures the essence of the man and his work and there are but few inaccuracies. However, there are some significant omissions which I intend to rectify in this dissertation. There had been contradictory accounts of William Symington's steamboat experiments which Harvey and Downs-Rose resolved through their careful research. Details of William Symington's family however were quite sketchy. I had alerted Bill Harvey to the existence of James, William Symington's first and illegitimate son, who had been overlooked by previous biographers. Another son, John, died in childhood and had been totally forgotten.
William Symington's son William 1802-1867 emigrated to Australia in 1855 and settled in country Victoria. He brought with him some important relics, including a model of the paddle steamboat Charlotte Dundas, an extract of his father's 1801 patent and a series of drawings, prepared in 1828, which illustrate his steamboat experiments and also several other inventions which are less well known. It had been an enormous pleasure to discover these long-forgotten drawings which I have since donated to Museum Victoria for preservation and safekeeping. Some of these drawings are reproduced in the biography by Harvey and Downs-Rose. I shall reveal these and other drawings here, along with certain other important artefacts which were held by Symington descendants.
William Symington prepared a Petition and a Memorial which were submitted to Treasury in 1826. The Petition was illustrated by sketches relating to his steamboat experiments. Dr. Bowie wrote that those drawings could not be retrieved. However, following clues within Dr. Bowie's Brief Narrative, I was delighted to be the first to locate and retrieve the Treasury Petition and those key drawings which had been sequestered so long ago within the National Archives in London. The evolution of William Symington's concepts of steamboat design and construction, from his first experiment at Dalswinton in 1788, to the triumphant demonstration of the paddle steamer Charlotte Dundas in March 1803, can be traced through these original drawings.
Engraving by Thomas Oldham Barlow R.A., circa 1850, held in the National portrait Gallery, London.
Barlow's Engraving is after a crayon drawing made from life in 1830 by David Octavius Hill R.S.A.Reference NPG DG912.
A DIRECTORY OF KEY PLACES WITH MAP COORDINATES
A SELECT LIST OF REFERENCES
PERSONAL BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WILLIAM SYMINGTON
BIOGRAPHIC NOTES BY BILL HARVEY
1822 MEMORIAL AND CORRESPONDENCE WITH JAMES WALKER
1825 SYMINGTON PETITION TO TREASURY
SYMINGTON VERSUS JAMES TAYLOR
DR. ROBERT BOWIE'S BRIEF NARRATIVE
1841 SYMINGTON TESTIMONIAL PAMPHLET
1841 COMPILATION ON STEAM NAVIGATION BY BOYDEN BOYDEN
1845 LETTERS TO THE FIFE HERALD BY ROBERT RUSSELL
1862 JOHN RANKINE'S BIOGRAPHY OF WILLIAM SYMINGTON WITH BIOGRAPHIC NOTES ON JOHN RANKINE
EARLY NEWSPAPER REPORTS
LIKENESSES OF WILLIAM SYMINGTON
DEATH AND BURIAL
SYMINGTON MEMORIAL AT LEADHILLS
ENROLMENT AT EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY 1786
MODEL STEAM CARRIAGE 1786, WITH NOTES ON EARLY STEAM CARRIAGES IN GREAT BRITAIN
WILLIAM SYMINGTON'S PATENTS
1802 DEMONSTRATION OF HIS MODEL STEAMBOAT AT THE ROYAL INSTITUTION
THE GRANGE COLLIERY
1804 CALLENDAR COLLIERY VENTURE
CORRESPONDENCE WITH WILLIAM FORBES OF CALLENDAR
1815 WILLIAM SYMINGTON v HENRY BELL
ROBERT WIGHT, FRIEND AND ADVISER
1825 PETITION TO H.M. PARLIAMENT
1828 PETITION TO THE ADMIRALTY
NOTES ON SOME EARLY ATTEMPTS AT STEAM NAVIGATION
WILLIAM SYMINGTON'S STEAMBOAT EXPERIMENTS
EXPERIMENTS FOR PATRICK MILLER
THE DALSWINTON STEAMBOAT 1788
EXPERIMENTAL STEAMBOAT 1789
EARLY STEAMBOAT CONCEPTS AND TRIALS
EXPERIMENTS FOR LORD DUNDAS
STEAMBOAT CHARLOTTE DUNDAS 1803
TRIALS OF THE CHARLOTTE DUNDAS
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE CHARLOTTE DUNDAS
INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED IN BUILDING THE CHARLOTTE DUNDAS
ORIGIN OF THE NAME CHARLOTTE DUNDAS
MODELS OF THE CHARLOTTE DUNDAS
THE DEMISE OF THE STEAMBOAT CHARLOTTE DUNDAS, WITH NOTES ON JOHN AITKEN OF DARROCH
SYMINGTON ENGINES FOR MINES AND OTHER INDUSTRIES
FIRE ENGINES AND ENGINE HOUSES AT LEADHILLS AND WANLOCKHEAD
WATT AND PIRATE ENGINES
JOHN SYMINGTON OF LEADHILLS AND HIS SONS GEORGE AND WILLIAM, WITH OBSERVATIONS ON THE ANTIPATHY OF JAMES WATT
SYMINGTON'S DIVING BELL AND HIS PROPOSAL TO RAISE THE ROYAL GEORGE
KINNAIRD AND JAMES BRUCE, WITH NOTES ON CARRONHALL
FALKIRK, PARK HOUSE
A CATALOGUE OF ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS AND RELICS
LETTERS FROM WH RANKINE OF FALKIRK, DAVID BELL OF GLASGOW, ROBERT RANKINE OF MELBOURNE AND WILLIAM SYMINGTON OF BACCHUS MARSH
THE ORIGINS OF THE SYMINGTON FAMILY
THE SYMINGTONS OF MONKSHEAD FARM
WILLIAM SYMINGTON'S PARENTS AND NEAR RELATIVES
WILLIAM SYMINGTON'S FATHER, JOHN SYMINGTON OF LEADHILLS, AND ELDER BROTHER GEORGE
ANN MILLAR AND BETTY BENSON
DESCENDANTS OF WILLIAM SYMINGTON AND THEIR FAMILIES
WILLIAM SYMINGTON'S CHILDREN
JAMES SYMINGTON 1788-1862
ELIZABETH SYMINGTON 1794-1846 (AND JOHN RANKINE 1790-1848)
JOHN SYMINGTON 1796-1807
GRIZEL SYMINGTON 1798
MARGARET SYMINGTON 1800-1878 (AND DR. ROBERT BOWIE 1788-1869)
WILLIAM SYMINGTON 1802-1867
ANDREW SYMINGTON 1803-1878
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF WILLIAM SYMINGTON'S DESCENDANTS
Many of William Symington's descendants emigrated to Australia. Notably, his son William 1802-1862 emigrated in 1855; descendants of his eldest son James and youngest son Andrew also emigrated. His daughter Margaret emigrated to Melbourne with her husband Dr. Robert Bowie and their children in 1851. Robert Rankine, the only grandchild of William's daughter Elizabeth Symington and John Rankine also settled in Melbourne.
James Symington 1788-1862 was William Symington's first child. Born in Wanlockhead, he was illegitimate. His mother was Ann Miller. William subsequently married Betty Benson at Falkirk. Their children were: Elizabeth 1794-1846, John 1796-1897, Grizel born 1798, Margaret 1800-1878, William 1802-1862 and Andrew 1803-1878. John died in childhood and Grizel also must have died in infancy or in childhood.
THE FAMILY OF JAMES SYMINGTON 1788-1862
James Symington 1788-1862 had eight children:
John Symington 1817-1888
Ann Symington 1821-1889
William Symington 1824-1890
Margaret Symington born 1827
James Symington c.1828-1908
Helen Symington 1833-1876
Agnes Symington c.1835-1923
JOHN SYMINGTON 1817-1888, the eldest, was a stonemason in Muirkirk. He married twice and had fifteen children. His family remained in Scotland. Many worked at the coal mines. A number of his descendants became medical practitioners. The most renowned descendant was the eminent pathologist Professor Sir Thomas Symington, a truly great man, who became head of the National Cancer Institute. An avid golfer, he retired to Troon.
ANN SYMINGTON 1821-1889 married William Russell, a carpenter, in 1846. With their four children, they emigrated to Victoria in the Earl Grey in 1856.
WILLIAM SYMINGTON 1824-1890, the second surviving son, emigrated in the Great Australia soon after his father died in 1862. He founded a grazing dynasty on the Mitta River in North-East Victoria. His property Berringa Park was renowned for the quality of its beef cattle.
CATHERINE SYMINGTON 1826-1891 remained in Scotland. She married James Young, carpet weaver, in Kilmarnock where they raised six children.
MARGARET SYMINGTON was born in Sanquhar in 1827. She appears to have died in infancy or in childhood.
JAMES SYMINGTON 1828-1908 was the first of the family to emigrate. He worked as a land surveyor and made his fortune on the Beechworth goldfields and acquired considerable property in the Beechworth region. In the early 1870s he became a grazier in North-East Victoria where he settled alongside his brother William and the daughters of his sister Ann Russell.
HELEN SYMINGTON 1833-1825 emigrated in the Earl Grey with her sister Ann. She had a most unfortunate life in the Colony of Victoria.
AGNES SYMINGTON 1833-1923 emigrated to Victoria in the Marco Polo in 1857. She married J.L.H. Darton in Beechworth. She and her husband were teachers. They had eight children, notable among whom were Charlie and Aggie who would inherit the Symington property Berringa Park.
THE FAMILY OF WILLIAM SYMINGTON AND ELISABETH BENSON
ELIZABETH SYMINGTON 1794-1846 married John Rankine of Barns in Falkirk in 1811. Their eldest son John 1812-1870 wrote the 1862 Biography of William Symington and produced a much-acclaimed model of the steamboat Charlotte Dundas. Her only grandson, Robert Rankine, emigrated to Melbourne. He served in the A.I.F. and was awarded the D.S.O. for his part in the landing at Gallipoli.
JOHN SYMINGTON 1796-1807 died at Westquarter aged eleven.
GRIZEL SYMINGTON Born in Kinnaird in 1798, there is no further record of her. She must have died in infancy or childhood.
MARGARET SYMINGTON 1800-1878 married Robert Bowie, a London general practitioner. They had nine children. In 1851 they emigrated in the Athenian with their children. Dr. Bowie was appointed as Psychiatrist Superintendent at the Yarra Bend lunatic asylum.
WILLIAM SYMINGTON 1802-1867 emigrated with his family in 1855 in the good ship John Bright. They settled in Bacchus Marsh, on the road to the Ballarat goldfields, where he established a brewery. His collection of relics forms the basis of much of my discussion.
ANDREW SYMINGTON 1803-1878 was a clockmaker in Kettle, Fifeshire. He had six children and many of his descendants are in Australia. His youngest son James was a watchmaker who was single and died at Oban in 1919. Andrew's eldest son, William 1839-1917, accompanied by four children, emigrated in 1884 with his second wife Isabella Thomson. Sailing in the Bann they settled in New South Wales. Two sons from his first marriage with Helen Adamson, Andrew 1862-1886 and John 1863-1960, also emigrated. John set up a general store at Junee in outback New South Wales. John's son Norman became a specialist in infectious diseases in Sydney.
THE CHARLOTTE DUNDAS 1803
1848 Coloured lithograph 170 by 227mm by C.F. Cheffins, after a drawing by J. C. BourneNational Maritime Museum Object Number PAD 6630
NANCY SYMINGTON 1893-1987, great grand-daughter of William and the last surviving grandchild of William Symington 1802-1867 of Bacchus Marsh, allowed me to study her treasure trove of Symington relics. She had preserved an important collection of original drawings by William Symington with some engine plans from James Watt which are now held in the Melbourne Museum. Nancy generously passed on the drawings by William Symington of his steam boat experiments and his various other inventions, which are reproduced here. Photographs of Bacchus Marsh Symingtons and of their residence and Brewery at Hopetoun also came from Nancy. Nancy's great niece DIANA COOKE also kindly provided original documents from William Symington.
SHEILA WALL of Honiton, grand-daughter of Rev. James Symington 1842-1921 of Leadhills, and a descendant of the Symingtons of Monkshead, kindly let me copy family photographs and a rare circular relating to the erection of the Symington monument at Leadhills.
BETTYE WOOTTON, descendant of William Symington's eldest daughter Elizabeth Rankine, allowed me to examine the Rankine model of the Charlotte Dundas and gave me access to various Rankine family documents and artefacts.
JEAN MCCABE and her family most generously enabled me to copy photographs from her extensive collection of photographs of descendants of William Symington 1824-1890 of Berringa Park, Huon Lane and of the family of Peter Symington of Teviotdale, her grandfather. Jean was proud of her Symington ancestry and was a marvellous source of information. Her parents, Peter and Nellie, were first cousins. Jean died in 2003 at the age of ninety. Her niece, FRANCES MCCABE has also been most helpful. I am grateful to MARIE CHURCHER, Jean's cousin, for pictures of her father DOUG SYMINGTON and his family.
GEOFF. MCLEOD, the youngest son of Margaret McLeod 1892-1978, a grand-daughter of William Symington of Berringa Park, kindly let me copy his mother's post card collection which related to her time at Berringa Park. Maggie McLeod's post cards can be found within the section on William Symington 1844-1898.
BILL SIMMONDS of Huon Lane sent me photographs taken by his father of the removal of the goods shed from the old Huon Lane railway station. BERYL INGLES provided views of Huon Lane from the 1920's and photographs of the family of LOUISA THOMAS, post mistress at Huon Lane. JILL HUON of Wangaratta, a descendant of the Huons of Bungoona, most generously provided many pictures of her antecedents who were neighbours of the Symingtons of Huon Lane. JANE WHITTLE, grand daughter of Jessie Jane Symington of Teviotdale, Huon Lane, sent me photographs and provided interesting observations about her relatives.
Several descendants of Dr. Robert Bowie have generously assisted me in my research. KEN SIM, formerly of Cosgrove, a descendant of Margaret Amelia Bowie, provided photographs of Bowie's wife, Margaret Symington, and members of the family of her son William Symington Josef Bowie. I thank ALISON RICHARDSON and BELINDA PETERSON who provided helpful details of the Bowie family tree. KATHLEEN KAVENAGH of Beeac also kindly provided portraits of Bowie descendants.
I am much indebted to Bill Whitehead of Birmingham who very kindly retrieved for me a number of documents in the Boulton and Watt Collection which relate to William Symington and his brother George, including an unpublished Memorial to steam boat owners dated 1822.
Nancy May Symington at her home at 11 Standfield Street, Bacchus Marsh, 1977
Great grand-daughter of William Symington and the last of her generation
Geoff. McLeod and GRS 2005